Friday, April 24, 2009

Fear and Courage

Gideon was hiding in a winepress, trying to thresh his wheat without being noticed by the enemy troops, when he was called by God to lead His people into war. He gathered 32,000 men to fight, though this was still a small force compared to the many swordsmen of the Midianites. That's when God told Gideon that the already-outnumbered Israelite army was still too big, so he told "anyone who trembles with fear" to go home, and 2 out of every 3 men left. Even then God judged the army was too large and sorted them again, leaving only three hundred remaining.

And how did they prepare themselves? Following God's instructions, Gideon mustered his little army during the night's middle watch and issued each person a trumpet, a big empty jar, and a torch. He divided them into three groups and directed them to places around the enemy camp. And so they went -- in the dark, in the presence of their enemies, thinly spread, greatly outnumbered and poorly armed.

Those three hundred men were to follow the lead of Gideon, the one who had just recently been called out of hiding and into war. On his signal, each person in that tiny little army was to blow his trumpet, smash a jar, yell, and hold up a bright torch. Can you imagine a more foolhardy battle plan? There was no way, based on human understanding, they could possibly survive this encounter. Yet those three hundred men followed, trusting God's direction. Such courage!

I don't think those men entered that battle situation without fear, but their fear was tempered by trust in God and by their recognition that something else -- obedience to God -- trumped fear. That is the kind of courage I want to cultivate in my life, and to help others cultivate as well.

There are plenty of God-given commands which would fit here, but the one that comes to mind today is we are to take the initiative to restore right relationship after offending -- or being offended by -- another person. Too often fear keeps us from taking that step. What if they won't forgive me? What if they won't acknowledge they've done something wrong? What if they say something bad about me to another person?

Those fears are often very real, but still quite irrelevant. Our fears need to be tempered by trust in God, and by recognition that something else -- obedience to God -- trumps fear.

(This story of Gideon is found in Judges 6-7.)

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