Finding Peace In A Violent World
What do we do when the world in which we live is literally torn apart by the machine-gun fire and bomb-blast of anger, hatred, racism, gang-violence, and abuse? What do we do? Where do we turn? Contrary to my normal practice in preaching, I have only one point to make today. Just one. I believe that when we look at the world around us, the one thing we all can do, that one thing we are all called to do, is to pray. We are called to be “a people of prayer.” That’s the point. That’s the conclusion. That’s the summary. That’s the ending. That’s the punch line. That’s the last word. If you need to leave now, go ahead—because I am going to end up today right where I start. All I’m going to say to you today is that in times of violence, we don’t become people of violence—we become instead a people of prayer …What do we do when the world in which we live is literally torn apart by the machine-gun fire and bomb-blast of anger, hatred, racism, gang-violence, and abuse? What do we do? Where do we turn? Contrary to my normal practice in preaching, I have only one point to make today. Just one. I believe that when we look at the world around us, the one thing we all can do, that one thing we are all called to do, is to pray. We are called to be “a people of prayer.” That’s the point. That’s the conclusion. That’s the summary. That’s the ending. That’s the punch line. That’s the last word. If you need to leave now, go ahead—because I am going to end up today right where I start. All I’m going to say to you today is that in times of violence, we don’t become people of violence—we become instead a people of prayer …
I’d like to begin by telling you the story of the birth of an actual nation. As I unfold the story, some of you history buffs might listen carefully and see if you can identify the nation.
The nation to which I refer was born out of religious oppression. The people who founded the nation were seeking the freedom to worship God freely. For hundreds of years they had lived under repressive authority which sought to control their practice of the faith. Finally they chose to depart. They made the risky decision of leaving their land and through a remarkable series of events, they embarked for a new country, becoming pilgrims in a new and distant place. Very few of them survived the long, hazardous journey, but when those who did survive arrived in the new land, the first thing they did was to give thanks to God. Then as they sought to make a home in this new place, they were confronted by harsh weather and harsh land. There were groups of people already living in the land who posed a danger for them. But they were so happy to be where they were that they prayed to God in thanksgiving.
It was on the basis of that praying faith of these pilgrims that the nation was born. In time they overcame the dangers that surrounded them and over the next two centuries, they built a strong community of people. They would send out family groups of pioneers to scout out and settle the land. They would elect representatives to lead them. Later on government was formed and states were delineated and a headquarters was established. For the first two hundred years of its history, historians referred to this nation as a nation of faith led by courageous and devout leaders.
With the passing of the years, the nation fell into the predictable cycle of forgetting what the Founding Fathers had taught. The people began to compromise their values and to lose their sense of right and wrong, good and bad, true and false. Eventually they would split up, north and south, at enmity with one another. If you go back and dig into the history, you discover that even the educational institutions began to teach that right and wrong are relative terms—and you will find a multitude of stories about how those in high authority would exchange their integrity for sexual favors or financial gain.
As a consequence, the nation found itself gripped by violence. There was not a day when someone was not killed. Individuals and groups were fighting one another constantly. Some of the accounts of the violence are gruesome indeed. It was enough to cause thoughtful observers to ask what happened to the people who had settled the land with such hope and bright promise. What had become of their faith and their ideals?
Now what country have I just described? Sounds like America, doesn’t it? But you might be surprised to discover that the story I have just told you did not come from an American history book. It came from the Bible. It’s the story of the nation of Israel after they left Egypt under the leadership of Moses, journeyed to the Promised Land, settled it, and built a nation there. Their experience was marked in the beginning by the courageous leadership of people like Joshua and the faithful obedience of the people to God’s will. They created a government, set up states, and encouraged the worship of God. Then Joshua died, and as the Book of Judges tells us, there began a time when “all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” Sounds so familiar, doesn’t it?
Not so long ago, William Bennett delivered a courageous address to the Heritage Foundation. After a lengthy statement of the ills and problems which make our modern American culture, he asked: “Is the cause of these problems poor government, lack of funding, lack of inadequate education …” and he went on to list all different answers which so quickly spring to our lips. Then he shocked his hearers by saying: “No! Here is the cause. A spiritual death has come upon our people. Our people no longer hunger or thirst or seek after God. A dying of the soul has fallen upon America.”
That’s what we see in the Book of Judges, and that’s what we see in our country today. Surely we are beginning to realize that simply generating more money, developing different programs and electing new leaders is not working to solve the problems. We live in a nation that is more affluent and more educated and has more opportunities than any other society in all of history, and yet 70% of the American people say that they are unhappy or discontented. Go figure! We got what we wanted, and now we don’t like it. How do you explain that? I think Bennett is right. The problem is not on the outside, but on the inside. And therefore, I think it is worth remembering that that is precisely what happened to Israel in the time of the Book of Judges.
But I think it’s also worth remembering that in the midst of all the darkness in the Book of Judges, God chose to light a candle. The name of the candle was Gideon.
Now I’d like to tell you the story of Gideon, and as I do, perhaps the light of God which shone through Gideon’s life can shine into the darkness of our own time.
Gideon was by temperament timid and tentative. He was the youngest and most insignificant child in a forgotten family from the wrong side of the tracks. So far as we know, he had no military training or experience, and yet Gideon became a great national leader. Why? Because he knew one thing. He knew that when you get into trouble, you get on your knees. As a result of Gideon’s story, the writer of Judges says that Israel was blessed with 40 years of peace. Oh to have 40 years of peace here in the U.S.A.! Here we see that because of the faithfulness of Gideon, God granted 40 years of peace to the nation of Israel.
Gideon didn’t want to be called by God. Make no mistake about that. In fact, when the story begins, we are told that Gideon was threshing wheat in the wine press—underground, undercover. He was afraid of the violent world in which he lived, and he carried out his daily work in hiding. And then the angel of the Lord said to Gideon: “The Lord is with you, Mighty Warrior.” Gideon replies: “Who, me? I’m no mighty warrior.” But God saw something in Gideon that Gideon couldn’t see. Then Gideon went on to ask: “If the Lord is with us, then why are we having so much trouble? If God is God, why are people hungry, why are people fighting, why is there so much violence and bloodshed?” Can I tell you something? What Gideon was doing is what I called “the analysis that leads to paralysis.” He was looking at all the problems and not the solutions. Do you know that there is enough food on the earth to feed everybody on earth? Do you know that there is enough money on the earth to solve the problem of poverty? Do you know that it would take about $65 billion to eliminate most of the world’s poverty? If every church member tithed, we would have that much with an extra $17 billion left over, all the while maintaining church activities at their current level. No, the problem is not God, it is us.
Gideon tried another way out. He said: “Lord, my family is the weakest in the nation of Israel. I am the least important member of that least important family. I don’t have a political or military bone in my body.” The Lord responded: “Yes, Gideon, but I will be with you.” Isn’t that great? “I will be with you.” Question. Has God changed from that day to this? No. Question. Is God with us? Yes. Question. Can we therefore make a difference in our world? Yes.
Gideon then said: “Lord, I need some proof that You are with me and that you really want me to lead your people against our enemies. So what I am going to do is set this piece of wool out on the ground tonight. If the wool is wet and the grass is dry, I’ll know that I am the one.” Well, that’s what happened. But Gideon still wasn’t convinced. He said: “Lord, tonight let’s reverse it. Let the ground be wet and the wool dry.” The next day it was so. Mark it down. God is patient with a sincere heart. God never turns away the honest doubter or the confused disciple. He was patient with Moses, with Isaiah, with Jeremiah, with Thomas, with Peter, with Paul. And he was patient with Gideon when Gideon said: “I need one more sign.” So keep asking your questions. Keep searching. One day God will find you.
Fast forward. Gideon at last feels that God indeed is with him, and that he can lead his people against his enemies. Then God says: “One more thing. You’ve got too many soldiers. With that many soldiers they will say ‘We won the victory, not God’. So Gideon, tell anyone who doesn’t want to go into battle to go home.” 22,000 of the 32,000 soldiers left. God said: “Still too many. Have the remaining 10,000 drink water. Those who forget where they are and drop down and plunge their faces into the water, send them home. Those who kneel, staying ever vigilant and alert and dip the water up in their cupped hands and lap it like dogs, those you keep.” 9,700 departed, 300 were left. Just a handful to face a massive army of opposition. God always uses a few to correct the many.
Gideon’s 300 were armed with nothing more than jars, trumpets, and the element of surprise. They waited until the opposing army was sleeping. Then they stormed the enemy camp, blowing the trumpets, smashing the jars and screaming: “For the Lord and for Gideon.” The enemy soldiers were startled awake, and in their disorientation, the Bible says, they began to fight each other. Gideon’s men didn’t even have to fight. The enemies of God destroyed themselves. Tuck this away and remember it. Anything, any movement, any belief, any philosophy, any program, any nation which is outside of God tends to destroy itself—whether it is humanism or Communism or relativism or racism or atheism—if it’s outside of God, it will chew itself up given enough time, because it lacks the moral and spiritual strength needed to survive. And give any society enough days, enough weeks, enough months, enough years, enough generations, and someday that society will swing back and say: “We’ve been in this pit long enough. What did those who have gone before us do that worked?” And once again, revival and renewal will come to that land. That’s what happened to Israel because of Gideon.
I looked carefully at the story of Gideon to see if I could determine why God chose Gideon, and why God chose to bless Israel through Gideon. And then I saw it. More than a dozen times, like some great recurring theme in a symphony, it says “Gideon prayed … Gideon spoke to God … Gideon worshipped God.” Gideon knew only one thing, but it was all that God needed to know about him. Gideon knew that when you get into trouble, you get on your knees. That’s all Gideon knew, and that’s all Gideon could do.
Reminds me of my friend, Ben Patterson, who tells of being moved and deeply impressed by the sign and the picture he saw on a cardboard box in the foyer of a Baptist Church in Minneapolis. The sign read “Tim Lindbloom’s Prayer Ministry”. The picture was of Tim Lindbloom, a young man in a wheelchair wearing a helmet, apparently the victim of cerebral palsy. There was a slot in the top of the box for people to insert prayer requests and there was a note which read: “I ask only that you let me know what happens.” Ben Patterson thought to himself, “What work could this young man do with his catastrophic physical limitations? He could pray—and that would be more than enough to make things happen.”
And so it was with Gideon. He couldn’t do much because of all his limitations. But he could pray. And because of his prayers and his faith, God gave Israel 40 years of peace. Dear friends, if America ever again stands on the firm foundation of faith, it will be because you and I and all of us together become a people of prayer. Let’s begin that right now. I want you to stand up. I want you to hold hands with the person next to you, everybody holding hands as the community of faith. I want us to have a silent prayer. I want each of us to give thanks to those who have given us this nation. I want each of us to give thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ for His amazing, forgiving, saving grace. I want each of us to rededicate ourselves to be what God wants us to be.