Gideon prayed to God, “I know that you promised to help me rescue Israel, but I need proof. Tonight I’ll spread a sheep skin on the stone floor of that threshing place over there. If you really will help me rescue Israel, then tomorrow morning let there be dew on the skin, but let the stone floor be dry.”
And that’s just what happened. Early the next morning, Gideon got up and checked the sheep skin. He squeezed out enough water to fill a bowl. But Gideon prayed to God again. “Don’t be angry with me,” Gideon said. “Let me try this just one more time, so I’ll really be sure you’ll help me. Only this time, let the skin be dry and the stone floor be wet.”
That night, God made the stone floor wet with dew, but he kept the sheep skin dry. (Contemporary English Version)
It’s only human to want assurances. And since humanity requires some sort of affirmation that they’re hearing things right, or are on the right track, God graciously accommodates to our need. Much like the disciple of Jesus, Thomas, who desired an assurance that Christ is alive and was victorious over the grave, so Gideon needed clarification that victory was truly at hand.
In both cases of doubting Thomas and anxious Gideon, the Lord does not chide them for needing such assurances. Rather, God immediately responds to their requests. You and I might feel ourselves weak or confused in needing such support, yet God doesn’t feel this way about us.
Sometimes, in our disorientation and our dismay, we try and put feelings aside and stoically attempt to do whatever must be done with complete dispassion and lack of emotion. But that’s to try and be somebody we are not; humans simply aren’t wired that way. There’s no need to try and stir up the courage and confidence on our own.
To navigate this life with any success, we’ll need to pay attention to the inner person, to what’s going on inside us, whenever we are in stressful or confusing times. Then we can connect with the God who mercifully awaits hearing our request. It’s good to be equipped and ready for what’s ahead by having a few convictions….
It’s not the destination that’s important; it’s the journey
Gideon needed to come around to seeing that getting from Point A to Point B as quickly and as efficiently as possible was not the goal. The process of getting from one place to another is the very opportunity needed to connect with the Lord and with others around us. God’s instructions may seem, at times, nonsensical – which is why we often look for assurances that we’ve heard them correctly!
For us modern folk, the Lord doesn’t want us getting lost in the race to become ever more streamlined and productive, only looking at the end goal. If relationships, human connection, justice, love and respect of others is our highest value, then we really need to pay a lot more attention to the process of what we’re doing, and not just the product and outcomes.
Focusing solely on a final outcome turns factory workers into extensions of the machines they are using to churn out a quality product; it turns families at church into giving units with potential to support all the programs and ministries; it turns adversity into an unwanted obstacle to achieving victory; and turns needy people into problems we can fix.
Life is a pilgrimage to walk; it’s not a race to run
At the end of life, folks don’t reminisce about how much they produced, how many places they’ve been, or how much money they made. Instead, they talk about people, both the relationships that were rich and full, as well as the broken or lapsed relationships which cause them regret.
This is why, daily, I purpose to saunter, walk slowly, and observe the people and places around me. This practice allows me to take the time to greet others, connect with some, and even have a sit down conversation with another person – all on the way to doing something else.
Frankly, from a goal-oriented perspective of achievement and accomplishment, this practice does nothing to help whittle down my massive checklist for the day. But I do it, anyway, because human connection our real purpose in life.
Humanity is our business
It doesn’t matter what we do for a living, or where we live. Relationships are the only reality we take with us in the end – both with God and other people.
Dead with ball and chain, the ghost of Jacob Marley responded to Ebenezer Scrooge’s accolade that he was such a good man of business:
“Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”Jacob Marley, in Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Marley had discovered this insight too late.
All of life is a gift given by God, meant for us to be stewards toward the benefit and welfare of humanity. All our abilities, skills, intellectual acumen, possessions, and even the lack thereof – literally everything – is meant to be used in the betterment of our fellow human beings.
We all share the common human condition of needing our stories told and heard by one another, so that we can have some assurance and comfort through what we’re facing.
Will I be there to hear another? Will another be there to hear me? Will I listen to God? Will God listen to me?
Be fully present to others; avoid thinking about the past or focusing on the future
If you think about it, Jesus was perhaps the most productive person to ever walk this earth. In just three short years his ministry completely changed the world and continues to do so. Perhaps our Lord’s “secret” was no secret at all.
Christ was fully present to the Father, and to the people right in front of him. He was never hurried, and didn’t capitulate to the anxiety of others who wanted him to pick up the pace of being a kickass Messiah.
So, my friends, may you slow down enough to observe, see, hear, smell, and witness the incredible and deep humanity that is present next door to you, down the hall from you, and sitting across the table with you.
May you experience the wide mercy of God and graciously extend the same love to others.
May you embrace the process of whatever you are doing to include the space of others and their unique humanity.
For this is how we gain our assurance that God is with us and that we are on the right track for that next step in life.