Many of us feel inadequate when we measure our seemingly unproductive lives against the roll–call of faith in Hebrews 11, where God’s servants “stopped lions’ mouths, quenched [the] power of fire, escaped [the] edge of the sword … others were tortured … underwent trial of mockings and scourgings, yea, and of bonds and imprisonment” (vs 33–36). Our sense of inferiority is exacerbated by the snide remarks of some around us today—who claim that their testimony is rarely ineffective, and who boast that theirs is a path of constant victory. However, while it is true that “God has not given us a spirit of cowardice” (2 Tim. 1: 7) it is fatal to mistake confidence in self for the power of the Holy Spirit!
In Heb. 11: 34 we read of those who “became strong out of weakness”. These words refer, most probably, to Gideon (see v32)—a man whom God took up in his manifest feebleness and converted into an instrument of power to save Israel from her enemies. That one whose thousand was the poorest in Manasseh, and the least in his father’s house (see Judges 6: 15) could be so used, is surely a witness to what God can do with you and I. Certainly Gideon was a man of faith, but that faith grew out of a deep sense of his own weakness. He is sometimes criticised for testing God’s Word with the fleece (see v37), but his action did at least go hand in hand with a recognition that he could not go forward in his own strength, and that God alone could give Midian into his hand! At the beginning his faith was small, and his fears great. God fanned that little flame of faith, not by condemning Gideon’s timidity, but by passing him through an experience that strengthened his faith in a way that would not have been possible had he not first been frightened: “Jehovah said to him, Arise, go down to the camp; for I have given it into thy hand. And if thou fear to go down, go thou with Phurah thy servant down to the camp; and thou shalt hear what they say; and afterwards shall thy hand be strengthened” (Judges 7: 9-11, my emphasis).
Again, when Gideon was instructed by Jehovah to throw down the altar of Baal in his father’s house “it came to pass, because he feared his father’s house, and the men of the city, if he did it by day, that he did it by night” (Judges 6: 27). Who cannot identify with Gideon here, and has not, at some time, been marked by a fear of man—whether family, or from those around? A man full of faith would, no doubt, have acted by day, but we do not become full of faith overnight. Furthermore, without excusing Gideon’s failing, we must not lose sight of the fact that he did act. He obeyed God—perhaps not in the greatest display of faith, but nonetheless he obeyed. Better to act by night than not at all! Our “father’s house, and the men of the city” are often unsympathetic to our testimony, and we may shrink back from overt and public witness, but God will honour any service, however feeble, that is done for Him. May you and I—timid and fearful Christians as we are—be thus encouraged!