After hearing Pastor's excellent sermon about wolves, accompanied by impersonations, I feel compelled to pass on this sermon involving lions.
Let me make a prediction: your biggest regret at the end of your life won’t be the things you did that you wish you hadn’t. Your biggest regret will be the things you didn’t do but wish you had.
That prediction is based on the research of two social psychologists, Tom Gilovich and Vicki Medvec (note). According to their research, time is a key factor in what we regret. Over the short-term, we tend to regret actions—things we did that we wish we hadn’t. But over the long-haul, we tend to regret inactions—things we didn’t do but wish we had. Their study found that action regrets outweigh inaction regrets 53 percent to 47 percent during an average week. But when people look at their lives as a whole, inaction regrets outnumber action regrets 84 percent to 16 percent.
I have my fair share of action regrets. I’ve said and done some things that I wish I could unsay and undo. Who hasn’t secretly wished that they could fly counter-rotational around the earth at supersonic speeds and reverse time like Superman? But I’m convinced that our deepest regrets at the end of our lives will be the risks not taken, the opportunities not seized, and the dreams not pursued.
The Great Omission
It seems to me that the modern church has become fixated on sins of commission. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. And you’re alright. But the problem with that is this: you can do nothing wrong and still do nothing right! Think of it as holiness by subtraction. So holiness becomes the byproduct of subtracting something from our lives that shouldn’t be there instead of maximizing our God-given potential. Don’t get me wrong. Holiness certainly involves subtraction. But I think God is far more concerned about sins of omission—those things we could have and should have done. Maybe holiness has as much or more to do with seizing opportunities as it does resisting temptation? Those who simply run away from sin are half-Christians. Our calling is much higher than simply running away from what’s wrong.
Maybe we’ve measured spiritual maturity the wrong way? Maybe following Christ isn’t supposed to be as safe or as civilized as we’ve been led to believe? Maybe Christ was more dangerous and uncivilized than our Sunday school flannel graphs portrayed? And maybe God wants to raise up a generation of lion chasers?
II Samuel 23:20 highlights one of the most obscure yet courageous acts recorded in Scripture, but it’s more than that. It’s a microcosm on how God calls us to approach life.
Benaiah chased a lion down into a pit. Then, despite the snow and slippery ground, he caught the lion and killed it.
Scripture doesn’t tell us what Benaiah was doing or where he was going when he encountered this lion. We don’t know Benaiah’s frame of mind, but Scripture does reveal his gut reaction. And it was gutsy. It ranks as one of the most improbable reactions recorded in Scripture. When the image of a man-eating beast travels through the optical nerve and registers in the visual cortex, the brain has one over-arching message: run away.
That is what normal people do, but lion chasers are wired differently. They don’t see five-hundred pound problems. They see God-ordained opportunities.
For most of us, finding ourselves in a pit with a lion on a snowy day would pose a substantial problem, but you’ve got to admit something: I killed a lion in a pit on a snowy day looks pretty impressive on your résumé if you’re applying for a bodyguard position with the King of Israel! Not only does Benaiah land a job as David’s chief bodyguard, he climbs all the way up the military chain-of-command to become Commander-in-Chief of Israel’s army. Benaiah was the second most powerful person in the kingdom of Israel, but his genealogy of success can be traced all the way back to a life-and-death encounter with a man-eating lion. It was fight or flight. Benaiah was faced with a choice that would determine his destiny: run away or give chase. If you run away, you’ll always wonder what if.
Face Your Fears
Satan wants to scare the heaven out of you. But in the words of I John 4:18: “Perfect love casts out all fear.” As we grow in a love relationship with God, we unlearn the fears that keep us from living by faith. And the end result is fearlessness!
It was two years ago that I was part of a team that went on a mission trip to Ethiopia. Before going on the trip, everybody on the team was a little nervous. It was during a time of political unrest; we were subjecting ourselves to a variety of third world diseases; and even drinking the water and eating the food was done conscientiously.
So everybody on the team was a little nervous, but one team member was downright fearful. Especially when she learned that we were going to camp out in Awash National Park on our free day. Somehow, knowing that armed guards would keep watch all night didn’t ease her mind! Neither did the crocodiles we saw in the river or the lions we heard around the campfire! But I was so proud of Sarah because she faced her fear. And because she pushed through her fears, she experienced some of the most amazing memories of her life.
We drove through the Ethiopian outback and went swimming in a natural spring that was heated by a volcano. You don’t get to do that every day. We visited a tribal village that looked like it came right out of the pages of National Geographic. And none of us will forget our game drive on top of Land Rovers.
In retrospect, it’s hard to imagine how many memories Sarah would have forfeited if she had run away from her fears. One of the greatest tragedies in life is the stories that go untold because we don’t face our fears! But she decided to live her life in a way that was worth telling stories about!
For what it’s worth, none of things she was afraid of happened. The plane didn’t crash. She didn’t get sick. And she wasn’t eaten alive by wild animals. The only bad thing that happened to her was getting pooped on by a baboon. I kid you not! I’m not sure if the baboon was aiming or not, but what a shot. I know that is a nasty, but what a story! That is living life to the fullest!
So here is my advice: don’t let mental lions keep you from experiencing everything God has to offer. The greatest experiences will often double as the scariest experiences. The defining moments will often double as the scariest decisions.
Benaiah must have been scared spitless when he encountered that lion. But he didn’t run away. In fact, it was the fear he felt that made his “in a pit with a lion on a snowy day” story all the more fun to tell ex post facto.
Imagine the bedtime stories Benaiah must have told his children! I can hear his kids: tell us the lion story one more time! I think we owe it to our kids and grandkids to live our lives in a way that is worth telling stories about. And more importantly, we owe it to God. So here is my question: are you living your life in a way that is worth telling stories about?
Maybe it is time to quit running and start chasing.
A New Year Manifesto
When opportunity roars you have a choice to make: run away like a scaredy-cat or grab life by the mane.
Grab life by the mane.
Quit living as if the purpose of life is to arrive safely at death. Set God-sized goals. Pursue God-ordained passions. Go after a dream that is destined to fail without divine intervention. Stop pointing out problems and become part of the solution. Stop criticizing and start creating. Stop playing it safe and start taking risks. Expand your horizons. Accumulate experiences. Consider the lilacs. Find every excuse you can to celebrate everything you can. Don’t let what’s wrong with you keep you from worshipping what’s right with God. Burn sinful bridges. Laugh at yourself. Keep making mistakes. Worry less about what people think and more about what God thinks. Don’t try to be who you’re not. Be yourself. Quit holding out. Quit holding back. Quit running away. And remember: if God is for us who can be against us?
Unleash the lion chaser within!
Maybe it’s time to apply for your dream job; admit your addiction; reconcile the relationship; ask her out; take the test; go on a mission trip; mentor someone; stop attending church and start serving; add a stamp to your passport; take a night class; start a business; or write the manuscript.
There is an old aphorism: no guts no glory.
When we don’t have the guts to step out in faith and chase lions, then God is robbed of the glory that rightfully belongs to him!
Chase the lion!
(note): Neal Roese, If Only: How to Turn Regret into Opportunity (New York: Broadway, 2005), 48.
Mark Batterson is the lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D.C., a multi-site church, a leading fellowship in the nation’s capital. Meeting in movie theatres and Metro stops throughout the D.C. area, NCC is attended by more than 70 percent single twenty-somethings. Mark’s weekly podcast is one of the fastest growing in America. His book, In A Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day: How to Survive and Thrive When Opportunity Roars peaked at #44 on Amazon.com’s best-seller list. This summer he will soon release his newest book entitled, Wild Goose Chase: Reclaiming the Adventure of Pursuing God.
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