This article is part of a series looking at the Oxymoronic names of God and how understanding them helps us to live as Christians in a fallen world. Click here to read the introductory article and to find links to other articles in the series.
In 2015 I published a book entitled ‘Destination Transformation: A forty-day journey to change the world written for people with baggage’. The purpose of the book is to help Christians identify their God-given calling and to provide some tools for tackling the issues that confront us as we go about meeting the needs of the world. Jesus is described as both a Lion and a Lamb, which seems contradictory and oxymoronic, but since we are called to be like Him, how do we decide which we should emulate? On Day 21 the book attempts to answer this question.
Day 21: Are you a lion or a lamb?
By now my hope is that the particular issue or group of people to which you are called to transform is becoming clearer. If you have not reached this point yet, you may want to spend longer going over the last 20 days before moving on.
Once you have identified your calling with a fair degree of clarity, there is a need to define your strategy. Will you take on the world by espousing the characteristics of a lion or those of a lamb? A lion’s approach is to get angry, to roar and to fight against injustice. A lamb on the other hand sacrifices everything they have for the good of others. Jesus was likened to both a lion and a lamb at different occasions in His ministry, and there is nothing to stop us, like Him, bearing both identities. Nonetheless, it is beneficial to think about both approaches and to seek God as to which one He might be particularly calling you to take on.
Lions possess two key character traits: they roar, and they are portrayed in the Bible as bold fighters. Whether we choose to enter politics or not, our mission is to ‘speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves’, particularly in defence of the destitute and ‘for the rights of all the unfortunate‘ (Proverbs 31:8, NASB). These words were written to King Lemuel by his mother, though biblical scholars cannot be certain who this family were; the words are included here in Proverbs as an example of wise advice given to a king. We too are called to royal responsibilities, and these are best understood in terms of 1 Peter 2:9: ‘But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light’ (NASB). If we heed this advice, then we know that we too are called to roar.
Dear Fellow Traveller,
When I realised that I should be roaring it was liberating. I had grown up in a church where to speak up against injustice was unheard of, it seemed the greatest act one could do for others was to wash up, and I hated washing up! Washing up was held up as the golden standard for anyone wanting to demonstrate they cared about others. I’m not a particularly angry person, but I do have a clear idea of what is right and wrong, as I grew older and discovered that things went on in the world that were just not right, it was hard to see how washing up was going to tackle these bigger issues. Thank God He allows us to roar!
Lions roar to communicate that the territory they are in is occupied. How appropriate for us as well. We too can roar to let Satan know that he is straying into ground that belongs to God. Doing this may take the form of lobbying, signing petitions online or taking part in a march. It might mean standing outside a high street shop informing customers of the sweatshop labour used to produce the clothes sold inside. Many Christians steer away from such activities, possibly because they fear these behaviours may be sinful, after all we are required to honour our leaders in government and authority. Yet we can be assured that ‘the righteous are bold as a lion‘ (Proverbs 28:1, NASB) and ultimately the Lion will triumph (see Revelation 5:5 and Numbers 23).
Coupled with the notion of roaring against injustice is a prophetic role of perceiving and calling forth judgement and salvation. The lion does not just make a lot of noise, but calls others to join in the fight, and goes on to devour enemies as part of the process of bringing about justice. This is explored in the third chapter of Amos and we would do well to remember that in many cases of suffering and injustice there is an equivalent spiritual battle. We are called to fight and should not be afraid. God fights with us, and as CS Lewis famously wrote, ‘He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion’.
Contained within Celtic Daily Prayer there is a stirring prayer that calls on God to enable us to roar on behalf of others. It is the Prayer of Caedmon, and these powerful lines are repeated several times within it: ‘I cannot speak unless you loose my tongue; I only stammer, and I speak uncertainly; but if you touch my mouth, my Lord, then I will sing the story of your wonders!’ The prayer elaborates further: ‘He [Jesus] said: “How dare you wrap God up in good behaviour, and tell the poor that they should be like you? How can you live at ease with riches and success, while those I love go hungry and are oppressed? It really is for such a time as this that I was given breath.” His words were dangerous, not safe or tidy.’ Here we see Jesus described as being angry. He is dangerous because He challenges the expected practices of His day. We are called to do likewise, and my hope is that this will be a relief to many of you reading this: we don’t need to be tame.
Being a lamb is a powerful and biblical calling too. A lamb represents sacrifice and is completely countercultural to the ways of the world. In transforming the world you will almost certainly find that you have to relinquish your time, and giving money to causes is one of the best-known sacrificial ways to help others. There is also a sense of sacrifice when we pay more for goods because we choose to buy ethically made or environmentally friendly products. Romans 12:1–2 exhort us to play the role of the lamb in order to understand and bring about God’s good will ‘Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will’ (NIV).
Jesus is our greatest role model for that of a lamb: He gave His life by dying a brutal death on the cross so that we are saved. He has paid the ultimate sacrifice, but we too have a worthy calling to take part in God’s great plan for humankind: ‘you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ‘ (1 Peter 2:5, NIV). The biblical mandate is clear – we are to be like Christ, and so sacrifice is to be expected. How much we sacrifice is harder to determine; in giving our time and money to others we can be tempted to believe that everything rests on us and that the more we give the more successful we will be at changing lives. Like Abraham, we too should remember that ‘God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering’ (Genesis 22:8, NIV).
It is unlikely that the roles of lion and lamb are entirely mutually exclusive, and this is being recognised more and more by Christian organisations. Groups such as Tearfund, Christian Aid and CAFOD, traditionally seen as merely channels for us to sacrifice money, have passionate advocacy teams that campaign for change and offer individuals many ways to get involved both as a lion and as a lamb.
How appropriate is the lion or the lamb role in transforming the situation you are called to? Are there already lions or lambs addressing the situation? How could you help and complement them? Is a change of approach required?
Ask God to help you understand the roles of lion and lamb more clearly, and how they apply in the circumstances you wish to see transformed. Pray that God would help you be a lion and/or lamb to achieve His will.
To return to the Oxymoronic God series of articles please click here.
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