New Year’s resolutions are great, but I’m finding I need to readjust my focus more often than once a year. In truth, I need weekly and sometimes daily resets. Stepping on the scale makes it easier to get to the gym and say no to dessert. The quarrel with my husband or one of my children brings me to earnest prayer. And when the major dilemmas upset life as I know it, I am quick to seek God’s will.
The account of Gideon in Judges chapters 6 to 8 can teach us a few things about spiritual wake-ups. The first thing we’re told is that the Israelites had fallen into spiritual lethargy. God was no longer their first consideration. Because of that he allowed them to fall into the hands of ruthless enemies who destroyed their crops and animals. When desperation brought them to the reality that they couldn’t get out of the situation on their own, they cried out to God.
God was ready when they called and went right to Gideon, his chosen instrument for deliverance. Gideon was not impressed. He blamed God for the predicament the Israelites were in and suggested God was crazy for thinking he, Gideon, could be any part of the remedy.
God was undeterred. He told Gideon the place to start was to break down the altar to Baal and the pole to Asherah. So Gideon smashed the idols in the night. In the morning when the people found their idols in pieces, they wanted to kill Gideon. And when we’re ready to admit it, we’d feel the same if our “idols” were destroyed.
Excavating idols is painful, and we have a whole handful of lies we’d rather believe. Last year at this time I was working nearly full time in a job that was terrible for my mental and physical health. My children were on autopilot; I did only the very basics of life at home and wasn’t sure how to continue doing ministry to the extent I was. The lie I believed was that money was what was needed most. God started showing me my value was misplaced. Even so, it was incredibly hard to quit my job, even when I knew that’s what needed to be done.
Very often it takes struggle for us to see we’ve allowed idols to burrow into our hearts. If it’s what it takes, God’s all for bringing the struggle. He wants hearts unilaterally devoted to him.
Once the Israelite idols were gone, God took a fearful Gideon into battle with ridiculously few men and torches and jars for weapons. In the spiritual wake-up cycle, God is pleased to work through anything that reminds us to give the glory to him instead of taking it for ourselves. If at the end of our spiritual wake-up we died and went to heaven, that would be the end of the cycle.
If we are still here on earth, unfortunately it doesn’t take long for the cycle to start again. Even Gideon returned home and told the people to give glory to God, but if they wanted to, they could each give him just a little gold earring. The little added up to a lot, and an idol was formed.
So it is with us. That’s why the apostles Paul and Peter and Jesus’ half brother James tell us to embrace suffering and trials as avenues to spiritual maturity. Rarely do we get there otherwise.
Not all struggles are God’s way of spiritually waking us up. Some are just part of life in a sinful world and a means of God using us to bring him glory. But struggles are always a good time to seek God, search and destroy idols or secular ideologies, and give God unwavering trust.
At times God causes the storm; at times he calms the storm. But he always walks through the storm with us. He does what it takes to keep his children close
Amber Albee Swenson has authored four books, writes an occasional devotional blog, and is a regular contributor to several Christian organizations. In 2011 she started speaking to women with the intent of bringing the Bible to life in tangible, applicable ways.
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