By John Newton
Have you ever come face to face with a ferocious monster? You know, the kind of villainous, malicious, delicious… err… knee-knocking, pants-wetting, truly terrifying creature who stalks your dreams and watches from behind spooky gnarled trees in the thick of the forest kind of monster?
Oh, really? They don’t exist, you say? Hmmm….
The kinds of alien creatures in Doctor Who or Star Trek may not exist in reality, but there are plenty of people, objects and situations in this life of ours that occupy the places of those snarling monsters of fiction. Bullies can be monsters. So can bosses. An addiction can be a monster, as can a broken relationship. Restlessness of heart and spirit can be monsters, as can financial barreness. And there is very little that can scare a soul than to be face to face with a monster.
I’ve seen monsters. Have you?
Last spring I came across a most captivating dialog in the Bible that speaks to the subject of monsters and what to remember when you see them. In Deuteronomy 1, Moses gave a big speech to the Hebrew people, recalling how the Lord delivered them from slavery in Egypt and brought them to the doorstep of the Promised Land. Once there, God commanded the people:
“Look, I’ve given you this land. Now go in and take it. It’s the land I promised to give your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their children after them.”
But the leaders of the different tribes of Israel didn’t want to rush in. After all, there might be monsters! They wanted to send scouts into the land and, “Bring back a report on the best route to take and the kinds of towns we can expect to find.” So Moses picked 12 “spies” and sent them into the land to scout it out. They came back and said, “It’s a good land that our God is giving us!” Moses continues:
“But you were not willing to go up, rebelling against the command of the Lord your God. You grumbled in your tents and said, ‘The Lord brought us out of the land of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites so they would destroy us, because He hated us. Where can we go? Our brothers have discouraged us, saying: ‘The people are bigger and stronger than we are; their cities are huge, their defenses massive—we even saw Anakite giants there!'”
Gulp. Anakite giants? Oh no! Anyone but the Anakite giants! Monsters!!!!
“Wait a minute,” you say. What or who are the Anakite giants? Are they like those cave trolls in The Lord of the Rings? Maybe they are like wookies in Star Wars or that terrifying rock creature in The Enchanted Story! Hold up there, buckaroo! Kinda and not really. The Anakites were a legendary race of tall humans that were widely believed to be the descendants of the Nephilim, beings that are part angel and part human. Legend and lore of the Middle East seemed to say that any taller race of people were these “monsters.” The legend and myth had become so feared that, for the leaders of Israel, a sighting of Anakites was the last straw.
“We’re going to die and God wants to Anakites to do his dirty work for him!” They wailed, giving reason after reason for their pessimism. The Amorites will kill us for sure. If some of us survive, there are bigger, stronger warriors waiting for us to arrive. And these Swarzeneggers have massive cities with really, really high walls! And we saw stormtroopers with blasters! If we somehow run away through the canyons…. Anakites!!!!!
Moses tried to talk them away from their cliff of choice with a reality that we all need to hear when facing monsters face to face. Listen with your heart to Moses in Deuteronomy 1:29-33.
“Don’t be terrified of them. The Lord your God who goes before you will fight for you, just as you saw Him do for you in Egypt. And you saw in the wilderness how the Lord your God carried you as a man carries his son all along the way you traveled until you reached this place. But in spite of this you did not trust the Lord your God, who went before you on the journey to seek out a place for you to camp. He went in the fire by night and in the cloud by day to guide you on the road you were to travel.”
First of all, when facing monsters or similar life obstacles…
1. Do Not Be Terrified of Them
Every monster we face should first be approached with this simple yet difficult action: don’t be overwhelmed by the fear of monsters. Fear causes faith to melt like a tapered candle lit in the summertime. Fear derails the heart and poisons the mind. It is natural, for sure, since we live in a world that has a lot of scary things in it. But don’t forget that you have the Holy Spirit in your heart. Do not be afraid, for God is within you! He is a monster slayer. And through His power, you can slay the dragons, too. There is NO monster you cannot battle and defeat through God, your God!
The power of terror is front-and-center in our modern world. I’ll never forget my own response to the 9/11 terror attacks on America. I was physically shaking at the thoughts, emotions, and fear running through my body. A monster attacked, people died, and the rest of us were feeling far less safe than we did the night before. Moses uses a Hebrew word for “terrified” that involves both “to fear” and “trembling,” a physical response. To not be overwhelmed by the fear of monsters is not to put all emotion aside like a Vulcan but instead to choose to respond in a godly manner. Monsters are scary but we need not be physically shaken with fear at the thought of them.
Do you have trouble processing your feelings when facing a monster? You’re not alone! A deep breath is sometimes as valuable as a bear hug (though my wife prefers hugs!). Take a second. Process. But do not be terrified!
2. God Goes Ahead of You and Fights for You
“The Lord your God who goes before you will fight for you… This same God went before you on the journey to seek out a place for you to camp. He went in the fire by night and in the cloud by day to guide you on the road you were to travel.”
The heart of any Christian’s confidence is the knowledge that God is deeply interested in your well-being in any circumstance. Deeply. As a father or mother with their daughter or son. Even more than interested, God is walking the path before you in every step of life. Think about it. God goes before you! He knows what you are going to face long before you even get there. He is never caught by surprise. And, knowing what you will battle, He fights those monsters on your behalf. How could that knowledge affect your scary circumstances? We still have to stare the evil in the face this side of heaven, but we can do so with a great confidence that we are not struggling alone. God goes before you, as a loving Father, and He comes to your aid when the monster dares to roar. Are you willing to let God fight for you?
3. Remember that God Has Provided For You in the Past
“You saw with your own eyes what he did for you; you saw what he did in the wilderness.”
Our past experience with God always should inform our present reaction to circumstances. Has God been there for me in the past? Did He fight for me? Later in Israel’s journey, Joshua had the tribes pick up stones and pile them up at various points of their march into the Promised Land. Those cairns were to serve as reminders of the amazing things that God had done on behalf of His people. Whenever someone would notice a cairn, it was hoped that they’d remember the work of God.
Interestingly, when I met my wife and first got to see the inside of her house I noticed that she had a glass jar of small rocks on top of a bookshelf. They were her “Ebenezer” rocks, she told me, reminders of God’s faithfulness to her through the years. Friends had written messages to her on some stones, while others had Bible verses. I would’ve thought it unique except I had to confess something right away: I also collect reminder rocks! Mine weigh eighteen times as much as hers (I like big rocks) but the purpose was the same. Whenever I was delivered from trouble and monsters by the Lord, I would look around for a small (err… big) rock to mark the occasion. My collection is heavy and growing, a sure sign that God is still at work in my life, I guess!
I know that sometimes we have trouble seeing God in the present moment of trial but if we look back in the past He’s there. Moses told Israel to simply look back at the last 40 years of their exodus from Egypt. Did God fight for them? Did God provide for them? Did God slay monsters in the wilderness — that place of the desperation and exasperation of the soul?
My dear friend, when you forget what God has done for you over the course of your life — even over the past year — you will have a very hard time trusting Him in the present and with the future. A very key thing to remember when facing monsters in your life is that God has delivered you from them in the past. He fights for you in the present. Why should you tremble?
4. God Sees You As a Child That He Loves
“(God) carried you as a father carries his child, carried you the whole way until you arrived here.”
God loves you! I dare say that not one of us can survive monsters and trials without God carrying them for some or most of the journey. When we are tired of fighting, God will simply emotionally and spiritually pick us up and carry us if we are willing to let Him do so. I must confess, though, that it is hard to give up control of our circumstances to let God give us His peace. Resting in His love isn’t natural to a heart that wants to scrap and fight on its own. But there is no rest outside of the shepherd arms of the God who loves you.
I can remember three or four times in my adult life when I hit an emotional rock bottom. As I look back on those times from a much better place, I honestly don’t remember doing anything dramatic or resourceful to pull myself out of the cistern. What I do remember from those times is how important the people of God — other Christians — were to my emotional and spiritual survival. Dear friends and spiritual parents (older Christians) surrounded me to take care of my daily needs (like food), give me much-needed encouragement and look out for my fragile soul. God used them to carry me like a Father does His beloved child. He often uses people to be His ministers, you know?
God not only leads the way before you and I, He also journeys alongside us, reaching His loving arms out to pick us up and carry us when our little legs can journey no longer.
What do your monsters look like? Are they seven feet tall and bulletproof like the Anakites? Or are they subtle and secret hurts?
Monsters are scary and there are real problems to face. But it is wise to face them with a heart of faith, whether you have walked with God forty years or forty days. I’d recommend that your second response to a problem (after fear) should be to pray. Lift up your fears of your monster before a God who loves you, walks your path before you and wants to fight for you. Ask Him for His peace. And as you face the beast, keep seeking God’s help.
For Further Study:
Oftentimes, Christians are called to respond in calmness in the midst of a terror. I cannot help but think of Jesus walking on the water during the storm. Read Mark 6:45-52. In this passage we see that Jesus sends His crew of disciples across the Sea of Galilee ahead of Him, rowing their fishing vessel across the water as a storm rose and overtook them. Jesus decided to take a short cut and walk across the water (’cause He’s God, Lord over Nature, that’s why!). The storm that overtook both master and disciples was a monster. When the disciples saw the figure of Jesus walking on the water, what was their reaction? How did Jesus respond? What did Jesus do to the monster that frightened His crew? What does this incident say about the ability of Jesus to carry your fears and fight on your behalf?