God is pretty big on fear. Or rather, on not having any. It is one of the most oft-repeated commands in the Bible: Do not fear.
And yet, fear is one thing that most of us are exceptionally good at. From all-out petrified to mildly timid to nervously anxious, we are a people pretty big on fear, too. Do not fear is a pretty tall order for a people like us.
Which is why I was encouraged anew by one of my favorite characters in the Bible this morning: Gideon. I've loved this guy from the first time I read about him, but I am almost ashamed to admit that until this morning (many moons from that first meeting), I had missed this part of his story - God made provision for Gideon's fear.
Gideon was not really known for his courage. When God first finds and calls this man to be a leader in Israel, he's hiding from his enemies in a wine press, beating out grain in secret so no one can find it and take it away from him. The messenger of the Lord shows up and says, "Hail, Mighty Warrior!" and Gideon looks around the otherwise-empty wine press to figure out who this crazy character might be talking to. It certainly couldn't be him!
A short time passes and God builds up an army around Gideon. Or rather, God whittles one down. As He prepares His new servant to go and take possession of the Midianites, He flat-out tells the young leader that his army is far too big. He weeds out the scared first, sending them home. (This is interesting, considering the word that is to come.) If a man is scared, send him home, the Lord tells Gideon. So he does, and he's still left with "too many men." The fledgling forces walk down to the river, and God separates them again by the way they drink water. Now that there are a mere 300 of them left, they are ready for war.
Picking up the story in Judges 7:
That night the Lord said to Gideon, 'Attack! Go into the camp! I will hand it over to you. But if you're afraid to go, take your servant Purah to the camp with you. Listen to what people are saying. After that, you will have the courage to go into the camp and attack it.' (v. 9-11)
Here again, as I've been talking about all week, we have God saying "Go" and a hesitant man on the other end. But instead of saying, "Go anyway," God makes provision for Gideon's fear. He says, "Ok. You're scared. I will add another step for you. Just go and listen, if you're not yet ready to attack." Notice that it's a provision - a bridge from here to there - and not an excuse note. God doesn't say, "If you're scared, you don't have to go." Rather, He presents this sort of middle ground that will help get Gideon past that fear and into faith.
Now, there's an argument to be made here, and it cannot be overlooked. The middle step...is still for Gideon to go into enemy camp. He's lulled into believing it's a smaller thing because he's not fighting, but isn't it in fact a bigger thing? He's walking unprepared, unready to fight into enemy territory, where he could be discovered at any second and, well, taken out. He's only taking one guy with him; that''s far less than the 300 he'd have if he'd just go as God asked. Yet in the next verses, we see Gideon and Purah heading off into Midian camp to build their nerve. It seems like a good deal God's put on the table.
The truth is that once they come out of there, it won't be what he heard that strengthens him as much as what he experienced (although he heard some pretty encouraging news). One day in the not-too-distant future, Gideon is going to really think about it and realize that the middle thing was really the bigger thing, and after you've done the bigger thing, what looked so big yesterday seems so much easier.
This is an encouragement to those of us who wrestle with fear, and I'm going to take a leap and say that's all of us. We know that God tells us not to be afraid. We beat ourselves up over fear. But the story of Gideon is a reminder that God's not beating us up. Rather, He makes provision for our fear. Never excuse, but always provision. He adds a step between here and there, something to get us over the hard part. So it doesn't seem like such a big thing.
And the added truth is this: It's not such a big thing. The middle thing is the big thing. The provision is, arguably, the hard part, but it never really seems that way until you realize what you've done. Until you realize what God has done. Then neither thing is really big. It seems almost too easy.
The hardest thing you did was put foot on that stepping stone. The hardest part of all of it is finding the faith.