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Spiritual Spinach

God gives us courage during trials

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I didn’t want to get a shot in my knee.

Forget the fact that I’ve had shots in my mouth for dental work. I donate blood and get a yearly flu shot.

Just the thought of getting a shot in my knee — even to help soothe arthritis pain — was enough to make me recoil.

The doctor was patient and I thought of something I’ve done when undergoing medical procedures in the past.

I tell a joke.

No kidding.

I start telling a joke right when the doctor begins his (or her) work.

Typically, they’re done before I get halfway through the joke.

So I let the doctor give me a shot.

Guess what?

It wasn’t so bad and — sure enough — the doctor was done before I finished my joke.

Why was I so fearful?

Good question and it’s something I was thinking about as I recalled the story of Gideon.

Here was a guy who really did have something to be scared about.

Yet even he could find courage for the task ahead, because God was on his side.

We find the story in the sixth chapter of the Old Testament book of Judges.

Here’s some background:

Long before Gideon was born, his ancestors, the Israelites, were slaves in Egypt. God had Moses lead the Israelites out of slavery. They wandered in the desert for 40 years.

Then they entered the land God promised to their forefathers.

Wouldn’t you think they’d be a bunch of happy campers — very grateful to God?

Well, they were for quite a while. Then they got caught up in the evil practices of their pagan neighbors.

Thus began a cycle.

The Israelites would fall away from God, who’d let their enemies cause them problems.

Then they’d cry out to God, who’d deliver them from their enemies.

They’d be OK for a while, before falling away again and the cycle resumed.

Such was the case in the time of Gideon.

This time, a nation of enemies, called the Midianites, are causing problems — devouring the Israelites’ crops, taking their livestock and leaving them impoverished. Hiding out in caves, the Israelites cry out to God.

God will provide help through someone we might consider the least likely to succeed.

This is Gideon.

At this point, Gideon is threshing wheat in a winepress, hiding out from his enemies.

The angel of God appears to Gideon and says, “The Lord is with you mighty warrior.”

Gideon doesn’t feel so mighty.

“If the Lord is with us, then why has all this happened to us?” Gideon asks.

Where are all the wonderful deeds their forefathers talked about, like how God brought them out of Egypt?

Now, it seems like the Lord has forsaken them.

The angel doesn’t let Gideon wallow in pity.

“Go in the strength you have and save Israel from Midian,” the angel says, “Haven’t I just sent you?”

I might have been a little skeptical and fearful, too, especially if I doubted my strength.

But I think the angel is telling Gideon to take a step of faith—knowing God will provide the strength for every step to follow.

Gideon lists reasons why he’s not the man for the job.

“But I will be with you,” the Lord says.

Next, Gideon asks for a sign that it’s really God speaking.

The angel agrees to stay while Gideon goes to fix meat with broth and bread.

When Gideon returns, the angel has him put the food on a rock. The angel touches the food with a staff that’s in his hand.

The food burns up and the angel vanishes.

Now, Gideon knows this really is an angel of God.

To make a long, but interesting story shorter, Gideon asks for a couple more signs before he’s ready to gather his people.

And God provides those signs.

Gideon then calls together the men of Israel and 32,000 show up.

But God will make sure the Israelites don’t start boasting that they’re the ones who defeated the Midianites.

So God has Gideon reduce his forces from 32,000 to just 300 men.

Sound like a suicide mission?

Not on God’s watch.

As wonderful Bible teacher Priscilla Shirer says in her study about Gideon – God can do more with his 300 than we could ever do with our 32,000.

Before the battle, God says if Gideon still has any doubts that he should go to the enemy’s camp.

“When you hear what they’re saying, you’ll be bold and confident,” God says.

So Gideon and his servant head out at night.

I think it’s a miracle they weren’t caught by their enemies.

The men in the enemy camp are spread out like a swarm of locusts. Their camels are as numerous as grains of sand on a shore.

That’s a crowd of camels.

Gideon and his servant reach an outpost and hear one enemy soldier talking to another. The first guy says he dreamed that a round loaf of barley bread tumbled into the camp and hit the tent so hard that it collapsed.

His comrade must be shaking in his sandals as he says: “This has to be the sword of Gideon … God has turned the whole camp over to him.”

In other words, Gideon and his men are going to win.

As soon as Gideon hears this, he worships. Then he returns to the camp of Israel — basically telling them that God’s giving them the victory.

In what may seem like one of the most unorthodox battle strategies to date, Gideon divides the men into three companies. He then gives each man a trumpet and an empty jar with a torch inside.

Then, in an ancient-day game of Simon Says, Gideon has the men watch and imitate what he does.

They surround the edge of the camp at midnight, just after the changing of the guard. As Priscilla points out, the men just getting off guard duty are probably tired and the men going on duty are probably groggy.

That’s when the Israelites blow their trumpets, smash their jars and shout, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!”

When those 300 trumpets sound, the Lord causes the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords. The army flees.

The Midianites are defeated and Gideon is a hero.

Gideon won’t always make the best choices going forward, but he’s remembered as a man used mightily by God.

Today, we may never face an army of people or camels, but we still battle fear and discouragement.

And we can’t joke our way through every situation.

So where do we go for help?

To the same God who helped a guy hiding out in a winepress.

I pray all the time for help, strength and peace. Each morning, I read my little devotional then praise God for who he is — the God of peace, who’s our healer, provider and protector. I thank him for all the things he did for me the previous day.

Then I make my requests.

I have a lot of requests.

Each morning, I’ve been amazed as I look back how well and often he helped me the day before. I try to thank God at night, too.

We can go through seasons when life may not be problem-free, but it’s satisfying and enjoyable. And we can go through seasons of sadness, loss and disappointment.

Through it all, our Lord is here to help us.

If you look at Bible heroes, you’ll the find the strongest ones were those who leaned on God the most. They clung to him, asking what to do before they moved ahead, and they found God to be very faithful.

It’s a good reminder for us — whether we’re facing a big challenge.

Or something as simple as a shot in the knee.

Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She writes a weekly faith-based column.

Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She writes a weekly faith-based column.

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