H”ope is War: Finding Joy on Life’s Battlefield” by Ben Sledge

Benjamin Sledge, author of Where Cowards Go To Die shared a message called “Hope is War at the Gateway South Austin Men’s Conference.

Listen to his message here:

Message Notes here:

If there’s one thing that war taught me about hope, is that it can make wounded men hang on a little longer. It can take cowards and turn them into heroes. When men hope, impossible things seem to happen. But to hold onto hope? Well, that’s a war. And the world is selling us despair.

If we look at the world around us, I think we’d all agree it seems short on hope, but high on emotion and anger. Since 2020 and the pandemic it’s like everyone started giving up and giving into despair. The news is constantly negative and social media is so bad it literally creates poor mental health. That’s not an exaggeration. Get this. The Wall Street Journal reported the Meta—which owns facebook and Instagram—had internal documents stating “we make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.” They also said their platforms “increase the rate of anxiety and depression” across the board for all ages. Consider that the vast majority of Americans continue to grow lonelier with zero to no close friends to rely on.

But let’ talk about men for a moment.
15 to 24 years old have suicide rates 4 to 5.4 times higher than females of the same age, while older males 65 to 85 kill themselves at rates 6.3 to 17.5 times higher than females. According to a Brooking report, from 2005 to 2019, an average of 70,000 Americans died annually from deaths of despair (suicide, drug overdose, alcohol, and other poisonings), with the numbers increasing gradually over the period and is continuing to trend upwards post COVID. The biggest gender affected? Men.

Report after report is going to point to us lone wolfing it in life or not having really deep relationships, and this is also inside the Christian church. A lot of men get drug to church by a spouse or girlfriend, or they just don’t engage except for Sundays for an hour. We tend to like to go it alone anymore and don’t rely on the community of faith, so it begs the question: how can we have hope when we’re alone? How can we wage a war of hope when we have no one around us to encourage, inspire, and push us to hope?

Here’s why this is literally crazy in Christianity. Just look at the life of Jesus. The founder and perfector of our faith, and you’ll see that the dude was NEVER alone. He had 12 of his best buddies and got so overwhelmed by people sometimes he would just peace out to be by himself! Even in his weakest moment where he begs not to go to the cross in the Garden of Gethsemane, he has Peter, James, and John go with him to pray. Granted, they fall asleep, but the point remains. And perhaps an even more important point is that Jesus constantly reminds them of hope. Hope in him, his death and resurrection, hope in the life of the world to come.

In modernity, hope is an odd word because it carries an edge of uncertainty. I hope she likes me. I hope I get the job. I hope they have BBQ at this men’s conference. But when you talk about hope like Jesus or the authors of the New Testament do, hope has a totally different meaning. The Greek word for hope in the scriptures is elpis (el-peace), which means assurance of the future—it’s assured anticipation. You are sure of your hope. This is quite the opposite of how we typically use the word in English.

Now the reason the word for hope in the Greek carries such weight and assurance has to do with what Christians believe. Jesus, at one point in John 16, starts talking about wars, hardship, and crazy bad stuff that’ll happen. Fun, right? But then he ends by telling his disciples this:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV)

Or another way to translate it is “have hope! Have assurance that despite how bad things get, you can rely on me because I’ve overcome the world.” The problem with the current worldview is we go, “yeah… but you don’t know how bad we got it. How hard things are!” History, however, will disagree vehemently because it’s been dog eared by calamity. Anyone wanna go live through the Dark Ages or a Viking invasion where there’s no modern medicine and your odds of lifespan were around 30 years old? I often think of my grandfather who grew up as a kid through World War I and the Great Depression where his family couldn’t find work and he had to work too. Then he fought in WWII, lived through he Korean War, Civil Rights movement, and then Vietnam. But we get mad when our phones don’t go to space fast enough so we can challenge someone about song lyrics we need to look up on Google. Most of us don’t have to worry about famine, or housing, or having flushing toilets. The comforts we have we often take for granted and out of that blame God when things get hard. We grow in short supply on hope, let alone believe that on life’s battlefield we have an assurance that conquers. We forgot to hold onto hope and wage a war to continue to believe the words of Christ.

We all can sink into despair or anxiety. Even Jesus wasn’t immune to that. He was so overcome in the Garden of Gethsamane he sweat blood. The anticipation of the cross was too much to bear, but then we must remember that the hope of salvation for humanity and the disciples simply being there spurred him on. In that moment, I know that Jesus knew that to hold on to hope… was a war within.

So, how do we find God’s hope in the midst of hardship? In the midst of life’s battlefield? How do we find joy in a world that seems to almost commend despair?

Before anyone thinks my life has been hunky dory as of late, let me let you into a snapshot of the last two months. First, we got haymakered by unexpected financial burdens Then my mom had a heart attack in September. By October, we found out my dad has cancer and then a week after that diagnosis, I was rushed to the ER for an emergency appendectomy. Life has been… hard. Especially with health issues and trying to make ends meet.

People have asked me recently, “Man.. how are you doing given everything?” And here’s the honest to God truth: I’ve been surprised by joy. Despite the hardship, I’ve found this weird well of mirth and hope. I started reading CS Lewis’s The Weight of Glory and what really stood out to me wasn’t one of the essays, but an introduction by a scribe who spent the last few months with Lewis before he died. Lewis, despite failing health and a life of war and hardship, seemed to have this deep appreciation for life, friends, and God. He would play jokes on his hospice nurse, and even in poor health visit his friend JRR Tolkien at the pub they frequented. The scribe recounts one particular quote that has stood out to me. He said Lewis wrote a family member and stated:

I begin to suspect that the world is divided not only into the happy and the unhappy, but into those who like happiness and those who, odd as it seems, really don’t.

I think all of us want to be happy, but isn’t it just easy to give up and be miserable? Choosing joy is insanely tough when you’re life’s punching bag. We do it. And even the disciples did it. So here’s where I want to land the plane this afternoon and give you some tangible steps and hope.

After the death of Jesus, the disciples were afraid and despondent. Any semblance of hope had long since vanished and most believed the Jewish rulers and Pharisees were coming for them next. This is in spite of Jesus literally tell them every single day for three years that he had to die and would be back. In fact, it’s not even the disciples who dare to believe the impossible has happened and Jesus has resurrected as he said. Instead, in John 20 it states Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb, and sees the body is missing. She tells Peter and John and they show up amazed, but still kinda skeptical. Then they return home.

Mary, though, stays behind and weeps. And as she’s weeping, she stoops again to look in the tomb and sees two angels who ask her why she’s weeping and she states she doesn’t know where they’ve taken the body. And here’s where we’ll pick it up in John 20, verse 14:

Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic,[b] “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). (John 20:14-16)

Jesus is in his transfigured body which looks like him and also doesn’t look like him, so Mary doesn’t recognize him immediately. Here’s what I find amazing about this passage… it isn’t until Jesus says HER NAME that she realizes it’s him and is flooded with joy and hope. Now, why do I make that point and what does that have to do with us?

Some of you are in the thick of it right now. Hope is elusive. Some of you have heard you should quit a job, launch a venture, or take a risk. Others of you he’s given a word or a promise. Some may be about your marriage or a relationship. And here’s the thing. Anytime the Lord calls us to enter a calling or anointing, he always calls us BY NAME. When he calls the disciples, he calls them by name. Moses… this is Holy ground. Peter, follow me and I will make you a fisher of men. Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? Mary… it’s me.

I know for a fact some of you have heard him call you. John. Eric. Ben. Trust me. Have hope. Not the world’s hope… but my hope. But the thing is that we have so neutered the power of the Gospel and belief that God can do the impossible that we’ve become convinced it can’t be him calling us. Some of you, God has given your word and promises, but you’re afraid to hold onto hope because you’re terrified you’ll be left disappointed. But Romans 5:5 reminds us that “hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” And that’s who you’re hearing whispering your name in your heart… the Holy Spirit. That’s the catch 22 to all this. If you want to find hope, joy, and peace in the midst of a world that will always have trouble, then God says, lean into to me and listen to my voice. Trust me. The part that makes us uneasy is knowing it’s gonna be a battle. You’re gonna be going into a proverbial war and will take sniper fire from the enemy. But as a former soldier, can I tell you something that you’ll never see happen on the actual battlefield? Going at it alone or leaving a wounded man behind.

You want to find hope on life’s battlefield and believe God’s promises? Then you can’t lone wolf it. At my church in Colorado Springs, we have a saying. We like to keep things bottom shelf and tangible, so here’s Take away #1:

Live in community

And as men, do what Galatians 6:2 says and “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

You cannot walk through life wounded and expect to continually patch yourself up. Nor will you have any hope for the future. Just like Jesus, you need the community of the saints to lean on when you’re in short supply of hope. After all the craziness that went down in the last two months with my family I can says it was because I leaned into my faith community that I thrived. They didn’t let a wounded man go it alone but they helped me limp to safety. To this day, I wish I could have done the same for Father Dennis Rocheford because of the way he bore my burdens.

And the second and final takeaway?

Listen for the still small voice calling your name, encouraging you, telling you to risk.

Trust that the Lord has you in hard times and remember the assurance of hope.

There’s a story in 1 Kings about Elijah after he defeats the prophets of Baal. He ends up on the run from Queen Jezebel who is threatening to kill him. He arrives in the wilderness by himself and loses all hope asks God to kill him, which is weird because he literally had God bring fire down from heaven and defeat all the prophets of Baal.

So first off… he’s alone. I can’t make that point enough. Then he goes and hides in a cave until he hears the Lord’s voice ask “What are you doing here Elijah?” Elijah then walks outside and he observes 3 incidents. The text says the first is a strong wind that tears apart the mountains before him. The second is an earthquake. After the earthquake a firestorm. I don’t even know what that is but is sounds awesome. But the scriptures make clear that the Lord in is NONE of those great displays of power. Instead, it says Elijah hears “sound of a low whisper” And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak because he KNEW THAT was the Lord’s voice. And do you know what The Lord asks Elijah? The same question: What. Are. You. Doing. Here?

It’s always the still, small voice that’s counterintuitive to your conscious. Your conscious never tells you to risk. If anything it encourages you to be protective. Your conscious doesn’t want you to give your money away, it wants you to hoard it. And so I think some of you are hearing that voice and for some of you, just like Elijah, you’re hearing, “what are you still doing here in this season of life?”

Lean into to that assurance of hope. If you remember from the beginning of this session the story about my team sergeant, Gonzo, recall that courage is doing the right thing even when you’re afraid. But also remind yourself that in Christ, you have an absolute assurance of faith.

Life is a battleground. Clinging on to hope is war. But when you do it in the midst of brothers and trust that God is going to deliver, then even when it gets hard, I can promise you something—you’ll find a joy and peace despite the storm.

Watch his message from July 2022 here:

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