Last night I was reading the story of Gideon, found beginning in Judges 6:11 and following. For a long time the story of Gideon has been significant in my life. I have probably preached from this story a dozen times through the years. The part that always connected with me is the phrase that the angel of the Lord uses to describe Gideon when he first appears to him. “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor”, the angel declares to a man threshing wheat in a winepress because he is afraid of the Midianites. The irony of this phrase always brings a smile to my face. But the truth that our identity rests not on how we see ourselves and not really how we are acting in any given moment, but on God’s Word to us is transforming. It probably took me 8-10 times of preaching this sermon from the Gideon story to finally realize that the message wasn’t so much for whatever congregation I happened to delivering this sermon to at the time as it was for me. Hey, I may be a bit dense but eventually I do get the message. The theme of this message has been repeated to me in several other settings through the years. Once, during a freedom ministries session, dealing with a wound from my past, the Lord shared the following words with me (as clearly as I know that God has ever spoken to me in my life), “You’re a bad-ass”. (Don’t you love it?) Another time, I was taking a day apart for extended prayer and solitude in the LBJ grasslands outside of Decatur, Texas on a bitterly cold day. After spending hours in the freezing cold, praying, journaling and getting what seemed to me a big bag of nothing from the Lord, I made my way back to my car, barely able to feel my hands. I got into my car and waited for the feeling to return to my hands and face, wondering out loud to God what the point of all of this was. The gentle whisper came once again, as clear as a bell, “You’re not a wuss”. So there you have it, three of the most significant words that have ever been spoken into my heart.
- “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor”
- “You’re a bad-ass”
- “You’re not a wuss”
Do you think that maybe God is trying to tell me something?
But as I read the Scripture last night, I saw something that I have never seen before. The angel appears to Gideon, commissioning him for the task of defeating the Midianites, sending someone who considers himself to be “the least in my father’s house” in the “weakest clan in Manasseh” to defeat a great army. Gideon goes to prepare an offering to the Lord and prepares a young goat, unleavened cakes and broth. At the angels command, he took the meat and cakes and put them on a rock and poured the broth over them. When he did this, “the angel of the Lord reached out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes. And fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes.” Pretty cool. Gideon is suitably impressed by all of this and recognizes that he has had a face to face encounter with the Lord. God comforts him, as he is pretty dismayed over all of this and Gideon builds an altar to commemorate this visitation. What struck me is what he named that altar, “The Lord is Peace”. Jehovah Shalom for those who are into English transliterations of ancient Hebrew. At first glance there seems to be a disconnect between the name of the altar and the experience and message of God to Gideon. God is telling a seemingly insignificant, fearful man that he is called to win a great battle and that he is full of valor and strength. But the result of the encounter isn’t “The Lord is Encouragement” or “The Lord is Strength for the Battle” but “The Lord is Peace”. Huh? Go fight a big battle and it’s all about peace.
But then I thought about God’s words to me and how they have affected my life. One of the most disorienting, anxiety-inducing things you can ever do with your life is to try to be someone else. Trying to live up to everyone else’s expectations of you is a sure-fire recipe for anything but peace. I have always tended to shy away from confrontation, to fear getting angry and live a calm and predictable life. I don’t want to ruffle feathers. I want everybody to like me. But I am called to be a fighter. Not that people are the enemy, but I am called to be passionate about living in Christ and to not be afraid of speaking the truth when it is called for. Sometimes others are just not going to like that. We don’t wrestle against flesh and blood, but we are called to wrestle against “the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). But when we step into this fight the result isn’t chaos and anxiety. It is peace. Who would’ve thought? The more I refuse to live timidly, the more peaceful I am. We weren’t made to be wallflowers. We were made to live life with real gusto. This isn’t found in some “extreme” lifestyle, but in hearing the words of God and believing what He tells you about yourself. Whatever battle God is calling you to fight, the surest path to peace is to fight that battle in obedience to God’s direction.