John Sedgwick was a general in the Union Army during the Civil War. He came from a military family. His grandfather was a general during the Revolutionary War and served with George Washington. Sedgwick graduated from West Point, served in the Mexican-American War, and was involved in numerous Civil War battles including Gettysburg, Antietam and Chancellorsville. He received multiple wounds on two different occasions, had his horse shot out from under him and survived cholera. If anyone fit the definition of a seasoned veteran of war it was Sedgwick.
In May of 1864 he was positioning artillery and troops in Spotsylvania, Virginia. As he did this, bullets from a sniper’s rifle were hitting around him and his men. Many of them were nervously flinching and Sedgwick was chiding them saying that if they were afraid now, what would they be like when the real fighting began. “They couldn’t hit an elephant from this distance.”
Those were his final words. While they may not have been able to hit an elephant, they could hit a union general. Sedgwick was struck under the left eye and died instantly.
There are different pictures used in the Scripture to help us understand the nature of this life. James 4 speaks of a mist (v. 14). Isaiah uses flowers and grass in a similar way in 40:6-8 of his book. The purpose of these word pictures is to remind us that life is brief, we’re not to take it for granted, and it could end at any time so we need to be prepared.
In 2 Corinthians 10:3ff, Paul speaks of waging war and the weaponry that we are to employ. Peter speaks of “sinful desires which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:13). These pictures remind us that we are in a spiritual war. This concept is developed in greater detail in Ephesians 6:10ff where we’re told that “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” (6:12).
The thing to remember about war is that you survive by staying alert (v. 18). Inattention is perhaps the enemy’s greatest weapon. No one is immune—not even a grizzled veteran like General Sedgwick can fall victim to it. Even someone like David, a man after God’s own heart, can be caught off guard (2 Samuel 11).
In the end, it’s not unlike raising your children when they were very young—you have to know where they are and what they are doing at all times. That doesn’t mean there aren’t moments when you can relax (like when they’re asleep), but it does mean you can’t let your guard down. And all of that vigilance and diligence doesn’t mean there isn’t joy because children are a great blessing.
The context of Ephesians 6:18 suggests that prayer lays an important role in keeping us alert. Maintaining an attitude of prayer keeps us dependent upon God—strong in Him and His mighty power rather than ourselves (v. 10).
Disciples are part of an army that advances on its knees.