When my Oma was a teenager, the Nazi front line was advancing. The quiet town in Poland where she’d lived would soon be caught in between the armies of the Germans and the Russians. It would have been a terrifying time, with violence expected from all sides. Heeding her older brother’s advice, she helped her father, mother and young brothers to prepare to flee. They planned and packed the essentials to survive. It was early spring, but there was still at least a month or two of freezing temperatures to be expected. It would have been easy to give in to panic, resigning to the thought that they may not survive this journey through the cold, in a war zone, with a toddler to support.
On the journey, my Oma recognized a friend from school whose family owned the flour mill in town. They’d fled in a panic, afraid for their lives. They’d been so focused on escaping certain doom, that they hadn’t thought to bring any flour with them. They had no food, and yet they had owned the means to feed an entire town.
My Oma’s family shared with them from what they had. Oma and her family had planned for survival. Though the situation was certainly dire, they had not given in to despair. The miller’s family had so many provisions, but had focused so much on fleeing their fears that they had forgotten to take with them what God had provided. Though it’s hard to criticize anyone’s choices at such a desperate time, it seems to me that the two families acted based on what they believed. My Oma’s family believed a good report, and trusted God for a life after their escape. This caused them to plan wisely rather than becoming hopeless. The miller’s family believed a bad report, and became overwhelmed by terror. They had been blessed with so much to sustain them in this trial, but it did them no good, as they didn’t bring it with them. It breaks my heart to think of them suffering. And it breaks my heart to think of the many believers, myself included at times, who have lived a life of faith in Jesus, and inherited His life-changing power within them, yet forget to draw on that power in times of trial. Much like the miller’s family, we have received power through the death and resurrection of Christ, but when trials come, we panic, and it is forgotten.
Last Sunday, Pastor Ken challenged us to consider which report we will believe about any situation that may arise in our lives. Will we become hopeless, believing in an evil report that excludes God’s power? Or will we believe a good report, and trust in God’s power to overcome any obstacle, no matter how great? The Israelites faced this same choice after sending spies to scope out the land God had promised them. The spies said, “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.” (Numbers 13:27-29 NIV). They go on to say “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. […] We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” (Numbers 31-33 NIV). What a discouraging message! After hearing it, “all of Israel wept aloud” (Numbers 14:1).
But there is one among them who isn’t daunted by these facts and refuses to believe this bad report. Caleb says boldly, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it” (Numbers 13:30 NIV). Unlike the other spies, his confidence is based in the Lord. He has good reason for this confidence, as do we today.
God rescued the Israelites from death, when the blood of the Passover lambs spared them, and in the same way, Jesus shed his blood to give us life. God delivered them from slavery, parting the Red Sea to allow them to escape, which symbolizes being released from the bondage of sin, and being baptized. God guided them with a pillars of cloud and fire, mirroring the guidance of his Holy Spirit in our lives today. Yet despite these amazing ways that He worked, and continues to work, in the lives of his children, it is all too easy to forget His faithfulness and power. Like the miller and his family in my Oma’s story, we have been given so much, but if we focus on a bad report, we will be too filled with fear to remember who God is, and who we are in Him.
If the family who owned the mill could forget their very livelihood and flee empty-handed, or the Israelites doubt the God who had delivered them with so many miracles because of a fearful mindset, then we need to be careful. When we feel frightened or hopeless about our situations, we need to choose to believe a good report. Rather than fleeing in terror without the essentials, we need to remember to:
“[…] put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground […] with the belt of truth buckled round your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Ephesians 6:13-17 NIV
If we forget to clothe ourselves in this armour, we will be vulnerable to the evil reports Satan uses to drive us to desperation and despair. It’s like choosing to run unprotected into a battlefield, or leaving behind a mill full of flour to starve in the wilderness. God has given us all that we need to deflect despair, but we need to consciously bring it with us, into the battles that we fight. Let’s remember that God will work all things together for good (Romans 8:28), that He has good plans for us (Jeremiah 29:11), and that He has given us a spirit of power rather than fear (2 Timothy 1:7).
Let’s see our situation with eyes of faith. Let’s put on the armour He’s given us. And let’s not forget the flour.