I get inspired by stories of people who refuse to give up, even when the odds are stacked against them. The account of the four lepers in 2 Kings 7 is a prime example. These guys face certain death at the gates of the city of Samaria. The king of Aram has besieged Samaria, cutting off all supplies to its people. A terrible famine results causing food prices to soar. (Interest rates rocket! Petrol prices shoot through the roof!) Things get so bad that some in the city resort to cannibalism. Everything is exponentially worse for the lepers, who rely on charity to survive (they’re forced to live as outcasts, prohibited from residing in the city by law because of their condition).
Sitting outside the city gate one day, they say to each other (in 2 Kings 7:3–4 MSG): ‘What are we doing sitting here at death’s door? If we enter the famine-struck city we’ll die; if we stay here we’ll die. So let’s take our chances in the camp of Aram and throw ourselves on their mercy. If they receive us we’ll live, if they kill us we’ll die. We’ve got nothing to lose.’
The lepers are in a worst-case scenario, and no one is coming to save them. Yet they don’t give up. Instead, they ask themselves: What can we do to improve our situation? And then they take a leap of faith – deciding to throw themselves on the mercy of their enemies, the Arameans – even though there’s only the slimmest chance of being spared. Essentially, they choose to live instead of waiting to die.
I love this line from the 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption: ‘Get busy living or get busy dying.’ Which is the mantra of Tim Robbins’s character Andy Dufresne, who is wrongfully convicted of murder. The way Andy sees things, he has two choices: bust out of Shawshank Prison and try to make a life on the outside, or give up completely.
This is a dramatic example, and I’m not promoting prison breaks, but it reminds me of a biblical choice that Moses sets before God’s people in Deuteronomy 30:19 (MSG): ‘I place before you Life and Death, Blessing and Curse. Choose life so that you and your children will live.’ The next verse tells us how to do this: ‘You can make this choice by loving the LORD your God, obeying Him and committing yourself firmly to Him. This is the key to your life.’ (Verse 20 NLT).
The overarching way in which we choose life is to accept Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. After that, we keep choosing life by continuing to follow Him. Colossians 2:6–7 (TPT) says: ‘In the same way you received Jesus our Lord and Messiah by faith, continue your journey of faith, progressing further into your union with Him! Your spiritual roots go deeply into His life as you are continually infused with strength, encouraged in every way. For you are established in the faith you have absorbed and enriched by your devotion to Him.’
Building a close, personal relationship with God, spending daily time with Him, and planting ourselves in church are the foundations of a blessed life. But we also choose life in countless other ways (big and small) every day. We choose life when we’re patient and kind; forgiving of others; generous with our resources; and diligent in our work. We choose life when we watch our words; pay attention to how we think; lend a helping hand; pray more and worry less; live in harmony with others; spend quality time with loved ones; develop healthy habits; kick unhealthy ones, you name it. Even when we keep our cool in traffic, we’re choosing life.
God is with us in all this. The Holy Spirit empowers us. And the Word of God is a lamp to our feet. Psalms 34:12 (TPT) says: ‘Do you want to live a long, good life, enjoying the beauty that fills each day? Then never speak a lie or allow wicked words to come from your mouth. Keep turning your back on every sin, and make “peace” your life motto. Practice being at peace with everyone.’ (Interestingly, David uses the Hebrew word shalom, a multifaceted term for ‘peace’, which also means wholeness, wellness, wellbeing, contentment, and so on.)
Finding themselves in a life-and-death situation, the four lepers choose survival over a slow death from starvation. They set out for the enemy camp, not knowing how things will turn out for them. But God goes before them, and they arrive to find the Aramean camp completely deserted. ‘For the Lord had caused the Aramean army to hear the clatter of speeding chariots and the galloping of horses and the sounds of a great army approaching … So they panicked and ran into the night, abandoning their tents, horses, donkeys and everything else as they fled for their lives.’ (2 Kings 7:6–7 NLT).
Long story short, the famished lepers eat and drink their fill and carry off silver, gold, and clothing, which they hide for themselves. Then they return to the city to share the good news with the authorities so everyone can benefit from the bounty. Thanks to the sudden abundance, food prices in the city plummet the next day. Basically, the lepers’ choice to take positive action sets a miracle in motion that changes the fate of an entire city.
We can never underestimate to what extent our daily choices shape our individual lives and our collective future. This doesn’t mean we control the future. God is sovereign and He is in control of everything. But even when things happen that are beyond our control, we still choose how to respond: Will we include God in our situation? Will we stand firm in our faith? Will we listen to wise counsel? Will we persevere? Will we choose life?
As a teenager, I accepted Jesus as my Saviour in the Boys’ Brigade (thank you, Baptist church!) Then our family moved to a Spirit-filled church, where I had a fresh and powerful encounter with the Holy Spirit. I made great friends in the youth ministry and became passionate about living for Jesus. This led me to start praying for my high school because I wanted all my school friends to have what I was experiencing through a personal relationship with Jesus connected to a spiritually potent church community. My youth pastor from back then, Steve Kelly (who taught me how to drive and whom I’m still in touch with) has this saying: ‘Life is brutiful’ (brutal + beautiful; get it?) Which sums up our time here on earth pretty well.
The Lord never promises us a smooth ride. We may stumble and fall along the way. We may even give up on things we could never have imagined giving up on. The upside is, we have a God who never gives up on us. ‘For hasn’t He promised you, “I will never leave you, never! And I will not loosen my grip on your life!”’ (Hebrews 13:5 TPT). That said, we spare ourselves (and our loved ones) untold trouble and pain when we make wise choices, when we do things God’s way, and when we stick it out on His path for our lives.
Paul and Timothy’s prayer for God’s people in the city of Colosse is also my prayer for us: ‘We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength off gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that He has for us.’ (Colossians 1:11–12 MSG).
Let me conclude with Romans 15:13 (MSG): ‘May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!’