One of the most exciting things I know of is the experience of being Spoken to. Hearing the Voice. And in the middle of a melee, sword arm tired and shield cracked, it almost doesn’t matter what he says. What matters most is that he’s Talking. The fact that the Voice is coming right now confirms that he’s still in this with us. We are not alone. The King – the Captain – is still mounted, and he will help us hold the line.
My recent encounter with the Voice in Philly (see previous posts) was part of a longer conversation. Without that wordless dialogue, I would never have been able to receive and metabolize what he said next. I wouldn’t have been able to “eat this scroll”.
He is most recently talking to me through Joshua and Nehemiah. And my wife. First, my wife. When I shared with my team the sense of despair and helplessness that Jesus had given me, we talked about forward movement off it. One of the things my wife mentioned was needing to be inspired.
I didn’t like hearing that. I’m the team leader. I know it’s my job to inspire. To keep the team inspired. But I canâ’t make stuff up. I can’t feel my neighbor’s despair, I can’t join them in the black hole, and then make up some rousing crap to inspire my team. And anyway, that is not at all what Jesus wanted me to do. Jesus wanted me to help some of my team mates give voice to what was happening inside them as they identified with their neighbors and friends – as they became flesh and dwelt among Narnyans, with all that has to mean.
But I also know my team needs to be inspired. Honestly inspired. And I need to do it in a way that’s authentic – that is, I have to be able to really go there and be there emotionally myself. We have a No-BS policy. That begins with me. Still, without inspiration – without literally breathing into their sails, we can’t thrive or reach or preach or disciple.
So, of course, I told Jesus that. And I let it be.
His response started with my reading from that day. It was Nehemiah 4:14, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember Adonai, who is great and terrible, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.” I liked that. I wrote in in my journal. And then I forgot about it.
The Conversation continued at home group this last week. A friend led us through Joshua 5:10-15. There was lots of good stuff. The primary impression I took from it was that Jesus would like me to study Joshua for a while. Noted, my King. I’ll start tomorrow.
So, Monday the Dialogue unfolded further as I unpacked Joshua 1. This is familiar territory. Three times God tells Joshua – who has seen plenty of blood and carnage as Israel’s military commander for the last 40 years – to just not be afraid or discouraged. To be strong and very courageous, because the LORD is with him. And the people tell him that theyâ€™ll follow him utterly, if he’ll just be strong and courageous, and if the LORD remains with him.
How do I drum up strength and courage when You tore my heart out three weeks ago? I’m comfortable with You only meeting me in pain for periods here and there, but when at the same time You call on me to be bold and courageous, how do I do that?
Back to Nehemiah. So, Nehemiah is a brilliant leader, and he has excellent intuition, strategic ability and emotional intelligence. The Cause is the rebuilding of the wall, and the salvation of Jerusalem, and the glory of God. But the people’s enthusiasm for “The Cause” waxes and wanes over the course of the book. Especially when the enemy seems hell-bent on killing them all – or at least on stopping the work and frustrating The Cause. Nehemiah 4 is one of those moments when the people are wanting to drop the cause and see to their own survival. Put another way, they’re having trouble connecting emotionally with The Cause.
So, Nehemiah takes the men from extended family groups, arms them, and stations them behind the gaps in the wall. Now, they’re not fighting for the project. They’re not fighting for The Cause. They’re fighting for their brother, who is standing next to them. And they are fighting for their children who are 100 meters behind them, hiding in their houses.
Nehemiah put them in a position where they could emotionally identify with the task, and where the risk was personal. He didn’t station them on the wall, where they could pray, “Lord, save my friends down there in the gap.” He put them in the breach, where they would have to pray, “God saveussaveusSaveUsSAVEUS!!!!!”
It hit me like warm sunshine on my face that Jesus had been doing the same thing with us. Since Philly, I find myself totally confident that Jesus will rescue Narnya. And when I pray I tell him as much. But I also have lost a friend – he died and tumbled into the Dark last year. I know that the salvation of individuals is not guaranteed. So, as I pray, weeping, I pray that while he’s saving Narnya, could he please not leave my friends behind. He’s been putting us in a place where we feel our friends’ situation with them.
We are emotionally compromised. And that’s exactly where he wanted us all along.
Now, still honest about the LeadSkyCloud of despair that we sense all around us, and still allowing to seep into us so the gospel can defeat it within us, there is something to inspire us. Now, when we’re too culture-stress angry to care about “Narnya”, or when we’re too smashed under our friends’ despair and our lack of satisfactory answers to fight for The Cause, we can fight for our friends.
When I came here as a strategist, I came for the whole country. The Muslim world. And I’m still in that fight, and the larger game still guides my strategic decisions and my planning. But I fight for Nick. I fight for AC. I fight for Abe. I fight for Jenny. I fight for Victor, for Tom. I fight for my Narnyan friends.
We can see where the despair comes from. We know the lie, and we know the Liar. And I’ll tell you this right now. We’re tired. We’re sad often. We’re broken under the weight of the injustice and hopelessness that every one of our neighbors lives in every single day. And most days we don’t know what the heck we’re doing.
But we will not be cowed by any of that. We will remember Adonai, who is himself great and terrifying, and who is himself Speaking to us, demonstrating his presence with us. And we will fight for our friends. We will stand in the breach next to them, and we will win this City by fighting for our friends. We don’t know exactly what Jesus is up to here. But, by God, we will stand in this hole and we will fight for our friends.
There is a gameness that is naive – American hearts seeking to win a people for Jesus. And there is a gameness that comes once you’ve tasted the air your friends always have to breathe. It’s not an energetic gameness, and it’s not the afraid-of-the-dark triumphalism that makes us quote verses at the night. It’s the gameness of people who died on a cross when Jesus did, and who don’t know how this is all going to turn out, but come hell or high water, you’re going to find them fighting for the blind and the dying.
Adonai is great and terrible. Let the enemy consider himself on notice. We will not be moved. We love our friends. We have been emotionally compromised. It’s on.