Standing for God often means standing alone – how can you find courage?
There’s a fascinating story in Scripture about twelve spies. They were sent by Moses into the land of Canaan to map it out and find out what it would take to conquer it. But when the twelve spies returned, ten said the land couldn’t be taken. The people of Israel wailed and rebelled.
Then, two men of faith stood up to speak: Caleb and Joshua. They maintained the land could be taken. God would help them conquer.
But no one believed them. Moments later, God judged Israel, sentencing the nation to spend the next forty years wandering in the wilderness. Every man over twenty years old who had failed to believe would die without seeing the land.
That to me is remarkable. I would have thought the two men of faith would have triumphed, wouldn’t you? But no – they were defeated.
Nonetheless, all that happened to them lays out some important principles about standing for God. There are times when everyone opposes you. And what do you do then?
It’s not uncommon. Christians frequently find themselves standing alone in the midst of a crowd of unbelievers. Their convictions and beliefs are ridiculed. And it looks like God’s side will lose.
Standing alone is a common experience in biblical history. There’s …
- Noah, whose family members were the only believers on earth at the time of the flood.
- Moses, who frequently had to face a threatening mob with no one but God on his side.a
- David, when his men encouraged him to kill King Saul in the cave.
- Paul, who often came into town with nothing but his clothing and the gospel.
- And Jesus. Even God knows what it’s like to stand alone. With everyone mocking and hurling threats. With all the people screaming for your head. Without friends or allies.
It happens today, too.
- A missionary combats idolatry and witchcraft to bring the message of salvation to a lost tribe. He labors for years with no help, and he sees no fruit.
- A church leader’s denomination sinks into heresy, and when he opposes it, he is threatened with excommunication.
- A high school student shares the gospel with a friend, then finds herself in the principal’s office the next day being warned not to talk about such things on school grounds.
Going back to the story of the twelve spies, you can imagine the tension and anger both Caleb and Joshua felt regarding the other ten. For the last few years, they’d all seen God’s miracles multiplied. They watched as God made a mockery of the gods of Egypt. Every one of the ten plagues punctured the supposed power of some Egyptian god. If there was any question about who had the power and the glory, it should have vanished after the plagues.
But Israel refused to believe. Even though God performed miracles galore, the people remained stubborn, unmoving, unwilling to submit.
Have you found yourself in such a situation? You’ve produced all the evidence, made unanswerable arguments, set forth the truth with grace and wisdom, and still the people stand still.
I recall a woman I taught for a whole summer. We studied the Bible together. She came to church regularly and went out witnessing. I was convinced she was walking with Jesus. Then the following winter, after no communication for some months, she informed me she was giving up her faith. It was too hard to be a Christian.
In another situation, I worked with a youth group in which a number of the young people got involved in a vigorous discipleship process. The son of one of the elders was converted and committed himself to a new, holy life. Kids were coming alive.
But there was opposition. From where? The adults. They wanted a wider ministry, the inclusion of more kids in the activities. Even though no one was excluded, there were rigorous guidelines. There were commitments of time and effort. Many of the “fringe” Christians among the teens weren’t interested. So was I supposed to compromise the standards for the sake of the multitude? Yes, according to these adults.
Their opposition ultimately led to conflict that resulted in my leaving that ministry.
What do you do?
That’s where the twelve spies come in. Out of their story arise several important principles about standing alone. By understanding these truths, we become better equipped to endure when everyone else around us stumbles. First, remember that…
God’s jobs are always bigger than you are.
The ten spies were overwhelmed by the monstrosity of the task at hand. They crept through the land for forty days, traveling several hundred miles in the process. During that time they saw numerous fortified cities. Canaan was a tribal land, and each tribe occupied a certain area, usually punctuated by a fortress, such as Hebron, Jebus, Jericho, and Ai. These fortresses must have appeared menacing, even dreadful, to the eyes of untrained soldiers. All they could think of was what their motley band looked like: women, children, donkeys, sheep, and oxen. All of the men had been slaves, purposely kept from learning the ways of war.
The job simply looked gargantuan, too much for the sedate band of Israel.
But that is always God’s way. He always gives His people something far greater than they could ever conceive of attempting on their own. Why? So that it’s clear who accomplished the victory: God! Second…
Anytime you proceed on an action that requires faith, you will be opposed.
Why were the other ten spies afraid? They’d seen God’s miracles. Every day they’d experienced at least one miracle: manna from Heaven. They had God’s promises. They had Moses, above all, whose faith only seemed to rise higher and higher.
Why were they afraid then? Because they had no faith. “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7). “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 Jn. 4:18). If you confront an impossible job that appears far bigger than anything you can overcome, and you do not have faith in the God who is bigger than all, you will be afraid. If you look at a great task and do not also look at the God who is greater than all, you will run.
That’s exactly what the ten spies did. It’s a process: Doubt leads to discouragement, which leads to distrust, which leads to disobedience, which leads to disowning God, which results ultimately in destruction.
The ten spies had no faith; they doubted God. They saw the sons of Anak and became discouraged. Their discouragement led them to distrust God, to accuse Him of bringing them out there by mistake or to kill them. Distrust resulted in disobedience; they refused to go in and conquer. Disobedience eventually resulted in disowning or abandoning any hope in God. In fact, they may even have gone over to the other side, calling Him a fraud, or a cheat, or worse, nonexistent. That disowning finally ended in destruction.
But what about Joshua and Caleb? They had faith.
But that’s just the point. Anyone with faith will be opposed by those who don’t have it. To the faithless, anything God wants us to do looks preposterous. “It can’t be done,” they say.
Anyone who saw the movie Chariots of Fire will remember the opposition Eric Liddell received to his stand on not running on Sundays. His faith told him he should keep the Sabbath holy. Even the Prince of Wales tried to convince him to run an Olympic trial heat on a Sunday.
What was Liddell to do? Stand anyway. Trust God that He would honor His man.
And God did! Near the film’s stunning conclusion, Eric receives a note as he goes to his mark to run. “He who honors Me, I will honor.” It was actually given to Liddell by his masseur well before the race, but for dramatic effect, the movie makers placed it at the start of the race. Still, that four hundred meters became the most famous race of the games. Liddell’s name went down in history – and down for a crown in eternity. He had served his Lord, against all opposition. He had stood firm. Third…
Even though you are acting in faith, God may allow you to be overcome.
I’m certain the hardest moment for Joshua and Caleb was when God issued the decree that Israel would not enter the land of Canaan (Num. 14:20-25). “But why?” Caleb might have shouted. “I believe. Why should I be punished for their unbelief?”
Sometimes that happens. Sometimes God allows the faithful to be overcome, overthrown, even killed by the unfaithful.
That’s certainly the hardest aspect of standing alone. Here, you’ve given your all. You’ve stayed with the faith. You’ve supported God. But you too go down with the ship!
Being right does not always mean being victorious. Being faithful does not always mean being (circumstantially) successful. Remember that when you stand alone. You’re where you are because God put you there. He has a plan and purpose for your being there. But if you can’t see it, that doesn’t make it any less glorious.
What did Corrie ten Boom see when she was freed from the concentration camp? Her whole family had been murdered. She had nothing. Couldn’t she have justifiably looked at God and said, “Why? What good did it do?” at that moment?
Was it worth it Corrie?
From the perspective of time and history, she would say, “Yes, unequivocably yes.” Why? Her book The Hiding Place and the movie about it have affected millions. Corrie ten Boom has spoken before crowds all over the world, and even on the same podium as Billy Graham. She affected the lives of multitudes for good. Yet, at that moment of searing pain when all seemed lost, she probably wondered how it could be worth it, how good could come out of those ashes.
So it was with Joshua and Caleb. When God allowed the unbelievers to triumph, and suddenly they realized they faced forty years of wandering, dust, and pain, they must have been tempted to cry out, “It’s not fair!” But they didn’t. For they were men of faith, who believed in a God who was wise, kind, and knew exactly what He was doing from the very beginning.
Yet, they could easily have become bitter, or even tried to take matters into their own hands. That leads us to a fourth principle.
Let God deal with the opposition.
When people stand alone and are opposed, those on different sides often hurl harsh words at one another. Even a believer can be tempted to want to take revenge, to get back, to see those people get what they deserve.
But once the decision was made, Joshua and Caleb were silent. They didn’t whip out their swords and begin hacking at the other ten. Nor did they fire curses and taunts at them. They waited on God.
And God acted. A plague immediately killed all ten of the opposition.
Waiting on God is difficult. But He says that He will repay. In fact, even Paul, when opposed by Alexander the metalworker, didn’t resort to threats. He simply stated, “The Lord will repay him for what he has done” (2 Tim. 4:14).
We can be sure that when we stand alone, God will deal with our enemies.
Consider Adolph Hitler. He stood at the helm of the Reich he claimed would last a thousand years. Instead, it lasted less than twenty. And for the havoc he wreaked upon the world, God ultimately dealt with him.
I love the little phrase you find in Matt. 2:19, where Matthew wrote, “After Herod died…” King Herod, it says earlier in the passage, was so troubled over the coming of Christ that he plotted to kill Him. He even had the male children of Bethlehem exterminated to rid his kingdom of God’s presence. Herod was so evil that he murdered not only thousands outside his family, but also his own wife, mother, and sons! But God repaid him according to his deeds (and will yet repay in eternity). The time came “after Herod died.”
Don’t sit up reading the obituary pages looking for the name of your enemy. Leave him in God’s hands, and proceed on your own to stand. Finally, when you stand alone, remember that…
Your job is to obey the Lord regardless of what others do; ultimately, He will vindicate you.
It may take years. It took forty for Caleb and Joshua. But in the end, they survived and went into the land. We remember them as great saints of God. But those other ten? Can you give even one of their names? They’re gone, buried, forgotten in the dust, until that last day when they will arise and stand before God and answer for their crimes.
I like the words of Matt. 10:26-27:
So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.
What did Jesus mean? Simply this: you might as well tell the world all the truth and nothing but the truth because ultimately it’s all going to come out. No man can hide anything from God.
Recently, I have borne a heavy attack of lies about my life and conduct from people close to me. At times I have reacted with anger and tried to vindicate myself, to prove it was all untrue. But as I studied Scripture, I discovered that such actions were unnecessary. If I was right, it would come out in the end. And if I was wrong, then I needed to repent. I decided to proceed on a course of doing what was right even if others spoke against me.
Strangely enough, I began to see immediate results. One person came to me and confessed he was wrong. Others began to see the truth and changed their story.
But vindication doesn’t always come in this world. Sometimes you have to burn at the stake, die, and wait a thousand years in Paradise before God will show the world the truth. The marvel is that one day, as Paul said, “When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (Col. 3:4).
The day is coming. You will stand before Christ. He will render His judgment. In all eternity there will be nothing to compare –not Nobels, Pulitzers, Oscars, or the Reader’s Digest Sweepstakes – with His words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Sure it’s tough to stand alone. Jesus never said it would be easy. But while you’re out there on that point, while you’re standing at that stake, while the whole world ridicules and hates you, while even your Christian friends have deserted you, Jesus Himself promises, “never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). You can know He’s there, for He communicates His presence in that moment.
That’s glory. That’s worth it. That’s when we can say, with Paul, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).
Mark R. Littleton, Discipleship Journal