As I recently finished reading Extreme Ownership, a book by retired US Navy SEALs on leadership. The main lesson in each chapter is complemented with a narrative from both author’s time serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom, where they learned their leadership lessons on the battlefield.
Towards the end of the book, one of their stories outlined how the super effective Navy SEALs were forced to work with the local Iraqi militia. The Iraqi militia was described in detail – a ragtag bunch of fighters, no matching uniforms, most of them poorly equipped for battle, with little to no training or discipline.
Throughout this story, the authors express frustration at being required to work alongside these other poorly trained soldiers, but then came an interesting revelation. They came to realize that they are expected to work alongside the Iraqi militia in order to train them up, to enable them to be able to defend their own country, allowing US forces to successfully withdraw.
An important element in this strategy was to come alongside the poorly equipped Iraqis to debilitate the enemy insurgents. There was no other way to accomplish that mission, and the alternative would create a long-term dependency on US military presence.
Shortly after I read this story, it began to dawn on me that Jesus’s life and ministry here on earth must have had similar aims. Jesus came alongside his disciples, he taught them and gave them authority, and he sent them out in twos to apply what they had learned (Mark 6:7).
Through Jesus’s death on the cross, his burial, and his resurrection, Jesus defeated the enemy (Heb. 2:14). Jesus ascended into heaven (kind of like the US forces successfully withdrawing), but he sent the promised helper – the Holy Spirit (John 16:5-7).
In many ways, we must look like the ragtag bunch, the ill-equipped who have no hope of fighting a much stronger enemy surrounding us on all sides. Jesus came alongside us, taught us the Kingdom way, and gave us what we needed to defeat the enemy while we continue to live on this embattled and fallen Earth.
Yes, Jesus ascended into Heaven, but He will always be with us (Matt. 28:20). Maybe it seems like a stretch to compare a US military campaign strategy to the purpose of Jesus’s earthly ministry. However, there is no doubt that Jesus built His church to continue His ministry and His work in liberating the world from the enemy, and to establish His Kingdom.