God, the Giver of Courage

It is Sunday afternoon and I am so tired. And the funny thing is, I did not even preach today! The joke about pastors is they only work one day a week. Although this is how pastors are perceived, the truth is, our lives are filled with responsibilities that cause us much anxiety and stress. I do not say this as an excuse, rather the role of a pastor requires them to face many challenges from within the church, outside the church and from within their own souls.

I want to let you in on another secret… I am not brave. Now, I do not mean I do not have courage because there is a difference between the two. I heard that bravery is the ability to take on difficult situations without fear, while courage is taking on difficult situations even when you are afraid. When I think of courage I am reminded of Gideon.

I relate to Gideon because he lives life afraid. We find him in Judges 6:11 working in the winepress in order to hide from the Midianites. When the angel comes to him, he immediately begins to go over all his doubts about God’s faithfulness to the Israelites. When he realizes it is an angel of the Lord speaking to him, he downplays his own abilities, saying he is of the least of the clans so that should disqualify him from this task.

Gideon is not confident to do anything himself. He, like many of us, is fine complaining about how bad things are, but when he is asked to do something to improve the situation, Gideon backs away. It is easier to complain than to act. Does this sound familiar to any of us?

When God makes it clear that He Himself is calling Gideon, Gideon wants a sign, just to be sure. We know what that is like. God, in His faithfulness, gives him the sign and Gideon obeys God and cuts down the altar to Baal. But rather than doing it during the day, his fear of the townspeople and his family, he destroys it at night to protect his identity. Later, when the irate townspeople come for him, Gideon lets his father defend him. Gideon was not brave. I am Gideon.

I think for many of us, it easy to criticize Gideon for his doubts, but if we are honest, all of us have doubted. I have seen God work in and through my life, enabling me to do things that I would have thought impossible. But then I still doubt that I can do the next thing. I look at myself and my resources, and I feel inadequate all over again, convinced I cannot accomplish the task at hand.

I know that for me, further physical weakness and loss are constants. As I have aged, my body has changed. Gravity has taken effect. I worked out a few days ago and I am still suffering the aftereffects. When I consider the future and what God might be asking of me, I cry out, “Lord, I can’t do this. I’m not as strong as you think I am.” But here is something we all, myself included, need to remember, The Lord isn’t looking for your strength, or bravery, or natural gifts; He wants your reliance on Him.

In this passage from Judges, the Lord wants to save Israel through Gideon, but Gideon wants proof God will be with him. He first wants the fleece to be wet on the dry ground, and then wants to see dry fleece on the wet ground, just to be extra sure. From our perspective, Gideon might seem overly skeptical. Why does he keep asking for proof?

But, then I think about all the times I keep asking for assurance from God. When I feel inadequate to face something, I ask for signs, encouragement from friends, verses that apply to my situation. God understands my frailty; He deals with my weaknesses just as he did Gideon’s and He does it without scorn or chastisement. The Lord remembers that I am dust, a vapour in the wind.

After giving Gideon all the signs he requested, God prepares him to lead the Israelites into battle against the Midianites. Twenty-two thousand people showed up for battle, to which the Lord says are too many. With that army, the Israelites could take credit for the victory themselves. The Lord tells Gideon to let those who were afraid go home. Secondly, He tells him to choose for battle only those who lap the water instead of kneeling to drink. This left him with just an army of three hundred… less than 1.4% of the original army. God did this to show the victory would not be because of the strength of the Israelites, rather it would be God’s power alone that would deliver His people.

I think when Gideon is left with three hundred men, he is feeling pretty scared. Although he does not bring this up with God, He knows Gideon’s heart and reassures him by saying, “If you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp… and hear what they say, and afterward, your hands shall be strengthened.”

I think it is easy for us to assume that if God clearly told us what to do, that we would trust Him without proof. I am sure we would all be able to do that… maybe? Gideon, like us, struggled. But in this case, taking God at His word, he goes to the camp and hears for himself why victory would be assured. It is only at this point that Gideon believes and moves forward.

Have you ever wondered what God sees in you? I do it all the time. Gideon was no different. Throughout this encounter, Gideon doubts, is afraid and feels inadequate and weak. He only acts when he has proof that he will succeed. He wants to trust God, but he keeps doubting himself. Yet, from the beginning, God sees him as a “mighty man of valour,” which seems to contradict Gideon’s insecurities and doubts. God sees what we are in him, not in ourselves.

So, if you feel inadequate, weak, or afraid today, take heart. God chooses the foolish “to shame the wise”. Some of the greatest undertakings in the Bible were accomplished by weak people who felt they did not measure up to their calling.

Throughout the Bible, there are stories of great saints who asked God to “choose someone else.” Moses parted the Red Sea and delivered the Israelites from their Egyptian pursuers, but when God first called Moses, he tells God to send someone else. This was after God had assured Moses, dispelling all of his doubts and excuses. In one desperate attempt, he tells God how poor a speaker he is. God too provides an answer.

When God called the prophet Jeremiah, one of my heroes, his first response was, well, God, I am young and cannot really speak too well. God reassures him and he faithfully proclaims God’s messages to an unreceptive audience.

When you read these stories and listen to our own excuses, do you see the similarities? Like Gideon, Moses and Jeremiah, our focus is on ourselves. God sees what we are in Him, not in ourselves.

The apostle Paul wanted God to remove his thorn in the flesh, but the Lord reminded him saying in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul then said, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

So what does God need? Today, if the Lord is calling you to a task for which you feel inadequate, remember that the Lord is not looking for your strength, bravery, or natural gifts; rather He wants your reliance on Him. In the end, we know that God saw Gideon as mighty. In Hebrews 11, also known as the “Faith Hall of Fame,” we are reminded that Gideon conquered kingdoms and the Lord made him strong out of weakness. Not bad for someone looking for any excuse to get out of things.

God can use us and through His Spirit, we can be made strong out of our weaknesses when we put our trust in the Lord.

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