When I was a boy, old people would make dire predictions. They would say things to my mother like, “You’re not going to let him go out in this weather, are you? It’s practically a tornado out there!”
There were also the unspoken dire predictions. “If you don’t study hard and get good grades, young man, why, you could… you know… not do well.” (By the way, I could never figure out why old people would insert the word “why” in the middle of otherwise normal sentences like that.)
When we were out in public, they would say things like, “Don’t you wander off! Why, you could get lost and not be able to find your way home!”
And one of the ones I heard most often: “You’re going to catch your death of cold!” As a little boy, I had never had one of my friends “catch their death of cold,” and I had never even heard of anyone who died of a cold.
I learned to associate those gloomy predictions with old age. Needless warnings, (to my young mind) was something that creaky old folks did, the sort of people who sat in chairs all day and had to be helped up when it was time to go to the dinner table.
When I became older, I learned that there were indeed things that you could “catch your death of.” But mature men and women would nevertheless go and do the things that needed to be done. They would face the cold to go to work. They would charge machine-gun nests to defend their country in faraway places. They would face tornadoes and hurricanes doing heroic rescue work at home.
Could they “catch their death?” Yes, they could! But duty called, and they shouldered their burdens and did what needed to be done.
I see those three categories of people evident today.
- There are some people who look at all of the challenges in this world, and they see doom and danger everywhere. To listen to them, everyone should run and hide. Or at least stay inside, because society is coming apart at the seams and Christians are soon going to be hunted down with scoped rifles like coyotes.
- On the opposite end of the spectrum are those wide-eyed, naïve people who are sure that nothing bad could happen, no matter what. Every warning is just a sign that the old-folks are getting stirred up again. They are like the teenagers two years ago who took their surfboards down to the shore when the hurricane was predicted to make landfall. Their immature decision to “surf the hurricane” left grieving parents and empty bedrooms. I see people like that today also, starry-eyed reality-deniers who have the same attitude as the failed spiritual leaders in Isaiah 56, who said, “Break out the wine and beer, because tomorrow will be like today, or even far better!” God said of them with contempt that even though they were supposed to be Israel’s watchmen, “They are all mute dogs: they cannot bark. They lie around and dream. They love to sleep.”
- The great news is that somewhere between the decrepit doomsayers who flinch at every shadow and the simpletons who cannot imagine that tomorrow might actually be worse than today, there are men and women who look the truth in the eye without fear or denial. These are the leaders who acknowledge that the times are growing more difficult, but they do not call for the church to retreat.
In King David’s day, trembling advisors counseled him (Psalm 11), “Flee like a bird to the mountains!” Peering around with fear in their eyes, they continued: “Look! The wicked are bending their bows! They are about to shoot from the shadows at the upright in heart!” And they wrung their hands and asked hopelessly, “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?”
But there was a reason that God had chosen David to be king. David was made of sterner stuff, because he was a man after God’s own heart.
David’s response to his trembling advisors is powerful. “I trust in the Lord for protection!” (verse 1). “The Lord is in his holy Temple. The Lord still rules from heaven! (verse 4). “He watches everyone closely, examining every person on earth.” (verse 4). David went on in the remainder of the Psalm to declare that he had absolute confidence that God was going to sort matters out and bring justice FOR the righteous and justice UPON the wicked.
This was the leadership way of David when faced with dangers.
Whenever he saw God’s nation under attack, he acknowledged the danger immediately rather than naively denying it, but in the face of the gravest danger he turned immediately to God for help to do the right thing, and he trusted God to act.
And that maturity didn’t come from years of life. Back when he was very young, a teen-aged shepherd too young to enter the army in wartime, David visited his brothers in the army, took in the threat to the nation that stood looming in the person of Goliath, and (to make a long story short), Scripture tells us in I Samuel 17 that David literally ran forward to attack Goliath, saying, “You come to me with sword, spear and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of Heaven’s armies…Today the Lord will conquer you, and I will kill you and cut off your head!”
Notice the pattern already in place in David’s life and leadership: Acknowledge the situation (sword, spear and javelin), trust in God for help (“I come to you in the name of the Lord of Heaven’s armies”), and then take bold action.
I want to speak now to the brothers and sisters who are called to be the church’s leaders in our day. We need to follow this pattern as we lead those entrusted to us.
We acknowledge that these are shifting times, and that the situation looks like there are greater challenges ahead. We are not those who blindly deny the truth by saying about our political or cultural situation, “Aw, tomorrow will be like today, or even far better!” As an example, we are facing a future where our political leaders may well be those current candidates who are demonstrating that they are prideful and have haughty spirits. And we know that the unchanging word of God says that those things precede destruction and a fall. God still opposes the proud. He always will, because He said so.
But we are not among the prematurely old, who tremble in their places by the fire and say to our people, “Don’t go out there among them! It isn’t safe!” or “Oh dear, our foundations are being destroyed, and there is nothing that we can do about it!”
We will declare to our people that although the times are growing more challenging, God is still on the throne, and He is still “watching every person closely, examining every person on earth.” In the strength of His Presence, we can walk out of our homes and engage people in bold, loving conversation. We can declare that we belong to the Lord, and that He will have the final say, and we can urge people to get right with God.
Throughout history, whenever anyone decided to do just that (walk out of their homes and engage people in bold, loving conversation, declaring that they belong to the Lord and that He is going to have the final say, and so people should get right with God), two things happened:
First, the fearful believers said, “That will never work. These are dark times!”
Second, God brought revival.
God has never brought revival where the church refused to acknowledge that the situation was desperate.
He has never brought revival where the church acknowledged that the situation was desperate, but decided to do nothing.
God has always brought revival when the church fell to its knees and asked Him for help to confront the dark days in which they lived in the power and the person of the Holy Spirit.
God, give us courage to be men and women who understand the times and know what we should do, and then go out and do it.