The Wine Press is No Place to Thresh Wheat
The year was 2008. I sat at a long table positioned at the front end of a very big room, a room too large for this Monday night Cornerstone Academy staff meeting. The rest of the rooms in our host church’s building were either too small or already used as classrooms. A group of the ever-eager-to-get-involved kindergarten moms had decorated the table so that it would feel like we were in a quaint, intimate Italian restaurant. The tablecloths were checkered, and there were lovely fresh flowers placed every four feet or so. Our staff thoroughly enjoyed the lovingly prepared spaghetti, garlic bread, and salad. The atmosphere was relaxed, as it usually was during these meetings, because our staff was small, and we were like family.
I had virtually no experience teaching, but I loved the opportunity to work at Cornerstone Academy, even though I pretty much had no idea what I was doing and always felt so very insecure about myself and my teaching abilities. Our board members gave us a nice pep talk that evening, assuring us of how much they loved us for being there, and one by one, they told us how important we were, and how much they appreciated the work that we did for them, the students, and for the Lord. One member spoke of how much they believed in us, and how we were hopefully feeling empowered by them because they trusted us wholeheartedly.Those words were very reassuring to me; it was nice to know that someone believed in me even though most of the time, I didn’t believe in myself.
Even as the words were coming out of the board member’s mouth, I was transported to a far away place, thousands of years ago. Come with me to the winepress. I pray we won’t be there long.
Most of us never feel like we have it in us to do what we have been called to do. Abraham didn’t think he had it in him, but he obeyed. Moses didn’t think he had it in him, but he chose to obey too. Today and tomorrow, I will be sharing with you the story of Gideon. He certainly didn’t think he had it in him either.
This is how Judges 6 begins, and how my story begins more often than I care to admit.
The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. (1-2)
Although the Israelites’ hiding was caused by sin (doing evil in the eyes of the Lord), it was driven by fear; the Midianites were oppressing them, invading them, and taking everything away from them. They were so impoverished that “they cried out to the Lord for help” (6:6).
I found something very interesting about the word stronghold. In this particular verse the word used for stronghold is not actually the typical word meaning a fortified city; instead, the word used here refers to a place of lying in wait, a place of retreat. Are the Israelites waiting for something to happen? Did they think that the Midianites were going to just go away? Do we lie in wait and think that Satan is just going to leave us alone and then something grand is just going to happen and fix it all? Are we waiting for the money to come in, the children to shape up, the marriage to heal, the house to be clean, or the addictions to dissipate before we are willing to step out into the open and be willing to be used by God? I’ve lived in this waiting, wanting life to change without wanting to lift a finger. I wait and I fear. I dream and I fear. I cry and I fear. I fear lack of importance and influence; I fear never being noticed or taken seriously. I fear that my dream is too big. I fear that nothing I do will ever be good enough. I fear and I lie waiting, paralyzed. I just stay in the cave, in the stronghold, in the fear.
Then I reach that same point that the Israelites reached, and perhaps you have too. I become desperate, destitute, lonely, paralyzed, and impoverished. I cry out to the Lord.
When the angel of the Lord appears to Gideon, the scriptures tell us he was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites (6:11). What? What on earth is he doing threshing wheat in a winepress? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that grapes belong in a winepress, not wheat. Where should he be threshing wheat anyway? Back in the day, and I hear that even in some parts of the world they still do this today, threshing wheat happened on the tops of hills. The wheat is taken and thrown up into the air, the wind blows the chaff away, and the heavy grain falls down to the ground. Since the Israelites were so impoverished, Gideon probably didn’t have much wheat, but what little he did have he took with him to the lowest, safest place he could find in order to survive.
We sometimes tend to be so insecure and think we have so little to offer that we take what “little” we have to a “safe” place for our own self-preservation. We are so enslaved that we feel no freedom to take what we have and throw it up on the mountaintop, give it to God, and serve Him with it.
Are you hiding in the winepress? What fear is keeping you there?
GET OUT! You have it in you, more than you can even imagine. Let’s take what we have–even when we think it’s not much–let’s take it to the mountaintop.
Tomorrow, we will continue with the story of Gideon, and more about why his story came to mind during my Cornerstone staff meeting.
And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8)