They Also Serve Who Only Stand and Wait


<For those who don’t know, the Title is from the last line of the sonnet by John Milton, “On His Blindness”>

The Book of the Judges in the Bible tells the story of Gideon and the Midianites. Anyone unfamiliar with the story is certainly invited to look it up. But in the story, God called Gideon to lead the army of Israel (at this time in its history, more of a tribal confederation) against the invading Midianites. 32,000 showed up to join Gideon. God tells him that there are too many men (God apparently wished to demonstrate that He was saving the people of Israel and did not want the men of Israel to be confused in this message. Yet He still chose to use people. Miracles always still utilize people). So those who were timid or afraid were invited to go home. 22,000 went home. 10,000 remained. That was too many so a test was done. All were invited to drink from a river and those who drank one way were told to go home while the others were told to stay. 300 was the final number who stayed. God used those 300 to bring terror on the Midianites who fled. (I remember hearing a sermon where the preacher suggested that they way they drank showed how vigilant or non-vigilant the men were. I think that is completely flawed. The key was to reduce the numbers. The final number was important, not the method of drinking water.)

So here is a multiple choice question.

HOW MANY ISRAELITES DID GOD USE?

A.  32,000       (“the Willing”)

B.  10,000       (“The Committed”)

C.  300           (“The Chosen”)

D.  1               (“The Called”)

There is no single right answer. I, personally, believe that “D” is clearly wrong. It smacks of the “Great Man” theory of history. God uses people. God does not use individuals who then use people. God does not separate Himself that way from His servants.

But choosing between “A”, “B”, or “C” is more difficult. Personally, I would choose “A” (32,000) as the correct answer. God uses the willing. God came up with those chosen to serve from those willing to serve. Those who were willing but afraid and those who are committed but not chosen are the people God draws from in the future for service.

The Bible is full of people God used who were willing (in a general sense to serve God) but lacked commitment (or were timid) at first. Moses (arguably hardly even willing), Jacob, Deborah, Saul, Jonah, John Mark,  and Timothy are a few. If some give the impression of willing to dive in from the very start, it is likely that the story is compressed.

Another story that brings up this idea involves the stones collected by David. The Bibles says David collected 5 stones when he went against Goliath. How many stones did David use? He used 5. One to strike down Goliath, and four to have as back-up if the first didn’t do its job. I also heard a sermon trying to say that the other four were for the other brothers of Goliath. It is amazing how much disrespect is given to someone or something being ready for service but not (at least for now) needed.

Regardless, it is from the pool of the willing that God develops those he chooses. In missions we seek the highly committed, and that is fine. But we cannot reject those who are willing but not committed, or the willing but timid. This is the pool that God is developing to serve. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday they will be called by God. In missions we can be part of God’s effort to prepare these people… or we can simply reject them. WHAT A WASTE! WHAT A MISTAKE!

We need to seek the willing… and gently help them be prepared long before they are ready to commit. and even longer before they are chosen. My life experience supports this.

  • I was willing to serve God LONG before I was willing to serve unconditionally.
  • I was interested in considering mission work SOMEDAY long before I was willing to consider it in the near future.
  • I was willing to prepare myself for missions long before I was willing to commit myself to missions

People development is not simply developing the highly motivated– it is recognizing the willing (in some sense) and helping them be prepared for when they are chosen.

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