Guarding the Path: “Heed the Call” – Judges 6 (Part Two)

god-is-callingWhether you have ever considered it seriously or not – God has a call on your life. He wants to walk with you and He wants to lead you through the path of your life to accomplish what He designed for you while you BECOME what He intends you to be. This lesson is about discovering that process (of His call) and responding properly to it.

Our last lesson focused on the resistance of believers to invite God on the daily journey of their lives. We were reminded how heavy life is when we try, even in Christ, to walk the road in our own strength and for our own purposes. Life lived intentionally with Jesus as my daily invited partner is life lived with a touch of Heaven’s promise. The story was a simple application of Judges 6 as the writer of Scripture set up the rescue God brought through Gideon.

• It was taken from a time when Israel returned to doing evil (6:1).

• As a result of their choice, God placed them under a physical bondage that offered them a graphic picture of the “heart bondage” to other gods and other agendas that come with the dulling of a believer’s rebellion (6:1b).

• The result of drifting from God into self-life left Israel without the power to pull off life, and they ended up hiding in their own land of promise (6:2).

• They were subjected to cruel treatment of the world around them, and they found themselves in perpetual pain and lack, overwhelmed and discouraged (6:3-5).

• Their state finally pressed them to the point they cried to God from the bottom of their hearts (6:6).

If they were like most of us, the cry probably wasn’t so much about the loss of their sense of relationship with God – but their loss of the natural blessings that overflow from that daily and intentional invitation to walk with Him. When troubles roll in like a flood, we may cry out to God, but it is more about the flood than about our desire for Him.

One of the greatest problems a believer faces is the deception that we are competent to take on the world and navigate successfully on our own. Even though we know that we invited the Savior into our heart and received both His Spirit and His salvation, the old nagging thought that God isn’t really essential today haunts us. It is an OLD deception that came from the very Garden of Eden – when Eve believed that intimacy with God wasn’t the “only way” to have a good life. How do I know this is the case? The answer is simple: many believers, when being honest, report they move through large blocks of time in their lives when they don’t deliberately engage God beyond the occasional “saying of grace” at the food table.

Back to Judges 6

Go back to the wayward people in Judges 6. Don’t forget that before God sent to Israel a rescuer and a renewed time of blessing, He sent a prophet to completely expose and answer the charges that their current misery and peril was somehow His oversight. The writer reminded:

Judges 6:7 Now it came about when the sons of Israel cried to the Lord on account of Midian, 8 that the Lord sent a prophet to the sons of Israel, and he said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘It was I who brought you up from Egypt and brought you out from the house of slavery. 9 I delivered you from the hands of the Egyptians and from the hands of all your oppressors, and dispossessed them before you and gave you their land, 10 and I said to you, “I am the Lord your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live. But you have not obeyed Me.”’”

We must be very careful when we find ourselves in difficulty and trouble, not to swallow the tempter’s lie that God is the One responsible for our trouble. He isn’t; yet we know that many of us have gotten angry with Him because of a stubborn rebellion in US. God reduced all the troubles down to the single issue: “You walked away from ME, and when you did, blessing slipped away into the darkness!”

God’s invited presence and deliberate worship brings a sense of confidence to your life that whatever you are passing through, He is right beside you. At the same time, can we not admit that if we are inviting Him to journey with us, His very presence will likely change some of what we pass through? Aren’t there problems we encounter BECAUSE we chose to walk alone? I think we all know there are.

Inviting the Lord to walk with you isn’t so much about getting Him in step with you as it is is getting in step with Him. We refer to that “getting in step” as “finding” and then “following” your CALL by God. Let’s say it this way: Your job isn’t to choose your ministry as much as it is to follow the direction of God and His Word on the path HE has chosen for you. God gifts, enables and calls you – but He requires that you trust Him and follow Him. Gideon’s experience will teach us something about following our call…

Key Principle: God offers basic steps to listening for and responding well to His call in your life.

Pick up your reading in Judges 11 as the messenger of the Lord Most High is encountering Gideon. We learn something from the beginning of the encounter…

There are two parts to our record. The first is about grasping God’s call. The second is about responding properly to God’s call.

Look at how to grasp the call of the Lord in your life.

First, a call begins with the truth as it is revealed by God. Remember, God picks the time and place to call you (6:11,12).

Judges 6:11 Then the angel of the Lord came and sat under the oak that was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press in order to save it from the Midianites.

Look closely and you may begin to apply truths found in the details of the scene in three simple imperatives:

Get moving! Notice in the case of Gideon, that God sought him out, and found him busy and working. That’s an important little note. God doesn’t want you to sit idly until the perfect opportunity to minister drops into your back yard. He desires to move in the life of someone who is already showing movement in solving issues! It is far easier to steer an automobile that is moving rather than re-directing the wheels of one that sits still.

Set proper expectations! When God called Gideon, it may have seemed profound – but the actual picture that day was a guy relaxing under a tree and talking to a guy steadily working in a hole beside him. There was no recorded thunder in the sky or angelic choir. Get a grip on your expectations. God’s call in your life is not necessarily a dramatic event – but it always causes dramatic events. He calls you to make a difference as you walk with Him, not “hold a spot” on the bench of His Heavenly team full of “wanna be” followers. The truth is God called you because He intends to use your life in the lives of others. Jesus said: “You didn’t choose Me; I chose you to bring forth fruit!” to His first followers. Paul noted the same was true of later believers. God’s call may not be dramatic, but He has a plan to use you – and how can that not be an exciting prospect?

Keep listening! God’s Word contains God’s call for you both in general terms, and very often in specific ones. Though for some in the Word He used a dream, an angel or some profound prophetic device, for most it was the routine engagement with His revealed truth that brought the clarity of His direction. The same is true now! He may use the extraordinary, but for most of us the key will be absorbing His Word and walking with expectancy that when we invite Him on the daily journey, He will take the lead and offer us direction.

There are times when God will direct you within. I may go to a hospital and the person I came to see is out of the room for tests. Because I get pressed in the number of hours I have to get things done, if I am wise, I will stop and ask God: “Is there someone else I am here to see?” He has often indicated there was by whatever happened next. I don’t live life that way; but I do see it happen from time to time. Let me also post this warning to those who think that is ALL there is to following God… God is with you in the planning time as well. Messages aren’t spontaneous. Preparation of teaching the Word takes time, effort, prayer and seeking. God is there during that stage as well, and isn’t just swooping down on the perpetually unplanned to carry them through His work. Don’t get hung up on either extreme.

Second, remember that God called you because He knows what He is going to do in and through you.

Your calling is about the surrender of your present self so that God can take you on the journey to your future. Judges 6:12 says:

Judges 6:12 The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior.

In our last lesson I made the point that Gideon was hiding in a hole when these words were uttered. We noted that God knew He would make much of Gideon, so He spoke in glowing terms to the man long before the man could see what God was saying in his own life.

It is important for us to remember the success of our call isn’t dependent upon our ability – but rather our faithfulness to follow our Master. If we listen to His call, if we follow His Word – we will reach the destination He planned as the one He desires us to become. Over and over we must repeat the truth that God is more interested in what we are BECOMING than what we are accomplishing. We cannot DO anything positive toward that goal that He doesn’t enable us to do – so our accomplishments and abilities are NOT the primary reasons for our call.

I was talking recently to a man who took his son hunting for the first time. They like to supplement their freezer with some deer meat, and the family looks forward every year to hunting season and fishing season, because they are times when they go camping, and dad graphically supplies the needs of the family in a way that even the youngest of the children truly understands. It has been their family practice since before the children can remember. In any case, the dad had opportunity to take his son as the young man began his own tradition of provision. The boy brought home his first kill, and he couldn’t stop talking about an experience that actually was a long time of sitting in a blind silently, waiting for a deer to happen by. Stop and think about that father for a moment. Do you believe he brought his son because he felt that would improve the chances for the family to get meat this year? Of course, you don’t. The man brought his son for the sake of his son – not so much for the ability of his son. That is how God calls you to a work or task. You and I don’t bring much to it at all – but He delights in walking out into the work with us, and coming home to celebrate with us when the day is done.

Third, don’t battle an Almighty God and not expect to get bruised.

Let’s allow for the fact that Gideon probably had no clue of the exact identity of this messenger when he made his less than educated remarks about God. I suspect if he recognized the angel was what he was, Gideon might have tailored his remarks a bit better. The text recorded:

Judges 6:13 Then Gideon said to him, “O my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.

Gideon was probably tired and no doubt disgusted with the state of affairs reported in the local newspapers. Do you know what he felt like? At every turn, he felt like times were tough, and there didn’t seem to be good reasons to hope things were about to get appreciably better. Look at the verse again. He uses words like “abandoned” and “given us into the hands” when he spoke of HIS DAY, but words like “miracles” when he spoke of the days of his fathers. Gideon believed the PAST was when God was busy, and the present is when God is disengaged. When we lose hope, we tend to think that way.

Here is the problem: Every moment we spend trying to figure out God instead of following Him is a wasted moment. That isn’t our job, and we don’t have the faculties to do it very well at all. It is promising to note that God doesn’t only work with those who have great understanding of His plan, but we have to remember that He works with those who aren’t consumed with second guessing Him.

If you need to see the end from the beginning of the call – you don’t trust Him enough to really follow Him. Let Him lead with His view of things. He knows where He is going.

When Jesus called His disciples, some were sitting and listening to His cousin John. Others were cleaning our nets or working in their tax offices, etc. They didn’t know what their life would entail. Many of those men eventually went to far flung places in the Roman world to carry the message of the Gospel. They couldn’t have had any concept that God would do that through them when Jesus walked by and said “Come, follow Me!” They didn’t know where life would take them – but they followed the Savior. You don’t know either, but the requirement is the same. Follow Him. Don’t figure Him out before you begin – follow Him.

When you listen to the words of Gideon, can you pick out how incredibly depressed he sounds? I think he had good reason to feel beat down, though his theology was a bit cobbled together and confused. If he showed anything, perhaps it was this: It is reasonably useless to try to define truth by your feelings in the middle of a conflict where you are regularly getting beaten up. Let me say it another way: No one I know well can clearly reckon how things are actually going in the middle of raising teen agers. There are moments of uncertainty in life… and “conflict periods” are prime among them.

If you have faced reversals, it may not be the best time to evaluate the goodness of God – and you aren’t in the right emotional place to make broad stroke judgments about His character based on your experiences and your feelings about those experiences. General George Patton, in “War as I Knew It” reminded men to “never try to get an accurate assessment of the battle from a wounded soldier who was being carried off the field in a stretcher.” You and I cannot, cannot, cannot trust our feelings about God’s power when we aren’t relying on it.

Fourth, keep it simple. Draw the whole argument in your mind down to what it is really about: “Will you do what God told you to do?”

That is God’s question in the text…

Judges 6:14 offered the Lord’s simple reply: The Lord looked at him and said,Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?”

Note the messenger offered no response to Gideon’s ridiculous charges made out of Gideon’s deep disappointment of God’s performance (as he saw it). The messenger spoke past the false statements and cut the whole message down to the simplest imperative: “Will you follow?”

You have been on the highway for hours. The traffic has been a nightmare and you pull off into a gas station in a small town because the highway resembles a parking lot. After pumping gas, you walk into the store and get one of the hot dogs from the hot metal rollers, stick it in a bun and walk to the check out. The man takes your money and asks you how your day is going. You grunt an answer of discontent and are ready to walk back to your car. The man says: “Sir, you may want to use the road to the left for the next ten miles. It runs parallel to your highway and reconnects, and most people won’t know about it – so it will surely be faster in this traffic!” What do you do next? Do you complain about how bad the last few hours have been? Do you explain to the man that you have really had a rough time, and you don’t know if you can keep going? No! You thank him for the direction, and follow the new route. Why? Because whatever you have been through is irrelevant. The only issue now is whether or not you will take the direction and change the next hours of your life.

By this point in Gideon’s story, it appears to be becoming more clear WHO was speaking, and WHAT was expected. We should recall that while God doesn’t pretend to tell us our destination, He is usually very clear concerning His demand for our obedience. God challenges his people to commit themselves not just their things (14).

Fifth, never calculate your mission as if it is based solely on your ability.

This sounds like a redux of what we have seen, but it is too important to pass by quickly – because so many fall on that slippery spot.

Judges 6:15 He said to Him, “O Lord, how shall I deliver Israel? Behold, my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house.

Most of us know much more about our weaknesses than our strengths. Most of us are much more easily convinced that failure is more likely than success to a difficult venture of obedience.

Most of us think about our day in terms of our own strength, not in terms of God’s. One of the great side benefits of daily inviting God, and then walking in His conscious presence is the size of the resources you can bring to the problems you face. Our biggest problems shrink dramatically in front of an All Powerful God.

Sixth, hear and grasp the promises of God in your mission.

The text isn’t about you, but it is FOR you. It is a story to make an encouraging point…

Judges 6:16 But the Lord said to him, “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man.”

God wasn’t SENDING him, He was ACCOMPANYING Him. God has never been trying to find people to work for Him, but rather to work with Him. He’s been doing that since He pulled man from the mud of the Garden. The secret of Gideon’s victory was to be the same as yours – the “practiced presence of God”.

After grasping God’s call, let’s keep observing to find how to properly respond to that call.

Admittedly, we are going to learn from Gideon what NOT to do when you know what God has told you to do. His is not a glowing account.

In grasping the call, we saw Gideon questioned God. That isn’t wrong. God doesn’t expect you to just change life’s direction because of a feeling or a whim. If God is seriously calling you to do something, He is prepared to be questioned without becoming upset with you. Three isn’t a problem when you ask mechanical questions, like the Virgin Mary asked to Gabriel “How exactly can that baby happen in me?” The problem comes when our questions come from a heart of disbelief that God CAN do what He said – like the story of Zecharias in the Temple. He essentially asked the same question as Mary: “How can that be?” The difference wasn’t the composition of the question, but the heart from which it came.

Go back to Judges 6 and look at what Gideon DID when God told Him that the Almighty was going to walk with him through the struggles ahead…

Judges 6:17 So Gideon said to Him, “If now I have found favor in Your sight, then show me a sign that it is You who speak with me.

Gideon wanted an identity check. He believed God could break the choke hold of the nations on the Jewish people. He just wasn’t sure this guy lounging under a tree was a true and legitimate spokesman for God – so he asked for a SIGN. Many believers today do the same thing. They need God to do something incredible and reaffirming in their midst, or they can’t believe His Word. They haven’t grown past needing the constant affirmation of the miraculous.

I believe there probably were very few men on earth who were as utterly inept when it came to dating as I was when my wife found me. I missed the cues in relationships. It was like there was a class everyone had in relationships that somehow got bumped from my schedule in school. In our early times together, I was so unsure of how she felt, I NEEDED her affirmations to be sure. When she grabbed my hand as we drove down the road, I would think to myself: “I guess she really does like me!” After many years of marriage, I don’t have the daily need to have her somehow prove she loves me. I still love her doing it; but it isn’t essential after three children, more than three decades together, and an untold number of meals made, dishes cleaned and laundry completed… even I get it eventually.

Here is the truth: The believer that needs another miracle, an additional another sign from God just to keep following, really hasn’t really grown up.

Paul established how important it was for believers to love one another while living out their faith at home, in their community and (in the immediate context) in the local church assembly. He made the point in 1 Corinthians 13 that spiritual manifestations of God and even gifts of the Spirit cannot do what love does. He described the attributes of love, and then turned his attention to the great truth about love: One hundred million years from now, it will be God’s love for us and ours for one another as followers of Jesus that will matter. Our gifts and contributions will fade, but our heart of love for Him, and for one another will not. He wrote:

1 Corinthians 13:8 Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

The choice to serve with love brings about more lasting results than any other outworking of the Spirit. It is for this reason the Apostle proclaims that “Love never fails” in 1 Corinthians 13:8. At the same time, the need to have signs and miracles as part of daily service wasn’t nearly as important as some thought it was. You see, as each believer grew in faith, they needed to learn to leave the early things they trusted to discern God’s will and direction – and move on to trusting in God’s Word without the other manifest signs and works of God (1 Corinthians 13:10-12).

Experiencing God dramatically becomes much less important when we trust God more fully.

Believers were to grow out of dependence on overt signs from God and simply rest in God’s Word. The signs of God’s profound presence were there in the early days of their walk, but simply became less important as the people grew up. Gideon was just getting started in his walk, so God was patient. At the same time, that didn’t mean that God wouldn’t expect more from Gideon because He pressed God for signs.

In essence, Gideon needed a burned dinner for the sign that God was calling him to lead Israel to war. The text recorded:

Judges 6:18 Please do not depart from here, until I come back to You, and bring out my offering and lay it before You.” And He said, “I will remain until you return.” 19 Then Gideon went in and prepared a young goat and unleavened bread from an ephah of flour; he put the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot, and brought them out to him under the oak and presented them. 20 The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread and lay them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And he did so. 21 Then the angel of the Lord put out the end of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened bread; and fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened bread. Then the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight. 22 When Gideon saw that he was the angel of the Lord, he said, “Alas, O Lord God! For now I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face.” 23 The Lord said to him, “Peace to you, do not fear; you shall not die.” 24 Then Gideon built an altar there to the Lord and named it The Lord is Peace. To this day it is still in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

The story ends with belief, worship and the smell of a burned dinner. One of the problems of following tests is that they really make little sense when you look at them – but that is for the next lesson. For this time, it is enough if we recognize that…

God offers basic steps to listening for and responding well to His call in your life.

Recently, someone shared with me a story from the book A Man Called Peter by the author Catherine Marshall (who died in the early 1980s). In the book she told of how her late preacher-husband gained his sense of destiny, the serious and enduring sense of call on his life to serve God. He knew the Lord, and he had been considering a path of full-time service to the King. He was struggling with submission – and frankly an enlarged sense of his own abilities. Ego and servant-hood don’t mix. One dark night as a young man debating with his God, he unwisely decided to take a dangerous shortcut across the Scottish moors. He knew there were in the area some deep holes from an old, abandoned limestone quarry along that route, but he was confident that even in the dark a man with his skills and sense could avoid disaster. As he walked along, he heard someone call, “Peter.” There was great urgency in the beckoning voice. Young Peter stopped, turned and responded in the direction from which the voice came:. “Yes who is it? What do you want?” There was no answer. Unnerved but also annoyed, he took a few more steps when the voice called again, with the sound of even more urgency then before, “Peter!” He stopped. He was now becoming afraid. This wasn’t his imagination. He was really quite afraid. As he turned, his foot slipped behind a rounded rock, and he fell to his knees. Turning to place his hand on the ground to push himself back to his feet he realized he was at the very edge of a steep drop into a deep, black, hole. He found the quarry and nearly found his death. He got up, withdrew to the edge of the forest and followed the tree line – a much longer route. No one followed him. He was certain all the days of his life that God preserved his life, and he surrendered.

For Martin Luther it was a terrible storm with thunder and lightning. For Moses it was a burning bush. For you it may be nothing more than the piercing of a hard heart with the arrows of the Word of God. Here is what I know:

• Don’t ignore God’s call when He offers it.
• Don’t worry that you can’t do it.
• Invite the One Who calls you to equip you, guide you, and come along for the journey.