TODAY’S READING: Judges 8–9
To amend an old adage: It’s amazing what we can accomplish when we do care who gets the credit. Because Gideon knew the glory belonged to Jehovah, he was able to placate petty grievances by laying down any credit to himself to honor those of his brothers. “God has delivered into your hands,” he deftly responds to jealousy, giving glory to God for using others (Judges 8:3). That is excellent missionary statesmanship: simultaneously giving God glory, crediting the contribution of others, and marginalizing our role in any of the global gains.
Gideon’s humility was not hard to find given what he just experienced, for the real battle, as we will see, was in the after-battle. In the heat of things, 300 warriors killed 120,000 (v. 10). There were 15,000 enemies left and the 300 were “exhausted but still in pursuit” (v. 4) without the expected help from friends. Gideon kept fighting and attacked while the camp felt secure (v. 11). The missionary lessons abound: We will always be outnumbered. We will not always be well supported. We pursue when exhausted. We give God glory and others credit. God wins the day—Ishmaelites (the pre-Saudi Arabian Midianites) with their camels and crescent ornaments bow before the power of Almighty God (vv. 21, 24, 26). Then the real battle begins.
Because missions is so central to the heart of God, the people of God know it’s central to our obedience. Because our obedience demands sacrifice and pursuit even when exhausted, we tend to either under-support our missionaries or over-praise them. Missionaries are neither heroes nor fools—to be missionary in going or in sending is just the basic DNA of God’s people. Gideon returned from God’s magnificent victory and the spoils of victory became a snare. Gideon refused one trap [rule for him and his sons (v. 23)] but succumbed to others—riches and reputation, collecting wealth for himself to make an ephod, a public memory to what he did.
When we send our representatives to battle for God’s glory and God uses their weakness for magnificent movements of peoples to Jesus, we often misinterpret their God-used weakness for natural strength. The snares of rule, riches, and reputation have shipwrecked far too many of God’s humble warriors. When we ask missionaries to rule, we remove some of the best workers from the field and stick them in offices or administrative roles. This can be a double loss, for good field soldiers do not automatically make good generals. Thus, we then miss their gifts on the ground and suffer from their lacks in the office. When missionaries are fruitful, we have this dangerous habit of asking them to circuit preach in churches and shower them with accolades and generous offerings. Of course, every missionary appreciates affirmation and the finances to push the work along, but the addictive, deceptive aspects of praise and plenty cripple the soul. We turn our best hired hands (laborers on the ground) into hired guns (fundraisers in the pulpit). (I do not denigrate the great graces of itineration, I merely point out the great dangers.)
The children of our naïve actions are squabbling rivals, each one scrambling in their ambition to lead the kingdom we created together (9:2, 29). If we twist missions into another performance of the charismatic in our churches rather than into a quiet obedience in the unseen fields of the world, we have asked our Gideons to rule over us. All too often in Christianity and missions, we lose the battle right after we win it. When we are humble, God does magnificent things through us among the nations. We then get proud and elevate those God used to a place that destroys them and us. We all get millstones dropped on our heads (v. 53). How much better to live outside the limelight like a brother now serving in the West Bank. He has been there for four decades, and because he shuns the “glory game,” God can trust him with fruitful missionary activity. There are many more like him. They take no glory. They make no ephods. They accept no accolades. They refuse all titles. They just keep winning the unreached to Jesus. Lord of the harvest, raise up many more and let not our raising them to prominence undo them and us.