Why There’s Hope for a Coward Like Me
In high school (way back in the last century) I had a handful of close friends. At lunch we would meander outside between buildings when the weather allowed it. There was a breezeway connecting two of the buildings with a railing that we could sit on and hang around while waiting for the bell to ring.
I only remember this because one time we were sitting there chatting when a group of guys bigger and badder than us decided they wanted our spot. No words were exchanged. They just moved in, and all my friends moved out.
Except for me.
I sat there. I was angry that all my friends would be total cowards. We were there first. I knew they had moved because they were scared. And so for the first time that I can remember I did something out of sheer principle: I stayed put. Just to make a point. After sitting long enough to feel like I made my point, I eventually got bored, and went to find my friends.
I was the butt of their jokes until lunch was finished. The only thing I remember saying is that they were cowards.
A few years ago I was at dinner with a few other guys when the conversation turned to religion. I sat quietly listening while one of the more talkative men (who I wasn’t acquainted with) began saying how he was a Christian, but felt all religions lead to God. He believed, rather fervently, that to criticize other religions was to criticize God Himself.
There was my window. Handed to me on a silver platter with golden apples and a side of fries. I knew what logically was wrong with his view. It wasn’t new to me. So naturally I…said nothing.
Was I intimidated by his somewhat overbearing manner? Yes, a little. Was I overwhelmed by the fact that the other two guys there would disagree with me as well? Guilty on that count as well. To this day I wish I could live that dinner over again and not come away the complete coward.
I tell these two stories because they are typical of my entire life. To be honest, the second is much more common. How is it that I can go from one extreme to the other? Why can’t I be more ready to say what needs to be said? Why am I not as bold as Paul? How do I walk more like Jesus did and imitate his demeanor in the face of opposition?
How do I move, like Peter, from the cowardly follower to the man who stood his ground and took his licks? The man who…wait…what’s this?
“But when Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. ” (Galations 2 11-13 emphasis mine)
So, there’s Peter. The post-Pentecost man who after everything he had seen, after himself having stood up to hostile oppostion, is once again giving in to his same old weakness. Cowardice.
If you grew up in church, you are probably familiar with Elijah and the prophets of Baal. He’s outnumbered…he taunts them…he calls down fire from heaven to prove to them that Jehovah is the Lord. Then the Sunday School lesson ends and we all go to “big church.” If the lesson continued just a little bit further, we would have seen this brave prophet turning tail to run and hide in a cave from Jezebel.
Paul has to remind Timothy to be bold. He had to be told not to let others look down on him as a young man. Paul reminds him that we don’t have a spirit of fear. Tradition tells us that Timothy was dragged through the streets and stoned to death after trying to spread the gospel at a pagan event.
So what gives me hope? It’s both Peter’s failure and his successes. It’s both Elijah standing in the face of the angry religious leaders and him cowering in a cave. It’s Timothy having to be told to be courageous. It’s Timothy willing to put himself in danger.
There is the thread of real human weakness in those accounts. Stumbling around after victory, and victory after stumbling around.
The power of God in a clay jar.