An internet search on the phrase “when push comes to shove” led to a website at grammarist.com. That site defined the phase as “an American idiom that describes the critical time when a decision / commitment must be made, when action must be taken to back up words.” That definition reminds me of the Spanish proverb that says, “It’s not the same to talk of bulls as to be in the bullring.” And then there’s the unknown bullfighter who said, “To fight a bull when you are not scared is nothing. And to not fight a bull when you are scared is nothing. But to fight a bull when you are scared – that is something.” These words apply to Christians. We all have some “when push comes to shove” moments. Those “fight or flight” moments when we must decide if a particular action will be faithful or foolhardy. David fought and felled a nine-foot tall giant Goliath with nothing but a sling and a stone (1 Sam. 17. But later, as he ran and sought to hide from King Saul’s attempts to kill him, David confessed in Psalm 56:3, “What time I am afraid, I will trust in you.” We remember Moses as the fearless, mighty man of faith who marched boldly into Pharaoh’s court in Egypt, thundering God’s command to “Let My people go.” But in Exodus 3:10ff, when God initially told him he would be the one to go to Egypt to lead God’s people out of slavery, the Exodus narrative reveals God had to push Moses to the point of shoving him! Moses’ faith finally kicked in. He overcame his fear and got busy doing what God called him to do. Peter and the rest of Jesus’ apostles had a “when push comes to shove moment” the night Judas betrayed the Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane. Earlier that evening all the apostles verbally expressed undying devotion to Him, declaring they would never forsake Him, even if they had to die (Matt.26:34-35). But a few hours later, crunch time came, and fear (temporarily) smothered their faith. They all forsook Jesus and fled (Matt.26:56). But later in Acts 2 and the following chapters, other “when push comes to shove” moments came along. Now, filled with the Holy Spirit of God and trusting Christ’s promise to always be with them (Matt.28:20), their faith pushed fear out of the way. Repeatedly facing verbal and even physical beatings if they didn’t stop preaching the Christ, they stuck their necks out and kept preaching anyway. Their actions backed up their words. And talk about a “when push comes to shove moment” – check out Esther, our ancient ancestor in faith, a Jewess who became the Queen of Persia (her story is in the Old Testament book that bears her name). The critical moment in her life is in Esther chapter 4. In a threatening situation fraught with risk and fear, she chose to line act in faith rather than allow fear to hold her back and imperil her own life and the lives of all her Jewish kinsmen throughout the Persian Empire. We remember Esther, not because she wasn’t afraid, but because when “push came to shove,” she declared in Esther 4:16, “And so I will go in to the king, which is against the [Persian] law; and if I perish, I perish!” She fought the bull when she was scared. Now that was something! Because she acted courageously even in the face of risk, she and the Jewish people were preserved.
Today, “when push comes to shove” moments still confront the people of God. Moments when the need is to step out in faith, push back on fear, and do what we know is right, not merely what is easy or “safe.” Moments when we take actions that back up our words. What do you do “when push comes to shove?”