Today we live our heroes, on the sporting field, in politics and in movies. I was watching TV recently and saw an ad with a montage of the various stars of Discovery channel shows and they start to applaud and when the shots pull back they are applauding doctors, nurses and first responders in this pandemic.
Suddenly we see the fact that real heroes are very often ordinary people who, through adverse circumstances, rise to do extraordinary things. Today want to examine the life of an ordinary, discouraged, oppressed even timid guy who became a judge, a leader and a conqueror. His name is Gideon.
SIX LESSONS ON FAITH FROM A FAITHLESS GUY
In Judges, we see the cycle of the nation of Israel’s fortunes. They rebel against God, God allows Adversity and oppression, in their pain they cry out to God, and God in His love sends a hero to rescue them. They repent, then fall away again and the whole cycle continues. Maybe this is how your life looks?
That’s where we meet an ordinary guy called Gideon, who has something to teach us about faith. He’s as oppressed and scared as the next guy with his situation, not an impressive hero at all, and I for one relate to that!
1. GOD USES TOUGH TIMES TO GET OUR ATTENTION
This pandemic has driven some people away from God, and some of us towards Him. Either way, for the first time in a long time, He has our attention. People are not thinking about cars, houses, things, football or food, they are thinking about life, family and what really is important in this world.
But the end of Judges 5, we find the nation at peace, at ease and, as often happens, complacent and apathetic about God… Many of us just a few months ago. They had it all, and as it tends to happen to us all in such times, Israel forgot God. They became self-sufficient. They didn't need God.
So the Lord thought He’d shake things up a bit by rousing an enemy against them to show them how hard life can be without Him.
Judges 6:1-2 (ESV Strong's)
The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD gave them into the hand of Midian seven years. And the hand of Midian overpowered Israel, and because of Midian the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds.
So God sends these evil Midianites to oppress them for 7 years. The Midianites were a terrifying and warmongering tribe who raided and stole all the produce on the land, forcing the Israelites to live in fear and even retreat to caves to survive. And although these Israelites had largely forgotten God, and were back into idolatry by this stage worshipping Baal, in a pinch they turned back to the true God…
7 years, you might ask why they waited so long to turn back to the Lord? Because they're a lot like us - they waited until every other possible option played out and they couldn't take it any longer.
Judges 6:6 (ESV Strong's)
And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the LORD.
How many times have hard circumstances come to us, and we never stop to ask what God is planning for us in those circumstances? Instead we hold out, thinking that we can handle it on our own. Learn this from Gideon: every experience in life is a test. And every trial in the lives of God's people is tailored to draw us closer to God, and grow faith in our hearts.
Here's the point: When tough times come, instead of looking at them as if God is punishing you, instead of whining and complaining about how tough life is, try to see them as God's gift of grace. A test, even a blessing to grow your faith.
C.S. Lewis said it like this, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains. It's His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."
Right now God is shouting to a unbelieving world, and to us who are Christians, and we need to hear Him and respond by turning to Him.
Hebrews 12:11-12 (ESV Strong's)
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees,
2. GOD’S VIEW IS BIGGER THAN OURS
God sees far more than we do, and He is waiting for us to turn to Him. He sends an unknown prophet to call the people back to repentance, then He raises up an unknown and unlikely hero, called Gideon.
Gideon’s name actually means, “One who cuts down tress and destroys stuff,” But he was anything but that! He was frustrated, timid and scared.
Judges 6:11 (ESV Strong's)
Now the angel of the LORD came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites.
Winnowing wheat should be done in a breezy area, not a hole in the ground. But so scared were the Israelites of Midian they resorted to compromise. And the angel of God, with ironic humour, says this…
Judges 6:12 (ESV Strong's)
And the angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, “The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor.”
God sees things inside us when we cannot. Here’s Gideon, threshing in a wine press, and he is greeted not as who he sees himself as, but as who God sees him becoming!
One of the biggest lies the devil sells us is that God only uses special people. If you are a born-again believer, you are God's child, royalty, a prince or a princes, and God says He has plans to prosper you. He says you are His workmanship, His masterpiece, and He is out there preparing opportunities for you to become the mighty man or woman of God you are destined to be!
Ephesians 2:10 (ESV Strong's)
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
God sees not who you are right now, but who you can become in Him.
3. GOD CONFIRMS HIS PRIORITIES WITH HIS PRESENCE
Gideon felt like God had long abandoned them…
Judges 6:13 (ESV Strong's)
And Gideon said to him, “Please, my Lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.”
Some of you feel like that right now. Isolated, lonely, socially distanced, many feel disconnected from the church, and from God. Gideon felt like that. It’s ok to feel like that, it’s just not ok to stay there. God looked him full in the face,
Judges 6:14 (ESV Strong's)
And the LORD turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?”
Gideon then throws up his upbringing.
Judges 6:15 (ESV Strong's)
And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house.”
Listen, whatever your family, your background, your failures or your past, destiny is determined not by circumstances, but by choices. If the devil tries to remind you of your past, try reminding him of his future! God’s reply was
Judges 6:16 (ESV Strong's)
And the LORD said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.”
When God calls you, He empowers you and even better, He walks the road with you. You are never alone. People ask where is God in all this COVID stuff, and I tell them I know where He is… Right here with me, walking the road!
God confirms His priorities with His presence. He says, I will be with you, and He doesn’t lie…
Numbers 23:19 (ESV Strong's)
God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfil it?
But Gideons lack of faith began to shine through in his next words…
Judges 6:17 (ESV Strong's)
And he said to him, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, then show me a sign that it is you who speak with me.
Many of us are like this, we doubt the promises of God. Gideon is talking directly to God, and has nothing but doubts and excuses. Here’s the thing… God didn’t zap him! God loved him, and showed grace by slowly building his faith. But once built, Gideon needed a test to prove to himself that God can use him to rescue his people.
4. PERSONAL FAITH PRECEDES PUBLIC USEFULNESS
How could Gideon leads his people to victory when his own family were idolators. God isn’t God to Gideon’s people, Baal was!
So the first assignment from the Lord was to take his dad's prized bull and tear down the idols. Then, Gideon was to sacrifice said bull using the wood from the destroyed idol. Gideon did it, passed the test and kicked up a huge storm of reaction.
Why would this detail be in the Bible? To show us that, if we want to become great for God, we must first set our own house in order.
Before God can use you mightily, He must be magnified in your own life, in your own home. Private faith prepares us for public power from God, and there are no short cuts… Holiness is holiness.
Judges 6:27 (ESV Strong's)
So Gideon took ten men of his servants and did as the LORD had told him. But because he was too afraid of his family and the men of the town to do it by day, he did it by night.
So there was still fear, but he stepped out and did it, scared or not. So is there anything you've been holding on to? Is there any sin that you're clinging to? Knock down your idols today. Confess your sin. Deal with it and return to full obedience to God and the God will use you to impact the world!
Will it stir things up when you do this? You bet, but God will honour those who honour Him! It happened for Gideon, and even his idolatrous father Joash began to change and stand up for his son and the Lord.
Judges 6:31 (ESV Strong's)
But Joash said to all who stood against him, “Will you contend for Baal? Or will you save him? If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been broken down.”
5. GOD IS PATIENT WITH OUR FAITH
Now despite Gideon being touted in Hebrews as a hero of the faith, his story shows anything but a hero for a long time. He passed the personal test of faith, and now people rallied to the cause of fighting Midianites, 32,000.
Judges 6:34 (ESV Strong's)
But the Spirit of the LORD clothed Gideon, and he sounded the trumpet, and the Abiezrites were called out to follow him.
If this were a movie, he’d come up with a rousing speech, “We will fight them on the fields, on the ground, in the mountains, this is our finest hour, this is our Independence Day. But no, Gideon was busy doubting.
I’m like that as a pastor. You’re called, God has anointed you, but some days your faith just has the wind sucked out of it. It only takes a few words of criticism, a questioning glance, and suddenly you doubt that God’s even called you at all.
Even after his encounter with Almighty God, even though he had been obedient to clean shop at home, and even though the Holy Spirit was empowering him, Gideon still struggled with doubts. He knows that God has promised to save Israel through him, but he's looking in the mirror and the reflection he sees doesn't look encouraging.
God still doesn’t zap him. God doesn’t even chastise him for lack of faith. God loves him, and extends grace to him and meets his bizaar request about fleeces.
Judges 6:37-38 (ESV Strong's)
behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.” And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water.
A fleece is not faith, but it is faith building. Faithful people don’t need to put out a fleece, but sometimes some of us do.
Great… Fleece put out, God comes through, I’m ready to go Lord! Oops, maybe not…
Judges 6:39 (ESV Strong's)
Then Gideon said to God, “Let not your anger burn against me; let me speak just once more. Please let me test just once more with the fleece. Please let it be dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground let there be dew.”
Again God does it to prove He is with him in power. I love how loving, tender, and patient God is with us. Gideon is making a deal with God. He wants a confirming sign. I bet most of us are no different.
Why did God bother? Why not just say, I’ve had enough of your doubting attitude Gideon, I’m going to empower Joshua down the road instead of you. That’s how we think God is with us, but when we genuinely have doubts, God loves us enough to persist… Not forever, but until our faith is stronger.
Our Lord was developing this man into a fully invested man of faith, matching each doubt with a kind reassurance. God will show you the same patience as well as you seek His face, dealing with each of your fears to grow you into a man or woman of God.
6. VICTORY IS OBTAINED BY GOD’S POWER, NOT OURS
Gideon is good to go, it’s game on, and he heads off to war with his 32,000, knowing God is empowering him. But God has other plans. We think we know best, we have ideas and opinions, but sometimes God just trumps them.
Judges 7:2-3 (ESV Strong's)
The LORD said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ Now therefore proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home and hurry away from Mount Gilead.’” Then 22,000 of the people returned, and 10,000 remained.
Brilliant God, just chop our numbers by 2/3. Why? Because God doesn’t want us to take the glory for ourselves, thinking we did it all! And God knows us so well. Pastors think they are great because they have a big church. Business people who are successful praise their skills and hard work. Families where kids turn out good praise their parenting. Yes, our actions and abilities influence it, but no matter how good we think we are, it is all, every bit of it, a blessing from the Lord.
James 1:17 (ESV Strong's)
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
Only 10,000, but still God says that’s too many. Really God? Yes, He culls the army down by 9,700 men who stoop to drink from a river, leaving only those 300 who lapped water from their hands. Now God’s happy, and Gideons faith is stretched but holds…
Judges 7:7 (ESV Strong's)
And the LORD said to Gideon, “With the 300 men who lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hand, and let all the others go every man to his home.”
God does this to us as He builds our faith. Little by little He teaches you to rely solely on Him. Ignite Church is scattered and stretched in this COVID time. My faith is stretched, and trying to restart live church is scary. It’s an unknown, and perhaps God is stripping us back to teach us to trust Him more. Jesus said,
Luke 18:27 (ESV Strong's)
But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”
God created an impossible situation of human weakness to exalt His own strength. This is His specialty!
Accomplishing God's purposes is not determined by the bottom line on a finance sheet, or the size of our congregation, or the efficiency of our plans, or our skills, talents or determination. We need to attend to all those things, sure.
But the truth is, God is looking to glorify Himself on earth through people who are fully dependent on Him, who believe He is with them and are ready to charge the enemy in the name of the Lord!
God doesn't need a majority vote from us on this. He doesn't need us at all. But He loves us so much He invites us to join Him in doing His will. When we do, we reap the blessing and He gets the glory. D. L Moody said: "Give me ten men who fear nothing but sin and love nothing but God, and I shall change the world."
So Gideon led the 300 out with trumpets, torches, and jars to meet the crazy killers. God sent confusion into the ranks of the enemy so that they began attacking each other. When it was over, 120,000 Midianites had killed one another and the other 15,000 fled. God had answered Israel's prayers, and He did it all using a fearful, normal bloke who decided to trust God.
SO WHAT ABOUT US?
Gideon shows us that you don’t have to be a super Spiro to be used by God. You don’t need a Bible degree, a ton of money or extreme talent.
God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things, and in this extraordinary time, I believe God wants to use you. You don’t need anything special, just a heart for God, a phone, a Facebook account and it also helps to have a church who believes in you.
But you need 2 things… A heart devoted to God, and I mean really devoted, not just “Hey God, can you get me this,” But, “I’ll serve with everything I have no matter what.” And the second thing you need is faith, faith to step out and believe God, faith to stand when others fall, faith no matter if you get what you want or not.
I know many of you watching want to be used by God. Maybe you struggle with faith. Pray with me and let’s commit ourselves to the Lord to use us as a church over the next many months to shine God’s love.