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Engaging the Struggle

About three weeks ago a friend and colleague referred me to an article about the life principles that Jocko Willink advocates. While the article’s content was helpful, its greatest value was in introducing me to this interesting man, a former Navy SEAL commander who lead the most decorated special forces unit in the Iraq War.

Since that time I have delved into a number of resources he has produced, including his podcast, his book Extreme Ownership, and his Discipline Equals Freedom Field Manual. Willink’s no-nonsense approach to discipline and toughness appeals to many men, but he also emphasizes humility and ownership, which at first glance might seem contradictory. He’s a warrior’s warrior but he’s an English major who loves Shakespeare. He’s a man worthy of respect, and he’s got me thinking…

Why does this appeal to toughness and discipline appeal to so many men, especially young men? One reason, I surmise, is that younger men struggle to know what to do with the side of their spirit that embraces challenge and knows that if something is easy it’s probably not that useful. We want to become physically strong. We want to know how to defend ourselves and other people. We want to become the men who will stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. We want to draw fire and take the flak so others can live in safety. We are looking for an outlet to express ourselves as men, while cultural pressures call such expression destructive or even deny it as a legitimate concept.

Add to this desire the unprecedented decades-long absence of required military service and you have a recipe for widespread confusion and passivity from men. While we can be thankful for the absence of the large-scale wars that engulfed our country so many times before, this masculine malaise is a major problem.

As much as we appropriately emphasize grace — a ubiquitous concept in the Bible — if we want to make disciples of men in particular, we will do well to emphasize the hardship and struggle of the Christian life, and that such struggle is very good. In the pages of Scripture, God himself draws our attention to the wisdom and honor of discipline (1 Corinthians 9:27; Titus 1:8; Hebrews 12:5–11), self-control (Proverbs 25:28; Acts 24:25; 1 Timothy 2:9; 2 Timothy 1:7), striving (Luke 13:14; Romans 15:30; 1 Corinthians 14:12; Philippians 1:27), taking up one’s cross consistently (Luke 9:23), and other similar ideas. Paul even tells the Corinthians to “act like men” (1 Corinthians 16:13, also translated in some versions as “be brave” or “be strong”). To engage in this struggle with zeal is an honorable and virtuous calling.

The disciple-making implication? If you want to be an effective disciple maker, you must run toward the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual difficulty of life and encourage those you influence to do the same. This is, after all, not a leisurely walk we find ourselves in, but a wrestling match and a war with supernatural enemies whom we conquer by the strength of Christ (Ephesians 6:10–12).

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Beau Stanley and his wife, Stacey, both grew up in the Columbus area and have been part of Grace Polaris Church for most of their lives. Beau joined the Grace staff in 2007 after theology studies in the Chicago area and in Phoenix (Phoenix Seminary). Prior to that, he studied commerce (University of Virginia) and worked in the financial industry, including a role as an investment banking analyst for Goldman Sachs in New York City. Beau is a fitness enthusiast and also enjoys music and learning about diverse topics. Beau and Stacey have two young boys.


2 Responses

  1. Tim Sprankle says:

    The last paragraph is precisely the topic I’ll cover at my upcoming Pastorpedia on April 18th. It’s also the reason I started lifting weights this year, a discipline I never thought I would make a practice of doing. I love the verses that you cited, and the call to be courageous as a follower of Christ. Thanks.

    • Beau Stanley says:

      Tim, sounds like that will be a great Pastorpedia. May the Lord bless your efforts in this, and thanks for the kind words. And may you get swoll also.

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