HIS PART AND OURS
The terror of trusting God
Sometimes trusting God can feel risky.
When I played basketball in high school, I was a short kid. I wanted to be tall, so early in the season, I went to bed praying, “Dear Lord, please make me seven feet tall.” I trusted God to make me grow, and it felt a bit risky because I would have nothing to wear!
But the next morning, my feet weren’t hanging over the end of the bed. I had trusted God, and He didn’t come through—I was disappointed.
Some of you have had a similar experience, and to be honest, it makes us a little reluctant to trust God again. So when He asks us to do something for Him, we get nervous because there is often a gap between God’s way (the better way) and the way we’ve always done it—whether in handling relationships, responding to people or making decisions. Because His method is unfamiliar, we enter the “discomfort zone.” It’s what Christian leader Barbara Brown Taylor calls “the terror of obeying God.”
The good news is, we’re not alone. The Bible is filled with stories of people who had this same gap in their lives, who entered a “discomfort zone” on more than one occasion. In Judges 4, for example, we read about Barak.
“After Ehud died, the Israelites once again did evil in the eyes of the Lord. So the Lord sold them into the hands of Jabin, a king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth Haggoyim. Because he had nine hundred iron chariots and had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years, they cried to the Lord for help.
“Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided. She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, ‘The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: “Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead the way to Mount Tabor”’” (vv. 1–6).
This is the beginning of Barak’s “gap.” God was asking him to take his men to the opponent’s home field. Understandably, Barak was a bit reluctant. He replied to Deborah (v. 8): “‘If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.’”
When God asks us for something, often we stall, stage a filibuster, hem and haw. Why? Maybe because of the influence of the people around us, who may not be trusting God either. There is a cycle in the Book of Judges: the people of God sin, lose to an enemy, repent and then are rescued by a God-sent deliverer. Judges 4:1 says the people had “once again” entered the cycle. Barak’s friends were living life on their own terms, by their own rules.
Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are influenced by our peers. But sometimes pressure comes from further away National figures, talk-show hosts or popular authors cause us to question our faith: “Is that really the best way?” “That seems a little foolish.” “Common sense says . . .” We end up doing what we’re used to doing, what others say makes more sense.
A second reason trusting God feels risky is the evidence in front of us. If you look at the first half of Barak’s story, at least three times (vv. 3, 7 and 13) the enemy’s 900 chariots are mentioned. They were the hottest and latest military technology. In the right terrain these chariots could quickly outflank an army, leading to their opponent’s certain defeat.
Barak was no doubt saying, “The odds are not good. My best plan is to stay where chariots can’t maneuver. But, Deborah, you are asking me to go to the enemy’s position of strength. That’s not the way I’ve been taught.” No wonder Barak thought he could not trust God. All the evidence said His way wouldn’t work.
Another reason trusting God sometimes feels risky is because of the emotions inside of us. The Israelites had been “cruelly oppressed” for 20 years (v. 3). Imagine being under someone’s thumb for that long. In addition, Hazor, the city from which the enemy Jabin was commanding his army, had once been destroyed by Joshua. This threat, which the Israelites thought long gone, had been rebuilt by the Canaanites.
Add to this the discouraging news in verses 11–12: “Now Heber the Kennite had left other Kennites, the descendants of Hobab, Moses’ brother-in-law, and pitched his tent by the great tree of Zaanannim near Kadesh. [Then] they told Sisera that Barak, son of Abinohim had gone up to Mount Tabor.” These “turncoats” were relatives, leaking information to the enemy. Can you imagine how it feels to have members of your family, people you thought you could count on, turn on you?
Many people know Hebrews 11 as the faith chapter, but I call it the “gap” chapter. It’s full of the names of people who experienced gaps between the way they were used to doing things and what God was asking of them. Yet, they obeyed—despite other people’s advice, the evidence in front of them or their own emotions.
In Hebrews 11:32, we read: “I do not have time to tell about Gideon, [and] Barak . . .” There he is, the “gap guy,” mentioned along with Samson, David and Samuel. Verse 33 summarizes: “who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies” (emphasis added).
Barak’s weaknesses—the influence of his peers, the discouraging evidence, his draining emotions—were turned to strength, and he was victorious. How did he do that? How do we do that? Barak made three important decisions.
First, he included a friend. Barak said, “Deborah, I’m not crossing this gap unless you cross it with me.”
A number of years ago, God asked me to do some things that were out of my comfort zone. It seemed that if I did it His way, I would get chewed up and spit out. On several occasions I found myself driving 25 miles to a friend’s office just to talk, to pray and to receive encouragement.
When trusting God feels risky, don’t go it alone. Add a friend to your spiritual team.
Barak’s second decision was simple: he started doing his part. God’s will always has two parts, His and ours. Barak’s part was to decide, “Am I going to go?” This was not easy. But the last part of Judges 4:9 tells us, “So Deborah went with Barak to Kadesh, where he summoned Zebulun and Naphtali. Ten thousand men followed him, and Deborah also went with him.” We pick up the story in verse 13: “Sisera gathered together his nine hundred iron chariots and all the men with him, from Harosheth Haggoyim to the Kishon River. Then Deborah said to Barak, ‘Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?’”
Here’s Barak’s part (v. 14): “So Barak went down Mount Tabor, followed by ten thousand men.” I can only imagine what he must have been thinking: Here we go! Flat terrain, just what the enemy likes. We are on their playing field; I’m leaving my comfort zone.
I know how this feels. Years ago, after our third child, was born, my wife and I had hospital bills that exceeded our insurance coverage. Also, I needed extra money to go back to school for another degree. Since I was pastoring, I asked permission from my church board to moonlight by delivering the morning newspaper. About nine months into the second job, I attended the C&MA’s General Council in Hartford, Connecticut. During the Sunday service God spoke to my heart: Rich, I want you to trust me for that money for your education. Give up the paper route.
Making that decision while listening to a moving sermon was one thing. But it was about a 6-hour drive home, and along the way, I starting thinking about the gap. Where is the money coming from? God was asking me to trust Him to do His part. My part was to give my supervisor two weeks’ notice. And I did.
I still don’t know where the money for my education came from. I can’t tell you that someone wrote a check or that I got an inheritance or won the Reader’s Digest Sweepstakes. But I can tell you that by the time I graduated, the bill had been paid.
The third decision Barak made was even more exciting: he watched God do His part. “At Barak’s advance the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword, and Sisera abandoned his chariot and fled on foot. But Barak pursued the chariots and army as far as Harosheth Haggoyim. All the troops of Sisera fell by the sword; not a man was left.” (Judges 4:15–16).
That is the “newspaper account” of what happened. But how? Judges 5, the song that Deborah and Barak sang in praise of God, contains the “rest of the story”: God sent a gully washer, a thunderstorm that caused the normally dry bed of the Kishon River to become a raging torrent. With their chariots mired in mud, the 900 charioteers became 900 scared infantrymen. Barak and his 10,000 soldiers, who knew what feet were for, gave chase. Why did Sisera’s army lose home-field advantage? Because God did His part.
Sisera, running for his life, stopped to rest at the tent of his informant, Heber. When Sisera was asleep, Jael, Heber’s wife, grabbed a tent peg and drove it through his temple (4:17–23). The traitor’s wife became a hero. God took someone who could have been a threat and made her part of His plan.
In Alice in Wonderland the heroine said to the Red Queen, “There’s no use trying. One can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” the queen replied. “When I was your age, I always did it half an hour a day. Why, sometimes, I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Sometimes we think trusting God is like believing six impossible things before breakfast. But it’s not. Trusting God is trusting God. One of the fascinating facts about the story in Judges 4 is how many parallels there are to the story in Exodus. “What He did for Barak, He did for Moses,” the writer is saying, reminding us of Who it is we are being asked to trust. God has done His part before and will do His part again.
What is your Mount Tabor? What secure hill, comfort zone or way of doing things is God asking you to release? It may feel risky, but you have a decision to make. Start by doing your part.
Then watch as God does His part. A. W. Tozer wrote: “We boast about the Lord and then we watch very carefully that we never get caught depending on Him.” When trusting God feels risky, remember after all that it is God you are trusting.
Achieving God’s purposes means taking faith-filled risks. This always involves change. Heb. 11:6