Imagine you are one of 32,000 foot soldiers who have answered the call of Gideon to go fight the Midianites. You are anxious to fight because it is better than being victimized by the enemy. You know the odds aren’t good (4 to 1), but you’d rather fight than continue to be intimidated by these people. Though you may lose your life, it would be better than the one you are living. You don’t know a lot about Gideon (renamed “Baal-basher” after he destroyed the altar to the Canaanite god, Baal, that was on his father’s land), except his name tells you that maybe the God of Israel is back in action on behalf of His people. They say God talks to him. You hope that is true, and that it is not merely a mad man you are following.
You woke up this morning, however, with that awful feeling in the pit of your stomach that you might die today. You’ve been here before. There will be blood and death. You are headed right into the storm, and though some of your buddies may relish this, you do not. You wouldn’t even be here if you had a choice. And then, much to your surprise, Gideon gives you that very choice.
He calls a muster at 0900 hours, after you have made it as far as the spring of Harod, and in that lineup he makes the strangest announcement: “Whoever is timid or afraid may leave this mountain and go home.” You hesitate. Why did he lead us out here if he was going to do this? Why didn’t he make this announcement back at base camp? You don’t want to look like a coward, but you have a pregnant wife back in Ophrah, and you do not have a warrior’s heart, and when more men than stay behind are stepping out to go home, you have more of an incentive to join them. Leave it to those who live for these battles, you think. More power to them.
As it was, the Lord had waited for this moment to tell Gideon, “You have too many warriors with you. If I let all of you fight the Midianites, the Israelites will boast to me that they saved themselves by their own strength. Therefore, tell the people, ‘Whoever is timid or afraid may leave this mountain and go home.’” So 22,000 of them went home, leaving only 10,000 who were willing to fight. (Judges 7:2-3)
This was God’s first step in competence-reduction — a principle He uses with us, just as with Gideon. It is one of God’s fundamental strategies for spiritual transformation. He is constantly putting us in situations that champion our natural weaknesses, and belie our natural strengths, lest we think that we accomplished God’s will in our own strength.
Indeed, once you begin walking with the Lord for a while, you begin to recognize this principle at work, so much so that you can see it coming. You can see your weakness coming up, just when there is actually a big requirement for strength — a strength you do not possess except as you trust in the Lord. That’s when you know, as Gideon will soon know, that this is when He is calling you out.
This is not about a reliance on God just for special occasions like those really big battles we have to fight sometimes; it is about the way we live all the time. It is a spiritual reality of life. God wants us to walk in our weakness. He wants to continually manifest His strength in and through our lives, and to do that, He keeps us in close contact with our human limitations, so that we must constantly be relying on His strength. There is no other way. God’s power always expresses itself this way. It’s never God’s strength along with ours; it’s God’s strength in and through our weakness, and that’s why it takes courage to live this way.