Out of the comfort zone, and on to victory
Out of weakness were made strong – Heb 11.34
Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle –Ps144.1
The story of Gideon gives us a vivid biblical illustration of how the Lord can raise up a fearful, powerless person to be an overcomer. Gideon, you may know, was treading his wheat secretly in a secluded winepress when God spoke to him. The Israelites were outnumbered and out-armed by the Midianites, and had been “brought low” and were being badly abused. (Judges 6)
Gideon was hiding away, quite understandably full of fear, yet God chose him to defeat the Midianites, a task far bigger than he alone was capable of. The story of how God raised up Gideon to complete this task tells us a lot about how God works in His chosen vessels even today.
God’s first message to Gideon was that He was with him. And note that God addressed this fearful person as a “mighty man of valor”. In the midst of repression and reproach, God was speaking his affirming vision over Gideon. And Gideon’s first response was the classic, “if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us?” Isn’t that always our biggest hurdle? To believe the good promises of God in the face of the daunting circumstances life can throw at us?
To overcome Gideon’s lack of faith, God began to give Gideon encouraging signs. First He miraculously consumed a sacrifice with fire. This terrifying event made fearful Gideon even more afraid – but it served to focus the fear where it belonged – on God. When we fear God we no longer have to fear man. Sometimes God needs to give us a jolt in order to awaken us to a new work.
Gideon now was encouraged enough to face the first challenge Lord asked of him. He was to pull down the town’s idols and replace them with an altar to the Lord. Gideon needed every bit of his newfound courage to do this (and indeed he did it under cover of darkness), because pulling down the town’s idols of choice was not a terribly effective way to make friends and increase one’s life expectancy. Predictably, the neighbors were up in arms afterward and aiming to kill him for offending their religious sentiments (remember, this was Israel, so you can see how far the people had fallen spiritually). It was only Gideon’s father’s intervention that saved him. His father essentially told the townspeople that they would have to go through him to get to Gideon, and then he had the wisdom to challenge them to let their gods punish Gideon if those gods really were so powerful (v. 31).
Gideon’s father’s courage and wisdom saved the day, at a point when Gideon was just starting out in his walk of faith and he was very vulnerable. If we see our brothers striking out against the idols of today and in a vulnerable position, we ought to do the same for them.
Gideon was strengthened by his success, and now the Lord was ready to call him to fight the Midianites. For this new task Gideon would need an extra dose of encouragement. He prayerfully put out a fleece one night, and the next day it was drenched with dew while everything else was dry. But to be absolutely sure that he wasn’t imagining the whole God thing, he repeated the experiment. This time the fleece was dry but everything else was wet. At the mouth of two or three witnesses every thing shall be established.
The Lord was raising Gideon up, and He was doing it by mixing affirmations with challenges. First He would show Gideon His mighty power, and then He would challenge Gideon to do some risky faith-stretching exploit. If God had given Gideon support with no challenges, Gideon would have grown complacent and would never would have grown up spiritually. And if He had given challenges with no support, Gideon would have been spiritually paralyzed and also would not have grown up spiritually.
Father knows how to balance our spiritual “nutrition and exercise” in just the right way in order to work what is best for us. While we are going through the discipline, at times it doesn’t seem balanced to us at all. It seems hard. But that’s inherent in the definition of testing faith. By nature we crave the familiar status quo, and God sometimes has to make us uncomfortable in order to get us to move forward.
It behooves us to get into agreement with God early. The more in harmony with God we are, the less disruptive and painful our spiritual growth will be.
Now the battle with the Midianites loomed. This was big. Gideon must have felt relieved when some thirty-two thousand men showed up, forming a significant army. But God had a problem with that – the job had to be done with fewer men, so that the glory clearly would be His. So He had Gideon thin the ranks. Those who were afraid were allowed to leave, and twenty-two thousand did so.
That left an army of ten thousand brave men, but that was still too many. At the Lord’s direction, Gideon separated out three hundred more men. That wasn’t such a lot of soldiers to lose, Gideon may have thought. But if he was thinking that way, he was much mistaken – it wasn’t the three hundred that were to be sent home, it was the 9700! God was going to send Gideon into battle with a mere 300 men! Clearly, God was VERY intent on receiving the glory Himself!
This was a challenge, indeed. Do you see the dynamic here? When God chooses one to be a vessel of His glory, He begins a process of stripping him of his natural strength. This forces him to rely on God alone – not man, not his own abilities, but God alone.
At this point, Gideon understandably began to question and fear again. And so the Lord shifted back to Affirmation Mode. He sent Gideon sneaking into the enemy camp, where he “just happened“ to overhear two soldiers discussing an unlikely dream whose interpretation confirmed that an impending victory awaited Gideon.
This would be the last bit of encouragement that Gideon would need. His assurance was complete, and he went on to execute his bold battle plan magnificently. The fearful man initially alone and hiding from his enemies had been transformed into a military leader whose breathtaking boldness shocked, confused and terrified the enemy into self-destruction.
Very often when God raises up a person out of strongholds such as fear, depression and despair, He will use a process similar to the one He used with Gideon. He will demonstrate His protection and power, but at the same time He will lead His wavering warrior into challenges previously undreamed of, where new levels of overcoming faith are required.
To walk with God requires courage, but to seed that courage He goes out of His way to reassure us of His faithful providence. As with Gideon, often our fear is not completely taken away initially. There may be a period in which both fear and courage are present together, working against each other, and godly character develops as courage dynamically overcomes the fear.
It’s a growing process, and as our faith grows our heart becomes more healthy. God knows exactly what we need. If we give Him our willingness, He will work in us to bring about godly change, even dramatic change. And it’s a win-win all the way around. God builds His character into us and sets us free from our strongholds, and at the same time we become useful to Him in setting others free and in building up His Kingdom.
The story of Gideon is a fascinating, vivid study in how God can work in even the most fearful person to overcome extremely daunting odds. The good news is that the story is not about Gideon alone, because what is written of him was written for our instruction, as an example to us. Whatever obstacles you face, what God did for Gideon he will do for you, if you will believe the promises and rise to the challenges He allows in your life.