By Drew Williams
Have you ever noticed how airport bookshops are always crammed with self-help books? Scan the titles and you’ll find an eclectic array of suggestions that would move one from a life of anxiety to trust, from fear to faith (in self or others). From The New York Times Best Sellers list, Sheryl Sandberg advises women that all they have to do to cast off fear in the workplace is “lean in.” Dale Carnegie’s perennial bestseller, penned in 1948, tells you “how to stop worrying and start living.” Steve Harvey’s advice is to “act like a lady, think like a man.” (I really don’t know what to say about that one.)
Whatever the advice is that’s being touted, the common denominator in self-help books is that it is all down to the individual. Here’s your issue, here’s the mindset you need to adopt about yourself, and here are the practical steps you need to take to get yourself out of that negative position.
In contrast, when I look at someone like Gideon in the Bible (the all-time bestselling book), it is clear that his personal development was all on account of what God did. And essentially what God did was to take him from a life of abject fear (making him prime airport bookshop fodder) to a place of peace and security and a deep trust in God. It was quite a spectacular curve. So, before I work out how to act like a lady and think like a man, I want to know: how did God do that and what does that mean for us?
I had a curious season of sickness and during this time I could not physically work out. Going for a jog at Tod’s Point or lifting weights was no longer remotely possible. This went on for about four years. Following my surgery, and after some excellent physical therapy from Ivy Rehab in Old Greenwich, I am now able to go back to the gym. A good friend of mine, Dominic Novak, is the owner of Peak 360 in Greenwich. He has been keeping the community in shape for over 20 years. Very kindly, he offered to “rebuild me” (he clearly likes a challenge). I recently arrived for a session and he informed that I would be training with the captain of the Duke basketball team and members of his team! I think I came up to their knees. They were actually very kind to the skinny, short guy in their midst. I have noticed that Dominic has a great technique for spurring me on. Mid-rep, when I am ready to quit, he says, “Drew, you can do this. You have the strength!” Honestly, I am not sure that I do—but somehow that causes me to press in, and in the pressing in and pressing on I am building up my strength.
In something of the same fashion, God sees Gideon for who he will become: a “…valiant warrior.” In other words, “Gideon, you have the strength.” God imputes to Gideon a quality of character that Gideon does not yet fully possess and God encourages us in exactly the same way. He sees who He made us to be, and through each other, He will call that out of us.
As well as knowing who He made us to be, God also knows of what we are made. “For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are but dust…” (Psalm 103:14) And in all our fragility, He is mercifully patient. He is patient with my need for time to grow in faith. For Gideon, there was a progression of assignments that enabled him to build up his faith “muscles.” I’m grateful that before I got back to the gym and Dominic’s professional care, I had three months of excellent physical therapy.
God is also patient with our need for constant reassurance. This brings us to Gideon’s fleece. God has asked Gideon to lead God’s people to freedom from a large and aggressive enemy. Gideon says to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said, behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.” (Judges 6:36-37). And God patiently gives him this reassurance.
But Gideon needs a little more help. He says, “…let me speak just once more…” And this time he reverses the test. God patiently obliges him even though Gideon knows that he is pushing his luck. For all of Gideon’s anxiety, what is clear is that he has faith in God’s continuing patience and mercy. Do we ever feel like God’s patience and mercy is going to run out on us? Gideon was anxious, but he did not let that anxiety stop him from pressing into God. So God patiently brings Gideon to a point where he has just enough trust in God. Gideon is not the completed article, he is not sufficiently “leaning in,” he is still prone to worry. But when it was time for Gideon to step up, God made his faith enough.
And so it is with each of us. Like Gideon, God would show us that He is at the very center of our lives, that He has gone ahead of us and that we can rely upon Him to get us through whatever trial of life we find ourselves in. In all of this process, God will take the little faith that we have and, if we will let Him, He will make it enough. He has always been in the business of re-making “unlikely” heroes. Are we ready to be God’s hero? If it were a matter of making myself ready, I would say definitely not! Trusting in God’s strength and following His lead, now that’s a different story.
Drew Williams is senior pastor at Trinity Church in Greenwich.