Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Little Faith and Encouragement...

When I was a child, I loved playing "Simon Says" with my younger sisters. We also enjoyed "King of the Hill", "Mother May I", and "Hide n go Seek"--just to name a few of our favorites. As great as these games were, they were most fun when I was in charge--you know, calling the shots, making the rules, judging the competition, being "it".

Judges 4 and 5 tells the story of Deborah, a woman who judged not games, but disputes and dilemmas among the children of Israel. Apparently, she didn't have an office, but word spread throughout Israel that she could be found sitting under a tree that had been dubbed the Palm of Deborah, and it was there that she wisely settled cases each day.

One day, Deborah sent for a man named Barak because she had a message from The Lord for him. Here's what scripture records in Judges 4: 6-7:

...“This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: Call out 10,000 warriors from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun at Mount Tabor. 7 And I will call out Sisera, commander of Jabin’s army, along with his chariots and warriors, to the Kishon River. There I will give you victory over him.”

The Canaanites had been ruthlessly oppressing the children of Israel for 20 years at this point because Israel had once again done evil in God's sight. Jabin, a Canaanite king, had a mighty army led by a fellow named Sisera, and Israel feared them greatly because of the strength of their army's 900 iron chariots. The odds looked grim that Israel could victoriously oppose Sisera's warriors, and yet that's exactly what God instructed them to do.

When Deborah delivered her message to Barak his response was, "I will go, but only if you go with me." It seems that he was reluctant and doubtful, likely assuming that going up against Sisera was certain suicide. Deborah agreed to accompany him, but reminded Barak that victory over Sisera would be attributed to a woman rather than to him unless he accepted the challenge without her assistance.

Several things occur to me as I read these verses. First, Barak agreed to rally forces against Sisera despite his lack of faith. Sisera, on the other hand, didn't suffer any lack of faith--he trusted in his superior equipment and his army's strength, but his great faith was misplaced. As the story continues, Barak and his troops successfully defeated Sisera's army because God ensured their victory.

Scripture tells us in the New Testament in Matthew 17:20 what even a little faith can do:

...Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.”

Barak exercised his faith, albeit minuscule, and God came through. The second thing I noticed is that God used a woman, Deborah, as an encourager at a critical time in Israel's history, a lesson to us regarding the power of a faith filled messenger.

I have to confess that I'm sometimes tempted to whine and complain rather than encourage and act when problems seem insurmountable from my perspective. It's at those times that I need to remember the promises of scripture. This story--along with other Biblical examples of God's ability to overcome any obstacle that stands in His way--should compel me to be a faithful encourager.

Chapter 5 of Judges records the song that Deborah and Barak sang after their amazing victory over their adversaries. The final sentence says: Then there was peace in the land for forty years. What a privilege to be used by God to bring about peace after such a time of trouble and turmoil. Everyone in Israel must have been grateful and gratified to know that God again fought for them as they followed the lead of Barak and Deborah into battle against a daunting enemy.

The lesson for us today? A little faith in a BIG God is greater than BIG faith in the wrong gods.

Father, forgive me for the times I've failed to encourage and believe. I have faith in Your ability to do anything, so please give me your help to overcome my tendency to discourage and doubt. Thank you for this reminder that even the tiniest faith in You is great enough to move a mountain. I praise you for reminding me of that today, and I pray that my loved ones remember this, too. In Jesus' Name. Amen.

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