I have long admired and enjoyed J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I have read each of the books several times. Last week I completed yet another journey through the audio book version. I have also watched the movie version of LOTR several times as well. I’m impressed with and appreciative of what Peter Jackson did with LOTR and look forward to his handling of The Hobbit.
As much as I enjoy the story, J. R. R. Tolkien also taught me a great deal about facing the future through the actions of Theoden, Denethor, and Aragorn.
Theoden was King of Rohan, the horse people. He hid in the shadows of his hall avoiding change. He resigned himself to dwindling health and power. He spent far too much time listening to the whispers of the enemy, believing that he was too old, too feeble, too outnumbered. He bought into the lie that there was nothing he could do to change things anyway.
Denethor was the Steward of Gondor, the white city on the edge of Mordor. Denethor grasped onto his position and clung to his power. He resisted change and refused to acknowledge or recognize the new king. He would not yield his rule to another. Having listened to the dreams of the enemy, he gave into fear. Believing that hope was gone and doom was inevitable, he counseled others to die in the way that seemed best to them.
Aragorn saw the challenges of the future. He recognized the strength of the enemy. He knew he was outnumbered and outgunned. Yet he willingly struck out on a dangerous journey. He relied on the help of trusted friends. He counted the cost and set his hand to the task for which he had been called. He pursued his destiny with all the strength he could muster.
I first reflected on these contrasts 6 years ago when I was on the verge of leaving a secure position as an associate pastor to pursue an unknown road of becoming a senior pastor. On February 4, 2004, I wrote these words to some close friends, and later recorded them in my journal:
These days I feel like Aragorn of the first two books of The Lord of the Rings–haunted by the failures of the past, fearful of making the same mistakes, reluctant to take on the role for which he was born. I want to be Aragorn of the third book–stepping boldly into leadership, bringing encouragement to the fainthearted, leading a fellowship of people to victory. My fear is that if I stay at (my current ministry at that time) I will either become Theoden–listening to the whispers of the enemy and becoming a shell of a man, or Denethor–grasping onto a position of power, marking time, whose senses were dulled to the truth of his situation.
I want to live boldly and follow God’s path for my life. I don’t want to settle for the safe, easy choice. It would seem that the best course of action would be to remain in the crucible of this trial for a while longer. While I want to remain faithful at (my ministry at that time) while I wait, I need to press forward and reach toward that which I believe God has called me to do.
Six years after writing those words, the characters of Theoden, Denethor, and Aragorn continue to warn and inspire me.