Rules of Engagement
There is a lot of work that goes into sending military troops on deployment. There is more to it than just providing transportation and supplies. Rules of engagement must also be developed. What are rules of engagement? They are very specific rules on how the troops are to respond during a conflict. Can they fire on the enemy the moment they are seen? If the enemy attacks civilians? If the enemy fires on our troops? Can they respond with full force or just minimum force? How are they to respond if attacked by hostile civilians?
Rules of engagement can be frustrating. There have been times when Canadian peacekeeping troops have been forced to only watch during a genocide because their rules of engagement specified that they could intervene only if they were attacked. They were helpless to stop the violence and this of course has led to emotional trauma. On the other hand, rules of engagement are important because they take out all the guesswork. You can’t have each soldier or officer making up their own rules as to when they are going to respond in force.
Something similar is helpful for us as followers of Jesus. Yes there is much flexibility in being a Christian and there is variety in how we live out our faith. But there are rules of engagement that are applicable as we interact with God, fellow believers and those without faith. Paul provides some helpful rules for followers of Jesus in his letter to the Colossians.
Make Prayer a Priority
Paul begins by stating that we are to devote ourselves to prayer. Not just that we are to make some time but that we are to devote ourselves to prayer. This assumes confidence that there is a God that we can communicate with through prayer. We may have put aside some time for prayer but are we really devoted to prayer? This does not mean that we have always to be in a formal prayer meeting. We can be praying no matter what we are doing.
What should the content of our prayer look like? Paul specifies that we are to be watchful and thankful. Those two things go together. How can we be thankful for what God has done if we don’t notice what God has done? Look for the ways that God is working in your life and thank him for his blessings, small and great.
Paul also asks for prayer for himself and his colleagues as they share the message of Jesus. The church is to pray that there will be opportunities to proclaim the story of Jesus and to be able express that message in a clear way that people would understand. By the way, this is a reminder that none of us is too good to need prayer or to ask help from our fellow Christians.
There are many people we can pray for. We can pray for our pastors, teachers, missionaries and evangelists. We don’t even have to know all their names. Pray for those who are working at the expansion of the kingdom of God, whether locally or globally. Not just our own denomination but for all those who are called.
I have very much enjoyed my time in the military and I am proud to wear this uniform. One of the things that I appreciate about the uniform is that it is a sign to others and reminder to self about the proper conduct of a soldier. While we should always act properly, we realize that when we are in uniform, our activity reflects on all of the military. It is not something to be taken lightly.
I have had some conversations with some Christians who tell me why they don’t have a Jesus fish on their car. It is not that they are are embarrassed to b a Christian but because they are not nice drivers and don’t want to make Christians look bad. Perhaps it would be better to just drive better than to hide who we are following.
Paul specifically asks us to be wise in how we act, especially toward those outside the church. How do we know if we are around someone outside the church? We don’t, that is why we need to always act wisely. I remember what it was like before I was a Christian and I would observe Christians, even hoping they would mess up. I didn’t expect perfection but I was hoping for some evidence that what Christians were saying was not what they really believed. I was disappointed and discovered that Christianity was true, even if Christians do stumble along the way.
We are also to make the most of every opportunity. This does not mean forcing our views on every person we meet. But rather looking for opportunities. There are many people not interested in Jesus and many that are. Be watching for the opportunities where people are showing interest. We would normally make the most of opportunities in other areas of our life, we should do the same with faith.
We need to be careful with how we act and this includes how we speak. We live in an interesting world with social media. We can express our strongest opinions without any humility and not fear the consequences. We can vent anger and insult people to the best of our ability. We may even feel justified because we believe our views are correct. But this is not the way we are to use our words.
Paul tells us to make sure our conversation full of grace. Grace means giving people a gift even if they don’t deserve it. This means we are not just nice to people we agree with or like. Grace is for everyone. We are in a strategic time. In a time of public outrage over every little thing, followers of Jesus can be countercultural by having conversation full of grace.
A good example actually came from a non-Christian celebrity. Recently Ellen Degeneres was seen sitting beside former president George Bush, both of them having a fun time. Many of Degeneres’ supporters were outraged that she would be nice to someone on the opposite side of the political spectrum. She responded that when she tells people on her show to be kind to one another, she means everyone and not just those they agree with. She stood firm on her position to be friends with people different from her.
That is a lesson every follower of Jesus should learn from. I have seen Christians openly mock in the nastiest of ways those they disagree with. It is important for us to stand up for what we believe is true but that never gives us the allowance to be nasty. What would happen if the headline of the newspaper every morning was the nastiest thing you said the day before? That would probably make us careful in what we say. But it shouldn’t take that to make us be respectful and loving toward people that we speak with. We should always be seeking to build people rather than tearing people down.
When a soldier is deployed to serve in a specific way, they will be handed a card outlining their rules of engagements. Do this and don’t do this. They can never plead ignorance. Everyone knows how they are to act in a specific situation.
We are deployed into this world as followers of Jesus. We too have been issued rules of engagement. we are to make prayer a priority. Prayers of thanksgiving and prayers for wisdom for others. We are to act carefully. We may not wear uniforms but we are identifiable as followers of Jesus. We need to act in such a way that honours Jesus’ name. We must speak well. Many Christians fear that that they don’t have all the answers. That’s the least of our problems. Our first priority must be to speak kindly and respectfully to all. Especially when we don’t feel like that. Follow these rules of engagement and we will have a successful deployment.