Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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Idols Erode a Firm Foundation

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My mountain bike skidded to a stop, kicking up a billow of dust on the trail behind me.  Something had caught my eye as I’d ridden down the hill and I wanted to investigate.  The trail I’d been riding had a steep incline on its left side and perched on it was a large, old tree with its branches spread wide. The rain of many winters had taken its toll and had carried off much of the soil foundation.   Large gnarled roots sat exposed to the elements revealing evidence of significant soil erosion.  I guessed the whole tree would eventually slide down onto the trail if nothing were done to correct the problem.

Looking at the tree that day, I couldn’t help but think of the story of Gideon.  Sadly, the end of Gideon’s tale is nowhere near as inspiring as the beginning.  The firm foundation of Gideon’s faith slowly eroded over time as he allowed an idol to creep in and take center stage in his life.  The story winds down with the Israelites quickly forgetting that it was God who led them to victory over the Midianites, not Gideon.  Here is the first part of the story from Judges 8.

22 The Israelites said to Gideon, “Rule over us—you, your son and your grandson—because you have saved us from the hand of Midian.”  23 But Gideon told them, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you.”

While Gideon may sound humble here for refusing the position of King, what he did next shows he was a wee bit off base.  Chapter 8 continues  24 And he said, “I do have one request, that each of you give me an earring from your share of the plunder.” (It was the custom of the Ishmaelites to wear gold earrings.)

25 They answered, “We’ll be glad to give them.” So they spread out a garment, and each of them threw a ring from his plunder onto it. 26 The weight of the gold rings he asked for came to seventeen hundred shekels,[a] not counting the ornaments, the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian or the chains that were on their camels’ necks. 27 Gideon made the gold into an ephod, which he placed in Ophrah, his town. All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.

While it’s not the uplifting ending I’d hoped for, it is a jolting wake up call for those of us trying to apply the story to our lives.  Gideon and the Israelites wanted a tangible symbol of their victory.  The ephod was meant to be a vest worn by the high priest and used to relay God’s guidance and instruction to the people.  It wasn’t meant for use outside of these purposes.  What was intended as a tool to draw people closer to God had become an idol instead. 

It seems easy to recognize their folly, doesn’t it?  Priscilla Shirer draws some modern comparisons that don’t let us dismiss this story as quickly as we’d like.  The week 6 Lesson of Gideon:  Your Weakness, God’s Strength is full of examples of subtle idols that may have crept into our lives in the twenty first century. As I read her examples, many more flooded to my mind.  Several are ones that have been snares in my own life.  I’ve chosen a few that might make you squirm a bit.  Rest assured, I have no specific person in mind for any of these.  If you feel the discomfort of conviction as you read, ask God to show you how He’s calling you to respond rather than feeling offended or annoyed.

Scenario 1:  Laura loves people and enjoys socializing.  Whether she is staying late after Bible Study, attending a dinner party with her husband or enjoying a hike with girlfriends, she always makes time for other people.  Sometimes she has a hard time being “present” with people because she’s worried she’s missing out on another conversation going on nearby. Laura gets so busy spending time with others that she often has overlaps in her schedule that require her to leave early or arrive late. Weekends become especially hectic as she squeezes in several social events each evening sandwiched between full days running her kids around to their activities.  One Friday night, her kids finally decide they need a break and they beg for a family movie night at home.  Laura can’t stand the thought of foregoing the neighborhood get together down the street.  Her “fear of missing out” causes her to be fidgety and distracted instead of enjoying a peaceful night at home.

Scenario 2:  Bob and Sue have a great, new pastor at church and they’re so excited to invite their friends to hear him preach. The Bible has come alive for them in a new way since he joined the staff.  They look forward to the Sundays when he speaks.  One Saturday they have an especially late night and when they wake up the next day, they’re too tired to make it to church.  They find out later that a different pastor was preaching and are relieved they didn’t miss their “favorite.”  Over time, they begin checking in advance to see who will be preaching. They make less of an effort to attend church when he’s not speaking.  Two years later when the pastor announces he’s taking a new position at a different church, Bob and Sue seriously consider following him, despite the fact that the new church is over an hour away.

Scenario 3:  Jason works hard and feels blessed to be his family’s provider.  He sees himself as a steward of all God has given him and does his best to take care of things and to make them last- whether that is his car, his clothes or his house.  He spends a lot of time on the weekends working in the yard or taking care of maintenance on the house.  He adores his kids, but sometimes feels frustrated when they track mud inside or leave sports equipment in his car.  There is nothing that feels better to him than having a place for everything and everything in its place.  He often feels inadequate when he spends time with friends who have larger homes in more manicured neighborhoods than his.  He works hard to make the house look nice and to feel comfortable.  He can’t figure out why his kids never want to be at home or to invite friends over.

Scenario 4:  After having her third child, Amy resolves it’s time to get serious about taking care of her body.  She joins a gym, meets with a nutritionist and begins a weekly regimen of exercise and healthy eating.  After a few months, she feels great both physically and mentally.  Amy has more energy and focus, not to mention a slimmer, more toned physique.   She’s quietly pleased when friends comment on how great she looks.  When it’s time to sign up for her women’s Bible study, Amy hesitates, fearing that a morning away from the gym may interfere too much in her fitness regimen.  She decides to sit out the study and do it by herself on her own time—that way it she won’t miss her favorite class at the gym.

Scenario 5:  June and John are a recently retired couple with 4 adult kids living all over the United States.  They love to travel and pride themselves on never missing a significant event in the lives of any of their 8 grandchildren.  When they’re not with family, they enjoy visiting exotic new places and traveling with friends.  Lately, June and John haven’t been motivated to go to church when they’re in town. Most Sundays they have a hard time finding old friends and barely recognize most of the people sitting around them.  The bulletin is full of classes and activities, but most will cut into their desire to keep their schedule open, free and spontaneous, so they don’t want to commit.  They lament their lost sense of community and feel that their church has become too big and impersonal.

Scenario 6:  Francesca’s days are full and busy balancing a part time job, a baby and a toddler.  There’s nothing she enjoys more than having a few minutes at the end of the day to unwind and enjoy a glass of wine with her husband when he gets home from work.  At first, it’s a treat they look forward to on Fridays as a celebration for the end of the week.  Over time, they begin cracking open a bottle mid-week when the day has been especially crazy.   Evenings just seem easier to manage after a cold glass of Chardonnay.  One week, Francesca’s husband is away on business and she finds herself counting the minutes until she puts the kids to bed.  That evening as she enjoys a glass of wine on the couch, a friend calls to check in.  Francesca jokes with her, “Do you know what’s the most expensive thing about having kids?”  “What?” Her friend asks, innocently.  “All the wine!” She laughs into the phone. She is surprised when her friend is silent on the other end of the line.

Scenario 7:  Mike has a huge servant’s heart.  There is nothing that brings him greater joy than meeting the needs of others.  Over the years he’s served in a variety of capacities at church and in the community—serving as an elder, working on a long-term missions project in the inner-city, heading up outreach for Men’s Ministries, teaching 5th grade Sunday School and more.  Lately, Mike has become so busy serving that he feels exhausted and lacks some of his usual joy.  Getting out of bed for worship on a Sunday mornings is daunting after serving all day at the inner-city mission every Saturday.  Waking up early to spend time with God daily or attending the Men’s Bible study once a week seem like luxuries he can’t afford.

Scenario 8:  Kari loves her kids and wants to see them develop their potential.  Whether it’s out on the soccer field, in the dance studio, in an after school class or at piano lessons, she’s determined to give them every opportunity available.  Afternoons are crazy as she drives carpools, helps with homework and takes care of the household.  With three active kids, she rarely has time for the things she says she values like spending time with friends and studying the Bible.  Weekends are full of activities for the whole family and when they aren’t up early for a sports game, the family loves nothing more than sleeping late on Sundays.  Kari is proud of her kids and all that they’ve accomplished, but sometimes she worries that they don’t care much about attending youth group or other church activities.  She finds solace by deciding they’ll have more time for that later, when they’re older.  Besides, they’re so busy with all of the activities, they don’t have time to get into trouble or run with the “wrong crowd” anyway.

Scenario 9:  Josh loves sports- whether it’s watching, playing or coaching.   His car radio is pre-set for every sports talk show he can find.  He loves to watch Sports Center at night and spends his breakfast poring over the sports pages.  He knows practically every statistic from every major sporting event in a given season.  He arranges weekends around his Saturday golf game and Sunday football games on TV.  He’s willing to go to church with his wife most of the time.  He even agrees to go to a special men’s event at church when a well-known sports figure is speaking.  During the talk, the speaker quotes a verse from Joshua,  “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you maybe careful to do everything written in it.  Then you will be prosperous and successful.”  Josh can think of a lot of things he meditates on during the week, but none of them involve the stuff the speaker is talking about.  He’s disappointed the guy didn’t focus on his sports career more in his speech.

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Idols give us a false sense of security, comfort or self-worth.  Often the things that become idols in our lives start out being something good.  There is nothing wrong with exercising, socializing, traveling or volunteering.  However, when they govern our decision-making processes or have authority in our lives that is higher than God, they can become idols.

If you see a glimmer of yourself in one or more of these scenarios, please consider praying about it and asking God what changes He might be calling you to make.  Remember, the goal here is to prevent ourselves from ending up like Gideon, who created an idol that had enough ties to his Jewish faith that he felt justified having it.  Erosion happens slowly over time, like the tree in the picture.

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If you see a glimmer of someone you love in one of the scenarios above, let me caution you against appointing yourself as a personal holy spirit for that person.  Rather than having him/ her read the scenario, commit to praying for the person and the possible idol you see in his/ her life.  Wait to see if God gives you an opportunity to have an honest conversation when the time is right.

Personally, I’d like to end the study of Gideon on a high note.  I want to be cognizant of the potential idols in my life and to recognize that my weakness is a platform for God’s strength.   Here are a few ideas on how to keep the potential idols in our lives at bay:

-Make it a priority to spend time with God in prayer every day

-Read the Bible daily

-Be intentional about studying the Bible with others

-Be aware of our weak points and ask for accountability and prayer support

-Pray David’s prayer in Psalm 139:23-4 regularly and be open to what God reveals:

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

 

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Your Weakness Lets God’s Strength Shine Through

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I started teaching high school at the tender age of 23– only five years after graduating from high school myself.  Being a new teacher was hard.  What made matters worse was that I looked like I could’ve been one of the students.  I decided that the best way to gain respect was to hide my weaknesses and insecurities.  I thought the students and parents would look down on me if I didn’t appear to have all the answers and everything “together” all the time.  Even among the other faculty members, I felt wary about sharing struggles.  I spent a lot of time compensating for my weaknesses and trying to cover them up.  That year I found myself in the staff lounge bathroom from time to time crying my eyes out over some difficulty I was facing.  Too proud to admit the truth, I’d blame my red, watery eyes on “allergies” if anyone approached me with concern for my wellbeing.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that admitting weaknesses is not only healthy and human– it’s also biblical.   To think I can do things on my own without God is simply foolish pride.  Maybe that’s why the story of Gideon appeals to me so much.  There’s no doubt he was weak.  He didn’t have the credentials needed to engage in battle against a formidable enemy—and that is exactly why God chose him.

Another reason I like Gideon is that he needed reassurance from God several times before he acted.  Just before entering battle against the Midianites with his puny army of 300, God blessed Gideon with the chance to overhear a Midianite soldier talking with his tent mate about a dream he had.   When Gideon overheard the dream and learned the men feared him and the army of Israel, he was greatly encouraged.  The story below picks up just after this in Judges 7:15-21.

When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he bowed down and worshiped. He returned to the camp of Israel and called out, “Get up! The Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands.” Dividing the three hundred men into three companies, he placed trumpets and empty jars in the hands of all of them, with torches inside.

“Watch me,” he told them. “Follow my lead. When I get to the edge of the camp, do exactly as I do. When I and all who are with me blow our trumpets, then from all around the camp blow yours and shout, ‘For the Lord and for Gideon.’”

Gideon and the hundred men with him reached the edge of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just after they had changed the guard. They blew their trumpets and broke the jars that were in their hands. The three companies blew the trumpets and smashed the jars. Grasping the torches in their left hands and holding in their right hands the trumpets they were to blow, they shouted, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled.

When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the Lord caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords. The army fled to Beth Shittah toward Zererah as far as the border of Abel Meholah near Tabbath.

I love imagining the sound of the shattering pottery and the shouts of the soldiers.  I can just picture the shimmering light produced by the flames of 300 torches strategically placed in a circle on the hills surrounding the Midianite camp.  The small band of soldiers had been too far apart to see one another as they waited in the dark for the signal.  Imagine their triumph at the sound of the trumpet and the lights they all held high in the darkness.

These men did not fight with the traditional weapons of battle, yet God used their uncommon weapons to achieve a stunning victory.  On paper, nothing about their plan worked from a worldly perspective- they didn’t have the manpower or the tools to achieve victory, but they had God on their side.

“The weaknesses we often despise are required for the light of Christ to be seen and for the darkness around us to be dispelled.  Without the limitations and deficiencies of our vessels, we would not serve our purpose well.  Your weakness is not a liability.  It is one of your greatest assets.  God’s presence and power are best seen when our large, impressive personalities aren’t getting in the way.  So welcome His light into your weakness, and let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!”  (Priscilla Shirer, Gideon, p. 125)

So, how does this look for those of us living in the 21st century?  First and foremost, we need to recognize our weaknesses and realize they need to be surrendered to God.

For me, the process of seeing my weaknesses took quite a while.  Throughout my teens and twenties, I struggled with insecurity. I’d grown so accustomed to it that I just assumed it was a part of who I was.  Never once had I considered asking God to use it for His glory.  I did my best to compensate for it in many ways- whether by trying to achieve more academically, to wear the “right” clothes, to associate with the “right” people or to hold positions of power and respect.  While none of these things were necessarily “bad,” none of them helped to alleviate my insecurity.  (Thus, the crying in the bathroom when I was a new teacher).  Sadly, my compensating made me more intimidating and less approachable as I tried harder and harder to be “perfect” so that I would feel more secure.

It was not until after I had kids and participated in my first Beth Moore Bible study that I ever realized insecurity was a weakness I could submit to God.  As I began to pray about it, God started to change me.  He didn’t miraculously remove it from my life, but He used it to make me more sensitive to others.  I began realizing that insecurity is a pervasive issue in our culture and that many women struggle with it.   God showed me many ways Satan uses it to keep women from connecting with one another because they feel too threatened and intimidated.  Insecurity prevents many of us from living into the people God is calling us to be.   It causes us to put up unhealthy facades that prevent authentic connection.  It renders our gifts useless and often leaves us feeling like outsiders with nothing to offer.  Few Bible teachers address this issue, so it remains a silent struggle for many.

I still remember the first time I admitted that I battled with insecurity publically.  I’d been asked to sit on a panel of women at our weekly Focused Living Bible Study.  Each panelist was asked to share about an area in her life where she needed God’s intervention on a regular basis.  I had a “safe” answer prepared in my head, but when the microphone was handed to me, I horrified myself by blurting out “I struggle with insecurity.”  My face was red and my hands were shaking as I passed the microphone on to the next panelist.  Inside, I was kicking myself for being so vulnerable.

To my surprise, when the panel ended several women made a beeline for me and thanked me for sharing aloud what they‘d been struggling with for years.  Each woman thought she was the only one.   When I let my clay vessel crack open and I exposed my weakness, the light of God’s love used my honesty to encourage others.  The weakness I’d been hiding and trying to compensate for in a variety of ways became the very thing God used to make me more authentic, approachable and encouraging to others with similar struggles.

Whether or not we like to admit it, we’re all just simple clay vessels like those earthen pots the soldiers carried to battle.  Your weaknesses may be different from mine, but you have something God can use for His glory, if only you’ll surrender it to Him.  With the Holy Spirit living within us, God can use our weaknesses to shine His light to a dark world in desperate need of a Savior.

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For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness, ”made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.  But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  2 Corinthians 4:6-7

Click on the link below to hear Matthew West’s song “Strong Enough,” to be reminded that God’s strength trumps your weakness.

Click on the link below to hear Josh Wilson’s “Pushing Back the Dark.”  You’ll be inspired to give your weaknesses to God and to watch how He uses them to shine His light to the world through you!


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It Never Hurts to Ask

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I’m generally a rule-follower by nature.  I don’t like to ruffle feathers or make requests that inconvenience people.  I don’t like to draw attention to myself.  I’m not particularly dramatic.  In the last few years, however, I’ve started getting a bit more courageous about taking risks and making requests.   A new phrase has been finding its way into my vocabulary:  “It never hurts to ask.”  My husband chuckled at my newfound courage a few months ago as I loaded two giant resin pots into the back of our car.  We’d owned them less than a year and they were already starting to fall apart due to sun damage.  I figured it was worth asking for our money back.  “It never hurts to ask,” I told my husband.  If they said “no,” we weren’t any worse off than we were before.  I lugged the pots into the store and politely explained the problem to the woman at the return counter.  She took one look at the cracking and sun-bleached pots and gave me a store credit equal to their value. That night, I proudly showed my husband the gift card I’d gotten.  “See?   This will pay for two new ones.  I told you, it never hurts to ask!”

Apparently, Gideon had a similar thought when he boldly asked God to show him a tangible sign that He was calling him into battle against the Midianites.  Here is the story from Judges 6:36-40.

Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised— 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.”  And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew—a bowlful of water.

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.” That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew.

Priscilla Shirer’s contention in Gideon:  Your Weakness, God’s Strength is that once Gideon finds the fleece and the ground exactly as he asked, he begins to doubt.    Gideon wonders if he’s mistaken because the ground would naturally dry faster than the absorbent fleece.  So, he risks asking God for a second sign of confirmation.  This time, he requests that God make the ground wet and the fleece dry.  In His infinite patience, God grants Gideon’s second request.

Priscilla points out that Gideon had been heavily influenced by the predominant “religion” of Baalism.  “The universe, a Baalist would subscribe, was self-sustaining, with no eternal Being actively involved in supporting and maintaining it.  While they believed it possible to stimulate or manipulate nature/Baal to respond in a certain way, they firmly believed that the world and its happenings were independent of God’s involvement.  This made the personal, intimate relationship that Yahweh offered to Gideon contrary to his Baal-instructed mind.  He had never felt a need to pray for certain things, because the processes that nature put in place were set and could not be altered”  (Gideon, p. 111).

Priscilla then turns the tables and makes this personal:  “consider how many things we don’t take to God in prayer because we’ve grown accustomed to the usual processes we experience daily… Even God’s people have been duped into believing that either He will not really do anything on our behalf or that He doesn’t need to because certain things just happen anyway”  (Gideon, p. 112).

The book of James echoes this sentiment:  “You do not have, because you do not ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives… Come near to God and he will come near to you”  (James 4:2b, 3a, 8a).

Last week I heard a story from a friend. It shows the contrast between asking God to intervene and assuming natural processes will just run their course.  A few years ago, my friend’s uncle found himself in the Emergency Room with crushing chest pain.  He was told that he needed to have emergency open-heart surgery to repair a dissected aorta.  The prognosis was grim.  Doctors predicted he had mere hours to live if he didn’t have the surgery and preparations were quickly made to begin.  My friend and her family members gathered in the waiting room and began praying.  Her stepfather, who was a surgeon, was granted permission to observe the surgery.  As he stood in the operating room and watched the surgeons work, the situation looked dire.   He decided to go out and give family members the sad update.  As he rounded the corner to the waiting room, he found the family sitting in a circle deep in prayer.  Not a man of the same faith, he made a hasty retreat, deciding he preferred the grim scene in the operating room to the prayer circle in the waiting room.  As he re-entered the surgery, he was shocked to discover the doctors completing a full repair on the aorta.  Miraculously, they’d been able to salvage enough tissue to suture it back together.  The doctors were incredulous and my friend’s stepfather could hardly believe what he was seeing.  In fact, the heart surgeon calls her uncle his “miracle patient” to this day.  My friend’s stepfather had just accepted that there was little hope for the uncle.  Seeing his family members praying in the waiting room had seemed like a vain and foolish attempt to ward off the inevitable.  How wrong he was.

My friend’s uncle has gone on to live for thirteen more years.  He’s had a rich and full life and has been blessed to watch his youngest daughter marry and to be a part of the lives of his three grandchildren.  And all because his family members refused to give up hope and trusted God to intervene.

Are there things in life you’ve just accepted without even considering praying about them?   Are you plodding through life not even thinking of the ways God could intervene in your circumstances if you asked Him? Maybe it’s a spouse or family member whose heart seems totally hardened toward God.  Maybe it’s a child you lock horns with daily.  Maybe it’s your health.  Maybe it’s a broken relationship that won’t seem to heal.  Maybe it’s a hidden addiction.  Maybe it’s the ongoing struggle that you’re tired of fighting against depression, anxiety, loneliness or insecurity.  Maybe it’s financial distress.  Or maybe, you’re tired of just surviving and you long to be thriving in a fuller, richer, more passionate life.

Whatever it is, there is nothing that we cannot bring to God in prayer.  He delights in invitations for Him to move and work in our lives.  We can’t necessarily tell God how to work something out, but we can grow through the act of praying and drawing near to Him.  Sometimes prayer changes our circumstances, sometimes it changes our perspectives.  Sometimes it changes both.  One thing is for sure- it never hurts to ask.

Do you have a story of God’s intervention in a situation that others assumed was “just the way it is?”  Take time to comment so that others can be encouraged by it and God can receive the praise.



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God Margin: When God’s 300 is Greater Than the Enemy’s 135,000

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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.’ Now announce to the army, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’” So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained.

But the Lord said to Gideon, “There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will thin them out for you there. If I say, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go; but if I say, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.”

So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the Lord told him, “Separate those who lap the water with their tongues as a dog laps from those who kneel down to drink.” Three hundred of them drank from cupped hands, lapping like dogs. All the rest got down on their knees to drink.

The Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the others go home.” So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites home but kept the three hundred, who took over the provisions and trumpets of the others.

Now the camp of Midian lay below him in the valley. 12 The Midianites, the Amalekites and all the other eastern peoples had settled in the valley, thick as locusts. Their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore.  –Judges 7:2-8, 12

I love the story of Gideon because he had no choice but to trust God and to watch how His plan would unfold to rescue the children of Israel from the Midianites.  “If anything was going to be the downfall of these people, it wouldn’t be Midian; it would be Israel’s pride.  So God purposefully, lovingly stripped down Gideon’s army to the bare bones, leaving them no choice but to rely on Yahweh for victory”  (Gideon by Priscilla Shirer, p. 76).

In case you need a refresher, here it is:  Gideon was called by God to lead the Israelites in defeating the Midianites who had been oppressing them.  God wanted to be sure that there was no question among the Israelites about who was responsible for their victory, so He whittled the Israelite army down from 32,000 men to 300. “Thus, God minimized pride’s chances of taking credit for a victory”  (Gideon, p. 75).

I’ve been struggling to write this blog—not because I can’t identify with this story, but because too many different examples in my own life come to mind.  In the past year, I’ve seen the truth of Gideon’s story over and over again.  Priscilla Shirer says “we need not see our weaknesses as repulsive, but as helpful in developing our continued dependence on God”  (p. 76).  When we lay our weaknesses at God’s feet and admit we can’t handle things on our own, He steps in to do some of His best work.

One of the places I feel my weakness most is when I watch someone I love struggling.  Over the course of the last several years, I stood by while my husband become progressively more discouraged at work.  It was like a heavy weight that burdened him all the time, consuming his thoughts and robbing his joy.  Finally, we reached a point last winter when he hit an all time low. He felt stuck—unable to make a change for a variety of valid reasons, yet struggling with the thought of continuing where he was.  One night as we sat on the couch having yet another conversation about it I said, “We need to be praying about this more consistently.  I’m going to ask God to change either your circumstances or your perspective.”  My husband answered, “I don’t really see how either one is going to change, but I guess it can’t hurt to try.”  We prayed for months and nothing seemed to be happening

In late spring, his discouragement plummeted even lower.  The subject of his job dominated our conversations.  We talked for hours on end and reached the same conclusion every time- prayer was our best and only real option.  At one point, I remember saying:  “I can’t wait to see how God shows up.  The more impossible the situation seems to us, the more obvious it is that He’s at work.”

A few weeks later, my husband got an unexpected phone call from a company who was looking to fill a new position.  It was a unique opportunity at a place he’d ruled out for a variety of reasons.  He entered into dialogue with the company cautiously, but with a glimmer of hope.  A series of meetings and interviews over the summer caused a roller coaster of emotions in our household.   There were several major obstacles that seemed insurmountable.  We continued to pray and ask God whether this opportunity was what He had planned for my husband.  With each step of the process, God stripped away anything that would cause us to believe we were in control.  We tried hard to keep the right perspective.  We wanted to put our hope in God and not in this particular job opportunity.

In late summer my husband was officially offered the job.  We’d been praying for peace and clarity and when he received the offer, we knew what he had to do.  He turned it down.  Although he wanted to work there, neither of us felt peace with the terms of employment.  Although it was disappointing, we knew it would be obvious when God was giving us the green light.  We truly believed He had something else in store, even if it meant waiting longer.

To our amazement, the company came back the next day and responded to every one of my husband’s specific concerns.  Each issue we’d prayed for throughout the summer was addressed clearly and decisively.  All of the reservations he’d had were resolved and we both felt peace.  There was no explanation other than God’s hand at work.

Priscilla Shirer calls it “God Margin.”  She says “it’s the space that exists between your skills and resources and what God can accomplish (Gideon Session 3 video). IMG_6035

My husband started his new job last week.  He has a spring in his step and a sparkle in his eye that’s been missing for quite a while.  When people ask about the new job, he says,  “It’s been overwhelmingly positive.  I’m truly humbled by the way God has worked.”  His joy doesn’t come from his new company, but from the blessing of trusting God and watching Him work in ways that were beyond anything we could have imagined.   God did change my husband’s circumstances, but He also changed his perspective and reminded him that our true hope never faltered.

There is nothing unique about our story—we all have opportunities for “God Margin” in our lives regularly.   When we acknowledge our weaknesses and offer them up to God, we get to see how He’ll use them for His glory.

I encourage you to commit your seemingly “hopeless” situation to God and wait for Him to reveal Himself in the midst of it.  Keep in mind, however– God rarely does things according to our plans.   Give Him lots of room to work in His way and His time frame instead of telling Him how you want it resolved.

If you already have a good “God Margin” story to share, please post a comment below.

For more encouragement, click on the link below to hear Matt Maher’s song “Lord, I Need You.”  It’s a great reminder to find your strength in God throughout every day.


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Spiritual Eyes

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I’m in a serious state of denial.  I think I’m reaching that “certain age” where mature adults finally admit that they need a little boost with their vision.  Somehow, I can’t bring myself to make the trip to the store to buy a pair of reading glasses.  I guess it just makes me feel “old.”  (If you wear reading glasses, please don’t take that personally, it’s my silly little issue).  So, I’ve been compensating by using larger font sizes, squinting, or sneaking to put on my husband’s readers when no one is looking.  He came home from work the other day and caught me by surprise as I was writing at the computer.  As I turned to greet him, he laughed and said:  “You’re busted!!”  I’d forgotten to take off his reading glasses.   It was a funny, albeit humbling, moment.

I’ve been thinking about vision a lot lately and realizing that besides our physical eyes, God has also given us “spiritual eyes.”  And just like my physical vision is in need of a “boost,” we need to give our “spiritual eyes” a boost by asking God to open them for us.  I think many people spend a lifetime in spiritual blindness, missing out on all that God is doing in the world around them.  I don’t want to be one of those people.

Two of my favorite stories about spiritual vision come from opposite ends of the Bible.  One is in 2 Kings 6 and the other is in the book of Acts.

The story in 2 Kings 6:8-23 is about the prophet Elisha.  God has given him the divine ability to know the movements of Israel’s enemies in advance so that the Israelites can defend themselves.  Verse 10 says,  “Time and again Elisha warned the king, so that he was on his guard in such places.”  Elisha’s ability to discern the enemies’ plans enraged them, so they decided to try and capture him.  As the soldiers surrounded the city to close in on Elisha, his servant went into a panic:  “When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city.  ‘Oh, my lord, what shall we do?’ the servant asked.”

Elisha responds with complete confidence:  “Don’t be afraid… Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”  Then he prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes so he may see.’  Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”

How cool is that?  One minute the servant is quaking in his sandals and the next he sees God’s holy army completely surrounding the enemy and protecting Elijah and him.  They were there all the time–he just didn’t have the eyes to see them.

The New Testament “vision” story I love takes place in Acts 9 when Saul is converted on the road to Damascus.  As he is on his way to persecute Christians, he encounters a blinding light from heaven accompanied by the voice of Jesus:  “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”  Jesus then gives Saul instructions to go to the city and find a specific disciple who will tell him what to do.  With the help of his companions, the blinded Saul travels to Damascus where he follows Jesus’ instructions.  He meets with a disciple named Ananias, who Jesus sends to heal Saul.  Ananias lays his hands on Saul saying  “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  The text says: “Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again.  He got up and was baptized.”

I love that Saul’s physical sight was restored and that the Holy Spirit opened his spiritual eyes at the same time.  I love the instant change that occurred in Saul and that his first action was to get baptized as a believer.  From that moment on, his entire mission in life went from persecuting Christians to sharing the Good News of Christ.

I wonder, sometimes, if we need to pray for God to open our spiritual eyes a bit wider.  Are there things we’re missing because we’ve stopped staying in tune with the Spirit?  Are we getting apathetic and failing to look in wonder on God’s creation all around us?  Maybe we’ve lost our spiritual eyes to see a world crying out for compassion.  Do we realize that the same spiritual army that surrounded Elisha and his servant is at our beck and call?  Do we even recognize spiritual battles when they crop up?

IMG_5941 I like the way Priscilla Shirer says it:  “As believers, our spiritual eyes must detect God’s presence.  Once this happens, the opportunity unfolds for us to understand our calling and the vast inheritance we’ve been given to accomplish the tasks before us”  (Gideon p.44).

I think it’s challenging to have spiritual eyes in our western culture.  We pride ourselves on self-sufficiency.  We like to make things safe, comfortable and easy.  We have contingency plans and back up scenarios for everything.  We’re anesthetizing ourselves constantly with mindless entertainment.  We all run the risk of being lulled into letting our vision get fuzzy- kind of like my denial over needing reading glasses (yes, I am wearing my husband’s readers as I type this).

The more I write, the more it reminds me of Gideon’s community.  People had lost sight of who God was.  They had forgotten His power and His miracles.  They stopped worshipping Him and were influenced into worshipping the gods of those in the cultures around them.  And it happened in just one generation.

I don’t know about you, but reading that makes me want to ask the Spirit to sharpen my spiritual eyesight.  I want to discern where I’m growing lukewarm and letting our world direct my steps instead of God.  My prayer through Gideon is “Give me eyes to see you God.”

How about you?  Is it time for a spiritual vision check?  Time to see where things have gotten a little fuzzy?  Are there places where God is opening your eyes in new ways?  Make a comment below and tell us about it.

Finally, check out the three attached videos.  Each one deals with a slightly different aspect of our “spiritual vision.”

Chris Tomlin’s  “Whom Shall I Fear” will focus your “spiritual vision” on God’s hand of protection that surrounds you at all times.

Brandon Heath’s “Give Me Your Eyes” will fix your gaze on God’s heart of compassion and the ways He’s calling you to engage others.

Josh Wilson’s “Behind the Beauty” will remind you to see every aspect of creation as an opportunity to praise God for His incredible handiwork.