“We’re your worst nightmare—elves—with attitude!” That’s my favorite line from the classic movie, The Santa Clause. In the scene, a specially trained squad of rescue elves have been dispatched from the North Pole to free Santa from wrongful imprisonment on Christmas Eve. The donut eating desk sergeant is no match for these highly skilled operatives. With Santa free, Christmas is saved, their mission accomplished.
Forgive the corny analogy, but as the people of God we have a mission. We often call it the Great Commission:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)
To accomplish the mission, attitude makes a huge difference. The biblical character, Caleb illustrates the importance of attitude. You can read his story in Numbers 14. God’s opinion of Caleb is pretty impressive:
But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it. (Numbers 14:24 ESV)
The word spirit in this context means the same as attitude. Aviators use the term, attitude; it refers to the positioning of their aircraft. With proper attitude, an airplane flies right, but when the right attitude is lost, the plane is in danger of crashing.
Like Caleb, if we have a right attitude, we will stay on target, and fulfil our mission. But the right attitude is an exception, not the norm. Caleb and eleven others comprised a team employed by Moses. Their mission was to observe and return with a report about the land God had promised to give the Israelites. Ten members of the team lost the right attitude and failed. Caleb accomplished the mission and later received his reward, a large portion of the land.
What is different about a different attitude? To stay on mission, we need a different attitude about…
Caleb remembered that the mission was about God—God’s promises and God’s ability to fulfil those promises. By contrast The Ten lost their attitude, became disoriented, and mistakenly believed that it was all about them—their ability and their safety.
To this point in their story, Israel had been content to be consumers of God’s provision, but when it came time to be committed to God’s purposes, they were not all in. Caleb, however, remained clear that humans exist to serve God, not vice versa. Later he could say with integrity, “I loyally carried out the purpose of the Lord my God.” (Joshua 14:8, REB)
Later, Jesus displayed the same attitude when he proclaimed, “I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will.” (John 6:38, NLT) That is the same attitude we need to accomplish the mission: It’s not about me, it’s about God.
While the land was absolutely beautiful and bountiful, The Ten reacted in fear; they could not get giants out of their minds. If Israel confronted this oversized enemy, defeat was inevitable. They would literally be eaten for lunch by the giants of Canaan.
But Caleb, by contrast, could only see the inevitable victory. After all, Canaan could only come up with giants. Israel had God Almighty on their side, and they would be the army enjoying the feast of the victors! For Caleb, now was the time to act in faith, not react in fear.
Plenty of obstacles stand between us and the fulfilment of the Great Commission. Hear the voice of Caleb echoing to us, “They are just giants!” No resistance to the plan and power of God has any hope of success.
Under Egyptian slavery, Israel lived with a collective “broken spirit.” (Exodus 6:9) The Ten crashed because they lost their hope, which was tied to their sense of home. Israel had been the slaves of Pharaoh for so long that they forgot that Canaan was their home. Canaan was not a strange land, it was their land. But under pressure, The Ten looked backwards; it was all they knew.
Caleb no longer suffered with a broken spirit; he saw Canaan with a different spirit. He was coming home, the land of God’s promise and presence. Egypt was in Caleb’s rearview mirror and he had no intention of returning to its brokenness and bondage.
When things get tough, it is easy for us to believe that we are on the wrong track. Our reflex is to fall back on the familiar. There will be setbacks, but God’s people on mission never go backwards.
It takes courage to have a different attitude. But, if we can embrace the attitude of Caleb we can look into the darkness of this world and proclaim to the Enemy, “We’re your worst nightmare—disciples with attitude!”
David L. DeGarmo (D. Min.) serves Global University as Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Theology. Along with his wife Ruth, he is also a U.S. Missionary. He has extensive experience as an educator, missionary, and pastor.
David writes an additional blog on a variety of topics. Check it out...