Several years ago, when we were preparing to become missionaries in Mexico, our family participated in a three-week orientation. On several occasions, we were purposely placed in stressful situations to see how we would respond.
One particular morning, we were divided into small groups. We were given a few minutes to read some instructions and were told that we couldn’t talk to anyone. We were given a deck of cards and our instructions said that the “Ace” card was low. The dealer passed out the cards and we played a couple rounds. The leader then told us to stop and for all the winners of each table to move to the next highest table. The losers had to move to the next lowest table.
Here’s where it got interesting. Totally unknown to us, each of the tables were given different instructions when the game began. As people shifted to the various tables, they assumed that everyone was playing by the same rules. But, instead of “Ace” being low, it might be high. Since we couldn’t talk to each other, we had to use hand signals to communicate what we thought the rules should be.
I remember thinking that I had won a particular hand, and, as I started reaching for the pile of cards, a woman grabbed the pile from me. I shook my head, held up the “Ace” card, and pointed my thumb down to indicate that the “Ace” was low. She pointed at the same card and put her thumb up. I then glared at her, shook my head vigorously and pointed my thumb down. When that didn’t work, I grabbed the table and shook it. She just stared at me and dealt the next hand. Actually, it was a good thing we couldn’t talk — I think it kept me from calling her a name!
As the game progressed, we could feel the tension rise in the room. Two guys almost hit each other (can you believe we were training to become missionaries?) Many looked confused. Others kind of slumped in their chairs, feeling discouraged. It didn’t take long for all of us to lose heart. It’s hard to keep playing when your partners have checked out.
Life is a lot like that, isn’t it? It’s tough to keep playing when those around us lose heart. It’s even harder when we feel like giving up. If things don’t seem fair, or they seem too difficult, most of us will fold the hand we’ve been dealt.
You don’t have to check out of life when you’re discouraged. God wants to help you find the heart to go on. There’s a story in the Bible about a group of 12 leaders, representatives of the 12 tribes of Israel, who were given some pretty clear instructions (see Numbers 13). Instead of receiving conflicting directions, like we did, they were all told the same thing. Their job was to cross the border and check out the land that God had promised to give them.
When they returned, all the people gathered to hear their report. Expectations were high. They started by saying, “The land is incredible!” They then described all the fruit they saw and gave some to Moses to sample. But they weren’t finished: “But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large …” It’s as if they were saying, “Sure, the food is great, but there are way too many problems. The people are stronger than we are and the cities are impenetrable. We can’t do this. Everything looks good, but …”
Discouragement had set in and their negative report took the wind out of everyone’s sails. Does that sound like you or someone you know? Is your fear of the future paralyzing you in the present? Do you feel stuck? Do you feel like giving up? Are you ready to fold?
Now, you need to know that God had already promised to give this land to the Israelites. He had made it clear from the very beginning of their trip that He would lead them to the Land of Promise. However, when faced with a few obstacles, the leaders, who should have been courageous, wanted to walk away from the table. That is, all of them except two — Joshua and Caleb.
In the middle of this negative report, Caleb declared, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it!” He was certain that they could take the land because God had already promised that it was theirs for the taking.
Friend, if you want to find the heart to go on, then focus on God’s promises, not the problems around you. The majority focused on the obstacles and ended up discouraging each other. Even after hearing Caleb’s courage and trust in God, they responded by saying, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread a bad report. “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw giants there. We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”
These men had developed a grasshopper complex. As they continued to focus on the obstacles ahead of them, their problems grew in magnitude. In their original report, they talked about seeing some tall men — now they describe them as giants. Tragically, their view of God went south as well. Their obstacles are now bigger than they are, and in their minds, their problems are even larger than God is. The grasshopper complex had paralyzed their purposes and filleted their faith.
Because of the bad report that these 10 leaders circulated among the people, the entire nation was forced to wander in the desert for 40 years. They were so close to entering the Promised Land, but their bad attitudes kept them out. I wonder how many times my negative attitudes have short-circuited what God wants to do in my life? I’m sure my path has been rerouted on occasion because I didn’t follow God’s plan for that day.
God can give each of us the strength we need if we just follow Him. At the end of 40 years, Joshua succeeded Moses as the leader. God encourages Joshua by saying,
I will go before you. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged. —Joshua 1:9
Because he chose to follow and to focus on the promise, not the problems, Joshua was able to experience all those things that the previous generation missed out on. If you long for the heart to go on, and you want to cultivate a positive attitude in the process, then focus on God’s promise, not the problems around you as you follow His plan for today. That way, even if the rules change, you can stay in the game.