In 2008 I sat at a large long table positioned at one end of a very large room, a room too large for this Monday night staff meeting. The rest of the rooms in this church building were either too small or already used as classrooms. A group of moms from the always still willing and eager to get involved kindergarten class had decorated the table so that it would feel like we were in a quaint intimate Italian restaurant. The tablecloths were checkered and there were lovely fresh flowers placed every four feet or so. The plates and eating utensils were all plastic, which is quite fine since they were feeding over 20 ladies, and a small handful of gentlemen and there is no kitchen in sight. The spaghetti, garlic bread and salad were delicious. The atmosphere was relaxed as it usually was during these meetings. The staff of Cornerstone Academy, a very small and quite new private Christian school, sat together in our comfortable spots, enjoying the typical family like time together. No one bothered noticing how big the rest of the room was. Our world was there, at the Italian table with the colorful flowers.
At this particular meeting our board members were present to give us a nice pep talk. Most of us loved working at Cornerstone Academy even though we got paid next to nothing for doing so. Our board members loved us and were quite diligent about letting us know it quite often. So, one by one they began telling us how important we were, and how much they appreciated the work that we did for them, the students, and for the Lord. One member spoke of how much they believed in us and how we should feel empowered by them because they trusted us wholeheartedly. Those words were very reassuring to me. I had no idea what I was doing, or how I could do it best. Yet there I was doing it and having someone who believed in me. At that very moment I was transported to a far away place thousands of years ago. Come with me to the winepress. I pray we won’t be there long.
None of us ever feel like we have it in us to do what we have been called to do. Abraham didn’t think he had it in him. Moses didn’t think he had it in him, and my dear friend Gideon didn’t think he had it in him either.
When we are first introduced to Gideon we find him hiding. Hiding is a very familiar place for me. In Gideon’s case he was hiding from the Midianites, and who can blame him?
This is how Judges 6 begins, and how, I hate to admit, my story begins more often than I care to admit.
The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds.
Are you hiding?
Although their hiding was caused by sin (doing evil in the eyes of the lord and being handed over to the Medianites), it was driven by fear; the Medianites were oppressing them, invading them, and taking everything away from them. They were so impoverished that they cried out to the Lord for help.
What fear is driving you into hiding?
I found something very interesting about the word stronghold. In this particular verse the word used for stronghold is not actually the typical word meaning a fortified City; instead, the word used here refers to a place of lying in wait, a place of retreat. Are they waiting for something to happen? Did they think that the Medianites were going to just go away? Do we lie in wait and think that Satan is just going to leave us alone and then something grand is just going to happen and fix it all? Are we waiting for the money to come in, the children to shape up, the marriage to heal, the house to be clean, or the pounds to come off before we are willing to step out into the open? I’ve lived in this waiting, I wait and I fear. I dream and I fear. I cry and I fear. I fear and I fear some more on top of that. I fear lack of importance and influence, I fear of never being noticed or taken seriously. I fear that my dream is too big. I fear that nothing I do will ever be good enough. I fear and I lay waiting, paralyzed. I just stay in the cave, in the stronghold, in the fear.
Then I reach that same point that the Israelites reached, perhaps you have too. I become desperate, destitute, lonely, paralyzed, and impoverished. I cry out to the Lord.
Our hero Gideon is in hiding too. When the angel of the Lord appears to Gideon the scriptures tell us he “was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites.” What? What on earth is he doing threshing wheat in a winepress? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that grapes belong in a winepress, not wheat. Where should he be threshing wheat anyway? Back in the day, and I hear that even in some parts they still do this today, threshing wheat happened on the top of hills. The wheat is taken and thrown up into the air; the wind blows the chaff away and the heavy grain falls down to the ground. Gideon probably didn’t have much wheat, but what little he did have he took with him to the lowest, safest place he could find in order to survive.
We have so little left when we hide, Satan has come and taken it almost all away, and we are so scared that what little we have we take to a “safe” place and do whatever we can to manage our self-preservation. We are so enslaved that we feel no freedom to take what we have and throw it up on the mountaintop. In Deuteronomy 32 the Song of Moses gives is a completely different picture of what his children look like, he says in verse 13:
He made him ride on the heights of the land
and fed him with the fruit of the fields.
and fed him with the fruit of the fields.
Are you hiding in the winepress?
GET OUT! You have it in you, more than you can even imagine. Let’s take what we have, let’s take it to the mountaintop.
I wish you were not familiar with the story of Gideon, because then I could say, “You are not going to believe what happen next.”
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.