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Where boldness and courage meet humility

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Reminders about speaking and listening from Watership Down

Being the English geek that I am, one of my favorite things is getting together with the girls in my book club to discuss literature. The five of us each take turns choosing a novel to read and then meet to talk about what stood out to us and, of course, drink coffee. This month, we’ll be discussing the conclusion of Richard Adam’s 1970’s novel, Watership Down. One of my favorite things about taking part in this group is that it’s causing me to read books I would probably never pick up on my own. Watership Down—a 500 page story about rabbits—is one of those books. When I heard this was selected as our next read, I immediately remembered the cartoon depiction I’d seen as a child and, for whatever reason, strongly disliked. I then proceeded to wonder what the heck rabbits were going to do to keep my attention for 500 pages.

But when I finally started reading, I was thrust into an adventure full of conflict and suspense as a small group of rabbits band together to escape the destruction of their warren, find safety, and create a new life on Watership Down. What’s more, I found myself surprised by how well developed these fictional characters are and how their rabbit-sized problems occasionally spoke to deeper issues. Though I’m under no illusion that Adams intended for his story to be some kind of allegory, I do believe that in places, it can speak to our walk as Christians.

I see this particularly in the character of Fiver, a small, somewhat disregarded rabbit, whose keen sense for impending danger feels almost prophetic. Within the first 20 pages of the novel, Fiver senses that the warren where they live is in danger. Though he has no specific idea what that danger may be and knows it may be difficult to get others to listen, he unashamedly shares his fears. Nevertheless, the head rabbit refuses to believe him, dismissing him as misguided and crazy. But Fiver does not back down. With the help of his brother, he is able to convince a small group of rabbits that for their own safety, they must flee the warren immediately.

Like Noah in the Old Testament, Fiver has to warn his people of a danger they cannot understand. And like us, he has an important message that could save others from destruction. I love that this gift of prophesy is bestowed upon Fiver — an unknown rabbit who is the runt of his litter — because it reminds me of how God often chooses to use those who are seemingly small and insignificant — those that the world may cast aside — to do his work. As Christians, we join a long line of “Fivers” — underdogs who God has entrusted with a life-saving message.

Like Fiver, we are asking others to join us on a harrowing journey that is full of unknowns. Thankfully, unlike Fiver — who did not know where they would go or how they would stay safe — we have a strong sense of hope to offer; vital to our message is the promise of salvation and the presence of Christ. But despite these assurances, we are still bound to meet with similar responses as our furry friend. Authority figures might refuse to believe us. Some may laugh at us and say the idea of salvation is unnecessary. Others will dismiss us as crazy. The question is: will we keep the message to ourselves for fear of their response? Will we cave in, backpedal, and deny the truth when others refuse to believe?

I was challenged by the way Fiver never lets fear of what others think compromise his mission. As Christians, we are called to do this both as we interact with the world and as we live in community with other believers. Though we may not all have the gift of prophesy, when we walk in step with the Spirit, he will give us words of advice and guidance to share with those around us. Once Fiver and the others embark on their journey, he continues to sense when things are not right and remains unafraid to speak his mind, even when he knows his opinion will not be popular — and when what he has to say does not seem to make sense.

Fiver’s advice also comes with a spirit of humility, something that is vital for any of us carrying a message in the name of Christ. When Fiver gives advice, he never argues, justifies, or tries to rationalize. He simply shares what is on his heart and leaves the decision in the hands of the person he is talking to. Likewise, he never plays the “I told you so,” card, though there are multiple occasions where he has the opportunity. I think this tells us a lot about Fiver’s motivation. He is not in this to prove a point or make himself look good. He is concerned only for the well-being of his friends, and it is this attitude that enables him avoid getting tripped up by worries about what others may think of him. It may sound silly, but I admire the boldness, courage, and quiet humility that meet in the character of this small rabbit. And it left me wondering, what would our communities look like if we listened to God’s spirit and loved each other in this fashion more often?

Similarly, what would happen if we listened to the wisdom of others more openly, recognizing that God’s Spirit may speak to us through them? In Watership Down, it takes the rabbits awhile to catch on to the idea that they should probably pay attention to what Fiver has to say. His brother helps him convince a few rabbits to leave the warren, but even after they realize how right he was about that danger, they still question and sometimes refuse his advice, often due to selfishness and pride. I think that God has placed “Fivers” — people who are in tune with the His Spirit and can bring messages of instruction and warning — in each of our lives as well. Like the rabbits in Watership Down, we are faced with the question of whether or not we will be able to put aside our own ideas and desires and be open to the possibility that the one who has a word for us may be God’s mouthpiece.

My prayer is that I would cultivate a listening heart and humble spirit — that I would be open to hearing God speak through those around me and ready to let him use me however he sees fit, no matter what others may think.

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Written by liferenewed

June 3, 2010 at 3:40 am

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