The captain breathed deeply; methodically checked himself- sword, dagger, shield, saddle well in place, helmet snug, armor solid- he was ready. The signature of a smile flew across his face as his horse snorted noisily and pawed the ground with his front hooves, first one and then the other.
Now he looked up. His steely eyes shone like glass through the mud and smoke and blood that was stained into his face, and peered from beneath a permanently furrowed brow down the line of men stretched out behind him on his left and on his right. He caught the eye of another soldier- about his age, about his size. Could have been from the same town; certainly the same province.
The other man looks away quickly, unwilling to face the full reality of what is about to happen, and even more unwilling to face a man who has embraced that reality.
Suddenly, a whisper shimmers up the line of soldiers. A reward has been promised. When this city falls, every man among them will receive extra rations, double wages, and a share of the spoil. The whisper races down the line of men and fades into the distance.
Suddenly, the sun breaks through the clouds, the fading fog vanishes entirely, and the object of years of struggle is revealed. The walls of the city stand cold, naked, forbidding. Atop the towers and behind the fortifications bristle the helmets and spear-tips of a thousand foemen.
Everything is silent. Even the wind stills. The world is waiting.
It is time.
"A reward has been promised."
For which of our two soldiers did this news change anything? Homer Rice said that "You can motivate by fear. And you can motivate by reward. But both of these methods are only temporary. The only lasting thing is self-motivation."
Of course, Homer Rice isn't our source of wisdom. Proverb 29:19 says that "A slave will not be instructed by words alone; for though he understands, there will be no response."
The slave does what he does because he is afraid of what his master will do to him if he doesn't do it.
The slave does what he does because he hopes maybe if he does it his master will reward him.
His tasks are a means to the end of his pleasure. His work is the way by which he acquires the right to play.
He does his household chores because if he does them well enough, maybe dad will let him watch a movie tonight. He finishes his math book because he knows, once he has done that, he gets to pick the restaurant that the family goes to for dinner that night. He reads his Bible because he's afraid if he doesn't then the people at church won't be impressed. He doesn't beat up on his siblings because he knows that would make dad angry.
And in the press of battle, when the arrows are raining down, and shouts and screams and clamor and chaos are overwhelming his senses, and friends and foes swirl around him like so many grains of sand in an angry sea, his one thought is "if only I can survive this, then I shall have my reward."
And then there's the warrior. His work is its own reward. He does what he does because he is who he is. He fights because he believes in what he is fighting for. And while he certainly doesn't begrudge extra rations or higher wages, those things will not change how hard he fights.
In the press of battle, his thoughts are set not on survival, but on victory. Even when the dead are falling all around him, there is nowhere he would rather be.
He's not a slave to his own smallness- he's a slave to a greater vision.
For Maximus, it was the glory of Rome.
For William Wallace, it was the freedom of Scotland.
And for us, it should be the expansion of The Kingdom of Christ- the only Greater Vision which is truly worth dying for.
Oh that that vision would permeate our lives. For we are slaves to Christ, and ambassadors for Him. He does promise rewards richly- and there are terrible consequences for those who forsake Him.
Praise God! Let us look forward to those rewards, and labor hard towards them.
But let us also love the labor. Let it be said of us that we were not simply "making it" through life, but that we conquered life boldly and subjected it to the Lordship of Christ.
Every task that God gives us is part of the race of life- something which can be conquered or simply survived. From changing diapers to washing dishes to writing music to building bridges to fighting battles- whatever we are called to do on any given day, that is our battle. Will we survive it? Or will we embrace it?