Paul Thurlow writes up the distance quiet day thoughts from a small group of us.
We’d planned this meeting at the end of 2019; we’d planned to talk about ‘the God who challenges’. Little did we know that just days before we met the country would be placed into lockdown, our worlds would be turned upside down and that all our own challenges would change.
Our Bible focus was the story of Gideon; his story is found in Judges 6—8. We often skip chapter 8, but this chapter shows us how human Gideon was and how far from a hero he was. (You may like to stop and read the story before you continue with this blog.)
Gideon was someone who was both challenged by God and faced life-threatening challenges. The Midianites were like the coronavirus in some ways – making food supplies uncertain, making everyday life unpredictable and uncomfortable.
What were the challenges you were facing before lockdown? Were they personal? What should I do? What do I say yes to and no to? Were there challenges at work or church? What were your Messy Church challenges?
Whatever they were, for the present they have changed and maybe they have changed for good. Today we need to support family, friends and church from a distance. We need to stay at home and stay safe. Maybe we are fighting anxiety caused by the constant media messages of stay at home, lockdown, save lives, protect the NHS, work at home, panic-buying, deserted towns, cancelled, shut, unemployed, death-rate statistics. Maybe it’s struggling to balance working from home with home-schooling, with keeping in touch, with trying to get the shopping we need. So many plates to spin. Perhaps we are struggling with poor broadband or learning how all this social media stuff works.
Whatever your challenges are, what can the story of Gideon say to us about facing challenging times?
Lessons from Gideon
God chooses the most unlikely people to work with. Gideon was no hero and he wasn’t the finished product. The only hero in the story is God! Isn’t it encouraging that God chooses flawed servants whose faith is weak? Isn’t it amazing that God chooses to work with 300 messy slurping soldiers rather than 31,700 crack troops? Gideon fought with just a handful of men. Maybe we think we are not up to the challenge or that our teams are too small? It may help us to remember ‘Our God is a great big God’ – you could even sing it out loud.
God is very gentle with Gideon and takes him step by step into actions with lots of grace and forbearance. It takes courage to be obedient and sometimes we need some encouragement. How many times did Gideon ask for reassurance about what he had to do? Quite a few, and God kept on encouraging him. The Bible says there is a huge crowd of witnesses cheering us on and a God who is on our side. God led Gideon step by step, building up his faith and trust.
Gideon and the people of Israel had been crying out to God for help. The problem of the Midianites seemed insurmountable! There was nothing they could do. So they cried out to God to save them. It was a big prayer, a specific prayer. Are we brave enough to pray big specific prayers? But not only did Gideon pray, he also asked for help – help from God and help from the people around him. Rescue and help can come from unexpected places, unlikely people and unforeseen circumstances. Joash, Gideon’s father, steps in to protect his son from the wrath of the community after Gideon smashes Baal’s alter and cuts down the Asherah pole. Which Gideons do we need to protect? How do we encourage families to practise faith in the home? Maybe this whole virus emergency can teach us lots about how to be church in the 21st-century and how to do discipleship at home, which is where the church started.
Looking at the whole story, it seems Gideon’s real challenge was not defeating the Midianites but dealing with his own personal feelings and character flaws. God’s call and challenge comes to us all and maybe it’s how we stick with it once ‘the big moment’ is over that counts.
Saving the best to last, we all agreed that the most important lesson of the story of Gideon is that God is with us. In all the messiness of life our God walks with us. Psalm 121 is a key psalm for this time and verses 1–2 encourage us:
I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from?My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
Emmanuel, God with us – we remember this at Christmas, but it is true 24/7, every day of the year. We have a God who promises to be with us by his Holy Spirit. Ultimately, it is God who is in charge, God who sees the potential in us, God who calls and God who equips.
Our God is for us. Who can be against us?
Our God is with us.
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.