Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.  … It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets.  By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions,  quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight.
Hebrews 11:1, 32-34 NLT
Living by faith means believing in something we can’t see.
The faithful heroes listed in Hebrews 11 most likely couldn’t see how they could overthrow kingdoms or shut the mouths of lions, but they took action because they believed in God and his power. As a result, they became strong and lived lives of significant impact.
If you read through the stories of these people in more detail, you’ll discover that each of them would have had reasons to think they were unqualified to do what God had called them to do based on what they saw in their own lives. If they had decided to define themselves by their own flaws, weaknesses, or limitations, they would have lived small lives instead of leading real change in the world around them.
In this devotional, we’ll dive into the story of the first guy mentioned in that list in Hebrews 11: Gideon. When God first chose him, he was weak, doubtful, discouraged, inexperienced, and afraid. But God shaped him into a leader who was confident, humble, strong, and understanding. With faith in God, even our weaknesses can turn into strengths; instead of limiting us, they are an integral part of who God created us to be.
Let’s get started by learning more about the story of Gideon in the Bible, and how God can shape any of us into strong leaders if we’re willing to take one (very small) step of faith at a time.
Who was Gideon in the Bible?
Gideon was one of many leaders in the book of Judges who saved the Israelites from various enemies. He most likely lived around the 12th century BCE and his story is told throughout the chapters of Judges 6-8.
In Gideon’s time, Israel had been taken over by the dominating Midianites, who had oppressed them and stolen their food and resources for over seven years. With God’s help, Gideon rallied troops to overthrow the Midianites, and then continued to lead the nation of Israel for another 40 years.
What is Gideon famous for?
Gideon is known for being an unlikely leader. He did not see himself the way God saw him, and responded to God’s call with fear and resistance. But his decision to “go in the strength he had” gives us an inspiring example to follow and teaches us that God can do a lot with a few small steps of faith.
What tribe was Gideon from?
Gideon was the son of Joash from the tribe of Manasseh.
How old was Gideon when God called him?
The Bible doesn’t specify how old Gideon was when God called him, but Judges 8 tells us that he ruled for 40 years and died when he was old.
Why did God choose Gideon to lead?
While we don’t know exactly why God chose Gideon to lead, we do know that God chose unlikely heroes throughout the Bible. When God first appeared to him, Gideon was discouraged and doubtful. He had settled for survival, but God took Gideon step by step until he became a courageous, passionate, and empowered leader. Gideon is a great example of how God can use anyone to lead.
What does the story of Gideon teach us?
No matter how small, settled, weak, or doubtful we might feel, the story of Gideon teaches us that God doesn’t see us the way we see ourselves. He will patiently work with us and shape us. All we have to do is be willing to “go in the strength we have,” taking one small step forward at a time, even while we are afraid, and God will do the rest.
So if we’re feeling a bit like Gideon, how do we follow in his footsteps and become faithful, strong leaders? Let’s take a look at some of those small steps Gideon took so we can stop settling, deal with our doubts, and take action.
Decide not to settle
Then the angel of the LORD came and sat beneath the great tree at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash of the clan of Abiezer. Gideon son of Joash was threshing wheat at the bottom of a winepress to hide the grain from the Midianites.  The angel of the LORD appeared to him and said, “Mighty hero, the LORD is with you!”
Judges 6:11-12 NLT
In Gideon’s time, the Midianites had been oppressing the Israelites for years. They took their resources over and over again, leaving Gideon’s people destitute. So although wheat was usually threshed out in the open, allowing the wind to pick up any leftover grain or chaff, Gideon did it at the bottom of a winepress instead. A winepress was often in a hole, where no one could see. Gideon was hiding; he threshed wheat in a winepress so that the Midianites couldn’t find him.
If you’re like me, you may think Gideon was a little cowardly and less than inspiring. Rather than confront the Midianites and stand strong in the face of difficulty, Gideon did whatever he could to survive and avoid conflict. This was the guy God called a mighty hero?
But let’s take a second to think about how we respond to the conflict and difficulty in our lives. When faced with something that feels too big for you to handle, what do you do?
- pretend like it’s not there until it goes away?
- try to give it to someone else to take care of?
- get stressed out or angry and try to take control?
- just give up?
Whatever your response is to conflicts or overwhelming circumstances, you could probably argue that you are doing your best to survive and adapt to the situation you are given. This was true for Gideon, too. He was resigned to the oppressive circumstances in his life. On his own, he wasn’t capable of conquering them, so he had settled for the best he could do on his own: hiding in a hole and trying to survive.
Too often, I don’t see how my life could be any different than it already is, so I settle. I only see who I am and what I can do, so anything beyond that feels scary and not worth trying. As a result, my life becomes small and uninspiring as my biggest goal becomes staying safe.
Gideon may have only seen who he was and what he could do, but God saw him for who he could become. He didn’t see a coward or settler, but a mighty hero.
Pause and reflect
- What do you do when you face difficulty, conflict, or challenges that feel beyond your ability to handle?
- How do you see settling in your life?
Deal with your doubt
So how did Gideon respond to God calling him a “mighty hero”? Gideon had been living a life of self-protection, trying to shield himself from pain and danger, so he didn’t immediately spring into action. He had to work through two lines of defense he had wrapped around his heart:
- His doubts about God
- His doubts about himself
Dealing with doubts about God
“Sir,” Gideon replied, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about? Didn’t they say, ‘The LORD brought us up out of Egypt’? But now the LORD has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites.”
Judges 6:13 NLT
Gideon’s first response to God was, “But where have you been and why have you let this happen?” He doubted that God would really go with him or help him out of his suffering.
From Gideon’s response, we can see that he had some unresolved feelings that were making him doubt God’s power and God’s care:
- Abandonment – He felt like God had left them alone in their suffering.
- Discouragement – He had been looking for a miracle, only to be disappointed again and again by attacks from the Midianites.
- Pain – Judges 6:1-6 tells us that the Midianites were especially cruel. They stole food and animals from the Israelites, so that the Israelites were reduced to starvation. Gideon and his people would have known physical and emotional pain
- Fear – Imagine the stress of knowing you could be attacked at any moment and all your livelihood stolen. That’s a lot of stress to carry around at all times.
- Anger and perhaps bitterness – Though he didn’t directly say he was angry at God, Gideon saw God as someone who abandoned him without explanation. He certainly wasn’t filled with warm, fuzzy feelings about God. He blamed God for handing them over to their enemies instead of taking responsibility for the ways his people had abandoned God (Judges 6:1, 7-10).
When we let these emotions go unchecked, we too will question, doubt, and argue with God. Gideon couldn’t move forward in faith with a heart full of doubt, and we won’t be able to either.
Settling, getting stuck, not taking action, or getting paralyzed by fear are signs that we have unresolved doubts about and emotions toward God. These could be doubts about whether he is powerful enough to help you, loving enough to take care of you, or trustworthy enough to stick by you.
God is strong enough to hear these doubts and help us work through them. Whatever your doubts are, be honest about them with God, or you will continue to feel stuck.
Dealing with doubts about ourselves
“But Lord,” Gideon replied, “how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!”
Judges 6:15 NLT
After addressing his doubts about God, Gideon had to be honest about the doubts he had about himself. Doubts about ourselves usually come with a lot of unresolved emotions, just like our doubts about God. The emotions that come with self-doubt are often inadequacy, insecurity, fear, and often shame.
Self-doubt is where I often get stuck. Even when I get to where I believe God is powerful and caring, I don’t really believe that I have what it takes to do what he wants me to do. Like Gideon, I see all my weaknesses and flaws and think there is no way I can be the person God is calling me to be. Whether it’s because of my fear of failure or my guilt over past mistakes, I doubt myself too much to lead.
But no matter how small or insignificant we feel, we can grow and become strong when we believe that God chose us and is bigger than any obstacle or personal fault. Our weaknesses and flaws aren’t even a factor when it comes to what God can do. Even when we feel held back by them, God isn’t, and even loves using them for his bigger purpose (more on that later).
Gideon was pretty brutally honest with God about his doubt towards both God and himself. So how did God respond? Did he get angry and disappointed, or just give up and choose someone else?
God’s response to our doubts
Then the LORD turned to him and said, “Go with the strength you have, and rescue Israel from the Midianites. I am sending you!”  The LORD said to him, “I will be with you. And you will destroy the Midianites as if you were fighting against one man.”
Judges 6:14,16 NLT
God’s responses to both these doubts were five simple words: “I will be with you.” Going with the strength we have means we can be aware of all of our flaws, fears, inadequacies, abilities or lack thereof, and still move forward with confidence because we know God is going to pull through for us. Whether we feel we have a lot of strength or barely any, we can go with what we do have and trust God will fill in the rest.
Gideon replied, “If you are truly going to help me, show me a sign to prove that it is really the LORD speaking to me.”
Judges 6:17 NLT
Even though God was speaking directly to Gideon, Gideon still wasn’t convinced God was with him. Each time Gideon questioned and asked God to prove himself, God did. He didn’t get angry or exasperated over Gideon’s constant doubt and questioning, but responded with patient encouragement and clarity. Why? Because when we doubt or question God, he doesn’t want us to keep it to ourselves or suppress it, but to hash it out with him until we have deep conviction in his ability to help us.
God wants us to come to him to say what’s on our heart and come to a conclusion together. This is what it means to wrestle with God in prayer–we keep hashing things out until we are on the same page. Gideon didn’t just do this once – he did it multiple times throughout the whole story (see Judges 6:36-40). With each step he doubted, and at each stage he turned to God to give him the faith and courage he needed.
Pause and reflect
- What doubts do you have about God? What about yourself?
- Do you stop at just one prayer to get faith? Or do you value your faith enough to keep going back to God each time you doubt to hash things out?
Drop any extra weights
That night the LORD said to Gideon, “Take the second bull from your father’s herd, the one that is seven years old. Pull down your father’s altar to Baal, and cut down the Asherah pole standing beside it.  Then build an altar to the LORD your God here on this hilltop sanctuary, laying the stones carefully. Sacrifice the bull as a burnt offering on the altar, using as fuel the wood of the Asherah pole you cut down.”
Judges 6:25-26 NLT
Now that Gideon was on board with God’s mission, he needed to deal with the sin and compromise that both he and his people had grown to tolerate. In order for us to move forward and live lives of faith, we too must deal with the sin and compromise that weigh us down and distance us from God.
So since we stand surrounded by all those who have gone before, an enormous cloud of witnesses, let us drop every extra weight, every sin that clings to us and slackens our pace, and let us run with endurance the long race set before us.
Hebrews 12:1 Voice
What extra weight has been slackening your pace? The sin that holds us back isn’t always some big scandalous thing. It could be compromising our relationship with God to find security in something else, like our own abilities, our own success, or our own comfort. Whatever is holding you back, choose to see it not as evidence of failure, but as dead weight that needs to be dropped.
Do things afraid
So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the LORD had commanded. But he did it at night because he was afraid of the other members of his father’s household and the people of the town.
Judges 6:27 NLT
Again, it’s easy for me to read this and see Gideon as cowardly. God commanded him to deal with the sin that had been corrupting his people, so what did he do? He took ten other people with him and snuck in at night to do it. This is not what many of us imagine a heroic leader would do. Leaders take charge, are bold, and don’t care what anyone thinks…right? But what this mindset makes me miss from the story is that Gideon was afraid, but he did it anyway, and that’s what mattered to God.
I am definitely not a “do it anyway” type of person, especially when it comes to something that might lead to conflict. I’m way more likely to practice a conversation I need to have with someone over and over again, scripting out what I’d say in response to what I predict they would say. Then once I’ve finally perfected it and try to have the conversation, I’m completely flabbergasted when the other person goes off script.
I do this because I don’t want to say the wrong thing, or do something that could lead to more issues. I feel like I need to have all the confidence, boldness, and knowledge necessary before I take action, but it’s never enough, and I stay stuck.
Gideon went in the strength he had, and God took care of the rest. He took Gideon where he was at, guiding him through each step to gain more and more experience and confidence.
When we stop getting down on ourselves for not being who we think we’re supposed to be, we end up seeing what we can do with God. We can embrace who we are and take action without feeling like we have to prove or compare ourselves, because we trust God is with us.
Pause and reflect
- What are the things you’re afraid to do, or feel like you should already know how to do?
- It doesn’t matter if you have to take people with you, be awkward about it, do it wrong or at a bad time – just decide to do it.
Don’t go without faithful friends
When Gideon pulled down his father’s idol in the middle of the night, he took 10 guys with him. One good lesson from this is when you are afraid, surround yourself with people who won’t let you compromise. If Gideon had tried to handle this task alone, it would have been much easier to chicken out and go back to bed on that fateful night.
Later, when it was time for Gideon to face the oppressive Midianites, he surrounded himself with 32,000 warriors. In fact, he had so many warriors that God actually had to cut down the size of his army to help the Israelites keep their faith in God and not in themselves:
So Jerub-baal (that is, Gideon) and his army got up early and went as far as the spring of Harod. The armies of Midian were camped north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh.  The LORD said to Gideon, “You have too many warriors with you. If I let all of you fight the Midianites, the Israelites will boast to me that they saved themselves by their own strength. Therefore, tell the people, ‘Whoever is timid or afraid may leave this mountain and go home.’” So 22,000 of them went home, leaving only 10,000 who were willing to fight.
Judges 7:1-3 NLT
Do you believe God can give you victory no matter how little people, resources, or experiences you have? Faithful friends are those who trust first and foremost in God and help us do the same.
Eventually, God cut Gideon’s army down even further:
The LORD told Gideon, “With these 300 men I will rescue you and give you victory over the Midianites. Send all the others home.”
Judges 7:7 NLT
God would rather work through a few people whose hearts are committed than a lot of people who will take credit, take over, or be half-hearted. The amount of resources or talent we have doesn’t matter. What matters is being friends who help each other believe God is with us.
In the moments where I get stuck in my own indecisiveness and fear, I am so grateful for the friends who have pointed me to God and pushed me out of my comfort zone. Though I might fight and resist at first like Gideon did, every time a friend has challenged me to trust God and take a leap of faith, I always end up stronger and more confident because of it.
Pause and reflect
- Do you have friendships like this?
- What could you accomplish if you and a friend believed God was with you?
Don’t discard your weaknesses; embrace them
Gideon went on to fight and defeat the huge Midianite army with just his 300 men. With each decision to act despite his fear, Gideon built confidence. This confidence didn’t come from suppressing or discarding his weaknesses, but embracing them, which made him an even better leader.
We can see this confidence in the way Gideon handled another potentially-frightening leadership situation—a heated argument with some of the people he led, who felt slighted in the battle with the Midianites.
Then the people of Ephraim asked Gideon, “Why have you treated us this way? Why didn’t you send for us when you first went out to fight the Midianites?” And they argued heatedly with Gideon. But Gideon replied, “What have I accomplished compared to you? Aren’t even the leftover grapes of Ephraim’s harvest better than the entire crop of my little clan of Abiezer? God gave you victory over Oreb and Zeeb, the commanders of the Midianite army. What have I accomplished compared to that?” When the men of Ephraim heard Gideon’s answer, their anger subsided.
Judges 8:1-3 NLT
Gideon’s awareness of his own insignificance initially made him insecure, cynical, and self-doubting. But once his confidence was in God rather than himself, this same awareness made him a humble and smart leader. He didn’t have an ego to protect, and had no problem seeing others as better than he was. In fact, he saw how much he needed others, and so he was okay with making himself less to raise them up.
This confident humility helped him influence other people, and his deepest weakness became his greatest strength.
Then the Israelites said to Gideon, “Be our ruler! You and your son and your grandson will be our rulers, for you have rescued us from Midian.”  But Gideon replied, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son. The LORD will rule over you!”
Judges 8:22-23 NLT
Because Gideon learned to rely on God for strength, he influenced others to do the same. Through his journey of doubt, insecurity, and embracing weakness, Gideon developed a deep belief that he couldn’t do anything without God. This confidence that came from trusting God helped him lead others to God as well.
Pause and reflect
- What would embracing weaknesses look like for you?
- What weaknesses of yours could actually be strengths?
- Who are you meant to influence and lead in your life?
If you keep reading Gideon’s story, you’ll find that he became self-assured, powerful, and successful. This was a gradual process of resisting, responding, and drawing closer to God. God grew Gideon step by step, until who he was in battle was unrecognizable from that guy in the winepress.
God wants to do the same with us. Like Gideon, we don’t have to be somewhere we’re not. We might be insecure, inexperienced, guilty, or weak, but when we decide to act on faith anyway, that’s where God moves best. Imagine who you would be and what you would accomplish if you chose to trust God and take small steps forward each day.
Take some time to pray about what challenge or difficulty God might be calling you to take on. Decide not to settle, work through what you’re afraid or doubtful of, and decide to take action on faith anyway. With God’s help, we don’t have to live small. Instead, each of us can lead strong lives of faith and carry out God’s purpose for us.