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Faithlife

Discovering God's Assurance

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Gideon has taken a bad rap over the years.  Many people remember him at the moment of weakness.  On the eve of battle he experiences a dark point of doubt as to his fate and he cries out to God with an unusual proposition in order to find assurance.  It was just a moment.

And we’ve all had our moments, haven’t we?  Times in our lives when adversity causes us to doubt God’s presence or His power or His promise to care for us.  I know that I have had mine. 

I wake up in the middle of the night, in the Midnight Café, surrounded by a host of troubling companions.  And once I wake up there, I discover that I am unable to leave.  The background on the slide today is called the “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”.  It represents the tragic lives of people who had everything that life could offer and yet they were miserable tortured beings who died tragically and prematurely.  And they gather in the picture, patrons of the Midnight Café, partners in regret. 

In my own Midnight Café, I find myself captive to Worry as he whispers across a stale cup of coffee about all the bad things that the future might bring.  There are nights when I cannot shut his voice out. 

And then he is joined by doubt.  Doubt always questions my sufficiency.  “Who do you think you are?”, “What makes you think that you can provide leadership to this church?”, “How do you think that you can understand what God would want for First Wesleyan Church?”

Fear fills the empty chair at the table.  “What if you fail?  What will happen to you then?  Who would ever want you to pastor their church if you fail here?”

You’ve probably never met my midnight friends, never been in the Midnight Café but I know them all on a first name basis.

And then somehow Assurance comes and I’m back in bed, it’s morning, the black night is a memory and the day brings Hope.

I’m always shamed when He comes, when the obstacles have vanished.  When I meet someone else with real problems compared to my “light affliction”.  I’ve learned over the years of my own pilgrimage that God is faithful.  He doesn’t make things easy but he shoulders my load and I’m better for each battle.

But, . . . . remember Gideon’s “fleece”.  The silly test that he laid out before God.

"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. This time make the fleece dry and the ground covered with dew.” That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew." (Judges 6:36-40, NIV)[1]

Wet fleece, dry fleece – what do you want me to do?

I remember a fleece of my own from the mid seventies.  I was driving a 1970, Chevrolet Caravelle.  It was my first car.  I loved it.  Not sure why because it was a terrible dark brown with black vinyl seats that would sear your flesh on a hot summer day.  When you sat down it sounded like throwing an egg on a hot grill.  Back then I hadn’t owned cars long enough to learn to hate them.

I saw a 75 Dodge Charger in 1977 and wanted it.  I couldn’t afford it but I was able to secure the funds.  In the pre-purchase jitters, I fleeced God.  I asked God to help me see a cream colored 75 Charger that was smashed up if he didn’t want me to buy the car.  I never saw one.  I bought the car.  I’m ¾’s ashamed of that now because I wanted what I wanted not what God wanted.  Or I wanted God to will what I wished for.  Most of the time, fleeces serve our pre-determined purposes.  My will not thine be done.

Why do I say that?

Because Gideon’s fleece had nothing to do – absolutely nothing with gaining God’s direction.  It was just a cry for reassurance from God.  “Lord, please show me that this is going to work out.”

He had his direction.  His troops were assembling and battle was imminent.  Within a few hours, he would be a hero or he’d be dead.  It was as simple as that.  He was hoping that God would give him some assurance that things would “work out”.

Ever been there?  I have.  At my spiritual best, I am perched precariously on the edge and danger is never far away.  Does that make me insecure?  Not at all.  Like the mountain climber who challenges the heights, taking every precaution to insure that a fall will not be fatal.  Still the chasm is there ready to swallow the careless climber who believes that he no longer needs to fear the fall.

"So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!" (1 Corinthians 10:12, NIV)[2]

John Wesley commented on this verse saying that people who only think they are standing are in little danger of falling.  The sense of the scripture is that the one who stands with full assurance needs to take care that he does not fall.

It’s that precarious position that we are in when we reopen doors that we once have closed.  The delivered addict who feels that he can handle with temperance, the substance that once held him in bondage.

As I have grown in my own Christian life, my sense of personal strength and sufficiency has diminished and my sense of God’s sufficiency and my dependency has increased.  Today I believe that my spiritual well being is totally wrapped in the person of Christ.  I want to be dependent on Him in every area of my life.

Billy Graham observes, “Anxiety is the natural result when our hopes are centered in anything short of God and his will for us.”

As I preach to you today, I feel no compulsion to call you to look at me.  I don’t feel that I have to tell you that I am a great prayer warrior or that I am a dynamic evangelist or that I never feel the tugging of temptation at my flesh.  What I feel compelled to tell you today is that He is sufficient.  And He wants you to know that today.  No matter what you may be facing – He is sufficient.

God does not leave us comfortless, but we have to be in dire need of comfort to know the truth of his promise. It is in time of calamity . . . in days and nights of sorrow and trouble that the presence, the sufficiency, and the sympathy of God grow very sure and very wonderful. Then we find out that the grace of God is sufficient for all our needs, for every problem, and for every difficulty, for every broken heart, and for every human sorrow.

n      Peter Marshall (1902-1949)

Many Christians are enamored with their own spirituality.

Do you know why many Christians never experience a vital dynamic relationship with God?

 

Because they are enamored with their own spirituality and they never grow out of it.  Sometimes, new faith foundlings are the most judgmental of any because in the newness of their experience they feel that no one else has ever seen what they are seeing for the first time.

Becoming an effective witness for God is not telling others about you, it’s telling others about Christ.  It’s telling other people what He has done for you not what you have done for Him.  Showing people a picture of your righteousness will rarely draw them to Christ.  Showing them that you came as a beggar and know Him freely will draw them.

You see if God knows that you are content or complacent, that you no longer strive to step forward, to become more like Him, then He’ll leave you to discover your need before He meets it.

 

If you have stopped asking yourself what steps He would have you to take to become more available to Him or what attitudes are in you that mar His likeness, then you are perched precariously and in danger.

So this morning, let’s take a few minutes to look at Gideon’s fleece, the cry to God for reassurance.

1.   Gideon was “partnered” with God.

There was nothing passive about his prayer.

If you will save Israel by my hand . . .”

He had a hand in the battle to come.  If God was going to deliver His people then it would be God’s strength, Gideon’s hand.

Every spiritual endeavor involves this sort of partnership.  God being the primary partner, the major stakeholder.  But I have a part to play.  When we seek to back out of the partnership and passively look to God to do everything then something dies in our hearts.  I have come to the conclusion recently that I will never retire from serving God.  The nature of my service will change but as long as I live and breathe I must be as conscious of investing my life in kingdom interests as I am of investing in my own interests.  I believe that my prime directive always must be God’s pleasure for my life.  I can never retire from this pursuit of God.

Gideon wrestled with his doubts.  Between the bugle and the battle is the breeding ground of doubt.

"Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him." (Judges 6:34, NIV) [3]

He blew the trumpet, . . . the troops were coming, they were looking to him to lead.

Look at the Hall of Faith in the book of Hebrews with me.  Chapter 11

“And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets," (Hebrews 11:32, NIV) [4]

There he is right in the middle of all the great heroes of the faith.  How did that happen?  He did what God wanted him to do – this is the evidence of great faith.  Great faith is great involvement.  It’s moving beyond doubt or fear or the pre-battle jitters to act on God’s direction in your life.  The truth is right now that most of us have a greater awareness of God’s will than we are acting on.  Great faith is not the absence of conflicting emotion – but the willingness to act regardless.

 

2.   Gideon knew what God had promised.

"Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised" (Judges 6:36, NIV) [5]

It was a package sort of a thing.  He understood the entire picture.  God had made certain promises.  He saw a mighty warrior threshing grain.  He saw the warrior in Gideon before Gideon did.  He was conscripted by God.  The promises were only relevant as they related to the call and the mission.

Dr. Jerome Frank at Johns Hopkins talks about our "assumptive world." What he means is that all of us make assumptions about life about God, about ourselves, about others, about the way things are. He goes on to argue that when our assumptions are true to reality, we live relatively happy, well-adjusted lives. But when our assumptions are distant from reality, we become confused and angry and disillusioned.

-- Haddon Robinson, "How Does God Keep His Promises?," Preaching Today, Tape No. 130.

God help us to learn this.  God’s promises are only relevant as they relate to everything else in the scriptures.  You can’t cash in with God apart from the currency of relationship.

The promises become real as the relationship becomes real.  God won’t offer you everything that you need until you’ve given Him everything that you have to offer, . . . until you realize that you need everything that He has to offer.

Most people who struggle with the promises have assumptive problems.  We assume that God will do this and that for me without asking ourselves what God asks of me in the process.

3.   Gideon’s proposition was for peace of mind.

"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.”" (Judges 6:37, NIV) [6]

That’s not such a bad request is it?  The desire to have peace of mind and heart.  Knowing that you are on the right track and that God can be trusted with the outcome because of that.

What we may see as Gideon’s faithless behavior is merely honest behavior.  There is no point in praying brave words when our hearts are trembling within us.  Intimacy with God is marked by a freedom of expression.  Strangers speak in spiritual platitudes, sons speak their souls.

"Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything." (1 John 3:18-20, NIV)[7]

God wants you to know that everything is going to “work out” – the scripture tells us that He is greater than our hearts.  In other words, what He says overrides our emotions.  We trust what He says because we can’t trust what we feel, what the emotions of our hearts sometimes say.

We all know of Christians who say that they have never doubted. Their lives seem so pale, so far off from the heroic adventure that is faith. The most fruitful believers tell us shamedly of the inner battles that have torn them between doubt and faith. And the great Bible characters from Abraham or Moses right through Jacob, Jeremiah, Peter, and Paul all show us their conflict-filled lives, their revolts against heaven, their refusals to adapt to a God who was too demanding of them. They show us as well their reconciliation to that God. God loves those who don't give in without a fight!

-- Paul Tournier (1898-1986)

He didn’t ask how God would deliver.  He wasn’t trying to be the quarterback – he simply wanted assurance.

Do you have peace of mind today?  He wants you to have it.  It’s a normal, human thing to fear, to see with human eyes rather than “faith” eyes.

God wanted Gideon to have it enough that he answered not once but twice.

It wasn’t the weakness of his faith that prompted God to answer but the development of his faith.


----

[1]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[2]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[3]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[4]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[5]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[6]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[7]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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