By Didi Bacon
Let’s talk about faith…
What does it mean to have faith in God?
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)
Faith is confidence that God is real even though you cannot see him. It is trusting that God has spoken, and what he has communicated is recorded for us in the Bible. It is living by trust in what his word says is true.
There is a story in the book of Judges that is a great lesson on the nature of faith. The story of Gideon is recorded for us in Judges chapters 6 and 7. At this time in the history of Israel, they were stuck in a vicious cycle. God had given them the Promised Land. His condition for living in this land was simple. Follow God, live by his laws and it will go well. Turn to idols, disobey his laws and it will bring trouble and punishment. The Israelites would start following God and then the next generation would not. So God would send foreign invaders who would cruelly subjugate the people of Israel until they cried out to God. God would then raise up a leader who would liberate the people and lead them in obedience to God. Then they would forget God and it would start all over again.
At the time of Gideon, the people of Israel were under God’s punishment because of their sin. Their tormentors were primarily the Midianites.
“Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. 3 Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. 4 They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. 5 They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count them or their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it. 6 Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help.” Judges 6:2–6
Faith in God was at an all time low in Israel. They had finally come to the point that all they could do was to cry out to God. The God of their parents and grandparents finally became their hope for help. Isn’t that where many of us begin in our faith journey? Life gets to a point where we just cry out, “God! If you are real, help me out!” When we come face to face with the truth that we don’t have answers, we don’t have what it takes, that is when we are open to faith. God heard the prayer of the people and raised up a leader, Gideon.
“11 The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. 12 When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” 13 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” Judges 6:11–13
What do you notice about Gideon right off the bat? First he was working in a hole. He was hiding from the Midianites threshing wheat in a winepress. Not a very confident or brave kind of guy. Secondly, he was a skeptic. When the angel greeted him with “The Lord is with you mighty warrior!” He responded with doubt. Really? How can you say that God is real, let alone with us? If God were with us, would we be suffering at the hands of these invaders? Where is the God who delivered our people in the past? Sometimes tough seasons produce skeptical believers. It can be hard to have faith when it appears that God is nonexistent in the world. But God is patient with our struggles. He understood Gideon’s lack of confidence.
“14 The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” 15 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” 16 The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.” 17 Gideon replied, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me.” Judges 6:14-17 (NIV)
Gideon asked for a sign to show that God was real. Sometimes we just need God to answer a prayer and show up in a special way. It may seem presumptuous of Gideon, but God knew that Gideon was in need of some “hand-holding”. I know that there are times in my own journey of faith when I am grateful for God’s hand holding. Times when I experienced confirmation of his goodness and presence in dramatic ways. God provided Gideon a sign. He burned up with fire the offering that Gideon brought to him. But God’s hand holding was not the whole story of faith. It was the beginning. God does not want our faith to be about us always being carried by miracles. This is not faith in full maturity. In the story we find that Gideon’s faith progressed to the next step. He obeyed God, in fear.
“25 That same night the Lord said to him, “Take the second bull from your father’s herd, the one seven years old. Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole x beside it. 26 Then build a proper kind of altar to the Lord your God on the top of this height. Using the wood of the Asherah pole that you cut down, offer the second bull as a burnt offering.” 27 So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the Lord told him. But because he was afraid of his family and the townspeople, he did it at night rather than in the daytime.” Judges 6:25-27 (NIV)
Gideon trusted God. He obeyed God. He had faith in God. But he did it at night. He did it in secret. In learning to live by faith, God understands that we may trust him with caution. This may be how you learned to live by faith in God with your money. God’s Word says that He wants His children to be generous like he is. To give your money to support the church and to bless others. But it is hard to trust. Giving the tithe (10%) is the start, generosity is the goal. But it is hard. That is why it is ok to start with 1% and then go to 2% and so on. This is how faith works. God holds our hand, then He walks with us to learn to trust in him step-by-step; even if we take our first steps in the “dark”.
Gideon’s faith continued to grow and mature. His reliance on God deepened. When God asked Gideon to take on the seemingly insane task of leading the people of Israel into battle, Gideon requested confirmation with two bold signs.
“36 Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised—37 look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.” 38 And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew—a bowlful of water. 39 Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece, but this time make the fleece dry and let the ground be covered with dew.” 40 That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew.” Judges 6:36-40 (NIV)
Gideon asked for two signs! I would have thought that one was enough. I wonder why God did not tell Gideon, “Hey Gideon, one sign is plenty for you! You are pushing it!”? He didn’t do that because I believe He was pleased at Gideon’s growth in faith. Gideon was exercising a bold faith. My mother used to say, “If you are going to ask for a bike from God, you might as well ask for a red one.” Red-bike prayers are bold prayers. Prayers that say I am going to get specific in my ask of God because I believe in Him! Gideon’s faith was growing. He was learning to trust in God and to understand what God could do. This is faith that is maturing. Learning to know God and to trust Him. Learning to trust Him with the details of your life. But there was one more step.
Gideon rallied the people and called together a large army. Thirty-two thousand men came joined him for battle. And then God said this…
“The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’ Judges 7:2 (NIV)
On the surface it might have felt that God had pulled the rug out from under Gideon. God had led Gideon to this place where he had a large army to go and fight the bad guys. Then God said, there are too many men, reduce the numbers. Gideon goes down from thirty-two thousand to ten thousand to three hundred! Three hundred men to take on the enemy armies of thousands. What was going on?
God was growing Gideon in faith.
Faith in God means that your dependency on God must always be greater than your trust in your own abilities. As we follow God in life we begin to mature and begin to start gaining success and blessings. The problem is that when things are going well you begin to trust yourself more than trusting God. That is why it is always important to pursue faith challenges that go beyond your comfort zone. Faith is about learning to walk with God in life. Learning to hear his voice and respond in obedience. Mature faith is not being hand held, or being faithful when it is safe, or praying bold prayers every now and again. Mature faith is living a life that cannot succeed unless God is with you. Through Gideon’s faith God defeated the army of thousands with just 300 men! God wants you to grow up in your faith and to learn to live a life where you are confident in what you hope for and assured in what cannot be seen from Him. Live by faith.