Numbers 13:26-33 & Philippians 4:12-14

Bob Biehl, in his book “Masterplanning,” tells about a conversation he had with a man who trains animals for Hollywood movies. He asked him, “How is it that you can stake down a ten-ton elephant with the same size stake that you use to restrain this baby elephant?”

“It’s easy,” said the trainer. “When they are babies, we stake them down. They try to tug away from the stake countless times before they realize that they can’t get away. At that point the elephant memory takes over and for the remainder of their lives they remain convinced that they can’t get away from the stake.”

Like elephants, humans have long memories. Often when we are young, some unthinking, insensitive person makes a negative statement about you or me, and we happen to hear it. Maybe they say about us, “He is not as smart as the other children” or “She always makes a mess of things,” or “Her personality or disposition is terrible,” or “He has very little leadership ability.” Often at those moments, a mental stake is driven into our subconscious. Years later when we are adults, those stakes are still holding us fast.

Most of our limitations are self-imposed. Often during our childhood years we pick up unrealistic fears and unreasonable insecurities. By the time we reach adulthood, we may have little self-confidence and lots of fears.

In a recent poll taken by Americans in their 20’s, this question was asked: “What is the basic feeling you have about life?” Sixty percent said, “Fear.”1 That surprising data confirms my suspicions that the level of fear and anxiety runs high in America, even in a time of great prosperity.

Most people define themselves either by their problems or their possibilities. Fearful people wake up each morning and locate themselves on a problem chart. But people of faith should wake up and consult their possibility chart. What a difference that makes!

God wants every believer to be confident, positive, and victorious! There are certain Bible verses that we Christians ought to memorize. One of them is Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Our scripture lesson for the morning shows us the stark difference between fearful and faithful people. Let me set the scene for you. The time is approximately 1400 years before Christ. A tribe of 600,000 Israelites has been migrating for about forty years from Egypt to Canaan. When they approached the border of the Promised Land. Moses, the leader, responding to a command from God, sent twelve spies into Canaan to reconnoiter the land and people. After forty days the spies returned. They were unanimous in reporting that the land was rich and productive. Beyond that, the spies disagreed. Ten of them reported that the people of Canaan were huge giants who lived in fortified cities. These spies concluded that the Israelites were not able to overcome them.

But two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, said, “Let us enter Canaan at once. We are well able to overcome it. The Lord is with us. Do not fear the people of the land.”

But the ten fearful spies disagreed violently. They cried out, “Compared to those giants, we seemed to ourselves to be grasshoppers, and that’s the way we appeared to them too.”

That comment is quite revealing. The grasshopper mentality always begins with a low estimate of ourselves. Those big people in Canaan did not say to the spies, “Hey, you little fellows look like grasshoppers to us.” The grasshopper mentality was a self-concept. Sometimes we, like those spies, motivated by fear, see ourselves as little better than insects. Then we assume that others see us that way too. It is a formula for futility.

I love the story about the Texan who was being shown around a vast ranch in Australia. The proud Texan refused to be impressed, believing that everything back home was better. The Texan said to his host, “This whole spread would be just a teensy little corner of my place back home.” When he was shown a huge herd of cattle, he said, “This is nice, but it’s just a fraction of my herd back home.” Just then a kangaroo came up behind the Texan and bounded by. The startled Texan said, “What in tarnation is that?” His Australian host responded, “You don’t have grasshoppers out in Texas?”

A grasshopper, even a big one, is still a grasshopper. We feel like one when our fears and problems dominate our thinking.

Many years ago when the legendary Knute Rockne was the coach at Notre Dame, the Irish were facing a critical football game against a vastly superior Southern California team. During the week before the game, Rockne recruited every big, brawny student in the entire student body to suit up for this particular game, not to play, but just to run out onto the field with the team and to sit on the bench.

On the day of the game, Southern Cal came out on the field first. Then at the very last minute, here came Notre Dame. 150 huge players came rumbling onto the field. The Southern Cal team stopped their warm-ups and just stared at this assembly of green giants.

Knute Rockne had psyched them out. Though the USC coach told his team that only eleven men could play at a time, the damage had been done. USC lost, not because Notre Dame was better but because Southern Cal had been intimidated.2

When your fears are large and you doubt the sufficiency of your primary resource, you are a grasshopper for sure.

The way to overcome the grasshopper mentality is to remember who you are, whose you are, and where your power comes from. Who are you? You are a precious creation of Almighty God, made in His image. Whose are you? If you trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, you are an adopted child of God, having been ransomed through the sacrificial death of Jesus on a cross. Where does your power come from? It comes from the Holy Spirit planted in your heart when you first trusted in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. St. Paul reminded us that “God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, and of love, and of self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

The cure for the Grasshopper Complex is not to psyche yourself into pretending that you’re Superman or Superwoman. If you have no resources other than your own, you are a grasshopper.

But you’re not on your own! Almighty God is our refuge and strength. We are “more than conquerors through (Christ) who loved us.” (Romans 8:37) Jesus said, “In this world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33)

What challenge are you backing away from because you doubt you are adequate? What would you attempt tomorrow if you were sure God would help you?

For example, is God calling you to enter a different vocation, or to go to graduate school, or start a new business, or adopt a child, or run for public office, or go on a mission trip, or teach a Sunday School class?

If you have a bold idea that God may have placed in your heart, pray about it and ask a few trusted Christian friends to pray about it. If you and your friends discern through prayer that God approves of your idea, go for it! As the Bible assures us, “With God, all things are possible.”

When I was appointed to this church twelve years ago, I had never served a church half this size. I was following a man who is a legend across the Christian world. I knew I did not have the resources within myself to meet this challenge. But I came out here anyway because God made clear the call. And I believe that if God calls you to something, He will equip and supply. Sometimes I feel terribly deficient in certain areas, but that’s okay. If you want to see God’s muscles really flex, take on a task that is bigger than you are, a task in which you cannot possibly succeed unless God helps you. God will dazzle you!

God wants every believer to be confident. You will be if you remember who you are, whose you are, and where your power comes from.

Let me close with one of my favorite Zig Zigler stories. As you know, Zigler is a magnificent salesman and motivational speaker.

There was once a balloon salesman who was selling his balloons in a park. He had balloons of all different colors. They were quite large and helium-filled. Occasionally he would release a balloon for crowd effect. He released a white balloon and a crowd began to gather. He released a red balloon, and more people gathered. He released a yellow balloon, and still more people came.

Then a little six-year-old African-American boy eased up to him and tugged on his sleeve. The salesman looked down at him, and the boy asked a question in a voice just above a whisper. “Mister, if you let a black balloon go, will it go up, too?” With sensitivity, the balloon salesman knelt down and said, “Yes, son, if I let a black balloon go, it will rise, too. You see, it’s what’s inside the balloon that makes it rise, not the color on the outside.”

Our memory verse again is Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”


William R. Bouknight is Senior Pastor of Christ United Methodist Church in Memphis, TN.


1. Thielicke, Helmut, Being a Christian When the Chips Are Down, (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977), p. 24.
2. Buchanan, Robert E., Jr., “The Grasshopper Complex”, a sermon included in Best Sermons, Volume 7, edited by James W. Cox, (San Francisco: Harper, 1994), pp. 232-233

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