This morning, I opened my Bible and found myself reading 1 Samuel 14. Just in case you don’t immediately know the contents of 1 Samuel 14 off the top of your head, allow me to precis it. Jonathan, son of King Saul, encounters an outpost of the Philistine army, the enemies of Israel. He turns to his armour-bearer and says, ‘I reckon we can have them. What do you say?’ (Or words to that effect.) Actually, his exact words are, ‘Perhaps the Lord will act on our behalf.’ The armour bearer thinks for a minute, then replies, ‘Yeah. Sounds good to me. Let’s get them.’ So off go our two heroes. They scale a cliff and put 20 Philistines to the sword. And the rest of the Philistine army are so rattled that they start attacking each other. A famous Israelite victory follows.
Let’s just pause here for a minute. This all started with a ‘perhaps’. This was a seriously bloody dangerous thing for our two guys to try, and it all rested on, ‘Perhaps the Lord will act on our behalf.’ No certainty. No guarantee of success. A violent and unpleasant death was entirely possible. But they took a chance on a ‘perhaps’.
You’ll find something similar in other places in the Bible. In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are about to be chucked into a furnace. They tell the king that God is able to save them, then follow up that assertion with, ‘But even if he doesn’t…’ There’s still a very real possibility that God might choose not to save them. And fast forward to the New Testament. The newly-formed Church are scratching their heads about how Jews and non-Jews are supposed to fit in the same movement. After due prayer and consideration, their response includes, ‘It seemed good to the Holy Spirit…’ Just a minute. It seemed good? The entire future of the Church is at stake, and it rests on ‘seemed’?
Then again, it’s so often like that for us, too. Occasionally, very, very occasionally, we might get a lightning bolt and a booming voice from heaven, telling us exactly what we should do. Most of the time we don’t. We get a ‘perhaps’; a slow hunch, a feeling in our guts, an idea that something makes sense. Even when the stakes are high, when our future, our security and our hopes rest on our decision and God’s help, we so rarely get a guarantee that God will come through for us the way we expect. That’s faith for you. The funny thing is, if we go with the ‘perhaps’, God almost always turns out to be faithful. That’s been my experience over the last few months, anyway. Things have been dicey at times – particularly with cash flow – but God has provided. Sometimes all we get is ‘perhaps’. But life can be strangely exhilarating if you’re not 100% sure what’s coming next.