Fearful Heart vs. Faithful God
Have you ever been afraid to do something? Winter is fairly well upon us, and when we received our first big snowfall last month, I pulled out the sled so I could take the boys sledding down the driveway. I went down a couple times by myself to jog their memories of how sledding goes, and my one son immediately joined me in zooming down the hill. My other son was not having it. Not one bit. He would watch us, but when it came time to be his turn, he quickly changed the subject, turning away to walk down the hill. I persisted in asking him, knowing how much he had loved it last year. He immediately combatted my efforts with lots of "what if" statements.
Knowing my son, as I do, I know he does not like new things. New foods, new activities, new schedules... they all throw him into a funk.... until- you guessed it- he tries the food, plays the game, gets used to the schedule... Eventually, I convinced him to do one ride down the driveway. I promised to ride with him and not go super fast. And, guess what?! We made it and he loved it. Now, he goes by himself. Imagine that!
I have been reading through the book of Judges recently. In this book, I read of two men who were afraid. Timid, afraid, fearful, worried, hesitant. These words don't necessarily describe someone who would lead an army into battle. But, that's exactly what these two men did.
The first man was Barak. In Judges chapter 4, we read of Deborah, the prophetess, who comes to Barak and admonishes him for his delayed obedience. It seems Barak had already received the instruction to go up into battle against Sisera, the captain of the army of Canaan. Now, Sisera's army had 900 chariots of iron, and for twenty years the Canaanite people had treated the Israelites "cruelly" (4:3). So, Barak's hesitation certainly seems founded in knowledge, capped with fear, based on experience. However, Deborah comes to Barak and says, "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. And I will draw out Sisera... and I will give him into your hand'?" Barak answers her question in a round-about way: "If you will go with me, I will go; but, if you do not go with me, I will not go." I can imagine Deborah maybe shaking her head or throwing up her hands. Here God had promised to give Sisera into Barak's hand- and yet he was cowering in fear, hesitant to obey, willing to obey only if Deborah came with him. Deborah promises to go with him, admonishing Barak that the death of Sisera will fall into the hands of a woman since Barak had been hesitant to obey. So, Barak and his army go out to meet Sisera and his army.
In verse 14, we read that Deborah says to Barak, "Up! For this is the day in which the Lord has given Sisera into your hand. Does not the Lord go before you?" Then, immediately we read, "So Barak went down..."
The rest of the story ends with this miraculous work of the Lord, routing the entire army, Barak and his men pursuing them, killing every single one. Sisera, the general, escapes, and is killed by a woman, Jael.
The second man I read about is Gideon. During this time, the Israelites were in bondage to the Midianites. An angel of the Lord appears to Gideon and calls him a mighty man of valor. Gideon immediately refutes the claim. (And, his situation would certainly match his claim since he was hiding in a winepress.) I read a similar instruction to Gideon as to Barak: "Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I go with you?" (Judges 6:14). Gideon makes excuses- about his status, about his abilities, about his lack of faith- yet, the angel persists, saying, "But I will be with you." So Gideon asks to bring food to Angel. When he returns, the Angel proceeds to consume the food with fire. At this point, Gideon agrees to do what was told him. The first thing he was to do was to break down the altar to Baal, cut down the Asherah, and erect an altar to God. In Judges 6:27, I read that he obeyed, but he did it at night because he was afraid.
Further on in the chapter, Gideon continues to question God's instructions again and asks God for a test. Here then, is the story of the fleece- which was once wet and the ground dry, and the next night dry, with the ground being wet. After these signs, Gideon continued gathering men, eliminating men as God instructed, and then preparing for the battle. But, the night of the battle, Gideon displays fear again. So, God tells him to go into the camp of the Midianites and listen at the tent. God also tells him that if he is afraid, he can take a servant with him. So, Gideon takes his servant and they sneak into the Midianite camp. There, they hear a Midianite soldier explaining a dream he had of a barley loaf tumbling into camp, striking a tent, making it fall and turn upside down. The interpretation, as told by another Midianite, was that the barley loaf was Gideon and that God had given the Midian and all the camp into his hand (Judges 7:9-14).
As soon as Gideon hears the interpretation, he worships God. Then, he rounds up his men, and the familiar story of the trumpets, torches, and jars comes to life, with God being the true conqueror. Then, the Bible records that Gideon and his men pursued the princes and kings of Midian to complete the task God had given them. Judges 8: 4 says, "And Gideon came to the Jordan and crossed over, he and the 300 men who were with him, exhausted yet pursuing..."
In reading these stories/examples in Scripture, I have learned some beautiful lessons.
1. God does not belittle us in our fear. Barak was afraid. Gideon was afraid. But, nowhere do we see God telling them to "buck up!" or "man up!" or "get over it". Instead, we see God faithfully showing them his power and authority through the example of the prophetess, through miracles, and through dreams.
2. Our fear does not mean we disobey. Although both these men were fearful and afraid, they were not excused from obeying and performing the task God had for them to do.
3. When God encourages our faith, he does so with the expectation that we will follow him fully. Barak had to collect all his men and set up camp before they could pursue Sisera's army. Gideon did not go into battle right away. He first had to break down the idols/the sin that were keeping the Israelites in bondage.
4. The task at hand requires our full, complete obedience. Barak and his men killed every single one of the Canaanites. And, Sisera was killed by Jael. Gideon and his men pursued the princes and kings of Midian until they were dead: "exhausted, yet pursuing..."
5. When the task God has called us to is complete, he must receive all the glory. Deborah and Barak write a song, praising God for his work in defeating the Canaanites. The Israelites try to make Gideon their king, but he refuses, declaring God alone to be their ruler.
What is God telling you to do these days? Maybe he is prompting you about areas of idol worship that need to be broken down in your heart. Maybe he is calling you to a specific task or assignment, yet, your fear is keeping you from following through on that calling. Perhaps you are fearful about so many unknowns swirling around in your world: your children, your "ability" to mother, your job, the state of our country, relationships, Covid... the list could go on and on. Know that God has not called you to be afraid. But, he has called you to himself. "Does not the Lord go before you?"
Whatever he is calling you to in these days of "unknowns", rest in the truth that your fear is not a burden to him. Rather, your lack of obedience, because of the fear, is what hinders your ability to move on in faith. Instead of jumping in the sled and zooming ahead into what God has prompted for you to do, you are making excuses or denying your abilities (or his abilities!) Ask him to encourage your faith. He encouraged both Barak and Gideon. He never belittled or denied their fear; rather, he made his presence known to them, so they could move and obey beyond their fear into enlarged, greater, confident faith.
I would challenge you to read through both these stories, looking at all the ways God made himself known to these men. Let these truths encourage your heart as you move ahead in whatever God is calling you to do. Move forward in faith, knowing that your God is greater than your fear.
"The world knows but little of the persevering and successful struggle the real believer maintains with his sinful heart. But, he betakes himself to that DIVINE strength, in the faith of which he began his conflict, and by the supply of which alone he can finish it in TRIUMPH!" (Matthew Henry).
"I will give to you my burden
As you give to me your strength...
To the King in need of nothing,
Empty handed I rejoice!"
("Good and Gracious King", by CityAlight: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VMPV7UABJm8)