Does God care if you’re a gutless wonder? There WAS a time when the answer to that question was obvious. But looking around, the answer to that question isn’t as obvious as it should be.
These days, we’ve got a nicer-than-Christ generation warming pews and watching Christian(?) Television. And it’s getting increasingly difficult to find ANY standard Christians are expected to uphold. Any time you try to pin a Christian down on one, it always seems to keep coming back to ‘God Understands’.
God ‘understands’ my mistakes.
God ‘understands’ my love for Him paling in comparison to my love of the comforts of this world.
God ‘understands’ my unwillingness to resist temptation.
God ‘understands’ my slavish obeyance to the praise of men.
God ‘understands’ my favorite sin.
If God ‘understands’ all those things and ‘accepts me as I am’, then it’s perfectly fine if I stay exactly as I was the moment before the Holy One put his crosshairs on my little life. But is that line of thinking actually TRUE? It sure doesn’t SOUND like the Divine Person we are introduced to in Holy Writ.
All of those things together are too broad a topic to take on, so let’s narrow it down to a relevant one. Fear. Timidity. The inability to step up when the chips are down and courage really matters.
Does God really care if you’re gutless?
I suppose it depends on how you are using the term, ‘gutless’. There are two aspects to fear… a feeling of uncertainty that paralyzes the willingness, and an act of will that refuses the challenge before you.
Conveniently, we’ve got examples of each in the Book Of Judges. Two men, both of whom were called to lead the Jewish people out of a difficult historical period in which they were being oppressed by their neighbors. Both men’s names are found in the famous ‘faith chapter’ in Hebrews Eleven. But they took very different roads to their destination.
Let’s look at the emotion of fear, first. Gideon was riddled with it.
Yes, the same Gideon whose Bible story you may have heard, the same guy whose name is on that Bible you may have swiped from a hotel drawer. THAT Gideon had a fear issue. (Judges 6,7 and following)
The Midianites were harassing them, waiting until they brought in the harvest, and then taking everything the could find by force. Even in mundane tasks, he was cowering at the thought of what the Midianites might do to him. When we find him in this story, he was beating out wheat in a winepress, so as not to be found out and have that little bit taken away.
Even as he was cowering, God called him and did so in an odd way.
And the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.” Later he added, ‘Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?’
After a brief exchange, he asked:
Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” And the Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.
We quickly learn that Gideon’s problem is that he lacks confidence that God still cares about Israel. That he isn’t a God who did great things once upon a time, long before with Moses, and then kind of abandoned Israel. He has doubts, but they are the kind of doubts of seeing conflict between what you believe to be true and what you see with your own eyes.
In a series of scenes, Gideon, who has the will to obey God, can’t quite grasp that a guy with all the insecurities he has can really step up into such a high calling and rescue his own people. All he’s really looking for is reassurance that God really IS in this adventure with him.
Through a series of events that run counter to any instinct someone leading a fighting force might have, he followed God’s lead. After amassing 10,000 soldiers, God told him to thin the herd, otherwise his leadership prowess not the intervention of God would get the credit. He sent home the fearful. (Yes, GIDEON sent home the fearful. Go figure.) He then had them all drink water, and divided them by the manner in which they drank. When all was said and done, only 300 able-bodied men were left.
As it happens, that was enough for the Victory God had in mind.
Another kind of fear…
Let’s compare him to Barak… no, not THAT guy. This is another figure from a few chapters earlier in the book of Judges. He is associated with the prophetess Deborah, and there is a reason for that.
Like Gideon, he was called to rescue his people Israel from powerful and hostile neighbors. The neighbors in this instance were the Caananites.
A prophetess, understood by Israel to be a direct-line conversation with God, summoned Barak and gave him a message.
She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali and said to him, “Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. 7 And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand’?” Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” And she said, “I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. 10 And Barak called out Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh. And 10,000 men went up at his heels, and Deborah went up with him.
His fear is not the emotion born out of uncertainty. This fear is a function of the will. He knows he’s been called out. He is willing to go up to the battle. He has even been given a clear strategy and a promise of victory.
He has a different issue. If things don’t go well, it could be his neck on the line. He offers a kind of conditional obedience to God, ‘Ok, I’ll do it. But SHE will go with me.’
There are a variety of possibilities, but he wasn’t willing to step up and take on the mantle of leadership, possibly because he wanted a fall guy (girl) if things didn’t go well.
The story proceeded with him beating the army but the enemy commander slipping away. A young woman invited him into her tent to hide, offered him some milk, let him sleep, and drove a tent peg through his temple as he slept.
Barak won the victory, but Deborah and the girl, Jael, got the glory for it, her actions featured in Deborah’s song in the following chapter.
To sum up…
There are two kinds of fear in the examples we recounted.
Gideon had the emotional kind that paralyzed action. In response, Gideon attacked his insecurities and doubts at their root until they were a manageable size. (Don’t wait until fear goes away completely. You’ll never get anything done.)
Barak had a different kind of fear. His was the ‘I don’t want to’ kind, the I don’t like the outcomes waiting for me if I go through with this kind of fear.
It’s the kind of fear that makes someone NOT do what God has called them to do.
Kindly, God reminds us that he has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind.
More bluntly, he reminds us that fear is incompatible with the Christian life. In this text, he’s doing it in the context of persecution:
Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.
Tell me again how God ‘understands’ modern Christians being gutless?
But surely there is no other verse that speaks so bluntly about being fearful, right? How about this one?
But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
That really doesn’t sound like God’s kidding here, now does it?
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