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A Way Out: Hope in Acts 16

We’re working through Acts and the ministry of Paul for our preschoolers at church. I have to admit, the lessons taught by the preschool teachers often inspire me more than the sermons preached for the main service. In preparation for this week’s lesson, I reviewed Acts 16 and stumbled upon the account of Paul and Silas in jail. The jailer’s story always struck me, so let’s look at how the jailer finds a way out and gains hope in Acts 16.

The Passage

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailor woke up, and when he saw the prison doors were open, he drew his sword to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole household.

Acts 16:25-34 NIV

Hope in Acts 16

To be honest, I feel absolutely inadequate to speak on the issue of suicide. How do I distill such a complex, highly personal, and deeply emotional concern into a 500 word blog post? I’ve tried before, and I really don’t think it can be done. Yet, the weight of it prompts me to speak anyway, so here goes.

We find the jailer sleeping through the night shift when an earthquake shook open the jail. The jailer believed all the prisoners had fled. At the least, he imagined he would lose his job, and at worst, he imagined his execution. Faced with all hopeless options, the jailer decided to take his own life. At least, that was his plan until Paul yelled from the inner cell.

The jailer asked Paul to explain the Gospel, Paul obliged, and the jailer’s family converted to Christianity. It seems that Paul’s message of Jesus’ resurrection gave the jailer a way out from his fear and pain. Thankfully so! Unfortunately, belief in Jesus doesn’t take suicidal thoughts away from everyone. Suicide and suicidal ideation finds roots in everything from genetics to inflammation. Treatment can require more than a declaration of belief.

A Way Out

I prayed for a year for God to remove me from an unhealthy workplace. Every door that seemed to open later slammed in my face. I watched four employees who had only worked at the office for a few months move on to better positions while I still waited for a job in my dream writing field. My belief that God would provide a way out cycled with my fear that I would be stuck in the stressful position forever. After a year, the feeling of being trapped won out. The thoughts racing through my head scared me to death.

I accepted Jesus into my heart at 5 years old, so faith wasn’t holding back my mental health. I found a way out by seeking additional counseling and psychiatric help. Thankfully, I was able to remove myself from the unhealthy work environment and recover from home. I’ll be honest, God still hasn’t dropped a writing job out of the sky for me. He led me in directions with childcare and children’s literature that I never imagined for myself and that I now love.

Perhaps you relate to the jailer, and faith in a loving God would provide your way out. Maybe you’ve believed in God for a long time, but you don’t see a way out of your current situation. Or possibly neither scenario reflects your journey, and you just feel stuck. Please seek counsel that encourages you to keep trying (the National Suicide Hotline is 1-800-273-8255, and they offer texting). There is a way out, and it’s probably a path you never expected.

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“You Are the God Who Sees Me,” Genesis 16

I think we all struggle with feeling alone at some point or other. If nothing else, this quarantine we’ve been living under has certainly highlighted loneliness. Even introverts like me who thrive on days at home, pet snuggles, and warm blankets battle that emotional hurdle of loneliness. I imagine we all know the feeling of being alone in a room full of people. That’s why I love Hagar’s declaration of God. In Genesis 16:13, she names Him “You are the God who sees me.”

The Passage

So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.

When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the LORD judge between you and me.”

“Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think is best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.

The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.

Then the angel of the LORD told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”

The angel of the LORD also said to her: “You are now pregnant and you will give birth to a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the LORD has heard of your misery. He will be a wild donkey of a man: his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.”

She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”

Genesis 16:3-13 NIV

Hagar

I have to confess, this passage makes me greatly dislike Sarah (or Sarai at this point.) I know, God uses her to be the mother of His people. Sure, she endured a ridiculous amount pretending to be Abraham’s “sister.” Miraculously, she did give birth at nearly 100 years old. Most importantly, I know that I sin just as much as she did. I just want to slap her for how she treats Hagar.

Hagar did not have a choice in bearing Abraham’s son. Then, the very mistress who concocted the plan starts mistreating her. (Jealous much, Sarai?) The situation worsened to the point that Hagar ran away. Despite the horribly messy situation, God showed up.

“You are the God who sees me”

God knew Hagar’s Egyptian heritage. He knew her slave status, and He knew that she ran away. Yet, God sent an angel to find her in the desert. He comforted Hagar and prophesied a hopeful future. God didn’t leave Hagar despairing and vulnerable in the desert. Yes, He did tell her to return to Abraham’s camp, but that command protected her from the dangers of wandering the desert alone.

I doubt many of us encountered an angel as we hid in the desert from our rude mistresses. Yet, Hagar’s name for God holds true for us, too. “You are the God who sees me.” God sees us in our pain and fear and anger. He sees our joy and hope and excitement. God doesn’t run from any of it because He is just that amazingly powerful. If God doesn’t run from it, we can face it head on because “You are the God who sees me.”

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Similarities Between Gideon and Moses: The Midianites

As we wrap up our series on Gideon, I wanted to note two other figures Gideon reminded me of. We first looked at the parallels between Gideon and Moses in their tests of God. However, their stories connect in many more ways. Let’s look at the similarities between Gideon and Moses, particularly around the Midianites.

The Midianites

It intrigues me that Moses’ family by marriage later becomes Israel’s overwhelming enemy. Way back when Egypt held Israel captive, Moses lived among the Midianites and married the priest’s daughter (Exodus 2:15-22). Moses’ wife saved him from death by circumcising their son on their journey back to Egypt (Exodus 4:24-25). Later, Jethro advised Moses to delegate his mediating tasks to other Israelites so Moses had energy to fulfill his purpose (Exodus 18). It seems that the Israelites and the Midianites enjoyed a peaceful relationship due to Moses’ marriage. So, what changed in the time of the Judges?

Based on the NIV translation of the texts, it seems to me that Jethro knew and possibly worshipped God as the Israelites did. Otherwise, I don’t believe his daughter would have known to save Moses by the Abrahamic covenant. Regardless of Jethro’s original beliefs, he definitely believed in Exodus 18 when he heard of God’s miracles. However, by the time of the Judges, everyone had turned to worshipping idols (Judges 6). Neither the Midianites nor the Israelites respected the LORD who created them. Thus, both groups act out God’s punishment on the other for neglecting His authority.

Similarities between Gideon and Moses

Both Gideon and Moses struggled with confidence to fulfill God’s call on their life. Moses told God that he couldn’t talk well enough, so maybe he should send someone else to Pharaoh (Exodus 4:10-13). Gideon told God that he came from the least of the smallest tribe so he had no qualifications to lead a revolt (Judges 6:15). Despite Moses’ and Gideon’s insecurities, God used them both to free the Israelites from their bondage. God gave both men the ability to spiritually lead the Israelites. Moses gave the Israelites God’s commandments, and Gideon steered the Israelites back from idol worship.

The similarities between Gideon and Moses show us that God can use us despite our insecurities and anxieties. In fact, rather than slow us down, our weaknesses encourage others that God can use them, too.

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Gideon’s Son Jotham: Curse and Flee

Last week, we touched on how Gideon’s son Abimelek went rogue. Abimelek killed his seventy brothers, proclaimed himself king over Israel, and generally sat in the middle of conflict until he died three years later. However, one brother escapes. Today, we’re looking at the interesting curse and flee response of Gideon’s son Jotham.

The Passage

[Jotham said,] “Have you acted honorably and in good faith by making Abimelek king? Have you been fair to Jerub-Baal and his family? Have you treated him as he deserves? Remember that my father fought for you and risked his life to rescue you from the hand of Midian. But today you have revolted against my father’s family. You have murdered his seventy sons on a single stone and have made Abimelek, the son of his female slave, king over the citizens of Shechem because he is related to you. So have you acted honorably and in good faith toward Jerub-Baal and his family today? If you have, may Abimelek be your joy, and may you be his, too! But if you have not, let fire come out from Abimelek and consume you, the citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo, and consume Abimelek!”

Then Jotham fled, escaping to Beer, and he lived there because he was afraid of his brother Abimelek.

Judges 9:16-21 NIV

Curse and Flee

I have to admit, Jotham’s curse starts off pretty confusing in verses 6-15 as he recaps Israel’s recent history. So, here’s some context from Judges 8-9. When Gidian defeated the Midianites, Israel asked to crown him king. Gideon refused and said God would rule them. Israel also asked for Gideon’s sons to rule over them. Gideon refused that, too. He even extended the refusal to any ruling by his grandsons. Later, Gideon died. Israel forgot about his family and turned back to idols. So, Abimelek, the son of Gideon’s concubine, decides to claim himself as ruler and gets his mother’s people at Shechem to help. As we know, all the boys die but Jotham. So, here we are as Jotham reminds Israel of their disloyalty to God and Gideon’s family.

Now, I would probably run away to another city if my brother had just murdered seventy other brothers, too. While Jotham remains one of the few Israelites who still honor God, he does not receive the battle command his father did. Instead, Jotham stands safely distant on a mountain, gives his speech, and runs away. Abimelek rules Israel for three more years before Jotham’s prophecy comes true. I imagine Jotham hid in that obscure town terrified that Abimelek would find him and confused about why the whole mess happened.

Gideon’s Son Jotham

Jotham seemed to inherit more of Gideon’s spirit than any of his other brothers. Jotham flees (and with good reason,) but he also stands up for his faith. He carries the memories of his people, just like Gideon did when he recognized God at the altar. Jotham probably wondered at God’s plan like Gideon questioned the Midianite invasion. Yet, just like with Gideon, God uses Jotham to complete His purposes. Jotham’s curse, though it takes years to come true, demonstrates God’s power to His people. The curse even shows God’s justice; Judges 9 repeatedly mentions that “God did this in order that the crime against Jerub-Baal’s seventy sons, the shedding of their blood, might be avenged on their brother Abimelek and on the citizens of Shechem, who had helped him murder his brothers,” (v. 24).

Yet again, God reminds us that He has a plan even when we are afraid and don’t understand. It took Jotham three years to see God’s justice unfold, but God had a plan the whole time. Sometimes it is easier to take comfort in God’s planning than others. For now, we can take comfort in the fact that God’s innate justice will not let evil go unpunished. He has a plan, and it is good.

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Gideon and the Stumbling Block

We saw last week that God used Gideon’s action in the face of fear to overcome incredible odds. God whittled Gideon’s army down to 300 men. The men made a lot of noise around the invaders’ camp, and the invaders fought each other in fear. Now, in Judges 8, Gideon and his men have defeated the leaders of the Midianites. Israel has reconvened to divide the spoils. Here, we find what will distract the Israelites from God again in the story of Gideon and the stumbling block.

The Passage

The Israelites said to Gideon, “Rule over us – you, your son and your grandson – because you have saved us from the hand of Midian.”

But Gideon told them, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The LORD will rule over you.” And he said, “I do have one request, that each of you give me an earring from your share of the plunder.” (It was the custom of the Ishmaelites to wear gold earrings.)

They answered, “We’ll be glad to give them.” So they spread out a garment, and each of them threw a ring from his plunder onto it. The weight of the gold rings he asked for came to seventeen hundred shekels, not counting the ornaments, the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian or the chains that were on their camels’ necks. Gideon made the gold into an ephod, which he placed in Ophrah, his town. All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.

Judges 8:22-27 NIV

Gideon and the Stumbling Block

What is an ephod, and how did it become a stumbling block? This website shows many commentaries’ research and opinions on what Judges 8:27 means. In Exodus 28, we read God’s instructions for the priests’ clothing. The ephod made up part of the High Priest’s garments, and they carried the stones used for divination. Thus, the main ephod was a sacred religious piece designed to worship God. It seems that when Gideon created the ephod from the Midianites’ gold, Israel started worshiping that ephod. In other words, they focused on the Israelites’ victory instead of worshiping God Who gave the victory to them.

Beware Your Stumbling Block

Reading the story of Gideon and the stumbling block reminds me of one of my very dear friends going up. He was so shy that on our first day of Kindergarten, he hid under a table. In seventh grade, my friend started seeing a counselor after school. He trotted into our computer class, dropped his backpack, and told his friends, “What’s the worst they can do to me?” It was his new mantra. Rather than fearing getting in trouble, he said, “What’s the worst they can do to me?” If kids told mean jokes, he said, “What’s the worst they can do to me?” It seemed to me that he went from fearing everything to no longer fearing anything.

Gideon shows us the value of bravery. He also shows us the dangers of taking our new mentality too far. Like my friend whose new mantra overrode even reasonable fear, Gideon’s newfound strength in the Lord caused him to make a religious emblem that distracted Israel from God. When we depend on our own strength and healing, we forget that God gives us the elements we need to heal. As a Christian, I believe that without God, our healing won’t stick. We need His holy power to overcome our struggles, and we need His humility to remember that we don’t repel bullets.

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How to Take Action in Spite of Fear: Lessons from Gideon

Gideon’s fear shows up clearly during his calling. However, Gideon doesn’t stay wallowing in his fear when God stirs him to battle. Instead, Gideon shows us how to take action in spite of fear with God’s help. Let’s look at Judges 7 to see how God multiplies Gideon’s efforts.

The Passage

Early in the morning, Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) and all his men camped at the spring of Harod. The camp of Midian was north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh. The LORD said to Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.'”

Judges 7:1-2 NIV

The LORD said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the others go home.” So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites home but kept the three hundred, who took over the provisions and trumpets of the others.

Now the camp of Midian lay below him in the valley. During that night the LORD said to Gideon, “Get up, go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands. If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah and listen to what they are saying. Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp.” So he and Purah his servant went down to the outposts of the camp.

Judges 7:7-11 NIV

Gideon and the hundred men with him reached the edge of the camp at the beginning of the middle of the night watch, just after [the Midianites] had changed the guard. They blew their trumpets and broke the jars that were in their hands. The three companies blew the trumpets and smashed the jars. Grasping the torches in their left hands and holding in their right hands the trumpets they were to blow, they shouted, “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!” While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled.

When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the LORD caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords. The army fled to Beth Shittah toward Zererah as far as the border of Abel Meholah near Tabbath.

Judges 7:19-22 NIV

Miracle in an Impossible Circumstance

My favorite part of Judges 7 occurs during God’s battle instructions to Gideon. God knows Gideon fears attacking the Midianites with only 300 men. He knows that Gideon needs a lot of coaching and affirmation in order to take action. Beautifully, God incorporates Gideon’s needs into His plan. He sends Gideon to the Midianite camp, where Gideon and Purah overhear two friends discussing a dream that prophesies Gideon’s victory. Gideon returns to the Israelites full of fire and faith in the Lord. Gideon and the three hundred drive out a swarm of invaders by making a lot of noise. That’s a pretty amazing attack plan, in my opinion.

How to Take Action in Spite of Fear

When I searched “how to take action in spite of fear,” the entire first page filled with links to Bhuddist monks and business coaches. While most had some great points about just doing the thing that scared you, the Christian approach teaches that God provides His power behind the action. Unlike Gideon, very few of us have the express commands of God spoken in our ears. However, Gideon acted in accordance with his faith in God, and God blessed that. As we saw with Saul, taking action outside of God’s pre-existing commands doesn’t wind up in blessing. We can’t just kind-of throw our action His way as we go. In contrast, Gideon shows us to act out of obedience to God. When we do, God multiplies our efforts as only He can.

Now, I get mad every time preachers and Christian leaders say, “Just trust God and you will be fine!” The physical aspects of anxiety are more complex than just trusting God. Instead, I hope we can look at Gideon and see how God works with us through our anxiety and fear. For some, just seeking professional help may be the action you need to take in spite of your fear. There is no shame in that! Based on this passage, God will honor your willingness to fulfill His plan for your life by seeking treatment. God doesn’t stop at seeking treatment, either. Since He sees our hearts, He knows when we seek to act out of faith. He will give us courage to take that next step even when we feel afraid. Just as God didn’t leave Gideon to be destroyed by the Midianites, God will support you when you take that first action in faith.

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Testing God in the Bible: Gideon’s Example

How my cat keeps doing crazy things in the laundry room right before I write about Gideon is beyond me. Today, I put him in kitty jail. He jumped on the washer and into the dryer one too many times while I folded clothes. Like my cat, Gideon ventures into territory he’s really not supposed to go, but God allows it. Let’s finish up Judges 6 and see what Gideon shows us about testing God in the Bible.

The Passage

Now all the Midianites, Amalekites, and other eastern peoples joined forces and crossed over the Jordan and camped in the Valley of Jezreel. Then the Spirit of the LORD came on Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him. He sent messengers throughout Manasseh, calling them to arms, and also into Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali, so that they too went up to meet them.

Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised – look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.” And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew – a bowlful of water.

Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece, but this time make the fleece dry and let the ground be covered with dew.” That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew.

Judges 6:33-40 NIV

Commands about Testing God in the Bible

Because the Israelites didn’t trust God to provide for their needs in Exodus, Moses struck a rock to provide water for them at a place he named Massah. Of course, the Israelites, like us, often forgot God’s provision. So, in Deuteronomy 6:16, the Israelites are commanded, “Do not put the LORD your God to the test as you did at Massah.” Jesus then quotes this verse when Satan tests Him in the wilderness. The devil tells Jesus to jump off the roof of the temple and have the angels save Him. Jesus says no (see Matthew 4:7 and Luke 4:12.)

So, the Bible condemns testing God out of disbelief in His power. This would indicate that Gideon’s tests are wrong. However, the Bible also records instances of casting lots to seek God’s will. The process occurs for things as simple as dividing up land to things as complicated as determining whose sin incurred God’s wrath. It seems to me that Gideon’s tests lean toward the casting lots side. He trusts God to do what He says. Gideon just seeks clarity about which path to take.

Kitty Jail and God’s Kindness

When the cat jumped right where I was folding clothes for the fifth time, I put him in kitty jail. By “kitty jail,” I mean a laundry basket with some of his favorite curling ribbon inside. He quite contentedly chewed on the ribbon and reached for my phone through the holes in the side of the basket. As expected, he didn’t like when I turned the dryer on with him sitting on top of it. So, I let him out of kitty jail. It was not my smartest move. As I refilled my detergent dispenser, he jumped on the washer and dipped his paw in the soap. He did not enjoy me chasing him with a wet paper towel to wipe the soap off his paw.

Thankfully, God knows far more about our attitudes and intentions than I know about my cat’s. He knew that Gideon intended to obey. He also knew that Gideon needed to feel God’s support in order to overcome his anxiety. In His kindness, God responded to Gideon’s tests with signs to show Gideon that he understood God correctly. I really don’t understand why God permitted Gideon to do the second fleece test. After all, God had already answered Gideon once. It just proves to me that God sees us in love. When we seek to follow His will, God responds with kindness, even when we follow imperfectly.

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The Calling of Gideon

My cat’s new favorite hiding place is on the wire shelf in the laundry closet. He curls up on top of my husband’s work shirts and sleeps or watches for birds out the window. Right before I started to write this piece, my cat attempted to jump from the washer to the shelf, missed, and crashed loudly in the small space between the washer and the wall. He then proceeded to explore the thin space at the back of the closet while I called his name and shook a toy against the washer. I thought for sure he had tangled himself in wires and hoses during his acrobatics. Thankfully, he finally meandered back to the doorway where I scooted the washer just enough to let him through. Long story short, I feel like this is where we find Gideon in Judges 6. Let’s dive in to the calling of Gideon.

The Passage

The angel of the LORD came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.”

“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

The LORD turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

The LORD answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”

Gideon replied, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.”

And the LORD said, “I will wait until you return.”

Judges 6:11-18

The Calling of Gideon

Like my cat exploring behind the dryer, chaos and panic rules Gideon’s community. The Israelites started worshiping other gods, but when the LORD turns from them, they ask where God is in their suffering. They do not realize that they brought this panic on themselves by neglecting their faith in God. The Israelites think they can escape this mess on their own. They don’t recognize their need for God to move obstacles to free them from their captivity. And just like my cat, they quickly turn back to their captivity and chaos once the judges die. It’s in this mess that we find the calling of Gideon.

Gideon certainly asks God a lot of questions. In fact, he seems to get away with far more questions for God and tests of His will than almost anybody else in the Bible. Even Moses was rebuked with all his questions of God’s signs and instructions. Perhaps the difference between Moses and Gideon is that Gideon does not run away from the job God has given him. He asks for many signs and for God to prove that he is making the right decision, but Gideon does not ask God to send someone else like Moses does.

Fear and Anxiety

As I said in the introduction to this series, I can’t say for certain that Gideon struggled with anxiety. He certainly expresses fear; he cowers when the angel disappears in flame, and he tears down the altar to Baal while most people are sleeping. When the townspeople wake up and see Gideon’s father’s altars destroyed and replaced by one to the LORD, Gideon doesn’t make an appearance. In fact, his father Joash handles the entire debacle and says that any god who can’t defend his own altar isn’t a real god at all.

Despite Gideon’s timidity, he gives me hope as one who honored God in spite of his anxiety. Yes, Gideon expresses fear, but he also seeks the help he needs to accomplish God’s will. (We’ll see one of the absolute coolest examples of that next week.) He does not deny the warrior identity that God gives him but learns how to grow into it over time. I mean, Gideon literally goes from separating wheat grain in wine residue (I don’t even know how on earth he did that) to leading God’s people in peace for 40 years. God uses Gideon’s humility to restore Israel’s spiritual direction. I imagine Gideon wouldn’t be quite that humble without the fears and anxieties he had to contend with.

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Introduction to Gideon, the Judge in the Bible

I can’t say for certain that Gideon struggled with anxiety. Honestly, as with most of the accounts in Judges and the later books of Kings, the details are sparse as they cover decades of Israel’s history. Instead, I’m writing this next series on Gideon because he kept coming to mind. I believe that if something keeps coming to mind, God probably has a reason for it. So, I thought we’d start this series with an introduction to Gideon, the judge in the Bible.

When did the Judges come?

The Israelites followed Joshua into the promised land and started settling the territory. Against the Lord’s commands, though, they took some of the existing people as servants instead of driving them out completely. This led to a lot of problems as the Israelites frequently turned to the other gods and religions. God punished the Israelites by subjugating them to other kings. Israel would call out to God to save them, and God would raise up a judge to lead Israel into freedom from their captors.

Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders. Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. They quickly tuned from the ways of their ancestors, who had been obedient to the LORD’s commands. Whenever the LORD raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the LORD relented because of their groaning under the judge who oppressed and afflicted them. But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their ancestors, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.

Judges 2:16-19 NIV

Who is Gideon, the Judge?

Gideon is the fifth judge whose story we read in Judges. His account fills chapters 6-9 of the book. Gideon’s story follows Deborah, the female judge, whose leadership led to 40 years of peace. However, as the Israelites turned from God when Deborah died, He gave them over to the Midianites for seven years. We meet Gideon threshing wheat in a winepress because the Midianites were taking everything the Israelites had. The false god Baal heavily influenced Gideon’s community, and we get to experience a lot of Gideon’s fears during his encounter with the angel in chapter 6.

If you want to see a quick timeline and map of who was in charge from the time of the judges until Israel’s request for a king, I found this easy to read outline at Biblestudy.com. On Wednesday, we’ll start looking at the calling of Gideon. His story reads very differently than that of the warrior prophetess who came before him. Instead, Gideon reminds us of God’s kindness in responding to our fears and of God’s ability to use us despite our weakness.

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Music and Depression: A Look at King Saul

I find it funny how music can affect my mood. Sometimes when I tense up with anxiety, I hear “Sunshine on my Shoulders” by John Denver and instantly calm to memories of my mother singing. Then there are times when the flowy worship of “10,000 Reasons” by Matt Redman makes me feel absolutely claustrophobic. It changes from day to day. When I think of music and depression in the Bible, King Saul of Israel best exemplifies the power music can have on mood.

The Passage

Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him.

Saul’s attendants said to him, “See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the lyre. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes on you, and you will feel better.”

So Saul said to his attendants, “Find someone who plays well and bring him to me.”

One of the servants answered, “I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the lyre. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the LORD is with him.”

Then Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me your son David, who is with the sheep.” So Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them with his son David to Saul.

David came to Saul and entered his service. Saul liked him very much, and David became one of his armor-bearers. Then Saul sent word to Jesse, saying “Allow David to remain in my service, for I am pleased with him.”

Whenever the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.

1 Samuel 16:14-23 NIV

While this passage speaks of Saul’s mental distress as an evil spirit, Saul exhibits many of the symptoms of a depressed and anxious person. His mood swings without warning. Later in 1 Samuel, Saul responds to irritations by throwing spears at the people in the room with him. He lives in constant fear of losing his identity as King of Israel. The only source of relief he knows comes from a young shepherd who knows how to play the lyre.

Music and Depression in Therapy

Many studies have been done on the links between mood and music. In this academic article, Lucille Magill Bailey, D.A., discusses the effect music had on families dealing with cancer. She found that music eased their anxiety, facilitated communication and confidence, and allowed families to feel peace when their loved one passed on. She noted that songs from all genres of music could ease the family’s depression and anxiety. Patients and families needed the links to memories and feelings more than they needed a specific key or instrument played.

2 Tips on Music and Depression or Anxiety

  1. Listen to what you need now. The song that calms you the most on Monday may drive you up the wall on Thursday. Honor your body’s changing needs and listen to the songs that best speak to you in that particular situation.
  2. Remember to breathe. Deep breathing regulates mood and tension quicker than any other trick out there. (In fact, most tips I know of for anxiety and depression involve reminding yourself to breathe.) Try adjusting your deep breathing to match the flow of the song. Singing also requires controlled breathing, so sing out if that helps you.

How does music affect your mood? Let me know in the comments! And as always, seek a professional counselor for advice on your particular situation. (Mental health is not one-size-fits-all!)