The Work of the Spirit in Times Like Ours

Many countries in our world today are in great spiritual and physical need. More than half of the world is closed off from traditional missionary work because of political and religious restrictions. When we realize there are billions who have never heard of Christ, we say, “God, it is still your world.” There will come a time when the kingdoms of this world will become the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, and to that end we must work.

As I read the Scriptures I recognize the world in which we live, the problems we face, and people with whom I can identify. I see how timid and cowardly they were, but still God put his hand on them and said, “I want to use you.” When I see those parallels, God speaks to me and says, “You can do the same. You can have a lasting impact on the situations in your world.”

Times Like Ours

The story of Gideon, which begins in Judges 6, provides such a parallel. The children of Israel were now in the land of Canaan, and God had told them clearly to drive out the inhabitants and claim the land. Some of the tribes drove out the Canaanites from their allotted territory, but others failed to finish the job. God warned them that these people and their gods would be “thorns in your side” and “a snare to you” (Judges 2:3). Then Joshua, and the generation that had entered the land with him so victoriously, died, and the generation that came after them forsook the Lord God and began to worship Baal and other Canaanite gods.

Israel continued to fight their enemies, but because of their disobedience God withdrew his hand of protection, and they were continually harassed, plundered, and beaten. Nonetheless, God raised up judges among them – righteous men and women who listened to God, spoke his word to the people, and helped deliver them from their enemies. Sometimes the people listened to the

judges and experienced victory and peace; but usually they returned to their evil ways and were once again in trouble.

These are circumstances we have no trouble recognizing. In the days of the judges, as in our own time, everyone did what was right in their own eyes (see Judges 17:6 and 21:25). It, too, was an age in which the people did not recognize a fixed point of moral reference outside of themselves – they did not acknowledge the Law of God as their standard – they made their own rules. Does this sound disturbingly familiar to what we see and hear all around us today?

Just before we meet young Gideon, God had allowed the people to prosper and have peace for forty years, but then “The people of Israel [again] did what was evil in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years …. Israel was brought very low because of Midian; and the people of Israel cried for help to the Lord” (Judges 6:1, 6). When we study the chapter, we find that the people could only function under the cover of darkness. They threshed their wheat at night; their supplies were locked up and hidden; everything had to be done in secret.

In more than half the world this is exactly the situation that people live in today!

In the midst of their distress, Israel had sense enough to call upon God. That’s the wonderful thing about the grace of God. He never reproaches anyone who cries to him after messing up his or her own life. Once you understand God’s character, you know you can count on him. You never have to feel bad about turning to him, no matter what sin you’ve committed, because he is always ready to forgive the truly repentant soul. Nor does he call back a record of your past sins that have been forgiven and covered by the blood of Jesus. You can always come back to the Father.

The people of Israel cried to the Lord, and God answered by giving them a godly leader. When God answers our plea for forgiveness, he doesn’t just forgive and forget us. He answers by giving us instructions, telling us how to go on in righteousness, building up our character, making us men and women of God who can not only conquer sin in our private lives but by example become leaders of others. And why not? The great need today is for Christian leaders.

But, as we will see in the story of Gideon, godly leadership is not necessarily based on our own qualifications. It is based on God’s plan for his people, on our understanding of his ways with man, and on our willingness to be obedient.

The Truth That Sets Us Free

When the people cried to the Lord, he first of all sent a prophet to tell them what really had been going on. When we are in trouble, our perspective is often limited just like the Israelites: we see the enemy attacking or oppressing us, and we call for help. But that’s not always the whole picture. This is what the prophet told the people:

“Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt, and brought you out of the house of bondage; and I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians, and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you, and gave you their land; and I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; you shall not pay reverence to the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell.’ But you have not given heed to my voice’”.

Judges 6:8-10

The prophet laid out the truth: God had set the people up in a peaceful and secure situation and instructed them not to worship the pagan gods. Now they were being overrun by the Midianites. Were they being oppressed because God had let down on his end of the bargain? No; the truth was that they had disobeyed him.

Often we are in the same situation. We think we are being persecuted unjustly, but too often we are reaping what we have sown. Satan certainly is our enemy, always on the prowl to knock us down. But we tend to forget that we cannot sow weeds and then pray for a good harvest. When we sow rubbish we’re going to harvest rubbish. If we want a good harvest, we must sow good seed. When we have sown the seeds of sin, the first thing we need is the truth. Until we accept the truth about our own attitudes and actions, there is no possibility for true freedom. But the truth is often hard to accept.

The Encounter with Truth

The second thing God did in answer to the cries of the people was send “the angel of the Lord” to enlist a young man named Gideon in the task of leading Israel to freedom.

While any angel sent to execute the commands of God might be called an angel of the Lord, the references in the Old Testament to “the angel of the Lord” occur under circumstances which seem to signify that the same exceptional emissary is meant in every instance. Some scholars even feel that the pre-incarnate Christ is meant. But in any case, this heavenly messenger spoke with the full authority of the Lord himself.

God’s Different View of Us

Imagine the scene. It was Gideon’s job to thresh the wheat, but because of the danger he was doing it in his father’s wine press. A stranger came and sat under an oak tree nearby, maybe watched him working for a while. Then the stranger – God’s messenger – said something that Gideon thought was very strange: “The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor” (Judges 6:12).

Now Gideon was threshing his wheat in secret for fear of the enemy – he was a scared young man. But the angel of the Lord said that God was with him and called him a valiant warrior. This shows that God looks at us in a totally different way than we look at ourselves. And only what God sees in us is important.

It doesn’t matter if I’m a stuttering Dutchman who has trouble with the English language. It doesn’t matter that you can find scores of other weaknesses in me or in yourself. God has a different way of looking at you and me. God sees the potential. In fact, God saw our potential before you became a Christian, even before you were born. And God builds all the circumstances of your life based on what he sees as the potential in your life. That’s why God’s ways with men and women are so surprising and so totally different from what we might do. We may not see anything at all in our children or in our pastor or the person sitting next to us in church. But God, who sees the end from the beginning, steps in and calls us based on the potential he sees. It’s a revelation, a word from Heaven that, under the circumstances, no man would ever invent: “The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor.”

Understanding the Lord

How confused Gideon’s initial reaction must have been. I mean, suppose God said that to you today. Maybe just yesterday you didn’t have the courage to witness to somebody even though you had a good chance, and today God says, “You’re a mighty warrior.”

“Did I hear that right, Lord? Did you say that?”

What would your reaction be – to argue with God or to agree with him?

It’s important for us to know that God didn’t make us to be robots. God chose to make us rational people partially so that we would make the effort to understand him and his ways – a response far above that of a robot. God even wants to go further, as he did with Abraham when he called him “my friend” (Isaiah 41:8). God wants to talk to you as with a friend, and you must talk to him as with a friend, also. But don’t say you understand the Lord if you don’t. It’s true that sometimes we need to obey even when we don’t understand. But don’t be afraid to ask questions. Gideon wasn’t. He didn’t understand the angel’s greeting, and he had a few questions he wanted to ask God:

“Pray, sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this befallen us? And where are all his wonderful deeds which our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has cast us off, and given us into the hand of Midian”.

Judges 6:13

That was a very good question. Gideon was respectful, but he did not piously accept that God was with them. He wanted to understand the truth. He wanted to understand why it did not appear that God was with them.

No Promise Box Hero

Some people take Matthew 28:20, where Jesus said, “I am with you always,” and they frame it, put it on their mantel, and say, “Isn’t it wonderful that Jesus is always with us?” But look at the context of how he is with us;” … in power and authority” (v. 18). That is, while Jesus is always “with us” and able to hear our cry of repentance or need, his blessing, his power and authority, are not necessarily with us when we are in a place where we shouldn’t be. The context of the promise in Matthew begins with Jesus commanding us to “Go … and make disciples of all nations.” It is in that context that he promised to be with us always.

If things aren’t the way they should be, ask God why. Discover the truth. Gideon’s reaction was the correct one. Many of us have heard a lot of pious talk in our lives. We’ve been to many church services, heard many choirs sing. Maybe your mother bought you a nice little promise box with all those nice Bible verses in it – the ones that only speak of blessings, of course. They never tell us to repent; they never tell what must be done to get the blessing. They are the lazy man’s Bible.

But we can’t live on promise boxes. We need to discover the truth. If Gideon hadn’t raised the issue of what had gone wrong, nothing would have changed in Israel. Nothing would have changed in his own life. But he said, “God, if what you say is true, then tell me where all the miracles are that my fathers told me about. I cannot live on the miracles that you did for my fathers – I need miracles in my own life. I cannot just study the revivals of the past – I need revival today. I can’t live on the blessings you gave my father – I need blessings for my family. Where are those miracles if the Lord is with us?”

Gideon’s Own Strength

Do we dare to ask God questions about the things that trouble our life? “If you are with us today, Lord, then where are all the miracles? Why can’t I send my daughter across the street at night? Why can’t I leave my car unlocked? Why do I see so many homeless in my city? Why are teenagers committing suicide? Why are we so afraid?”

Where are the miracles? Where is the blessing? Where are the revivals? Where is the protection of Almighty God? I wish that we would ask those questions, friends. Let’s be frank with God; let’s be honest about how we feel. But only if we’re prepared to hear the truth, and act on it.

The Right Question Yields the Right Answer

Unless we start asking the right questions, nothing will change. Gideon obviously asked the right question because God replied: “Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” (Judges 6:14).

God certainly did send Gideon. He even made a point to prove this to Israel in the very first battle against the Midianites. The Lord told Gideon to cut the size of his army time and again until he had a ridiculously small band of only three hundred men to go up against an enemy whose camp “lay along the valley like locusts for multitude” (Judges 7:12). When Gideon’s band defeated the Midianites, there was no question that the victory was a miracle from God.

But in this first encounter with the heavenly messenger, God also told Gideon to “Go in this might of yours.” What might was that? What strength did Gideon possess? He reminded God that he wasn’t anything much: “Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family” (Judges 6:15). I believe Gideon’s might was his willingness to seek out the truth and act on it. He was a man God could trust not to claim false glory for himself. He had not piously accepted anything he wasn’t sure belonged to him, not even the title of “a mighty man of valor.” God seemed to be saying, “I love it. I love a truth-seeker. I need a man who knows that his strength must come from God. This is the attitude I look for. Go in that strength. That is the mighty quality you possess.”

Applying the Truth at Home

Once convinced that Israel’s troubles were self-imposed by their disobedience and idol worship, and that God was calling him to do something about it, Gideon began by applying the truth at home. Centuries later, Jesus told us to start spreading the gospel at home – in our own “Jerusalem.” It’s the best place to start. If we can’t declare the truth at home, we’ll have little success in a foreign setting.

So at the Lord’s command, Gideon took ten of his men to tear down the altar to the false god, Baal – right there in his father’s front yard!

Now it’s true that Gideon was fearful. He did it at night because “he was too afraid of his family and the men of the town to do it by day”’ (Judges 6:27). But remember, God knows us better than we know ourselves. God never said Gideon lacked fear. Dedication to truth was Gideon’s strong point, and based on that, God trusted him to get the job done, in spite of his fear. And he did it. He got moving.

Don’t think that with the first step you land at your destination. In personal victories you must go step by step. That night Gideon was still a bit afraid. But he pulled the thing down – he attacked the enemy. There was action, and God blessed it.

Maybe we ought to define the term “courage.” Courage (or valor) is not the absence of fear – it is pressing on in spite of fear. Men and women of God – heroes of faith – are not people who are necessarily fearless; they are just people who do what needs to be done.

Others Are Freed by Truth

Prior to Gideon’s action the whole countryside was in bondage to the falsehood brought on by their sin. They were oppressed by the Midianites and their minds were captured by the false god, Baal. But Gideon’s actions on behalf of truth began to free the people; the first was his father. Many in the town were angry and wanted to avenge Baal. But Gideon’s father, Joash, defended his son: “If [Baal] is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been pulled down” (Judges 6:31). Joash was freed by the truth. It was not long before others were likewise freed by the truth and were willing to rally to Gideon’s call when he prepared to fight the Midianites.

Joash’s defense challenges me as a father, and should challenge all of us parents. Are we really behind our children? Are we brave enough to let our children go into the world and face danger for the sake of the truth? Let’s stand behind them and say, “Children, I am with you. You want to go to the mission field? You are called to do a dangerous job for God? Good. Go and serve God. Give your life for Afghanistan or Iran or Cuba or China. Your father and mother are behind you. We don’t want to try to keep you home just because it is going to be dangerous.”

Then Comes God’s Spirit

After taking the first step of action, something very wonderful happened to Gideon. The enemy began to move, to come together, to threaten God’s people. “But the spirit of the Lord took possession of Gideon; and he sounded the trumpet” (Judges 6:34). And then the people of God began to move, to come together, to commit themselves to action.

This is the real secret. It’s the spirit-filled life, the spirit-anointed ministry, that’s finally going to make the change.

Gideon opened the way by pursuing the truth, and then the Spirit of the Lord took possession of him. Scripture doesn’t say anything about him first doing a study on the Holy Spirit, as good as that might be. Instead, it was his sheer obedience to the truth that resulted in his baptism in the Holy Spirit.

Gideon continued testing for the truth. He did what God told him to do, but he also asked God to confirm the truth of his instructions by what we now call “putting out a fleece.” Gideon actually put out a sheepskin (fleece) and asked God to make it wet with dew when the ground around was dry – then he asked for the ground to be wet and the fleece dry (see Judges 6:36-40). You would think God would get impatient with him as though Gideon’s requests were expressions of constant doubt. But God knew Gideon. His quest was an honest search for truth, proven by his subsequent obedience.

Too often we piously ask no questions of God, but we don’t do anything either. Or we ask questions, we “put out a fleece,” because we’re looking for a way out. We don’t want to take action – we don’t really want to obey.

But today God needs heroes of the faith like Gideon, who are willing to discover why the people of God are being oppressed by the enemy on every front. God needs men and women who are willing to ask the right questions, and then act on God’s truth. And if we do this, God will give us the confidence we need to step out and take action.

Gideon’s victories were not won with the power of a mighty army, nor will we win any victories this way. Rather, God delivers his people with a small band of dedicated people led by men and women in search of truth and willing to act in the power that comes with obedience.

This article is excerpted from A Time for Heroes, Chapter 3, by Brother Andrew with Dave and Neta Jackson, published by Servant Books, Ann Arbor, Michigan USA, © copyright 1988 by Open Doors International.

Top illustration of Gideon defeating the Midianites: image source:

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