LISTEN TO THE MUSIC SERMON SERIES
THIS IS IT
OCTOBER 26, 1997
The word great is greatly overused. It is casually tossed out and thrown about. Basically, I believe that we have decaffeinated this powerful word. We say things are great when they aren’t really great. For example, we say something is a great look, a great sale, a great outfit, a great catch, a great car, a great neighborhood. And after breakfast we look back and say, “Man, those Frosted Flakes were great!” I fall into this trap and so do you, calling things great that are a far cry from greatness. I personally believe that this word should be reserved only for God and what He can do through our lives. After all, we are made in His image; thus we have a capacity for greatness. Our great God wants to do great things through your life and mine. He wants us to have great relationships. He wants us to develop great marriages. He wants us to become great parents, to get locked into great careers. He wants us to discover His great purpose and agenda for life.
Now, if you would, just turn and look at your neighbor for a second. Just look at them. You are locking eyes with someone who has a remarkable capacity for greatness. Now give them a high five. Just turn and give them a high five and say, “Neighbor, God wants to do great things through your life.” We are concluding our series Listen To The Music today and we are going to look at a man who was used by God in a great way. His name is Gideon.
You might not think that Gideon was a person who could be used by God in a powerful way, but as you look at his life, as you get close to him, I think that we will be able to lift out about four principles of greatness. As we highlight these principles of greatness, I believe that they are principles that we all must download into our lives if we are going to be the kind of people and fill the kind of dreams and aspirations that our God has for us.
Judges 6 begins the story of the man. We find Gideon, Gideon the great, doing something weird. Gideon, this power-packed man, is in a cave. He is in a winepress hiding from his enemies and he is doing something called threshing. Threshing was the process of taking wheat and separating the good part from the useless outer shell. It was something that should have been done on top of the ground, yet Gideon was underground. It was a very messy process. And I am sure that his allergies were a mess with all the particles and fragments flying around. What is our boy doing underground? What is he doing threshing?
Well, Israel and Gideon had been under attack and oppression by a group of people known as the Midianites. They had the Israelites outnumbered four to one. The Hebrews worked twelve months of the year to plant crops and breed livestock. Then right before the harvest the Midianites would come through and take all of their plants, all of their animals, all of their fruits and vegetables and they would cruise. So the Israelites got smart. They moved everything underground.
That is why Gideon is underground. Gideon was focusing on his depression, on his situation, on his despondency, on his deal and he almost missed the great things that God wanted to do through his life. Let’s look at the first principle of greatness that we need to own this morning. An attack on any of our lives should tip us off to our significance. I will say it one more time. An attack should always tip us off to our significance. Gideon was attacked by the enemy because of his significance. God was going to do a great work in his life.
When we are attacked by the evil one, we are not attacked because of our past. We are never attacked because of what we have done. We are attacked because of our future. We are attacked because of what God is going to do, what He wants to do. A lot of people here at these services this morning are outside the family of God. You are not a Christian and you know you are not a Christian. You are saying to yourself that you are feeling attacked right now, relationally, vocationally and even spiritually. Do you know why? Because the evil one knows what can happen in your life once you step over the line and bow the knee and come to Christ. Gideon is a man who didn’t understand how significant he was. Do you kind of feel like you are in a cave of depression right now? Do you feel like you are down? Do you feel like you are under attack? The Bible says that when God allows attacks to occur in our lives it should cause us to worship Him, to thank Him for our significance. We should say, “Whoa, I must be somebody special. God loves me enough to allow this attack to happen. I must be going to do some great things because the evil one is attacking me.
Remember, the Bible says that we are made like God, in the image of God. We are not God but we are made with His capacities, His characteristics. Thus, no one has ever been made like you are made. No one has ever been tailored like you are tailored. No one has ever been broken like you have been broken. Only you or I can do a certain thing that no one else ever could do and ever will do. But to do these things we have got to surrender our entire being, our entire personality, our entire self to God. We have got to say, “God, You work, You lead.” I am going to ask you one more time because a lot of you are under attack, “Are you allowing this attack to cause you to worship God because of your significance, or are you so down, so defeated, that you are just threshing wheat asking what has happened to you?” Gideon almost stayed there, but he didn’t.
That brings us to our next principle. And I love this one. God usually uses the unqualified and the insignificant for greatness. Did you check that one out? God usually used the unqualified and the insignificant for greatness. I can identify with that, can’t you? That fires me up on this brisk Sunday morning.
Judges 6:12. The Bible says that while Gideon is in the winepress threshing wheat the Lord just drops by and pays him a visit. Now I want you to check out what God tells Gideon. “Gideon, I am with you….” And then he calls him something that is funny, a little Biblical humor. “…I am with you mighty warrior.” Gideon is in a pit, running from his enemies, threshing wheat. And God says that He is with him, mighty warrior. Gosh, he must see something in Gideon that he couldn’t see in himself. How many times has God told me, told you that you are a mighty warrior. How many times, even though you are down, has He called you a mighty warrior?
Verse 14. “Go on the strength that you have and save Israel out of the Midian’s hands. Am I not sending you?” Hey, Gideon, I am going to use you to defeat the Midianites even though they are imposing and bad to the bone. You, Gideon, are going to be used by Me in a great way, so get ready.
Do we think that Gideon responded that he was ready, that he would jump out of the pit and go get them? Fight time! No, he did what a lot of us do. He began to play the blame game. Look at verse 15. “But Lord, how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest and I am the least in my family.” In other words he is saying that he comes from a dysfunctional family, that surely God cannot mean him. God never uses impressive weapons to do battle. He used the jawbone of an ass. He used a little boy’s lunch. He used a shepherd’s sling to do great things. We have some phenomenal leaders in our church. There is one characteristic that I have always found about leaders. When we ask a real leader to do something, if they tell us that they are ready and feel qualified to do it, we always begin to wonder if we got the wrong person to do it. Usually when we tap leaders on the shoulder and ask if they would consider the opportunity, they will respond that they will pray about it but wonder if they are qualified. Then we know that we have got somebody great. We really do.
I have the opportunity to talk to a lot of pastors. And when I talk to pastors, I tell them this. Most seminaries release the wrong people into ministry. They release the people into ministry who feel qualified. If you feel qualified, God will never, ever use you in a great way. We need to release men and women into the ministry who feel horrified. The most frequently asked question that people pose to me is, “Ed, I know you speak a lot. I guarantee that you never get nervous. I get nervous every time I speak but I bet you never do.” I look at them and say, “I am scared to death every time I talk. I get nervous every single time I begin to study. About Wednesday, when it hits, I begin to freak out. I put a lot of time into it, but just the responsibility and the accountability of saying a word from God, makes me fee unqualified and horrified.”
If you look down our staff, you will see we have no superstars. We are everyday, average, run-of-the-mill people. We are not qualified but we have our palms lifted toward heaven saying, “God have Your way in our lives. Do great things through us. We are available.” And God has used us. And He has used some of you for greatness. And He wants to use many others who are a right now on the sidelines. The Bible supports this. Let’s look down God’s roster of unqualified people being used in a great way. Moses. Who was Moses? He was the stuttering shepherd in exile that God used to lead an entire Jewish nation out of Egyptian slavery to the brink of the Promised Land. Yes, Moses, an every day, average, insignificant guy. Esther, a slave girl, confronted the King and saved her country from mass genocide. Hannah, a Hebrew homemaker, a mother, was a mentor of Samuel, the top King in the nation of Israel. Matthew, the ancient IRS employee. Jesus told Matthew to follow him. Matthew gave up his profession, followed Christ and wrote the Gospel of Matthew that we find in the New Testament. Simon Peter, a commercial fisherman. He was foul-mouthed, weather-beaten man, with dirt and grime and slime under his fingernails. He probably had bad breath and would fight you in a heartbeat. Jesus said that he wanted Simon Peter to join His leadership team. He did and the Lord revolutionized his life. Jesus called him the “rock” before he was the rock. He penned two Epistles in the New Testament and became a prevailing leader in the early church. God using the ordinary in extraordinary ways.
If you want God to do great things through you, and I believe you do, just give yourself, warts and all, to God and watch Him work. Watch God work.
That brings us to the third principle of greatness. This is one that we sometimes get out of whack. So be ready for it. God sends a strategy for every situation that we face. Turn to your neighbor and say, “God is sending a strategy.” God paid Gideon a visit. Gideon was in the pit threshing wheat. And God said, “Hey, mighty warrior, I am going to use you for greatness. I am going to use you to overtake the Midianites.” And then He gave him a strategy, an agenda, a plan, a purpose.
You know what we do? We pray about problems too much. We say, “Oh, God, please be with me with this problem at work.” Or we say, “Oh, God, please be with this problem I am experiencing in marriage.” “Oh, God, please be with my problem, rebellious teenager.” And we pray and we moan and we groan about the problems in our life. I do that too much when I pray. And so do you. Do you know what the Bible says? The Bible says to pray for a strategy, pray for a plan. Ask God for a plan at work to deal with a difficult situation. Ask God for a strategy in the marriage difficulty. Ask God for an agenda to deal with the rebellious teen.
Before Jonah started his preaching revival, God gave him a strategy. Before David took on Goliath, God gave him a strategy. Before Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, God gave him a strategy. One day God invited Moses to the top of a mountain. He said, “Moses, I want you to build a tabernacle.” Moses asked if God was going to give him a tabernacle. God replied, “No.” Moses asked if God was going to give him some silver. God replied, “No.” Moses asked if God was going to give him some gold. God replied, “No.” How about wood? No. You know what God said? “I am here to give you a plan, a strategy.” Are you praying for those strategies in your life? In that friendship, in that business deal, during that temptation, during that time of testing when the enemy is pressing on you, while you are in the winepress threshing wheat, are you praying for that? You know what God is saying to you and me? He is saying, “This is it. This is it. I am ready to use you. This is it. Make no excuse where you are. This is it. This is it. This is it.” And Gideon heard God saying it and Gideon responded. He did something about it and that brings us to the fourth principle.
The fourth principle is found in Judges 7. There will be fallout whenever you do what God wants you to do. There will be fallout whenever you do what God wants you to do. Whenever I move closer to God, whenever you move closer to God, there will be fallout. In other words, God is going to say, “Ed, those friends will have to change. Sally, that aspect of your life is going to have to change.” You will have people fall by the wayside when you take the hill in your life with God. There will be causalities. And oftentimes God will cut off and move us away from people and get us alone to show us and to make us completely and totally depend on Him. If we had all these people around us, we would be tempted to say, “Oh, we did it. Aren’t we cool? Aren’t we bad? Aren’t we neat?” But when God kind of cuts away some people and great things happen, then we know the only thing to do is look up to heaven and thank God for the God happening.
Well here is what God does to our man Gideon. He says, “Gideon, get together an army.” Thirty-two thousand people showed up. I bet Gideon was really happy. He probably thought that he could now come close to taking on the Midianites. Then God said he wanted to speak to him again. Gideon thought that God probably wanted him to beef up the army some more since they were still outnumbered four to one. You know what God said? “Gideon, we have to do some serious cutting here. Only a few are going to make the team.” How many of you have ever been cut from a team before? Remember how the coach would post that list of people who made the team outside his office? If your name was on the list, you were ecstatic, but if you name wasn’t on the list, you were despondent.
God told Gideon to announce to the troops that if anyone among them was afraid, they were free to go home. Twenty-two thousand bailed. God had cut the army from 32,000 to 10,000. But God wasn’t through. He told Gideon that the army was still too big. Then God did something strange here. He said, “Gideon, bring the remaining troops to the stream and notice how each one drinks water.” Judges 7:5. “Separate those who lap water with their tongues like a dog from those who kneel down to drink.” That is kind of interesting, isn’t it? I am sure those men were hot and thirsty. Then the Bible says that about 300 of them men picked the water up in their hands and lapped it like a dog. Have you ever watched a dog lap water? I have too.
Let me tell you a story. My wife, three days ago, picked me up at the airport and in the back of my truck she had a five-month-old puppy for me with a big bow around his neck, a bullmastif puppy. I use the term puppy liberally because the dog weighs 90 pounds at five months. Since I was preparing this message on Gideon, I wanted to see exactly how a dog laps water. And this dog can lap some serious water. When he laps water, he will just look around. Lap and look. He can do more than one thing. He can lap and look. He is always ready.
God told Gideon to take the 300 people who lap water likes a dog and place them to one side. Gideon probably thought that God was cutting the 300. Then He said regarding the 9,700 people, who just stuck their faces in the water, not looking up, that they have thought only about satisfying their thirst. They are thought only about their vision, their deal, their situation. They did not think about protecting you like the other 300. Cut the 9,700 and keep the dog lappers.
How about in your business? How about on your team? How about in the group? How about in the church? The dog lappers or those who just put their heads in the stream and don’t think about anything else but their deal. A guy told me after last night’s service that he was going to take his whole company to a stream and see how each person would drink. You hear what I am saying, don’t you? God used those 300 men.
Well, Gideon was ready to fight now. Gideon is ready to go after the Midianites. I want to share something with you that really concerns me about the Bible. Here is what God says. Verse 10. “Gideon, if you are afraid…..” Well, God had just cut 22,000 because they were afraid. But He asks Gideon the same question and it didn’t really jell with me. “…if you are afraid, walk on down to the Midianites camp at night and listen to what is going on.” Gideon was fearful. Now I want you to know something. He did not appear fearful at 22,000. Gideon was fearful then, but he stepped out and faced his fear. I want to talk to you about fear for just a moment. Fear does two things. First, it is contagious. If a person gets scared, everybody around him gets scared. Fear will also paralyze you. A couple of nights ago, EJ walked up to me and said, “Dad, there is a ghost outside my window.” I replied that there was no such thing as ghosts. “Well, I have been watching Scooby Doo and this ghost started chasing him….” He was paralyzed. Gideon was not that way. He was scared but unlike the 22,000, he stepped out and began to do what God wanted him to do.
He crept on down to the Midionite camp to hear what his enemies were saying. And here is what happened. One of the Midionite soldiers came up out of a deep sleep and told a nearby friend that he had had a terrible dream. In the dream a giant barley loaf came rolling down the hill and pulverized the camp. The friend responded that barley is the most insignificant type of bread. That must mean that Gideon and the Israelites are going to pulverize us and wipe us out. Well, Gideon heard this and it gave Gideon confidence. The enemy was building Gideon up more than he was building himself up. And more often than not, if you listen to the words of your enemies, they will say greater things about you than you are doing.
Gideon went back and he divided the troops up into groups of 100. Then God gave him the arsenal. This arsenal was kind of strange too. In fact it was real strange. God gave every man a trumpet, a jar made of clay and a torch. He said, “Gideon, these are your weapons. You will take out the Midianites with 300 people and these weapons.” Now again that it is a little cultural. God said that they were to surround the camp and when given the word, everyone was to blow their trumpet.
Do something bold. Now I believe that we need to be bold in our faith. God honors boldness. Then God told them they should take the clay pots and break them. God was saying that he was going to use brokenness to bless Israelites, to deliver them. Then God told them to light their torches and hold them high. Even though they were broken, they held the torches high. You have been broken, so have I. Where is the torch? Have you put it out or is it up high?
When the Israelites did this, their 300-man army defeated the Midianites and the victory was secure.
There are four principles of greatness that we must download into our lives if we are going to do and be what God wants us to do and be. So the next time you hear the word great, greatly overused, tossed out and thrown about, think about the true essence of the word. God wants to do great things through an ordinary you.