by Lowell Bliss
[Editor’s Note: Lowell finishes his series on how to “lower the heat” on ourselves as creation care advocates and environmental missionaries who may be in danger of being burned-out by our own relentless messaging. This is also the second part of an article about intentionally choosing to mobilize from a more receptive audience. You can read Part 1 here.]
That was mobilization failure; now here is David.
I sat on the roof of our ashram overlooking the Ganges River in Varanasi, India. I was in a melancholy mood. I wish my devotions that morning had been spent in I Chronicles 21 or in 2 Samuel 24: I would have been forewarned about the stirrings of my soul and the task I was about to embark on. Instead, I grabbed a piece of my children’s sidewalk chalk and performed one single action wherein I was immediately convicted of four different sins.
King David numbered the people of Israel, and I did something similar. “But seriously Lord,” David and I could have pled in unison, “we were just thinking about mobilization for the glory of your name. Isn’t mobilization what you’ve called us to?”
My melancholy was of the “oh, poor me” variety, where I was thinking about all my missionary colleagues who had come to my city intent to stay for a good portion, if not the entirety, of their careers. . . but who were now gone for whatever reason. In missionary circles, we call this “attrition,” but what it meant to me was that they had come to join in and help with the workload, but now they were not available to lend a hand. “I wonder how many names I can remember,” I asked myself. I found some sidewalk chalk left down in the courtyard and climbed back up to our concrete roof near the water tanks: a nice flat surface on which to write up my list.
I looked at the list of those who were called but who didn’t stay. I counted them again to make sure. Then, wham!, conviction! I immediately felt crystal clear clarity about the need to confess four specific sins:
I’m sure a good harmartiologist (one who studies the theology of sin) could accuse me of even more transgressions, but four is what I felt, and these four were all that I could handle. It’s a grace that all I was given was conviction with the kind opportunity to repent and to grow. In other words, I wasn’t visited with David’s options for punishment: three years of famine, three months of invasion, or three days of plague.
Have I grown enough to apply this moment to my current melancholy regarding climate change’s and environmental mission’s mobilization? I was invited to grieve the loss of my missionary colleagues—some of them had quickly become dear friends, others were more talented than I was. It was a loss. And if I had written their names as a way to grieve before the Lord, I suspect I would have experienced his ready comfort. As it is, I tied my loss to the task and imagined that success in the task required ME, and more people like me, or just more people period. I do grieve the loss of those who—for whatever reason—refuse to be mobilized for climate action, creation care, and environmental missions. But I need to stop there, lest I lapse into the judgementalism, pride, despair, and self-sufficiency that fails to hold fast to the truth that “Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.” (I Samuel 14:6 records these words of Jonathon to his armor-bearer as they go out to fight the Philistines against ridiculously overwhelming odds. I have a 9:32 minute video explaining this passage in my Hope Series here: scroll to Episode 24.)
That was David; now here is Gideon
We likely know the story of Gideon gathering his men—32,000 thousand of them!-- ready to pounce upon the camp of the Midianites (Judges 7). Thirty-two thousand sounds like a healthy mobilization, but God told him, “You have too many men.”
What?! Has God met the Midianites?!
God explains, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’” He allows those who “tremble with fear” to leave, and 22,000 take him up on the offer. Only ten thousand remain. “There are still too many men,” God says, no doubt driving Gideon crazy. “Take them down to the water, and I will thin them out for you there.”
The test, if you will, that God applied was whether a soldier drank from the creek on his hands and knees like a dog lapping up water, or whether the soldier cupped his hands and took the water up to his mouth instead. Only three hundred used this latter method, and God told Gideon that those were the only soldiers he was leaving him. I have heard some preachers and Bible professors explain that to drink with your hands meant that, as a soldier, you were remaining alert; you were never taking your eyes off the enemy even for a second. In other words, God was giving Gideon his three hundred best men. This may be true. After all, the first test winnowed out 22,000 soldiers who would have been impeded by fear and cowardice. Nonetheless, these exegetes of military readiness miss the big point of the story. “The few, the proud, the Marines” may work for a modern TV ad campaign for the world’s biggest military, but God’s slogan is “I’m looking for the humble—however few—who genuinely believe that deliverance depends on God, not them.”
Read the victory in verses 22 and following: in the end, only 100 of the 300 advanced on the camp, and it was the sounds of the trumpet and not the clash of the sword by which “the Lord caused the men throughout the [Midianite] camp to turn on each other with their swords.”
We are likely familiar with this story, but if you are moved to meditate on this story, let me suggest you read the moment of Gideon’s original calling. I find it quite relevant to my own calling as an environmental missionary, a climate activist, and a mobilizer for unreached people groups.
That was Gideon; now here is Elijah
It leaves me with nothing left but to explain the title behind this two-part article. Today meditate on Judges 6. Tomorrow try your hand at I Kings 19. Elijah was exhausted. The heat of a failing mobilization was just too high for him, even despite his recent victory at Mount Carmel. Sometimes I fancy that 2015 and the Paris Agreement was a Mount Carmel moment for us, but here in 2019 I long to be called into the wilderness by God, ministered to with food and water and rest. I keep listening for his voice in the big dramatic events of a wind, or an earthquake, or a fire, but this genre of events—like the climate-related events which relentlessly fill my newsfeed—just wear me out further. I long for the gentle whisper of my Good Shepherd.
And then, as I project going forward, I feel like the Lord has told me that it is okay to “give up” on mobilizing those who refuse to be mobilized. Instead, I can peaceably give my attention to the 7000 out there who have not bowed their knees to the idolatry of the age. I can “lower the heat” on myself by mobilizing from a more receptive audience, and by believing that the Lord doesn’t need even the smallest number when he is ready to save.
That is what I felt he was saying to me. What is God saying to YOU, in these passages?