Originally published Thursday, 23 March 2017.
Sometimes when my family should be Norman Rockwell-ing it over an old-fashioned board game, we are instead hovered around an Apple TV episode of “Dance Moms: Season Two.”
It is a car-crash-esque pileup of five moms watching their seven daughters cower before one dance teacher named Abby Lee Miller, who yells sporadically at everyone.
The moms are at the mercy of the not-so-benevolent dictatorship of Abby Lee for one reason: She wins. A lot. She turns their daughters into winning dancers. Who cry. Who stuff their feelings and wear confused fake smiles. Who feel the whiplash of love then wrath of Abby Lee at every dance competition.
Latching on to a leader whose affection unpredictably comes and goes is confusing.
Just ask Gideon.
Gideon hit the Bible scene after the Israelites had been sprung from Egypt (with the help of God), survived a stiff-necked wandering in the desert (with the help of God), dispossessed the bad guys and finally scored the Promised Land (with the help of God), and enjoyed years of peace, glorious peace (thanks to God)!
Then they blew off God.
Their world came crashing in, and seven years into a crushingly oppressed and lonely time, God visited Gideon. An angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon and said to him, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior” (Judges 6).
And Gideon, in one of the most under-excited-to-see-God moments in Bible history, wondered aloud: God? Where have you been?
Gideon takes some hits in church circles for this seemingly whiny response. I mean, God’s here! Be glad!
But God didn’t treat him that way. Here was a man who had heard stories about God’s benevolent leadership and love, but where had God been all this time when Gideon needed him?
If you have read the backstory, you know it was not God who left the Israelites, but the Israelites who had left God. God said, “You have not listened to me” (Judges 6:10).
Leaders like it when you listen to them. Even in the “Dance Moms” scenario, Abby Lee Miller is constantly hollering, “Listen to me!”
And really, they should, if they want to win.
In Gideon’s case, he didn’t know how to win. He had heard about God; now he was seeing something he thought might be God. But life had been rough. He did not trust what was right in front of him.
“Don’t go away…” Gideon said to God, as Gideon prepped an offering for him (Judges 6:18).
God had already told Gideon he was mighty. He had already told Gideon he had a job to do. He had already told Gideon, “I will be with you” and the Midianites were going down.
But still, Gideon did not know what he could trust God would do.
God could have justifiably gotten smoking mad at Gideon with an accusing “You’re not listening to me!” However, it’s one thing to be obstinate, but another thing altogether to be unsure.
This is a God who cares about that difference.
Gideon was hearing God say great things, but Gideon did not know if God would actually do the greatest thing of all.
Wherein we register that the God of this Bible has a much greater mission than demonstrating his greatness. His mission is demonstrating his love. His greatest challenge was getting the people of the Bible to buy that.
In Gideon’s case, that was about to change.
“Don’t go away…” Gideon said to God. “And the Lord said, ‘I will stay here until you return’” (Judges 6:18).
Then he did a lot more than that.
So commenced a bit of fire that lit up a little meat and unleavened bread. There was later a bit of fleece and then later a big barley loaf in the middle of someone else’s dream.
Over and over, God reinforced Gideon’s confidence in the predictability of God’s love. His leadership. His commitment. His plans to stay. His personal affection for Gideon as a person and for people as a whole.
For a God who had already demonstrated his character all the way over to owing not one more kind gesture, he…did a lot of them anyway.
So Gideon could see how great God was?
So Gideon could see how trustworthy God was.
If the Israelites hadn’t listened before, Gideon was listening now. Intently. What transpired was a monumentally triumphant turn of events for Gideon and his people. Also, Gideon came to believe that the hiding place of God’s word was a place he could trust.
Trust is a funny thing. It is a fleeting thing. It is fragile, unimaginably personal, and the constant rebirthing of its integrity is a reinforcing joist upon which a relationship is borne. You want predictable?
In the face of unsureness, Abby Lee Miller predictably and consistently tells her dancers and their moms the same thing: “Save your tears for your pillow in your room.”
God’s predictable refrain? Bring your tears to me. God says it over and over and over. “Return to me and I will return to you.”
He wishes you would.
*Janelle Alberts writes pithy Bible synopses and is a regular contributor to Christianity Today's Gifted for Leadership. Find out more about Alberts here.