War Room as a movie was released into selected cinemas in August 2015. Even though this is now some 9-10 months ago, two recent private screenings have helped to remind and reawaken a spirit of eagerness that the movie evoked.
When the movie was first released in 2015, the idea was floated with my life-group to go and see it together. This became a group outing organised for one Sunday afternoon after church and lunch. At the time, we had a medium size grouping and we ended up going to Knox Cinema Europa, the art-house/international films niche. Typically, all the non-main-stream movies are screened in Cinema Europa because they have a smaller distribution spread, unlike the main Village Cinema franchise.
Watching a movie for the first time is always a special experience. Not knowing the storyline made the discovery experience all the more enjoyable. OK – to be honest, I had an inkling of an idea on how the story would transpire. After all, the whole movie concept could only have a happy ending, so it was expected that the general journey would see the Jordan family hit a low point only to be restored, reconciled and live “happily ever after”.
WARNING: SPOILER ALERT
Tony Jordan was a highly successful salesman for a pharmaceutical company whilst his wife Elizabeth pursued a career as a real estate agent. Both occupations are key items that are influential to the storyline. Whilst the couple are individually successful, as a family, they have been struggling for a while, with their pre-teen daughter Danielle suffering from their bickering. Their Christian faith journey is also somewhat a reflection of the state of their life in that they are also sliding. Tony is shown to be tempted by the number of beautiful women in his life and Elizabeth feels neglected.
Setting this scene up, the story commences with the focus on Elizabeth’s newest client – Clara Williams, the widow of war veteran who is looking to sell her home and transition to living with her son. Clara is a devout prayer warrior and uses this opportunity to build an ongoing relationship with Elizabeth, teaching her how to fight the real spiritual battles through prayer using techniques that revolve around her War Room.
You’re fighting the wrong enemy. It’s not your job to fix your husband—you need to plead with God so He can do what only He can do, then get out of the way.
The movie helps us follow the lives of our characters, teaching us the audience along the way, the power of prayer. In her low point, Elizabeth seeks God for help to save her marriage and stop Tony from committing adultery. The grace that she exhibits is God-given and He also makes it such that Tony falls sick and is unable to go through with his adulterous intentions. The story and character development of Elizabeth and Tony is a reflection that relationships are messy; even though Elizabeth is on the path to restoring her relationships, Tony is initially still lost in his own world. Tony’s attitude however is given a serious wake-up call when he has to face the music and he loses his job. By that time, Elizabeth’s character has progressed with her transformation and renewal such that her graciousness and love contrast Tony’s selfishness. He is speechless and left in amazement by her attitude which humbles him and leads to his repentance, seeking her forgiveness.
As the family start to recover spiritually, unite in love and rebuild trust, Tony is also convicted of his sins which led to his dismissal. In returning the stolen samples to his now former employer, he runs the risk of being prosecuted and facing criminal charges. His repentance and contrition in facing his former bosses demands an equal measure of consideration which the boss, cast by director Alex Kendrick, spends the weekend doing. As we expect, God’s grace shines through the boss character. Now, this could be the first point at which to end the movie, but the final chapter is intentional in emphasising two points – Tony has one final opportunity to practice and choose an action of grace and love, demonstrating the nature of forgiveness to the senior partner who was type-cast as the more ruthless of the bosses.
The other storyline that plays out revolves around the daughter Danielle who starts off being neglected by her father. Whilst her mother is a fraction closer to her, even Elizabeth realises she is only giving Danielle minimal attention. At this realisation, the two share a warm intimate moment. Danielle’s character is a supporting role but it is her relationship with each of her parents that drives Elizabeth first to do something about the status quo situation. Elizabeth’s leading by example has a flow-on effect to Danielle who then emulates her mother’s War Room set-up with the simple prayer list posted on her bedroom wall. Danielle’s interest in jump rope is initially dismissed as trivial by Tony but, with his job loss, jump-rope becomes one of Tony’s means of an outlet. The time he spends bonding with Danielle over the physical activity leads Tony to coaching and then joining the team in the freestyle competition. In the competition, whilst the team impresses the crowd and judges, they fall short of winning the competition to take home second place. I suspect this is intentional to the storyline because it shows a level of grace and humility; the objective of the story is more about being content with what you have and celebrating the small things anyway, and less about winning.
Key Themes & Lessons
War Room is jam packed with a lot of learning and practical application lessons:
Knowing Who the Real Enemy Is
When we focus on God first, He should unveil our eyes to the real enemy, just as Clara explicitly directed us – Satan/the Devil is the real enemy who is trying to destroy relationships, families and divide God’s people. God’s people/believers are never the enemy; we are simply custodians and vessels of faith. In the biblical analogy and parable of the seed and soil, it is helpful to remember and realise that we are actually the soil/environment in which the seed of faith is planted. Our challenges it to be like the fertile soil in which to grow our faith. God is the gardener watering both the seed and soil, but it is the soil which we nurture to in turn grow our faith. Prayer in this analogy is analogous to our relationship with God as the gardener; each prayer is an act of God watering and enriching us as the soil where the seed of our faith is planted.
The focus of prayer on the real enemy that Clara mentors Elizabeth with helps Elizabeth to change her mindset and be released from the mental prison she had allowed herself to be trapped in. Half the battle is won when we identify and call out the lies of the Devil as Elizabeth does boldly in out of the pivotal scenes. As the bible teaches us – resist the devil and he will flee. Whilst Jesus has won the victory and paid the price of our salvation, the Prince of Darkness still has dominion over this world and will continue to tempt us whilst we are here in earth.
Clara’s conversation with Elizabeth early on when they were first getting to know each other was quite pivotal. When discussing the health of Elizabeth’s marriage Clara quickly focused on not just how often they were praying for each other, but also how they were praying. Clara spent a great deal of energy and time in their first session unloading on Clara about Tony’s sins, not realising she herself was full of pride and sin too. It is easy to simply pray for our needs and for God to help us with our various sins and struggles, but when we change our language the power and focus shifts to the next level. Often, this may be subtle but incredibly powerful. Seeking God first in our prayers will often help us realise that our focus should be on glorifying Him before bringing our needs and struggles to Him. When we glorify God He will move mountains. This is tied into what Jesus teaches us about our faith in Matthew 17:20:
He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
When Elizabeth changes her mindset and declares that her life, family and house were rightfully God’s, she grows in confidence to declare the sovereignty of God over her entire life. Ephesians 6:12 reminds us:
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.
Clara wanted to change Elizabeth’s focus from her circumstances to her God such that when she thought about God, she was able to see that God could change her circumstances. God could move in Tony’s heart. The power of God to give her grace and change her heart. God could do anything but first she had to stop focusing on her circumstances and start looking to God. It’s the first step of prayer and of worship.
Fuelling the Passion for God
In War Room, the passion for God is beautifully summarised in the analogy which Clara and Elizabeth play out over a cup of coffee – lukewarm faith. Elizabeth initially admits her prayer life is lukewarm. The reality is believers are all taught to avoid a lukewarm faith, and to instead pursue a hot/passionate faith and prayer life. Revelation 3:16 is quite clear:
So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
The whole sentiment of being a lukewarm Christian is a caution to not be apathetic to matters of God. The teaching from the bible is consistent that to be lukewarm as a believer is highly undesirable and that there are clear consequences for being lukewarm, and not heeding the Word of God. The characteristic of lukewarm believers is highly hypocritical in that a lot of their focus is on the outward showy appearance and not the inner heart. Jesus was constantly the bar in terms of the moral standard – always pointing to our heart condition. Paul additionally taught us to separate ourselves from the world and to set our eyes on an eternal reward with God in heaven.
As Clara puts it, nobody likes it lukewarm. Not even the Lord. In today’s world, there is a level of comfort to pursue a path of moderate faith because no one likes a fanatic, but in War Room, we see how absurd this is. Elizabeth and Tony’s transformation is for the better when they transition from being lukewarm to sold out and on fire. Their lives are much the better for it. Further, today’s society highlights the extremism of terrorism as an outward manifestation of the Islamic relgioius fanatics and that in itself also, and rightly so, concerns the vast majority of the world’s population. One analogy used in the past to simplify the difference between Muslims and Christians from a fanatic or extreme passion standpoint is that an extreme Christian who is living out their faith sincerely and purely will attempt to love all – believers and non-believers, and will probably end up being martyed by an extremely sincere Mulsim who is also living out their faith. It highlights the key difference in how Muslims and Christins differ on the nature of God, who he is and what he teaches us. Why an increasing secular world struggles to understand the inherent peaceful engagement of Christ and His followers in the face of an increasingly violent, intolerant and ascending Islam is sometimes a head scratcher…
Knowing Our Role
Clara mentored Elizabeth in understanding her role as a wife to Tony:
It’s your job to love him, to respect him, to pray for the man, [not to fix him]… Pray and ask God to do what only He can do and then get out of the way so He can do it.
Elizabeth had previously been trying to fix and control Tony. The moment she stopped trying to control, fix or change him, she was free to pray for and love him unconditionally. The nature of unconditional love itself is a powerful agent for change. It took away the fight and allowed him to get off the defensive. Tony noticed this himself in the way he observed the change in Elizabeth – he expected her to be combative and argumentative but instead she acknowledged his feelings and low state (job loss) and hada pragmatic approach to moving forward. This attitude change also freed Tony up to respond and to change himself, hearing God when his own ears. Elizabeth’s faith helped her to start rebuilding and fighting for their marriage and Tony became acutely aware that he was failing in his own role as a husband. Tony’s repentance and seeking of forgiveness from his wife was the bottom he had to hit, along with his repentance to God.
Everything began to change first when Elizabeth learned her job, but even more so when Tony also went through the same transformation and renewed his commitment to leading his family. Together, they were able to demonstrated the transformational power of God working in and through them for each other, as well as the overflow effect in their daughter Danielle.
Impact & Call to Action
As a believer my viewing and reaction to the movie at be somewhat biased. A lot of secular critics agree that this is an unashamed Christian film. One of the most important measures in assessing the effectiveness and overall impact of this movie is thus the resultant action. War Room is the latest project that the Kendrick brothers have produced and they all share the same underlying theme of proclaiming the Glory of God. This is a constant message that Clara’s character is designed to sow. Her narrative that bookends the movie summarises up the thrust of God building His kingdom through the power of believers praying. A lot of movies will make us feel good, but the intentional design for this movie aims to move the audience to action – improve your focus and attention in your prayer life. Audiences can identify with either one of the characters in the fictional Jordan family. The role model of Clara is also very relate-able because even as good as she seems, she has seen her fair share of challenges. Towards the end of the movie, her humility and own fragility is shown in the way she didn’t actually manage to live out what she now practices when her husband was alive.
Countless families will have likely gone away from this movie, inspired by the restorative prayer tools to perhaps implement their own version of a prayer war room. The relationships of couples/parents were and still are undoubtedly being improved by their focus on the real devil who seeks to divide and destroy the relationships. In my own life-group, we used the study guide material to drive a number of weeks worth of studies: not being a Luke-warm Christian, and focusing our prayers appropriately against the real enemy. In April 2016 for our cell group social night we watched the film together at my place. One of the members who had only heard about the film and having not seen it, was so touched by God via the movie that she has since created her own war room/dedicated prayer space along with the discipline of praying for people.
The impact of the War Room on believers in encouraging them to focus and improve their prayer life is one of the biggest reasons why I see the experience as much more than a movie. Like most of the Kendrick brothers other film productions, War Room continues to point audiences to God, and in the War Room, it does so in such a clear-cut way that probably intimidates and scares non-believers away. The explicit language of Clara in calling Elizabeth to pray and seeking God is probably heart-warming to mature believers who recognise the principles being extolled, whereas younger believers and those unfamiliar with the faith may struggle to connect with the characters and story-line.
This impact beyond the movie viewing experience was recognised early on in the marketing and merchandise that the Kendrick’s Brothers have pursued through the publication of a paperback novelisation by Chris Fabry. Additionally, the Kendrick brothers penned another resource titled The Battle Plan for Prayer which makes an explicit connection between the reality of a powerful prayer life in the Kendrick family background and how that inspired and led to projects like War Room. Along with this book/guide, prayer cards and a leather-bound journal are also offered to help eager believers replicate the same war room experience. At the time of writing (June), this book is a high priority read on my reading list. One of the reasons why I have held off on “reading” it is because I want to take the challenge seriously and implement my own version of a prayer war room. For this challenge, I am also exploring how I could make the experience virtual/online and not be bound to any one physical location. In part, future travel plans influence this desire, as well as my concerted online effort. Fervent is another resource directly inspired from the movie and targeted at women, written by Priscilla Shirer. As such I cannot really comment on it too much here… 🙂
Countless & Growing Testimonies
This article has taken me much longer to develop and write up, since the first draft commenced in mid May. When I first set out to write this article I had already heard of a few testimonies from friends and fellow believers. Since commencing the write-up, I have been privileged to hear even more testimonies. Quite a few people have been inspired by War Room:
One sister-in-Christ was so touched from the movie that she went home and implemented her own dedicated prayer war room space. Her discipline in praying daily and focusing her prayers has already shown fruits in her relationship with God and others around her. Some of her prayers have now been answered in very tangible ways, since the nature of the prayers themselves affected her life in a significant way. These prayers being answered are a source of encouragement and inspiration which helped to motivate the cycle of positive prayer passion.
Another sister-in-Christ was also motivated to improve her prayer life and focus her prayers on fighting the real enemy. Even beforehand she had been battling some long-term issues but the effect of War Room and her increased prayer focus and discipline led to significant break-through in her relationship with God. Her more focused prayer has already led to a positive improvement with signs of progress taking shape in the last month or so. More focused prayer has and continues to help unblock certain hurdles that were previously preventing further progress.
Testimonies from the effect of watching War Room continue to emerge; I would hope viewers do not simply treat it as just another movie, but allow God to speak to them through the heart and message of the movie – to seek God more through prayer and proclaim His glory here on earth.