I remember when I was in senior school I had a predicament involving someone who had frustrated me. I quickly hit upon the solution; I strolled down the class room, elbow dropped him in the back, and walked off. So what, I thought, he has asthma? Why stop yourself? The struggle will be good for him.
As I returned to my desk I felt a surge of adrenaline, I could hear him winded and in pain behind me and I thought I had won. That feeling lasted for only the tiniest amount of time, however, when I remembered a few other factors. The fact that he was my friend, the fact that his parents and my parents had a good relationship that would be damaged by this, and the fact that the end result of my ‘solution’ was my form tutor waiting at the front of class and my father when I got home. I’d call it a Pyrrhic victory, but it was no victory at all.
I’ve grown and changed, by and through God’s grace, a lot since then. I’ve never been in a fight since school, but can I say that I’ve truly extinguished the spark of what that represented? At its heart my elbow dropping antics were an attempt to get my own back, and to do so publicly so that everyone knew who was boss. In one way or another, I think that idea can still crop up.
I know that my readers are all exemplary in such matters, so bear with me while I explain how this mistake can occur in me. Perhaps one day you’ll find it encourages you too. It’s quite simple, really, you feel wronged by a situation, circumstance or person and you decide that the answer lies in you putting it right.
It’s quite simple, really, you feel wronged by a situation, circumstance or person and you decide that the answer lies in you putting it right.
My example was an obvious one, but there are a thousand little ways this thinking can creep into our lives if we don’t guard against it. It’s a desire to get up and fight for what we perceive are our interests, even though we know we have a God who promises to do so. It’s a pride problem.
We serve a God who goes ahead of us, rustling through the tree tops to fight on our behalf before we even reach the field of battle (2 Chronicles 20:1-26). We serve a God who pledges His faithfulness to us and seals that promise in His own blood. We serve the Shepherd of Psalm 23 who prepares us a table in the very presence of our enemies. A God who thinned the ranks of Gideon’s army (Judges 7) so that the victory would be demonstrably miraculous. And yet we find ourselves thinking we can win under our own steam?
The truth is that there are many times when faced with a circumstance that the answer isn’t found in our desire to fight it but in our ability to take rest in Him. Where we stop and hand off to Him, His strength is perfected in our weakness.
When the Children of Israel reached the Red Sea they faced what seemed to be an insurmountable problem. God had led them, literally, between the devil and the deep blue sea. The Egyptian army closed in on them and with nowhere to go they started to doubt their deliverance; once again they entered confusion as their enemies seemed to prosper and Moses stood up and gave some wisdom.
The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.
– Exodus 14:14 (NKJV)
Or, as other translations put it, we need only to be still, to be silent. When we seek our own path, to our own idea of justice, it’s not about God any more but about our being seen to triumph. Like Caesar returning to Rome, we want a parade of victory but part of being a follower of Christ is that the parade of victory is His.
It can be difficult in life at times, when you want to resolve problems in human fashion and yet know God’s will is for you to hold your peace. It’s so easy to either ignore it and make a mess, or instead revel in the feeling of being a victim, yet we must do neither. We must find a place of peace, and let God set our world to rights.
My prayer is that I will grow more and more into a person whose default behaviour isn’t to strap on the boxing gloves and go twelve rounds with a problem, making more mess, but to hand it over to the one who has already promised to deal with it.
It’s not about being passive, it’s not about being cowed and broken. It’s about having the courage to stand and pray and believe in God’s definition of setting things right above our own.
I hung up my boxing gloves, maybe there’s someone reading this who needs to hang up theirs too.