By Nathan Dempsey
My dad had an amazing opportunity in college: become a pilot through the Air Force ROTC. Unfortunately, due to his fear of public speaking, he failed to give a required presentation. Yet he is still fortunate: he went to college to study agriculture, which was his hope, and has farmed for over 30 years. While he may have missed an amazing opportunity, he’s still living his original desire.
Missed opportunity is but one of fear’s casualties; it also delights in attacking our dreams, as I know full well. My childhood dream was to become a full-time fantasy author, and I diligently searched author websites for advice. In addition to the advice I sought, I also found statistics on how many people didn’t become full-time authors, but I was certain that wouldn’t be me. Early rejection slips suggested otherwise, and I feared discovering that I didn’t have what it took. Procrastination became my comfort; I developed ideas but avoided rejection by not pursuing them. Fear had effectively killed my dream.
I sensed God’s Spirit guiding me to write for his sake. This forced me to ask: if I had let fear defeat my earlier dream, how would I conquer it now to follow this new direction from the Lord?
This was the wrong question. As God demonstrated in the lives of Moses and Gideon, it’s not up to us to achieve victory; it’s up to him to lead us to victory.
The God Who Does Not Change
We can trust God to lead us to his victory based on Numbers 23:19, where he tells us that when he makes a promise, he always keeps it. His promise to Abraham is an excellent example of this.
Long before either Moses or Gideon walked the earth, there was a man named Abram, who would later become Abraham. God called this man to leave his family behind and then promised the land of Canaan to him and his descendants. Not only did God keep this promise through calling Moses and Gideon to service, but he even gave them promises of victory (Exodus 3:12; Judges 6:16).
Promises such as these were not limited to Moses and Gideon, however; Jesus gave us such a promise also in John 10:14-28: “I know my sheep, and my sheep know me . . . they too will listen to my voice . . . I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.” I’m certain Jesus’ promise includes victory even in our lives today.
The God Who Strengthens
Exodus and Judges detail for us the signs and wonders God used to strengthen Moses and Gideon. Both these men witnessed things any of us would consider amazing: a burning bush that didn’t burn up; flame instantaneously engulfing food soaked with broth; a staff turning into a snake as soon as it hit the ground, only to become a staff again the moment it’s picked back up; a fleece that, having been left out all night, should have been soaked with dew but was instead totally dry. Honestly I wonder if the way God actually gave these men strength was by his actions, resulting in the men fearing God more than they feared their enemies.
Still, even though both men witnessed things that would awe us, I have no doubt they would envy us. After all we have the gift of the Holy Spirit who fills us with Jesus’ grace and makes his strength perfect in us when we are weakest. In fact, it’s because of the Spirit that this article exists.
You see, my desire for a writing career was just the beginning. After that, God had to wrestle with me so I would surrender my original dream of being a full-time fantasy author and instead write for his sake. This meant not only that I needed to choose God’s desires over mine, but it also meant I needed to do so while loving my wife as Jesus loves his church and doing whatever was necessary to take care of my family—which could potentially mean being someone’s employee rather than being self-employed.
Submitting to God in these two areas led me to victory over self. Soon after, I found myself once more confronting fear. This time, however, fear took a different approach: it tempted me to believe I misunderstood God. I let fear’s temptation succeed for a while; then one day as I was earnestly asking God for help in moving forward even when there was the possibility I had misunderstood his guidance, the Holy Spirit reminded me of the parable of the talents. I remembered clearly how the master had commended the two servants who multiplied the talents he gave them, but he rebuked the servant who hid his talent in the ground for fear of losing it.
The message was clear: even if I had misunderstood God, I’d still be better off acting on this leading and making every effort to move into a writing-related career for his glory. Otherwise I risked having Jesus hold me accountable for failing to use the gifts and talents he’d given me. Obviously, I’m now writing!
The God Who May Allow “Bad” to Become “Worse”
The last thing anyone already struggling with fear wants to hear is that their situation might actually get worse before it becomes better. This is especially true when we know God is in control of everything. Why would he deliberately let things get harder before making them better? The answer is simple, though we may not like it: he wants to bring greater glory to himself so we can better appreciate how great he truly is.
Moses and Gideon both had to deal with this. As Moses was leading Israel out of Egypt and watching them collect treasure, I’m sure he thought the ordeal was largely over. Soon, however, Israel found themselves between the pursuing Egyptian army and the Red Sea. If God didn’t intervene, it wouldn’t end well. As for Gideon, he was no doubt buoyed by the size of the Israelite army he’d gathered to fight Midian. God, however, was not impressed and ordered Gideon to whittle the army down to a mere 300 men so that Israel couldn’t claim victory apart from him.
In my own situation, even as I pursue God’s calling to write, my life has become more difficult. My wife and I were blessed with a beautiful baby girl, so I’m now working two jobs—one of them overnight three times per week—so that my wife can stay home and raise our daughter. There are days when I am absolutely exhausted, when writing is less a joy and far more a chore. But like Moses and Gideon, I frankly have no other choice but to write when I can and wait for God to open the doors leading me to a full-time writing career.
The God Who Gives Victory
The Bible records that God was faithful not only to his promise to Abraham, but also to his promises to Moses and Gideon; Moses did return with Israel to worship God at Sinai and even led them to Canaan, while Gideon went on to become a war hero respected by many.
What victory looks like for us, however, remains to be seen, as our lives aren’t recorded in the Bible and we can’t see the future. Still I believe there are two distinct victories for us. We achieve the first victory simply when we take steps to fulfill the calling God gave us; when we do this, we walk by faith and bring pleasure to God. The second stage occurs when our efforts connect with God’s promises and we actually start bearing fruit for his kingdom.
Has God called you to complete a specific work for him or do you have a sense of how you can specifically live out God’s general calling to all Christians? Are you wanting to move forward but also struggling with fear because of some obstacle? Please don’t delay: ask God for help. Your hands will be strengthened.
Nathan Dempsey is a librarian and blogger living in Girard, Ohio (nedempsey.com).