You Are What You Celebrate
As I prepared to “be” Gideon for VBC, and then to preach about Gideon, my initial response to the story was the same as it has been for years: I was staggered by the foolishness of the Israelites, by their capacity to forget and abandon God. When you think about their history from Egypt up until the time of the Judges, it seems almost impossible to comprehend. Surely they remembered what God had done to rescue them from Egypt? Surely they could not have forgotten how God had miraculously given them victory, first over Pharaoh and then over the Canaanites? How could people who had seen such things possibly turn from their God? And yet they did. Repeatedly.
But why? Why did Israel turn from God in the near-immediate aftermath of those displays of God’s power and grace? Then I realized, the answer was simple: Israel had what they wanted. The pattern, repeated throughout the entirety of Judges and really all of Israel’s history goes like this:
- Israel abandons God and worships other gods.
- Having abandoned their source of victory (God), Israel is defeated by her neighbors.
- In their distress, Israel turns back to God and cries for help.
- God, in his grace, hears and delivers them by raising up a Judge.
- See Step 1
In fact, the author of Judges articulates this pattern right at the beginning of the book, in Judges 2.11-19, so that we might better understand what is to come. And so the pattern goes with each of the Judges: Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah and Samson and so on.
As I looked at this pattern again, it struck me that it may be that Israel turns from God not in spite of getting what they want, but perhaps because of it. After all, when they are in distress, in need, they turn to God. They pray frequently and fervently for aid. They remember to turn to him in trouble, the problem is that they stop when they have what they want, what they need. Perhaps they stop praying, stop worshipping and obeying not because they have “forgotten,” but rather because they simply don’t want anything more from God at the moment.
But as soon as I made that connection, I realized that I recognize that pattern from somewhere else: my own life. Looking back over my own life, I realized I often follow a similar pattern. I give God far more time, far more energy, far more attention when I am in need - or in a crisis. And yet when God faithfully, even miraculously answers my prayers, all of those things tend to drop off. I haven’t forgotten what God did, I just have what I needed.
This, it seems to me (and apparently the author of Judges), is human nature, or we might say fallen nature. But rather than feeling guilty about the past, perhaps what we need to do is change our pattern for the future. In some ways it is natural to turn to God in times of trouble, and natural to relax when things are good. So if we are to break the pattern and forge a new one, we need to need to take celebration seriously. We need to pour the kind of passion and energy into giving thanks that we naturally pour into making urgent petitions. Whether we are talking individuals, churches or cultures, you are what you celebrate. Let’s learn from Israel’s past (and our own), and make a point to turn to God both in need and in celebration. Let’s forge a new pattern.