War is as old as human history, an aged widow named Miss Clara narrates in the opening moments of War Room. “We fight for power. We fight for riches. We fight for rights. We fight for freedom,” she says. “There always seems to be something to fight about.”
That’s as true for individuals as it is for countries. Yet despite the reality of relational conflict, Clara observes, “Very few of us know how to fight the right way.” We fight each other instead of recognizing our common spiritual enemy, she says, the thief who comes “to steal, kill and destroy.” If we hope to thwart Satan’s schemes, to counter his cunning strategies to divide us, we’ll need a beefy battle strategy. A strategy that can come from only one place: time spent asking for God’s guidance in our prayer closet.
Or, as Miss Clara calls it, her “war room.”
Elizabeth Jordan doesn’t know anything about such secret spiritual places. Oh, this successful real estate agent, wife and mother is a Christian. But tending to the details of her life is all-consuming for her right now. Especially when one of those details involves her deteriorating relationship with her husband, Tony.
Tony’s a star sales rep for a pharmaceutical company, a natural born talker whose megawatt smile has magnetic appeal. He pulls in four times as much money as Elizabeth does—a fact he’s quick to remind her of when she tries to give her sister some of it. Tony, you see, has no interest in helping people who are hardly working when he’s working so hard.
Tony doesn’t have much interest in his wife, either.
And caught in the middle of this troubled couple’s conflict is 10-year-old daughter Danielle, who longs for her parents’ love and attention … and longs for them to stop yelling at each other.
Reenter Clara. Elizabeth’s path crosses Clara’s when the older woman needs a real estate agent. And while Elizabeth’s trying to get the info she needs to sell her house, Clara can’t quit showing her she cares about more than just business. Soon a friendship is born, one in which an older woman begins to disciple a younger one about fighting the right way against the right enemy in the right place.
In the war room.
Elizabeth is initially resistant to Clara’s delightfully pesky probing. But as Elizabeth learns to trust Clara more, their camaraderie deepens. Clara shares life experiences and spiritual counsel to help her younger charge make sense of her matrimonial mess. And as Elizabeth puts Clara’s wisdom into practice, it has a transformative effect on her fragile family.
[Spoiler Warning] Tony’s best friend, Mike, vows, “I’m not going to just watch your marriage die.” And after Tony and Elizabeth participate in some pretty intense verbal arguments in front of Danielle, they both realize that they’ve failed to be fully present with Danielle, to listen to her and to value her. Separately at first, then together, they make their daughter a priority again. Tony, especially, begins to recognize his failures as a husband and a father. He also makes amends for unethical and even illegal choices he’s made.
Clara tells Elizabeth that two of her favorite rooms in the house are her “wall of remembrance” (where she keeps a list of answered prayers) and her humble “war room” closet (which has scrawled prayers and Scripture passages plastered all over). She quotes Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:6: “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Clara senses from some of Elizabeth’s comments that all is not well in her life and in her marriage. And she insists that the only correct response to struggle is prayer. “It’s not my job to do the heavy lifting. No,” Clara says. “That is something only He can do.” She says each believer’s responsibility is to “seek Him, trust Him and stand on His Word.”
The pair’s next spiritual conversation centers on how Elizabeth should relate to her husband. “He’s not your enemy,” Clara exhorts. “You can’t fix him, and it’s not your responsibility to fix him.” Instead, she says, Elizabeth must love, respect and pray for him. “You got to plead with God so that He can do what only He can do. And then you got to get out of the way and let Him do it.”
Yet another conversation revolves around grace. Elizabeth balks at offering what she thinks of as a free pass when her husband doesn’t deserve it. Clara’s counters, “Do you deserve grace? None of us deserve grace.” Then she quotes Romans 3:10: “There is none righteous, not even one.” Clara preaches, “He give us grace, and He helps us to give it to others even when they don’t deserve it.”
[Spoiler Warning] Elizabeth does offer her husband grace, praying for him and changing the way she relates to his character flaws. And her grace and love become important redemptive influences in Tony’s path back to God. When he finally does crack, Tony’s repentant heart is full of remorse as he prays for help. Elizabeth tells Tony, who can’t believe she’s stayed with him, “I’m not done with us. I will fight for our marriage. I’ve learned that my contentment can’t come from you. I’m His before I’m yours. And because I love Jesus, I’m staying right here.”
Clara holds forth on the subject of Satan in this way: “The real enemy is Satan. He comes to steal, kill and destroy—stealing your joy, killing your faith and trying to destroy your family. It’s time for you to fight, Elizabeth.” And the fighting Clara’s got in mind requires being grateful, confessing, praying for her family’s needs and asking for forgiveness. Taking those words to heart, Elizabeth later blurts out, “I don’t know where you are, devil. You have played with my man. … No more. You are done. Jesus is the Lord of this house, and that means there’s no place for you here anymore. So take your lies … your accusations and get out in Jesus’ name. … My joy is found in Jesus, and just in case you forgot, He has already defeated you, so go back to hell where you belong and leave my family alone!”
Danielle notices her mom’s newfound commitment to prayer, and she begins offering her own supplications too, illustrating how parents’ spiritual disciplines rub off on their children. Two humorous lines involve getting out of the way so “God can hit your husband” and a hot sauce called “Wrath of God.”
Tony has a flirtatious relationship with a woman named Veronica. It gets more serious when the couple has dinner while he’s on a business trip. Veronica suggests going back to her house, implying she’s ready to consummate their affair. Tony’s pondering her offer when he gets suddenly and seriously sick to his stomach and runs off to the bathroom (at exactly the time his wife is praying that his sinful intent will backfire).
Newsreel footage shows carpet bombing and firefights in Vietnam. In a nightmare, Tony tries to rescue his wife who is being manhandled by a hooded assailant. (We see scuffling and fighting.) Wide awake, Elizabeth and Clara are confronted by a would-be mugger who brandishes a knife and demands money. Clara, sounding quite a lot like Madea, responds by demanding, “You put that knife down right now in the name of Jesus!”
Veronica suggests to Tony that they have a glass of wine.
We hear Tony vomiting.
Fairly early in their friendship, Clara tells Elizabeth that if she can devote an hour a week to prayer, it will change her life.
One hour out of 168.
On paper, it doesn’t seem like much. In reality, there are lots of reasons lots of us live lives just like Elizabeth’s. Like Elizabeth, we believe in Jesus. We go to church. We care about our faith. But when it comes to depending daily upon God to guide us, to deliver us and to radically reshape the way we think and feel and relate to others—especially in life’s most intense moments and toughest relationships—well, it’s easier for us to just keep muddling through. We know we should pray more, perhaps, but … we don’t.
Clara rightly identifies one of the obstacles to carving out time to pray and intentionally devoting a portion of each day to God: a spiritual enemy who wants us to do anything else but that. In addition, I think Jesus’ sobering words in His parable of the sower in Mark 4 add some other, perhaps more mundane culprits (“cares of the world,” “deceitfulness of riches,” “desires for other things”) to the list of factors that disperse our good intentions.
So what War Room does effectively is model what it really looks like to create space for prayer in our lives amid the real struggles that inevitably conspire to crowd it out.
Now, a drama about prayer warriors isn’t like a thriller about cold warriors, but the Kendrick Brothers still manage to give the story oomph as they illustrate how a commitment to prayer (and time spent in God’s Word as well) actually accomplishes what Paul describes in Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Those who pray faithfully for family and friends, some for years on end, may not see changes as dramatic or sudden as the ones Elizabeth and Tony experience onscreen, of course. But even if there’s a degree of cinematic idealization regarding the instant outcome of prayer in War Room, the message that the Kendricks deliver here is no less valid or profitable: Prayer is where God reshapes and remolds our souls into the image of His son, Jesus Christ. And the movie gives viewers an inspiring (aspirational) glimpse of what that spiritual metamorphosis might look like when we commit to making prayer a priority.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.