The POWs and the MIAs
In Part 1 of the Great Identity Crisis, we looked at the condition of the unsaved person, the Prisoner. Again this whole series is an expansion of the greater issues surrounding The Saddest Question. We are going through what I see as Four Stages of Identity:
The Four Stages of Identity
- The Prisoner
- The POW or the MIA
- The Walking Wounded
- The Overcomers
So lets start looking at the second group The POWs and the MIAs.
People who are spiritual POWs are all around us. They sit next to you on Sundays, and they come to church functions, and can often appear to be living a healthy Christian life. However, if you could look into their inner being what you would see is something different entirely; maybe it will sound like your experience past or present in the Christian life. The POW is someone who has been saved by Jesus, their sins have been forgiven and new life paid for; but they are living like our Prisoner. How are they different, this POW and the earlier Prisoner? They are both in prison, but the POW has changed allegiance. He is on the winning side, he is a follower of Christ, so why is he a Prisoner of War?
In his letter to the Ephesians the apostle Paul speaks of the Christian life like a war, and that is so true. Who has not faced the assault from Satan tempting us to doubt our faith, to doubt God and His goodness, to doubt if we are even saved? I have not yet spoken with the candid Christian who claims to have never had any doubts from the time of their salvation to present.
Ephesians 6:10-17 “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
Notice that the helmet is the “helmet of salvation”, the last line of defense. Battles are won and lost in the mind. If we believe in our mind that we are defeated, our bodies will soon bring this to reality. The very foundation of Christian beliefs, our salvation, is what is protecting the head and the mind. This is where our identity has changed from one at enmity with God, to one restored to God, and it is here where the fiercest battles are waged with the enemy. Again, remember that Satan hates God, and is the great destroyer. The Prisoner, set free at the time of their salvation, Satan now views as an enemy combatant and a target. He wants to destroy the new life before the root can dig deep, and he will do everything in his power to attack this new Christian.
These attacks can take many forms, but just like in our example of the brainwashing psychological warfare, Satan is trying to cause overwhelming guilt, feelings of worthlessness, being unforgivable, unlovable, unworthy. Once a person is wracked with guilt, they are an easy target for wrapping chains onto. Any Christian you meet living in a destructive cycle is a POW. This shows up in some obvious things like addiction to drugs/alcohol, pornography, promiscuity, cutting/self-harm, or gambling to name just a few possibilities. However, there are many more subtle but equally destructive ways that these attacks come. A constant negative internal monologue, a critical spirit, perfectionism, replaying past failures or traumas, constantly expecting the worst to happen, unreasonable fears or constant fears, these are just a small sampling of the attacks that Satan will use.
The attacks can come so fast and furious you feel quickly overwhelmed. Picture a warrior, with shield held high in front him, the enemy is closing in on 3 sides of him and blows are raining down on the shield. Some of them he is parrying with his sword, but as the attack goes on his arms grow weary, and a blow here or there finds its mark, he starts to stumble on his feet as fatigue really sets in. The enemy, sensing the warrior’s imminent defeat, is re-invigorated in their attack. Their blows come faster and stronger, and our warrior at last falls to his knees, another POW.
Notice in this example though that the warrior is standing alone. There was no one watching his flank, or standing in formation with him. The Christian life is not one meant to be lived in isolation.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
While a marriage relationship might be the first that jumps to mind, I do not think it is the only one that could be referred to here, and it might not even be the best example. I believe that a better way to view this passage would be for each Christian to walk with another. For example Christian men or women walking through life together, holding each other accountable (watching each other’s flank) and standing with each other when needed. There are some struggles you need to deal with that another trusted Christian may be better equipped to help you work through than your spouse. One example would be an older man helping a younger man learn how to be a better husband, father, and provider. Another example would be someone that has lived through an addiction and been set free by God’s power, being willing to share their story with someone still bound in that or a similar addiction.
The POW is not experiencing the full newness of life that Christ bled and died to pay for. Rather he/she has picked back up a familiar chain and lacks understanding that Jesus is the key and they need not be bound by this chain. They have not become the “more than conquerors” that the Bible says we are.
Similar in most aspects to the POW are the MIAs (Missing in Action). Sometimes these people are referred to as “backsliders” or “wayward” Christians. The Bible however portrays in so many ways that the spiritual world is a battle ground, I think a military term like MIA is more appropriate. In the parable of the sower and the seeds (Matthew 13:3-9) the MIA could be the seed on the rocky ground or among the thorns. One sprang up quickly then withered for there was no root, while the other grew but was choked by the thorns.
The MIA might be the guy you realize you haven’t seen at church for a while, or the mother nobody hears from anymore. The MIA could be sitting in the pew next to you, but is so despondent over their condition that they are mentally checked-out all morning. They almost never feel able to enter into His gates with thanksgiving and praise.
If you would picture in your mind a fierce battle raging, the MIA is the one who drops his sword and shield and wanders off into the woods, to cry, to scream, or maybe to commit suicide. I believe that the MIA are in desperate need of someone to come find them, sit in the dirt with them, encourage, lift up, and help bear the burden. Sometimes a few other Christians are needed to form a shield wall over the MIA to allow for some healing time.
God has some wonderful examples of people that were MIA in the Bible. We often hear the story of Peter after he denied the Lord(Matthew 26:69-75), and Jesus came to find him by the sea and beautifully restored him(John 21:1-19). Did you ever stop to consider that Peter was MIA? He was in grave spiritual danger from the defeat in courtyard that came so close to doing him in. It was a servant girl that had a hand in that defeat, not some intense debate between a lowly fisherman and a learned Pharisee. A servant girl asking a question had Peter cursing denials and cowering in defeat. Then he vanishes, MIA. In my mind that makes how Jesus came to Peter and restored him so beautiful. He didn’t stand around with the other disciples saying “Hey has anybody seen Peter?” No Jesus took action and went to find Peter.
Both the POWs and the MIAs need prayer, support, and compassion.
Psalm 107:23-31 “Some went out on the sea in ships; they were merchants on the mighty waters. They saw the works of the Lord, His wonderful deeds in the deep. For He spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves. They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away. They reeled and staggered like drunkards; they were at their wits’ end. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and He guided them to their desired haven. Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for mankind.”