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Spirit of Grace Ministries
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God and Means

Your key to victory!

Gideon's army

by Dennis Pollock

Nearly every Christian is familiar with the dramatic story of Gideon conquering a huge enemy army with 300 men. Gideon's men surrounded the camp of the Midianites holding torches covered by pitchers in their left hands, along with trumpets in their right hands. At Gideon's signal they broke the pitchers, held up their torches, blew their trumpets, and then shouted, "The sword of the LORD and of Gideon."

Not exactly a strategy you would expect to conquer an army so large it was described as being "as the sand of the seashore in multitude." But the puny Israelite army had a secret weapon. Yahweh, the God of Israel, made His fearful presence known in the enemy camp, and a general panic ensued. Confusion and terror filled the hearts of the Midianites. Some fled while others began killing each other. It was a rout. Word quickly spread in the nearby communities and other Israelites soon joined in hunting down and slaughtering the terrified Midianites. Israel was set free from cruel bondage in a single night.

It's a great story and it is illustrative of a couple of truths that are vital for us to recognize. The foremost lesson is that God is big enough to save us through even the smallest means. This is the primary theme most preachers focus on when teaching this. But there is a secondary principle which is not insignificant. Even though Gideon's army was small, still there was a work for them to do. They could not merely sit around the campfire holding a prayer meeting, praying that God would smite their enemies. They must arise, they must engage the enemy. There was a divine strategy they must follow. Had they stayed in camp and prayed all night, nothing would have happened and the enemy army would have been found in their tents happy and healthy the next morning. God may use small and sometimes seemingly foolish means to accomplish His miraculous work, but He normally does use means.

The evidence of the Scriptures

It is certainly true that God is not limited to human means. He is the all-sufficient One who needs no one and nothing to do as He pleases. The sovereignty and all-sufficiency of God is well established in the Scriptures. In Psalms we read, "Whatever the LORD pleases He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deep places" (Psalms 135:6). God could have struck down every single Midianite soldier in a heartbeat had He chosen. But He didn't choose, and in fact He rarely chooses to do His work without at least some form of human involvement, without some means, no matter how pathetically small or seemingly foolish. Torches, pitchers, and trumpets may seem ridiculous weapons of war, but in the hand of God they were precisely the means in which He delighted to overwhelm the enemy.

Throughout the Bible we find God attaching certain means to His miraculous power to bless and deliver. When using Moses to deliver Israel from the slavery in Egypt, God did numerous miracles of awesome power. And strangely we find that a wooden rod was associated with nearly every one of these miracles. When Moses struck the Nile river and turned it to blood, the rod was involved. When he brought lice and frogs and locusts to cover the land, the rod had to be employed. And later, when Israel had come out of Egypt and fought with the people of Amalek, Moses must lift up his rod for Israel to prevail. When his hands tired and the rod was lowered, the Amalekites began to prevail. Finally Aaron and Hur held up Moses' hands so that the rod might be continually stretched forth, and Israel triumphed.

Surely God could have helped Israel defeat her enemies without a rod. He who created the heavens and the earth by the breath of His mouth is not limited to a stick of wood in order to give His people victory! Why must the rod be involved at all? The answer is simply that God, in His perfect wisdom, has ordained that certain means be used to attain certain ends, as we serve Him and seek to do His will. For Moses it meant using the rod. Where the rod is lifted, the miracle power of God falls. With the rod – miracles, no rod – no miracles.

Our Lord Jesus sometimes used spit or mud in healing the sick. What apparently foolish medicines are these! And yet, by the power of the Holy Spirit the spit and the mud worked beautifully to open blind eyes and give hearing to deaf ears. The Syrian general, Naaman, became upset when he came to Elisha for healing from his leprosy, and the old prophet instructed him to go and dip in the Jordan River seven times. What kind of healing properties could this small, muddy river possess? And yet when Naaman's friends prevailed upon him to do as the prophet said, he found upon the seventh dip that every trace of leprosy had disappeared from his body. Over and over we find that God and His servants used means to accomplish the miraculous – strange and unimpressive means that often didn't seem to fit the situation at all, and yet proved to be amazingly effective in accomplishing the desired end.

Once while trudging through the wilderness, the people of Israel came upon some water. Problem was, it turned out to be bitter and unfit to drink. The people did what they always did – complained to Moses about the situation. Moses did what he always did – cried out to the LORD. The Bible tells us that the LORD showed him a tree, and when he cast the tree into the water, the water was made sweet. Now there is no filtering effect inherent in any tree. But in this case, for this one time, a tree tossed in the water was just what was needed. You may wonder, "Why couldn't Moses have just prayed to God, and God turned the bitter water sweet without any tree or any means involved?" Well, of course He could have, but He didn't choose to. He rarely does. God seems to love to involve human means and actions to accomplish His ends.

In the New Testament James tells us that if anyone is sick, they should call for the elders of the church, and the elders should pray for the sick, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. Once when I was ministering in a nursing home I brought some oil with me, and prayed for the sick, anointing them with oil. The next time I came back the manager of the home had gotten wind of this, and asked me if I was bringing any "healing oil" with me this time. She told me in no uncertain terms she did not want any such foolishness to go on in her nursing home. I tried to tell her that the oil had no healing properties in itself, and that I was just following a Biblical injunction, but she didn't seem to get the point.

Even the ordinary things

So far I've been talking about supernatural, miraculous events but the use of means is important in nearly every situation where we are looking to God for a blessing, a breakthrough, or a deliverance. Prayer should be our first response when needs arise in our lives, but it is not to be our only response. The young Christian lady who fervently longs for a husband prays and prays for her prince charming, but she may pray all her life and never end up at the altar if she doesn't discover God's desired means to grant her request. It is unlikely God is going to direct some young man to knock on her door and ask her hand in marriage. She is going to need to attend her church's singles group, or go to Christian events where young men and women gather, or perhaps enroll in a Christian online dating site. My dad used to call this putting legs to your prayers.

Job applicationMost people who are out of work recognize that they need to apply for  jobs. They are not going to get a phone call out of nowhere inviting them to show up for work tomorrow. But sometimes Christians don't see the need to diligently seek work as all that important. After all, they are praying constantly and maybe even fasting. So they apply for a few jobs here and there, but spend most of their time daydreaming about how God is going to direct them to some amazing career. They are not out in the market hustling daily to find a job because they feel that since they have God on their side, there is no need to take this business of seeking work all that seriously. Once a week or so they put in their token job application, foolishly believing that their faith in God means that they don’t need to go through the normal process of job seeking that everybody else must endure.

Pastors who want to see their churches growing and fruitful should by all means give themselves to prayer. But not to prayer alone. There are people to visit, events to organize, various means of promotion to plan and schedule. A lone pastor sitting in a quiet office and praying all day long every day is not going to make the impact of the pastor who both prays and acts. 

In my early days of doing overseas missions, I used to do very little by way of asking for funds to cover the mission budget. I would put a notice in our newsletter and pray that God would touch the hearts of the people who read it. As much as possible I wanted to be like the famous George Mueller, and never request funds. What I didn't realize was that I was not Mueller, and Mueller's style wasn't going to work for me. In time I began to send out a letter directly to our supporters, explaining the specific needs and mission, and making a more direct appeal for funds. Lo and behold people began to give, and some even made it clear that the letter was the reason for their giving. As it turned out, this was the means God had placed in my life to support these missions. I certainly did not stop praying, in fact I think I pray far more now than in those early days, but I also use God's designated means.

The Role of Prayer

There are two things we need to see about prayer. First, prayer is absolutely vital. Where prayer is lacking, we are giving clear evidence that our faith is in our own efforts. This is fatal in our expectation of good things from our generous Creator. "Cursed is the man who trusts in man, and who makes flesh his strength" (Jeremiah 17:5). When we refuse to pray and simply look for means to achieve our ends we bring ourselves under a curse, and there is no grace for us.

But on the other hand, prayer without means is presumption. When we assume we can simply pray and refuse to take any steps to achieve our goals, we insult God with our foolishness. There will almost always be some means, some actions God will ask us to do. They may look foolish, they may appear puny and pathetic in the light of what we are expecting from the Lord, but still they must be done. Our trust is not in our means; our trust is in God. Moses must use his rod, but he never went around giving seminars on the proper methods of rod-handling. He knew that God was the source of those awesome miracles. Nor do we insist that everyone else in a similar situation must use the means God has given to us. God is a creative God and the means He reveals to us may or may not work for others. He may have something entirely different for them.

In the greatest miracle of all, the new birth, God has given us means to accomplish His desired end for every person. We must share the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some may do it through singing, some through preaching, some through door to door evangelism, and some through barbeques with their neighbors. But one way or another we must open our mouths and tell others that Jesus Christ, God's only begotten Son, died for our sins and rose again. Yes, God could save people strictly on His own, or He could use angels, but this is not His ordained means. He has determined to use ordinary people like you and me to speak, sing, and write the words that can save their souls. May we be ever faithful in this, the greatest and noblest of all God's means.

For a full listing of all devos (written and audio) go to our Devos Catalog Page.

     

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