By Dr. Bryan Smith
“The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”
Why don’t more pastors get involved in Christian education—either by starting a school or by being a vocal supporter? There are many answers, but many of them come back to one main problem: self-doubt. We fear that getting involved would require more than we could give: more expertise, more courage, more resources, more patience. If those are your fears, then you can rest assured they’re justified. Christian education does require more than you have.
But my point in this article is not to convince you to walk away from the challenge. It is to help you to think biblically about your weaknesses and how God can work through them. The Bible confronts us again and again with the need for faith. Those who step out on faith, putting their full weight on God’s promises, find that His strength is greater than their weakness.
That’s what Gideon found. You know the story. Gideon is threshing wheat in a winepress. A winepress is a terrible place for such a task—unless you want to hide from marauding Midianites while you do so. Then it’s a good place. And that’s when the angel of the Lord appears: “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor” (Judg. 6:12). An ironic statement if ever there was one. Gideon is hiding from the Midianites, and God calls him “a mighty man of valor.” Or maybe it’s not ironic, not to God at least. This is no human messenger. This is the angel of the Lord, and He can see the end of this story from its beginning. He doesn’t see a frightened man standing in a winepress. He sees what this man will one day become.
In that conversation, Gideon is told to fight the Midianites and defeat them. God will be with him, and He will see to it that Gideon does not fail. After a great deal of encouragement, Gideon agrees, and an army of 32,000 men is mustered (Judg. 7:3). That may seem like an impressive number, but it looks different when you consider that the Midianites have 135,000 on their side (cf. Judg. 8:10). Gideon is hopelessly outnumbered.
That’s when things get really interesting. God tells Gideon to announce that anyone who is fearful should go home. The Bible tells us that 22,000 depart. Gideon is left with 10,000 men to fight the overwhelming Midianite host.
I cannot mention this detail without thinking of the many pastors and administrators who learn in July that their enrollment numbers are down significantly or that their staffing needs are far from met. These are real problems that leaders in Christian education face, and these problems are not easy to solve. Sometimes we refer to these situations as the “horror stories” of Christian education. Let me assure you that they are true—just as true as the story of Gideon and his 10,000.
But the number does not stay at 10,000, does it? The Bible also tells us that the Lord told Gideon to send home anyone who stooped down to drink from the spring of Harod, instead of bending down to lap the water like a dog (Judg. 7:5–6). Now the vast majority of the men are sent home. Gideon is left with just 300 men!
But it is enough. Gideon leads this tiny band into battle, and they rout the Midianites. In the end, Gideon gains renown throughout all Israel as the mighty man of valor God knew he would become.
It’s a great story, but we’ll misunderstand it unless we ask ourselves an important question: Why? Why does God seem to toy with Gideon? Why did God demand that the army of Gideon be whittled down to a ridiculously low number? If numbers don’t matter to God, then why not save Gideon the emotional trauma and just send the 32,000 into battle?
Judges 7:2 gives us the answer—and it is the most important statement in the whole story: “And the LORD said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me.”
God was not toying with Gideon. He was trying to help Gideon. He was trying to help us. He was trying to get us to understand something about ourselves and something about Him. It is very unlikely that 32,000 could defeat 135,000. But if it were to happen, we could believe it, and we would ever after honor the memory of those troops and their general. Something similar could be said for 10,000 defeating 135,000. It is very unlikely, but if it happened, we would celebrate for generations their bravery, their skill, and their remarkable devotion. But 300? No. That is beyond belief. If it should ever happen, it would have to be God. Only God could achieve such a victory. And that’s the point.
It’s probably not hard to see parallels between Gideon’s story and your own. Gideon watched helplessly as the Midianites claimed field after field, harvest after harvest from God’s people. You likewise have watched the world claim young person after young person from our churches and our communities. God called Gideon to do something about these losses, but he felt inadequate and doubted that he could succeed—despite God’s reassurances. You may find yourself sensing God’s call to get involved in Christian education, but your self-doubt keeps you from acting.
But consider that the parallels between your situation and Gideon’s may go further. God whittled down Gideon’s army—making him completely inadequate—not to destroy him but rather to make the victory His kind of victory. When you look at your own challenges—the things that convince you not to engage in the task of Christian education—consider that they may be God’s way of preparing you for victory. He is preparing you to win the victory with little means so that everyone will know that the victory was His and not yours. He is doing this so that His glory will be declared in your victory. Your inadequacies—like Gideon’s—may be proof that God is indeed committed to using you.
Of course, it’s one thing to believe that God will use you, but it’s another to act on that belief. If we focus on our inadequacies, we will become paralyzed with fear and do nothing. This is what Gideon likely would have done if the Lord had not encouraged him repeatedly to take the next step. God had made great promises to Gideon, but none of them would have been realized if Gideon had not obeyed and taken the next step. We must do the same. We must turn our attention away from our inadequacies and obey God by taking the next step. We will become discouraged and defeated if we try to do the whole task at once. But we can make that phone call, prepare that sermon, write that article. It is then that we will see God take our meager 300 and do something with it.
Making It Your Own
The real test of whether we have internalized a story in Scripture is not if we can remember all the details. The real test is whether we can use it—particularly in prayer. Do you think you can use the story of Gideon in prayer for the sake of your work in Christian education? Can you get down on your face and pray like this: “O God, my doubts and fears stand before me like thousands of Midianites. I see so many young people falling prey to the lies of the world. The world robs them of their faith and their love for God. It strips their fields bare. And all I have are my 300! I have meager resources, little time. Oh, take my 300 and win the victory in the lives of young people. Give the impossible victory. Use me. I will step out on faith for You. Send the armies of Satan to flight, and get for Yourself great glory and fame in the earth!”
Do you think God will answer a prayer like that? Try it and see.
Dr. Bryan Smith has worked in Christian education for over twenty years. He has been a classroom teacher as well as a textbook author. Currently, he serves at BJU Press as the Bible Integration Senior Manager. In this position, he assists authors and teachers in the work of integrating faith and learning in the classroom. Bryan holds a Ph.D. in Old Testament Interpretation. He and his wife, Becky, have six children.
This article originally appeared in The Renewanation Review® magazine. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted here by permission of Renewanation. For more information regarding Renewanation, visit renewanation.org.