He was the youngest, weakest nobody in a family of nobodies. His family, his farm, his country had been overrun. Invaders had stolen their crops, their livestock, even their wives and daughters.
Fear scattered a once-thriving community and forced everyone into hiding. While the nomadic invaders made their camp in his home, he fled to the mountain with what was left of his crops and hid in a cave .
He felt alone.
He was alone.
His dreams became nightmares, endless nightmares that hauntled him day and night.
He closed his eyes in fear each night, desperately praying for sleep and for peace. Every morning he awakened half grateful to be alive, half wishing it was all over.
The nightmare continued for seven years.
Seven. Long. Years.
One afternoon, he leaned against a sturdy oak outside his cave. Hidden in its shade, he watched the mighty warriors in the valley below. His heart pounded as they mounted their camels. Another raid, he feared.
But the horde road away. Someone else would be their victim today.
He collapsed against the tree and stared at the nearby winepress. Even the press hid in the shade. With its two levels, it was perfect for crushing grapes and collecting their juice, but it was awkward for grinding wheat. Awkward, but it was his only choice. He had no access to his millstone, and his donkey had been stolen, so he plodded over to the press and filled it with wheat.
As he crushed the wheat, he pictured himself, his life, his people, his world crushed under the feet of his enemies. His hopes and dreams blown away like chaff.
He plopped onto his knees. Flour puffed into a cloud around him. He coughed at the dust and wondered when his nightmare would end. He pounded the dust with his fist and imagined the invaders like those tiny grains of wheat. How desperately he wanted to crush them—wanted someone to crush them.
But there he sat, hiding, crushing wheat in the shade outside of a cave. No one could save him. No one cared. And he'd given up on God. Where was this God his grandmother had spoken of—this God who'd brought his people out of Egypt—this all-powerful God who'd parted the sea and led them through on dry land—this God who'd buried the Egyptians in the bottom of the sea? Where was he?
He heard sandals on the rocks behind him. His heart beat faster. He tightened his fist and whirled around. A man in white robes sat against the oak tree, smiling at him. The man said, "God is with you, mighty warrior."
Might warrior? He didn't feel mighty, and he was certainly not a warrior. "Excuse me?" he said. "If God is with us, why has all this happened?" He stretched out his hands and turned as if showing the man the emptiness all around him. "Where are all his wonders our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Didn't the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now he has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”
The man in white stepped toward him. Sunlight struck his face. His eyes were warm and deep—deep enough to stare into one's soul—into one's thoughts.
He knows I'm a coward, he thought, and he stood and stepped back, almost falling as he stumbled upward and out of the winepress. His eyes widened and his heart stirred with fear and excitement as he felt the presence of God.
The messenger of the Lord said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”
He spoke with authority. His voice deep and commanding as though God himself was speaking.
“Excuse me, sir, but how can I save Israel? My family is the weakest, and I'm the youngest and scrawniest of them all.”
The Lord replied, “I will be with you...”
If you read the whole story of Gideon, you will see a fearful man who'd blamed God for the failure of his dreams. But he was strangely brave in the presence of God and asked for a sign, not once or twice, but three times, he asked God for a sign before he would believe. That's real fear—powerful yet misplaced fear. His worries about the Midianites had grown so strong that his fear of the Lord had waned in comparison.
He was neither mighty nor a warrior in his own eyes—in his own heart.
But God is both. And He clothes himself in us. He makes His dwelling in us. The Almighty makes his home in us. And He who is in us is greater than any who would stand against us.
So, what does this mean?
What are we hiding from? Who is our enemy? Who are the mighty warriors stealing our dreams, destroying our hopes. And why do we not recognize the Lord of the universe living within us, all around us, and fighting for us?
I catch myself worrying, hiding in my emotional cave, wondering where God is, and asking a myriad of what ifs. What if things don’t work out the way I planned? What if my spouse doesn't agree with me? What if it costs more than I'd expected?
What ifs are a plague. They are the tool of worry and the friend of fear.
Gideon considered himself the weakest of the weak, yet God chose him to reveal His strength and to show His people He had not abandoned them, but they had abandoned him. When He appeared to Gideon, he commanded him to destroy His family's gods.
They had seen Yahweh as the God of the big stuff—creating worlds, parting the sea. But they saw him as impersonal, uncaring, unaware. How could this great God care for them? They'd cast their hopes on lesser God’s—false gods, idols, Baal and Asherah.
Do we not do the same things?
I expect God to do the big stuff. He always has, but does He care about my job, my family, my relationships, my thoughts, my day-to-day life? My worries?
What if we believed He cares for us deeply and personally? What if we knew and believed He saw us not as worried cowards, hiding in our daily fears, but He sees us a mighty, spiritual warriors, His children, the object of His profound affection?
What if we place our hope, our trust, and our affections on Him?