In the recent film, “War Room,” an energetic and exuberant elderly lady helps a young black professional couple to save their marriage as a result of wisdom gained through a lifetime of dealing with bitterness over the death of her husband with whom she had been on bad terms before his fatal heart attack as an officer in Vietnam. After a prayer for someone to help brings the harried Elizabeth, a real estate agent with a distant and often angry husband and a foot problem that is the source of a running gag in the movie about the smell of her feet and her shoes, what follows is a thoughtful and intriguing discussion of the nature of spiritual warfare and how people often fight it badly because they confuse people with their (unseen) enemy, and end up alienating those they should be acting towards with love. What appears at first to be a private sort of personal drama in the manner of other similar Christian-targeted movies like Fireproof  ends up being a movie that puts the personal in the perspective of society as a whole, reminding us that unless we get our houses and families in order that we will not be able to provide positive examples and influence for larger societal matters. This is a movie that has its eyes firmly on the big picture.
Even for those of us who are not married, this film offers some takeaways that are definitely worthwhile, that come in often unexpected ways. The fact that so much of the dialogue is based on sound reading and exegesis of scripture makes this a more solidly biblical approach than most, daring in its vision of schools and Congress filled with sincere and godly believers, a vision that warms my heart but that probably chills the hearts of others. This vision is balanced by striking portrayals of grace. We see Elizabeth turn from a bitterly sarcastic wife towards her husband Tony, a selfish and unethical salesman, into a loving wife who helps encourage him rather than nag him, and who wins the heart of one who had been estranged. We see the grace of their daughter in forgiving both her father and mother for being too busy fighting each other to notice her and pay attention to her love of jumping rope with her best friend. We see the grace of Tony’s company, after letting him go for unethical business practices, in not prosecuting him when he returns stolen drug samples. We see the grace of Tony towards the executive who wanted to throw him in jail when he fixes a flat tire in a tense moment where potential violence is implied. We see the grace of God in all of this, and in the merciful removal of Tony from temptation in Atlanta when he has the opportunity to be unfaithful towards his wife. It is this framework of graciousness and kindness and outgoing love for others, even others who think or speak or act badly towards us, that points to the larger picture at work here, and that is the way that this film, in offering a Christian model of personal and societal influence, does so in a way that is forgiving and gracious and kind rather than harsh and Puritanical.
It is curious, nevertheless, that the film spends so much time focusing on the troubles of a family. This is a family where the disparate income of a husband and wife lead to quarrels over how to be generous to the wife’s sister, who married someone who is unmotivated to work hard and struggles to find and keep a job. This is a family where a girl wonders if a single blemish on her otherwise perfect report card will cause her parents to be angry at her. In life it is all too easy to attack people. When we are in the midst of serious and lengthy disagreements over areas of fundamental importance in our lives, it is easy to forget to pray for the well-being of others and to realize that something else is often afoot. I know in my own life I have struggled to feel love and kindness towards those I view as hostile to me, whether these people are in my family, in my local congregation, or elsewhere, and even where I have prayed for them and wished the best for them and served them, I have not always felt the sort of peace that should result from such things. Even if the source of our joy and contentment does not come from ourselves, nor can it come from fallible and imperfect people who often do not have enough resources for themselves, much less for others, our joy and contentment tends to come through the blessings of integration within our relationships, and where these areas of life are lacking, we must often act as best as we can and struggle with the divide between what we will ourselves to do and that which we feel.
In that light, the image of the war room is appropriate. It is significant that the film begins with a picture of an actual war room, of a talented officer (who just happens to be black) demonstrating competence in the strategic marshaling of resources to counter the efforts of a determined foe, and contains pictures of several war rooms for prayer that show the same level of strategic and logistical competence in the realm of spiritual battle. These are not random prayers, they are targeted with self-awareness, with a focus on particular people and situations of interest, and they are supported by sound biblical principles and appropriate verses and passages. Moreover, once there is success, there is the goal of seeking other people to help and encourage, which is precisely the right approach. We are not given blessings for our own benefit, but for the way that we can use those blessings to further serve and build up others, and to point them in the right direction to go. Sometimes those blessings need not be anything of great difficulty, but can simply be in the realms of enjoyable time spent with loved ones, or jumping rope with one’s daughter, or an evening of ice cream and foot rubs. The simple and modest pleasures of our home and family lives are the little bricks from which larger community and societal benefits are drawn. For too long we have thought that our parents, or children, or spouses, or brethren, or neighbors, or other people were the real enemy, and that is a misdirection of our anger that has had disastrous consequences. May there be time to right those wrongs and to change our focus accordingly.
See, for example: