February 29, 2008

God with us - in Power and in Promise

The last three Wednesday evenings of February, we studied through the life of Gideon, the deliverer of Israel (Judges 6-8). Here is a man who teaches us a great deal. He is the poster child for that famous New Testament affirmation: “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12.10). He was a no-name farmer, born into unimportant family, living in a conquered nation. He was exactly the kind of person no one would pick to save the nation – and therefore his life has all sorts of gospel parallels (see 1 Corinthians 1.18-25). He was so weak that he had no other recourse but to cling to God. “When I am weak, then I am strong.”

But even when God called him, he was unsure of himself. One of the reasons Gideon’s name is familiar to us is because of his fleeces – his requests for a sign from the Lord. He was frightened. And well might he have been. For among the tasks that he was called to were tearing down his own father’s Baal statue (imagine burning down your dad’s work-shop or church!) and taking tiny, disorganized, leaderless, demilitarized Israel into battle against 135,000 Midianites. Good reasons to be afraid! But, in spite of his fears, he went forward with the Lord.

How did he do it? How did he get his knocking knees to march? How did he get his trembling fingers to tie those ropes around his dad’s idol? And how did he have the courage to pull it down? Well, the answer doesn’t lie in Gideon, but in his God. Specifically, Gideon’s courage arose from the fact that God twice promised him: “I will be with you” (see 6.12 and 16). God had promised to be with Gideon as he did the work of the Lord. And He has promised to be with us, too, if we will join Gideon and Jesus in God’s great work (Matthew 28.19-20).

Now this promise (“I will be with you”) can be very encouraging – especially when God is with us as He was with Gideon in battle (Judges 6.34): “The Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon; and he blew the trumpet, and the Abiezrites were called together to follow him.” God fulfilled His promise. He was with Gideon in power! The Spirit came upon him; his courage rose even beyond the height of adrenaline; the people gathered to him; everything seemed to be falling into place! God was with Gideon – and it was obvious. It must have been easy to follow God that day, with the band playing and the troops marching to victory.

But what about the days when it isn’t like that? What about the days when you blow the trumpet and nothing happens? What about the days when the Spirit of the LORD doesn’t seem to come upon us in power? Can we serve God then? Can we be brave then? Can we do the LORD’s work then? And, most importantly, can we be sure that God is with us then?

Answer: Of course we can! God’s presence doesn’t depend on whether or not we can sense His power, but on the fact that He has given His promise! Gideon understood this. For, in obeying the Lord’s calling, it wasn’t all trumpets and gathered armies. There was also the night when he went with a mere ten men into the town square to tear down that idol (6.25-27). There was no obvious filling of the Spirit that night. In fact, Gideon went in to the town square afraid, and left terrified! Did he sense the power of God with him as he played tug-of-war with Baal? It doesn’t seem so. But he did have the promise of God – “I will be with you” – and in the strength of that promise, he obeyed!

And that is what I want to say to you today: If you are Christ’s own; if you are carrying out His work, God is with you – sometimes in power, but often times only (at least as far as you can tell) in promise. And that is enough. So on the days when the band isn’t playing and the energy isn’t flowing, remember, whether you feel it or not, God is with you!

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