The beginning of wisdom. When the church finds you (Part 6)

“’We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. . . ‘

“Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, ‘We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.’” (Numbers 13:27-28, 30)

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” (Hebrews 3:15)

The Promised Land at the end of the exodus was actual real estate, the land already inhabited by various tribes and their kings. It was Israel’s promised inheritance.

Our inheritance is not a literal land but a life in Christ, a life as different from our former life as the Promised Land was from Egypt. But that inheritance must be taken, by faith, just as the Israelites took the land city by city, tribe by tribe and region by region.  

When I returned to my hometown after college, about 3 ½ years after becoming a Christian, I understood this correlation between the Israelites and the church. What I didn’t understand was how it worked. How do we “take the land” today?

The answer turned out to be pretty simple in concept. Find out where the Lord wants you, then listen attentively each day and respond to his leading by obeying.

Which was exactly what happened in the exodus: “The Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut 8:2-3).

As I mentioned in my last post, I became a leader of my campus fellowship by my senior year in college. I was older than the other students, so that made me an “elder” by comparison, but aside from perfect attendance at our chapter’s training weekends and a short stint working overseas with a missionary, there wasn’t much to my faith or life worth mentioning.

The only person that seemed to know the real me was the woman I was dating at the time. She sat me down one evening and read me this: “For God did not give us a spirit [i.e., attitude] of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Tim 1:7).

And there it was. That “spirit of timidity” had as much of a hold on me as the rich young man’s wealth had on him (cf. Mk 10:17-25). Defeating it was the “one thing I lacked.”

Or, in Old Testament terms, it was like the pagan kings the Israelites had to overcome city by city to take possession of the land. My inheritance was a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline. To take possession of that I had to overcome the “spirit of timidity.”

And to do that, the Lord led me step-by-step through challenges to my faith that required simple obedience. No esoteric knowledge, no special revelations, no mystical communion with God through meditation. Just obey.

It came down to simple things like walking through the business district asking store owners if I could put up flyers about an event our church was sponsoring. I became very self-conscious and even anxious at the looks I got, as if they were thinking, What’s happened to him? This guy has lost it. He’s become a Jesus freak.

I would run into persons I knew from high school, persons that frankly intimidated me back then and who, I thought, would crush me with ridicule when they learned of my newfound faith. But in most instances, they acted as if they were afraid– of me! Sometimes it was so obvious it was comical.

And then I realized why. I truly had “a spirit of power,” but never realized it because I had never taken steps of faith to appropriate it. I always hid my light under a bushel and rationalized away that disobedience with the thought that others couldn’t accept what I had become or wouldn’t listen.

Day after day, week after week and month after month, the Lord took me through situations that challenged me to deny my fear of ridicule and to say no to my craving for acceptance and approval. At times, I had to lean heavily on the knowledge of God’s approval of my life when others thoroughly rejected me, avoided me or ostracized me.

Previously, I had persuaded myself that I couldn’t endure complete rejection or even strong disapproval from others. Looking back, it was a foolish and weak response to deceptive thoughts. That was just one of the ways the “spirit of timidity” ruled me.

But as I walked by faith and continued to obey, I found I could accept rejection with equanimity. It wasn’t as bad as I imagined. It didn’t intimidate me into mincing my words as it once had.

This was one example of the battle Paul wrote about that takes place in the mind: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor 10:5).

The rich young man asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” It’s unfortunate that some have twisted the narrative into a pretzel to avoid the implication that salvation is earned by doing specific good works (“Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor”).

But that’s not what the story is about. Jesus knew the man’s wealth ruled over him just as tyrannically as the “spirit of timidity” ruled over me. To receive his true inheritance (“you will have treasure in heaven”), he had to take the step of obedience Jesus commanded.

We know he didn’t take that step. But what about you?

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