Gladiator: Serve the Dream
by Len Hjalmarson

Braveheart, and now Gladiator. Sigh... those were the days!

    In those days you always knew who the enemy was. And you knew what to do when he came at you. It was kill or be killed, a black and white world. Things were simple then. Maximus in Arena

    Except in the ruling councils. There, things became very slippery indeed. In the world of Roman politics, the rule was watch your back. The Senate was a place of plots and intrigue, and the longer Rome existed the more problematic it became.

    For the soldier and the warrior, however, there was only combat and strategy. Combat was for the soldiers, strategy for the generals.

    Flavius Maximum was both soldier and general, strategist and warrior. He could think on his feet, and could use a sword with the very best. And he knew when not to fight. His goal wasn't to display his courage but to win the battle. He was well disciplined.

    On the one hand, thank God that yesterday is gone. We don't live in a world of violence and bloodshed where proving your manhood means you must fight in the Roman army. I'm not very sad about that!

    On the other hand, much of the world is still like this. We westerners are isolated from the reality of violence, except in the movies! And honestly, the Gladiator is a violent movie. Viewers be warned. It may not be gratuitous, but it is almost as violent as Braveheart. Historians be warned: Maximus is an archetype, and I doubt there were any Roman generals with his scruples.

I Believe in Yesterday

    If we have lost the concrete world of the sword, blood and battle, we at least recognize true leadership. Leaders have authority when they are under authority. And they are under authority because they are committed to a cause greater than themselves. They serve the dream.

    I can't help but long for those simpler days, when light and darkness were more clearly defined. In those days, preparation was clearly preparation for battle. Soldiers were trained to fight, and when they got to the battlefield, there was a clear connection between training and combat. Hardware was real hardware: armor, a helmet, a shield, and a sword. Perhaps my own love of military simulations is anchored in that warrior spirit and a desire for a simpler day.

    Today, leaders are trained in the soft sciences: listening skills, teaching skills, leadership skills, administrative skills, computer skills, and books, books, books! And, if we have a good mentor, spiritual skills, which is more listening! It feels more like a waiting game than preparation for battle.

    If soft sciences, then perhaps the art of love is included in our training? But alas, even love has become soft. Robert Bly talks about the "soft" or feminine man, who knows how to share his feelings but has lost the hard edge of the warrior. He doesn't know when to stand and fight.

    And then where is the enemy? As believers "our warfare is not with flesh and blood." How do we fight what we can't see? So the real battle seems more an internal one: believing that there really is a war, that consequences are real and eternal, that "I am that I am" means that the Kingdom really is breaking in among us, often in small and seemingly insignificant ways.

    "We war not against flesh and blood," yet much of our war is against flesh and blood, perhaps our own flesh and our own blood. But "the weapons of our warfare are not carnal." We use words. We use words to pray, to intercede, to encourage, to confess, to teach, to direct. We listen to words as they inform, guide, teach, pray, intercede, confess. Our weapons are formed of words, in a culture that no longer values the word. We wield "the sword of the Spirit."


"If we don't succeed, we run the risk of failure." Senator Al Gore

"A man is not defeated by his opponents but by himself." - Jan Christian Smuts

    Leadership is still about word and deed. We follow those who are going somewhere; we see their actions and the sacrifices they make, and we know they follow a dream. Hero

    They must be able to tell us something about where they are going, even if they have never seen Rome. They too whisper quietly, because to speak about it too loudly and boldly is to dispel the mystery. And mystery draws us at times even more than the boldly painted vision. We sense that those who seem too familiar with the words may only be repeating what they heard. As Bruce Cockburn sang,

    Those who know don't have the words to tell,
   And those with the words don't know too well…
Burden of the Angel-Beast, Bruce Cockburn

    While we affirm the centrality of the word, we have to stay in the paradox. By our words we will live or die, caught by the mystery of matter and spirit, caught in the mystery of the kingdom, which is present, but yet to come.

    Even in Rome there was paradox. Sometimes we think the post modern world is new; but maybe there is nothing new under the sun. The Gladiator is the perfect leader, because power is the last thing he wants. He lives to serve.

    Maximus dreams of Rome, a city he has never seen, yet the dream that tugs at his heart strings is the farm, and his wife and children. He really only desires to raise crops and grow children and wonder at the beauty of the world. He wants to eat of his own vine and ponder life, in peace and in safety. In biblical terms, he seeks shalom. But he finds himself in the midst of a battle for truth and justice, so he fights. Something in him drives him to reach beyond himself, even beyond the personal level of human need and human bonds.

Love of the Father

    On one level, Maximus served for the love of a father. But at that level he simply hadn't understood the deeper truth that the Emperor represented the ideal of Rome, a vision much bigger than the Emperor himself. The Emperor was only a sign of something larger and more permanent; he was a "sacrament," if you will, of the true, a visible sign of an invisible ideal. He too served the dream.

    In the movie this reality finally dawns on Maximus, and he discovers that he was really serving the ideal. He was serving Rome, the dream of a kingdom of truth and justice, the dream of a better world. What was unconscious had to become conscious; he had to choose to fight for his ideals. Ignatius Loyola "willed to become a saint." Maximus chose to fight for his ideals.

    Maximus was a true leader because he served something bigger than himself. He served the father, then the dream. He followed a leader who also served the dream. In fact, he wouldn't follow anyone who wasn't serving the dream.

    In the film when the Emperor dies (murdered by the son Commodus, Oedipus revisited), the son becomes Emperor. Maximus could serve the son as he served the father, but he does not, because he knows that Commodus serves only himself. Who wants to merely forward the selfish ambition of another man? Well, of course there are some who would be content to do so, if their own ambition was served in the process. If there was enough power or wealth to go around, many men would be content.

    Not so Maximus. He sees clearly that the son doesn't serve the dream, in spite of his position. Like Braveheart, Maximus is a true man of the people. He knows that it is not about leaders and followers, not even about personal glory, but about honor… it's about the dream.

    Maximus will bow to no human ruler who does not serve the dream. And so, he becomes an outlaw, a slave. His purpose initially is revenge, but then he remembers the dream. He sees the oppression around him, and he remembers the dream.

The Power of the Dream

    Politicians have always understood the power of ideas. The first ones to be rounded up when a revolution is under way are the priests and intellectuals, the ones who can craft words and inspire men to dream the dream. The journalists are the ones who are bought off or who disappear in the night. Why? Because ideas don't obey the whims of kings and emperors. You can kill a man; but once an idea has been born, it is like a fire blazing out of control. Truly, the pen is mightier than the sword.

    Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream. And Jesus came preaching the kingdom of God.

    While Rome slept, the kingdom of God worked like leaven in a lump. Into the very heart of Rome it crept, and it replaced the old ideals. The gods of Rome gave way to the one true God.

    We have words today which were born in those bloody days. The word "sacrament" comes from the Latin "sacramentum," which was the oath of allegiance to Rome sworn by Roman soldiers.

    The power of a dream in the heart of a leader is like the star that guides the ship across the sea. When you are lost at sea, the stars are all that matter.

    "A man's reach must exceed his grasp, else what's a heaven for?"

    As much as we long to be the principle of our own acts, we long for something greater than ourselves for which to give our lives. Our lives have meaning beyond the moment only when we connect with the transcendent. When we participate in the sacred realm, we touch immortality and partake in it.

    We worship the hero because he is larger than life, and by our worship we feel we partake of the same greatness. People love to be near to greatness, because we think somehow it rubs off. We want to "touch the hem" of our idols. That's why it's dangerous to be a star in modern culture!

    But if we worship rock stars because they seem larger than life, we worship the dream because it IS life. Courage and strength are attractive to us, but unless courage and strenth are at the service of truth, they too pass away like the flower of youth. The warrior who does not serve the dream, no matter how powerful he is, will only be beating the air.

Authority and Power

    We have many leaders with power among us. But we have few leaders with real authority. In order to have authority, one must be serving the dream.

    The Roman Centurion understood authority. "I too am a man under authority, and I say to this one "Go," and he goes, and to this one, "Do this," and he does it."

    Authority comes from being in line. True leaders have authority only when they are serving another. Maximus could not serve Commodus, because Commodus was not really in line. Outwardly, he had the position of authority, but because his heart was not obedient to the ideal that was Rome, he was out of line. He held civil power, but did not truly wield the authority of Rome. He was interested only in his own ambitions.

    You see, authority really does come down from above. And there is a mystery about it. It has more to do with action than position. It is not automatic (mere position or office) and it is only partly bestowed or earned.

    Authority seems to have two dimensions, both vertical and horizontal, but the relationship between the two is mysterious. Some leaders have authority with people, and some merely have power over them. Others have authority with God, but their influence with people is limited. Still others appear to have authority with God and power (influence) with people. Inevitably, these leaders are "in line," and whether they occupy an official office or not, they possess an anointing to lead.

The True and False King

    A few months ago a woman I know had a dream that pictured authority and service and the confusion that reigns among Christians today. In her dream she is in Sherwood Forest, in the midst of a vast army. She finds she is one of Robin Hood's merry men!

    Looking at the faces of those all around me I see that they are just like me, just a simple person who's only crime is that he/she has loved God and loved His people to the point of not being able to compromise nor lower our standards. We carry with us an intense loyalty to the King of Kings and nothing else will satisfy.

    There is a sense of family among us as we share our stories about the intense season of training and discipline we have each come through. I notice that each person stands straight and tall and each carries an arrow in their hands. All are well-trained and well-equipped. I feel honored to be a part of these mighty men and women of valor.

    Just then, a trumpet blast echoes through the trees and with great fanfare the king arrives in his gaudy attire. The army forms a single straight line. In the center of the line are those who are secretly on the true King's side. The inspection by the king begins. I notice the king is dressed in magnificent clothing and every hair is in place. His attendants obey his every wish out of fear. This king is concerned with only one thing….the appearance of his army. Not once does he concern himself with their weapons or their training. He barks out commands for better posture, shinier helmets. I realize he doesn't really care about his men at all, only himself.

    The king makes his way down the line to me. The king stands before me and I realize how easy it would be to think him a king, he's dressed like one and even carries himself like one. But with one look in his eyes I see the impostor within him. I see the religious man, but only in form and false appearance, his heart is far from the King to the point that he has set his face against the true King and even opposes Him. This man has done the unthinkable; he has taken his brother's throne!

    I understand why we have been put through such intense training and discipline. It becomes clear to me that we are to fight against this evil king and remove him from the throne so that the people might be set free from this tyrant and the true King might, once again, take His place among His people. To accomplish this, I understand we will have to fight against each other! Brother against brother! It is unheard of!

    But, it must be for not everyone in this army is on the true King's side. Many are on the side of this man who has made himself king because he has offered them so many trinkets and has even bewitched them. I am heartsick. And, yet, I know I can do no less. The true King deserves my all, my everything, even my very life.

    I am suddenly drawn to awareness that the king is still standing before me, inspecting me. Suddenly, the sun shines over the top of the trees and hits my breastplate. When I look down, I am nearly blinded by the brilliant gold on this breastplate and so is the king. He draws back in painful distress. I look up and down the line and see that those who have not sold out to this evil king are all reflecting the stunning light. For a moment, the forest is flooded with blinding light. With that light came the knowledge that we are the best of the best, and that the true King has perfected us and equipped us and made us ready.

    The king quickly walks away to his horse and those of us who have sworn our allegiance to the true King begin to dance behind the evil king's back. I laugh and say, "We're doing the Robin Hood victory dance!" We know that the victory has already been secured, it is ours because we fight on the side of justice and righteousness.

    The time to fight is nigh so we each return to our horses. Examining my horse, I see that he is a thoroughbred and has been equally prepared for the battle as we. I look at the other horses and see that they are all perfect and quite magnificent animals. They are well-fed, well-watered, well-groomed and absolutely stunning!

    I take the arrow that I suddenly realize has been in my hand the entire time and place it in the holder on my saddle. But before I do so, I closely examine it. I am overwhelmed with its precision and beauty. It has been hand-made just for me and is exactly the right size, shape and has exactly the perfect amount of 'feathers' for what I need. It is a masterpiece. I feel deep affection for this arrow and know that it will accomplish the task it is sent out to do. I look around and see that everything about this army has been so perfectly put together and brought to this point by an unseen hand, a Master's hand. We are all masterpieces, our horses, our weapons, our words, everything. With a strong feeling of affection, I place my bow beside my arrow.

    Then, I stand at attention beside my horse, waiting for the trumpet blast. And with that blast, I know I must fight against this king who has usurped the true King's throne. Once again, my heart aches. I whisper, "For the Lord!"

    At the edge of the camp, the king is sitting on his horse. I say, "For our fight 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." Ephesians 6:12

The City of God

    "Seeking the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is god."

    The Lord is preparing an army, but few of them are willing to serve under human kings, whose primary interest is in building their own kingdoms. These men and women are looking for leaders who are sold out to the True King. When they find them, they will follow them into Hell itself.

    Everywhere I look today I see small kingdoms built by men. These kingdoms have labels of all kinds: Baptist, Mennonite, Lutheran, Vineyard, Pentecostal. One never knows when one will encounter a soldier of the true king. In many churches the leaders are sold out to God, in many others they are sold out to man. Some have a foot in both camps. It can take months to discover which is true, because outwardly they may use the "right" words and wear the right clothing.

    "When you say, 'I am of Paul. I am of Apollos,' are you not thinking like mere men?" 1 Corinthians 3: 4

    Where are those who say, "I am of Jesus"? "I am for the Risen Lord of the Universe"? Him alone do I serve; Him alone will I die for.

    The church awaits leaders who care not for their own reputation, but care everything for the reputation of the true King. The true boundaries are not denominational, but are boundaries of vision and purpose, and all are defined within a single goal: the kingdom of God. Jesus came preaching the kingdom, not proclaiming denominations. Where are the leaders who are serving the True King, willing to lay down their lives for Him alone? These are the men and women with whom I want to serve.

    The true leaders are not about themselves, but are clearly submitted to a single purpose. They are like laser beams, focussed on the goal. All their energy is in one direction and they will count everything loss for the joy of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord. These are not ones who would be kings or queens, but those who point to the king. They are guides, not Potentates; ambassadors, not Emperors.


Adullam's Cave: Birthing Warriors

    One of the striking features about the Gladiator is that the best army in the world is formed from a small band of slaves. Maximus becomes the leader of this band by virtue of his courage and his skill, and because he serves the dream.

    I believe the Lord is preparing a similar army in our day. This army is made up of misfits and rebels, the disqualified and despised and discontent. They are like those gathered in Adullam's cave. Dan Root, a New Zealand brother, recently wrote this:

    "David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. When his brothers and his father's household heard about it, they went down to him there. All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their leader. About four hundred men were with him." I Samuel 22:1-2

    The LORD Jesus Christ is gathering, rallying and raising up a mighty army. He is sending out leaders and messengers to call forth into the LORD's army many of those we might least expect. He is calling into his forces the men and women who are distressed, in debt, and discontent. Many of the people who do not fit the main stream, the singles twice and three times married, the physically "disabled," the poor, the mentally depressed and many more who many might never consider.

    Who are weak in the world's eyes, He is making strong and equipping for His divine and mighty purposes. These people will be his instruments to confound the wise of this world and even the "wise" leaders of many traditional churches.

    He intends to use this mighty army like He did David's army in the days of Saul who rebelled against the LORD and turned his heart and the hearts of God's people away from the LORD.

    The Lord is going to vindicate Himself in His local congregations in the land like He has never done before. He is going to remove from office those who reject Him and withhold good from their congregations. He is going to judge those who quench His Spirit on the Holy day when He wants to speak through stammering lips and lowly hearts.

    As with David's Army, today, many people from inside and outside the organized, licensed churches are distressed, in debt or discontented. Some are experiencing various combinations of these three conditions. God knows the condition you are in. He watches your life daily and cares far more deeply about you and your situation than it is humanly possible to realize. He is a God Who loves each of His creatures infinitely and His limitless love can be overwhelmingly realized by all that repent and live wholly for Him (John 3:17; 17:23; 15:9). Those who reject Him as Savior, separate themselves from Him and His infinite love towards them.

    Many of those whom the Lord is calling into leadership in our day do not want positions of authority. But it is precisely their rejection of personal power that qualifies them to lead. If you are one of these, heed the call!

    Many of these hidden leaders have waited to be called on by the church, but have not been called. Sometimes they are in the test of hiddenness, a testing of their willingness to serve without recognition.

    Others are hidden in quiet preparation, undergoing training for war in places outside the gate. They are learning discipline and sacrifice. They are being purified from personal ambition. These ones will be released when the time is right.

    Others have not been called on because they are seen as rebels. They are quietly rejecting those in leadership over them, because they sense personal ambition and in their leaders and they will only raise their swords to serve the true King.

    Not long ago, Rick Joyner wrote of a new breed of leader:

    However, there is about to be a clear distinction between those who have received their authority from above, and those who have promoted themselves, or been promoted by institutions. The latter authorities will be increasingly revealed as operating in the control, political and religious spirits.

    This is Satan's "cord of three strands" that he has used to bind the church. That cord will soon be broken, and the true liberty of the Spirit released in the world, and the church which will fall into increasing tyranny and bondage to evil. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty" (II Corinthians 3:17).

    Freedom is coming. A new breed of leader is going to arise who will fulfill the mandate of true New Testament ministry to equip the people, and allow them to do the ministry. This will probably come in many forms, but it will come. It must. A true New Testament church leader is only successful if he or she is raising up others who can do what they do. Is that not the model that the Lord gave us for leadership? Then we will also have true church growth, which is not just growing fat, but growing strong as well. Rick Joyner, Megatrends in the New Millennium

    The Lord is personally building this army, and raising up trustworthy leaders to train and guide thousands of hidden warriors. Some of the new leaders will come from the institutional church, called out by the Lord. Some will leave positions of power in discouragement and apparent defeat. Their "failure" and brokenness will qualify them to lead as true servants, stripped of ambition and personal pride.

The Needs of the Many...

    All of us are learning to sacrifice our personal needs for the good of the community (shades of Mr. Spock!). Groups all over the world are being welded into fighting units. Like the gladiators in the center of the arena, they can only defend against the fast and powerful chariots if they work as a unit, in perfect harmony.

    Team ministry will be increasingly important in the new work that God is doing. No longer will authority be restricted to a few specially anointed leaders, creating huge bottlenecks in the work of building the kingdom. Rather, authority will flow down like anointing oil from the beard of Aaron, a fathering and releasing work that is a hallmark of the true apostolic.

    One day last fall I was out walking with my wife in the hills near by our home. As is typical for a late fall day, some Canadian geese were forming a huge V above the hillside, heading south.

    From our vantage point we were almost at eye level with the formation. I watched with fascination as I saw something take place that I had only previously heard about. The lead goose dropped from the front of the V to the rear, and another goose took his place.

    I felt the LORD speak to me that so it should be in His body. Leadership must be flexible, and should be shared. Breaking the trail for the entire V formation is tiring. The lead goose bears the brunt of the forces in the air.

    Eventually the goose in the lead gets tired, so he moves to the back and allows another goose to be on the cutting edge. Trading off this position with another goose allows each goose to rest, since those behind the leader don't have to work as hard. It also allows each strong goose to experience the exhilaration of being out in front, and to grow new confidence with new challenges.

    This sharing of leadership sends a strong message that EVERY goose in the formation is capable of doing the work of leadership, and in fact it is the responsiblity of each to have a significant place in breaking the way for others. Geese seem to have no need for control, and no lack of humility!

    This is a challenge to us, because leaders are accustomed to control. If God is in control, what are WE to do? We thought that was OUR job. If anyone can bring a word in our services, where does that leave our sermon? We are accustomed to being valued for our highly visible giftings. Will the church still need us? We need to remind ourselves that our task is not to DO the work, but to equip others to serve. We need to recover Eph.4:16, where the body is built "as each part does its work."

What is Essential is Invisible to the Eye


    So says the Fox in The Little Prince. We battle not with flesh and blood. We seek a city we have not seen ruled by a King who died a criminal's death as a pauper. We serve the dream.

    Our weapons are divinely powerful to destroy strongholds, yet our words seem foolish and we walk in weakness. The greatest weapon we wield, love, often seems the poorest. The path to power is the path of service, and Jesus bids us, "Come die."

    We live between the fulfilment of the kingdom, and the not yet. In that place faith can sometimes be a struggle. We pray for one person, and they are healed. We pray for another, and they die. We experience moments of glory, and moments of the mundane. We see God do amazing things, and then we are back dealing with church politics. Who is adequate for these things?

    But we serve the dream. The king will come, and His Kingdom will have no end. Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus!

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• © 1999-2002 Len Hjalmarson.• Last Updated on May 1, 2003