It’s not that War Room is too unrealistic – a common complaint about movies of similar stock – for prayer is immensely powerful, and we all know someone as eccentrically and selflessly devout as Miss Clara (more on her later) and someone else (like ourselves) as broken and in need of repair as…well, every other adult character in the film.
But when you go to see War Room (and let’s face it, you will have see it because it’s a Christian duty), be prepared for an experience that’s simultaneously endearing and alienating. Some moments shine with brilliance while others choke themselves out by trying to overemphasize a certain message, and such flip-floppery can lead to whiplash (no, not that kind of Whiplash).
The best scenes include Karen Abercrombie who plays the crowd favorite prayer warrior Miss Clara, a Christian woman of a certain age who has decided to sell her house and who has enlisted the aid of our protagonist Elizabeth Jordan. Abercrombie electrifies the film with a hyper-realistic portrayal of that one church lady…you know which one. It’s then easy to understand how such energy can transfer from her to the other actors; sadly, only some catch on.
Priscilla Shirer makes her big screen debut as Elizabeth, and her performance, though a little rough, is still pretty solid. T.C. Stallings as bad-guy-gone-good Tony also gives a decent enough performance even if unconvincing in some parts while totally committed in others.
The Christian Angle: Discipleship
Without running the risk of redundancy, the biggest Christian angle in War Room isn’t in the “power of prayer” nor the “perseverance of the saints;” instead, the strongest Christian message in this film is that of discipleship.
Elizabeth is lukewarm in her faith, and Miss Clara, in order to show Elizabeth how detrimental such tepidity is, serves her coffee at room temperature. From this point on, Miss Clara has Elzabeth’s undivided attention, and Elizabeth’s heart is primed to receive the seeds of faith that seem so fruitful in Miss Clara’s life and home.
Miss Clara then uses the opportunity to share her experience with prayer. But she doesn’t just leave it at superficial wonderment. She shows Elizabeth her prayer closet – the eponymous “war room” in which she fervently asks God to fight her battles and emerge victorious.
Not wanting to stop there, Miss Clara then urges Elizabeth to start her own prayer closet and instructs her in the knowledge of how to do so (it’s fairly simple, I might add). In other words, she disciples Elizabeth into her new walk of faith. And of course, Elizabeth then passes that on to her daughter.
This is the clearest representation of what discipleship is and how it can work in a modern-day setting that I’ve seen in a film in a long time. Miss Clara instructing Elizabeth in how to better her prayer life via a very technical method is reminiscent of Jesus teaching his own disciples how to pray in his Sermon on the Mount:
And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 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. (Matthew 6:5-6 ESV)
If this film really is about the “power of prayer,” then it should be evident that such prayer power only comes through being disciplined enough to pray the way God himself told us to pray.
Unfortunately, the Kendrick Brothers did not include the words “disciple” or “discipleship” in their film – a word that doesn’t seem to resonate with American Christianity like it should.
So when you watch War Room, think about how this film could actually reach out to someone. Think about all the marriages that struggle because a lack of communication has sprouted into a lack of trust. Think about how a disciplined prayer can resolve those problems and many more because it makes room for God to take care of the things that are out of your control.
Think about it, then go home, clear out a closet, and pray.