“I’m not sure I could do that…”
“Does God have a place for ordinary me?”
“But if we don’t do this, the church will just look so weak…”
Over the summer at our church we took some time to look at some of the so-called ‘heroes of faith’ listed in Hebrews chapter 11. And, hey, one of the preaching cards I got dealt was Gideon. You know, the dude with the fleece? Perhaps not your first thought when it comes to heroes of Scripture. I’m not sure if there’s such a thing as Bible Top Trumps, but I’m pretty sure Gideon wouldn’t be a particularly highly-prized card if there was.
And yet the more you dig into Gideon’s life the more you see he’s a fantastic lens to understand the way God works. In fact, his life is a pretty surprising insight into what faith actually is all about.
When we first meet Gideon in Judges chapter 6, he’s basically threshing wheat in a wine-press (6 v11). Now, because most of us don’t do much wheat-threshing on an average day, there’s a chance we miss what’s being implied here. The Dummies Guide to Wheat-Threshing would be quick to point out that you don’t tend to thresh wheat in a wine-press. That’s because a wine-press is basically a hole in the ground. When you want to thresh wheat you get out into the open space where the breeze can blow the chaff away. The point is Gideon is hiding in a pit. That’s how scared of his enemies Gideon is.
Then, just a few verses later, after Gideon’s given his first mini-mission from God, he basically chickens out of confronting his own family, despite getting a full-on Gandalf-esque sign from God in advance. He ends up doing the mission by night so no one spots him (6 v25-27). He’s weak.
And so we quickly build up a picture of Gideon as a bit of scaredy-cat. That’s to put it mildly. In fact, his own self-assessment is that his family are the biggest pile of losers going and he’s the weakest of the lot (6 v15). He is, as Jonty Allcock puts it in his brilliant little book, a self-confessed loser.
Later, his infamous bartering with God over the whole damp/dry fleece debacle (6v 36-40) is described – not as some model for how to approach divine guidance (as it’s sometimes taught), but rather to demonstrate loud and clear just how weak Gideon was. Despite God’s word being clear (“as you have said,” v36 & v37), it was still a complete struggle for Gideon to trust God and his promises.
So if there’s a strapline for Gideon’s life in the book of Judges it could be something like this: God chooses a self-confessed loser to show that it’s all about Him. It’s all about God.
The account has its crescendo in the battle between Gideon’s army and the Midianites, the enemies of God’s people. And the bizarre series of events through chapter 7 is all about God whittling down Gideon’s prospective army from some 32,000 to just 300 blokes. And it’s completely arbitrary how God makes the final cut: like how you drink your water! Since when did you get asked to do that at Sandhurst? The point is that God wants it to be really clear that he is the one who is responsible for the victory.
The key verse comes in 7 v2:
The LORD said to Gideon, “You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her…”
And there you have it. Spot it? Weakness is God’s calling card because it’s in our weakness that it becomes clear to us that the power belongs to God.
Is it just me, or does that change everything?
You sometimes hear phrases that go like this: “Any great work of God begins with…” – and we fill in the blank with whatever it is we’re championing at the moment. But maybe we’d do well to remember that any ‘great work of God’ might not actually feel so great to us. It’ll probably feel pretty weak, in order for God to show us that he’s the one we need to be behind it. Weakness is God’s calling card.
So how does this relate to Hebrews chapter 11? Why do we have this self-acknowledged loser given a star-studded space in this apparent faith ‘hall of fame’?
Faith in Hebrews is always future-focused. That’s Hebrews 11 v1 right there: faith trusts God’s promise about the future, despite the reality of the present. And Gideon as a case-study gives us a particular flavour of this. Faith is all about acknowledging present weakness and resting in God’s power and strength.
In other words, faith stops looking at ourselves and starts looking at how great God is.
That’s the Christian gospel: I have nothing but Jesus gives me everything.
And thousands of years after Gideon we read of another man trusting God enough to become weak and going to a Roman cross, dying a gruesome and humiliating death. Though it seemed the definitive weak moment, the first Christians understood it as the moment of God’s power and wisdom in action.
The legendary Christian writer Jim Packer recently published a collection of personal reflections looking back at his life in light of 2 Corinthians. Tellingly he calls them, ‘Weakness Is the Way’. And I think that absolutely nails it. Weakness is the Way.
Weakness is the way when it comes to faith. And so it’s the way when it comes to what the Christian life will look like. When it comes to what church-planting will feel like. When it comes to how the Church will be perceived in the culture.
Because as we feel our own weakness, we recognise we’re completely dependent on God’s strength. The spotlight is on him, not us.
But sometimes I wonder if the way we respond to our weakness suggests we’ve forgotten that’s how God works. We hide weakness. We try and get away from it.
And yet weakness isn’t the problem. We don’t need to get away from weakness.
So, feeling weak?
Feeling like this Church-in-the-21st-century thing all just feels so fragile?
Feeling like you just can’t do this?
Weakness is God’s calling card, so welcome to the Gideon Club.