Throughout Scripture God places His people in situations that require them to put their faith into action. Often these tests lead in a direction society considers irrational and may seem illogical to those around us. But when we trust God in these circumstances and obey His will, our faith matures. With each act of obedience we learn more about God’s faithfulness and understand more clearly His ways.
Most of these Bible stories involve ordinary people like you and me, not spiritual giants with extraordinary spiritual gifts. In fact, the only thing preventing many of us from experiencing God in similarly powerful and dramatic ways is a single step of faith. When we act on our trust in Him, amazing things happen in our lives and in the lives of those around us.
Let’s explore a couple of these ‘faith in action’ stories. Our first story takes place in Zarephath, where God has just sent the prophet Elijah. As he arrives in the city he encounters a widow with whom he has this interesting exchange.
“Please bring me a little water in a cup, that I may drink.” And as she was going to get it, he called to her and said, “Please bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” Then she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I do not have bread, only a handful of flour in a bin, and a little oil in a jar; and see, I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.” And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said, but make me a small cake from it first and bring it to me; and afterward make some for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the Lord sends rain on the earth.’ So she went away and did according to the word of Elijah; and she and he and her household ate for many days. The bin of flour was not used up, nor did the jar of oil run dry, according to the word of the Lord which He spoke by Elijah” (1 Kings 17:10b-16, NKJV).
What a remarkable story. Despite her desperate circumstances, the woman agrees to this radical (some might say ‘ridiculous’) proposal from the prophet. He asks her to prioritize his needs above her and her son’s; that she extend his life (a stranger) at the (potential) expense of their lives. As if their deaths weren’t imminent enough, Elijah’s request would seal their fate more quickly – unless of course his assertion were true that God would prevent the flour and oil from running out.
Using hindsight, we may be tempted to conclude the widow did nothing special. After all, we might argue, what did she have to lose? She was going to die anyway, so why not take a risk and agree to the prophet’s offer? But that ignores several critical facts.
First, the woman was not a Jew and did not share Elijah’s faith in the God of Israel. She knew nothing of the Lord and had no basis to trust Him or His messenger.
Second, as any parent will tell you, the idea of sacrificing your child’s life to save the life of a stranger runs counter to every parental instinct. Good parents do everything they can to protect and care for their children, not put their lives at risk to help others, no matter how noble the cause.
Third, the content of Elijah’s proposal is absolutely preposterous from the world’s perspective. It defies logic. The widow must exchange common sense for an embrace of God’s supernatural power – a God she never believed in until that moment.
In our second story, God sends Gideon to save Israel from the Midianites, a people who were “as numerous as locusts.” Against such an overwhelming force you might imagine the need for Israel to send an army of comparable size. If Israel were unable to muster such a military presence, then you would expect them to have a superior arsenal of weapons. Without one or the other, an Israeli victory would seem impossible.
Yet God ignores military convention and tells Gideon that the thirty-two thousand men he has assembled for battle are too numerous in number, “lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me, saying, ‘my own hand has saved me.’” So God uses several methods to whittle that number down to three hundred men. He then informs Gideon, “By these three hundred men I will save Israel, and deliver the Midianites into your hand.”
You need not have attended West Point to understand the lunacy of this military strategy. Reducing an already inadequate force down to several hundred men is illogical when confronting an indomitable opponent. Yet that is precisely what God calls Gideon and the people of Israel to do. For it is in that act of seeming madness that they will demonstrate their trust and faith in God and He will reveal Himself to them.
As if that insanity weren’t enough, however, God then declares that instead of using weapons of war to win the battle He wants Gideon and his men to blow trumpets instead. In doing so God makes an already impossible victory beyond hopeless. The men must have wondered if their commander had lost his mind since his strategy was void of all rational military science. Surely Gideon was leading them to a massacre, like lambs led to slaughter.
But an astounding thing happens when Gideon and his men reject sound military strategy in favor of obedience to God. They win! The opposition turns on each other and is handily defeated. In perhaps the greatest military victory of all time, God uses a small squadron of men to conquer an overpowering adversary – with trumpets no less. Not because they executed a superior strategy, fought harder, or employed more advanced weaponry, but rather because they trusted and obeyed God.
Once again, hindsight may lead us to conclude that trusting God in that situation was a no-brainer for Gideon and the Israelites. Despite the irrationality of God’s plan, it was obvious He would liberate His people and ensure victory. They could embrace with certainty His promise because God always delivers on His commitments.
And yet, how many of us hesitate to follow God down an equally preposterous path in our own lives? We delay obedience and resist His call on our lives because the direction He is leading makes no sense. From a societal perspective, it is sheer madness. Only a crazy person would follow God down a road as irrational as the one He is calling us to pursue. If you are among those struggling to obey God because His plan seems illogical, recall God’s reasoning to Gideon for using such circumstances. Difficult challenges and overwhelming odds ensure that only He gets the glory.
How is God calling you to boldly demonstrate your faith today? What act has He asked of you that defies common sense and will earn the derision of those around you? Is God leading you down a path that seems irrational from the world’s perspective? If so, find inspiration from the Zarephath widow and Gideon’s army of three hundred.
God often puts us in circumstances that stretch and mature our faith. Resist the temptation to follow the easy path of rational thought and common sense when the Spirit is leading you elsewhere. Maybe it’s time to trust the Lord with that radical decision you’ve been postponing for too long. As you take that step of faith, you will experience God in an amazing and fresh way.