As I listen, these days, everywhere I hear talk of war. We are in a global war against a virus, fighting with hand washing and social distancing. The Olympics have been cancelled before, but only in times of war.
I find myself back in the story of Gideon in Judges 6, hiding with him from the enemy, each of us doing our best to get on with our work in a safer place.
I watch as the angel of the LORD (who turns out to be God himself – v. 14ff) comes to him as he's hiding in a winepress, and addresses Gideon with the two things he needed to know in that time of crisis: “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior” (v.12).
They are the same two things we all need to keep moving ahead in any time of crisis: who (and where) God is, and who we are.
We need to know that God is the LORD – Yahweh, the Mighty God, the one we can’t fully comprehend who nevertheless stoops to give himself to us in love. We need to know that this God, Yahweh, is with us and for us in whatever is going on.
And we need to be reminded who we are. Not helpless, cowering victims, but mighty warriors.
The way the conversation unfolds intrigues me.
There's Gideon, feeling more like prey than like a mighty warrior. I think if I’d been him, I would have first questioned the name the angel of the LORD chose for him. “Mighty warrior? Are you mocking me?” But he didn’t. He went right to the heart of the question that mattered most, “But sir, if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us?” (v.13)
In other words, “If God is really with us, why isn’t it safe to go out to work? Why are you having to meet me here as I’m hiding out of danger’s way, trying to protect my family’s livelihood by doing my work in this winepress?” (Don’t you love that the angel of the LORD did go meet him there, though? A change of work location was no barrier to Gideon being found by God and brought the news that he needed to hear: "The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.”)
Gideon frames his question in terms of the past: “Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian” (v. 13).
Gideon expects God’s deliverance to look a certain way. And because Gideon doesn’t see God acting in the same way he did in the past, he concludes that God is not with them. And that, as a result, he and his fellow countrymen are prey.
The LORD doesn’t answer Gideon’s question directly. He doesn’t explain his actions. Instead, he turns to Gideon and says, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?" (v. 14)
I doubt in that moment that Gideon heard the echoes of God’s call to Moses, but I hear them now: Am I not sending you, just as I sent Moses to bring you up out of Egypt? Am I not still the same God who acts on behalf of my people through individuals who know themselves completely inadequate for the task? Am I not still the same God, acting in the same faithful way, though you don’t yet see the end of the story, or your part in it?
I am at work. In and through you.
It’s then that Gideon takes issue with being named a mighty warrior, like Moses did when the call became too personal for comfort (Exodus 3:10-11).
“’But LORD,’ Gideon asks, ‘How can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family” (Judges 6:15).
Oh, how often I've identified with Gideon here (and not just in times of crisis). "But LORD, how can I make a difference in the world? I’m just . . . "
And God repeatedly does for me what he did for Gideon, drawing my attention away from my preoccupation with who I am or am not and back to who and where God is. He reminds me that I am a mighty warrior, not because of my own strength or ability, but because God, the Mighty Warrior who is always active in and through and on behalf of his people, is with me and is calling me to work with him.
“The LORD answered, ‘I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together” (v. 16).
These days I'm being reminded that this war is taking place not just in ICUs and grocery store line-ups, but in our living rooms and bedrooms and souls.
This war is about so much more than a virus. As the pastor of my home church in Nova Scotia reminded us in his sermon yesterday, isn't it interesting that this is all taking place during the season of Lent, when Christians through the ages "have made a focussed effort to practice prolonged times of prayer, and self-reflection, and quiet, and some form of fasting as a way to align themselves with Jesus"—all the things we have to do as a result of this pandemic? (Pastor Jake Chitouras)
I didn't plan to give up church for Lent (!), nor hugs, a weekend Lenten retreat, or the freedom to eat Sunday lunch with a friend in the local Tim Hortons or Lin's. But I'm discovering that as I pay attention to each loss and moment of fear in the presence of Jesus, he is continuing his work of little-by-little setting me freer from my unhealthy reliance on order and control and friendships to feel safe, and leading me back to find my security in him as I remember who (and where) he is and who I am.
"The LORD is with you, mighty warrior."
P.S. If you'd like some help opening your heart to Jesus in the moments of anxiety, you can find some in my free email mini-course, The Gifts of Anxiety.