Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Don’t be fleeced into thinking of this mighty introvert as one who shilly-shallied

When you’re a kid growing up in a small Pentecostal church, knowing God’s will is a big deal. You want to know the formula for getting it right.

Just when you thought you came across something in the Bible that might be “it,” the “anti-fleece” sermon would roll around the next Sunday to remind you that you were wrong. Again.

The “anti-fleece” was a popular sermon I heard a lot growing up. The gist was what not to do when seeking God’s will.

Sigh.

But that’s not the reason I’m bringing this up. The antihero of the “anti-fleece” sermon was poor, old Gideon. Gideon was characterized as a cowardly, hesitant, God-doubting wimp.

In fact, he was described the way a lot of people think of introverts.

Be honest. When you hear someone label themselves as an introvert, adjectives that come to mind probably include at least one of these: backward, bashful, cowardly, fearful, halting, hesitant, indecisive, shy, slow-witted, stand-offish, tentative, timid, wimpy, one who shilly-shallies.

While an introvert may possess one or more of these qualities, none are true synonyms for “introvert.”

In fact, there are many extroverts who are cowardly, indecisive, and more. And there are introverts who are quite courageous.

For example, Gideon.

Gideon’s story is found in the Bible in the book of Judges, chapters 6, 7, and 8.

Other than a brief mention in 1 Samuel 12:11 where he’s referenced by his alternate name, Jerubbaal, the only other notable place he’s cited in scripture is in Hebrews, but I’ll get to that later.

Introverts are cautious

The story of Gideon opens with him hiding in a winepress, secretly threshing some wheat.

And, therefore, he’s a cowering coward.

Of course, this characterization completely ignores that Gideon was hiding from marauding hordes of ruthless Midianites and their buds who “would come like locusts in number,” laying waste to the land, taking everything and anything they wanted by force.

Within the context of the story, hiding in the winepress seems shrewd and responsible, especially given the viciousness of those he was hiding from.

Typical wise introvert behavior.

Introverts tend to avoid the spotlight

As an introvert, Gideon is not shy, timid, or cowardly. His Creator doesn’t believe he’s a cowerer, either. God sends an angel who addresses Gideon as a “mighty man of valor.”

Gideon’s first reaction is typical of an introvert. He tells his angelic messenger, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold...I am the least....”

In fact, his overall response is very introvert-like:
  • He asks for more information so he can better assess what’s happening.
  • He takes time so he can process what’s happening.
  • He seeks clarification to ensure he’s heard correctly.
After all, Gideon is being instructed to go against savage hordes and save his entire people.

True to his created nature, Gideon carefully weighed what was happening before launching into action.

Introverts build on smaller victories

From what I’ve observed in extroverts, they’re response might have been to shout an enthusiastic “Yo! Let’s roll!” while grabbing a sword and running headlong into the fray to do battle, and probably die on the spot.

Extroverts act before they think. Introverts do the opposite.

Gideon’s first task was to destroy an altar and idols Gideon’s father, Joash, had built to Baal, a false god. He plans, gathers trusted helpers, and waits until the whole town is asleep to do the deed, then quietly goes to bed. He recedes until someone points the finger at him.

In the morning, after discovering his involvement, the townspeople demand that he be stoned. But Gideon escapes this close call thanks to Joash intervening.

This would have been a knee-knocker moment for Gideon or anyone; he was only inches away from being killed. But emboldened by the grace God administers through Joash, Gideon uses this success as encouragement to keep going.

Introverts are creative problem-solvers

As the Midianites rally with their allies in preparation to ravage the land, Gideon is empowered with the Spirit of the Lord to sound a trumpet-call to arms.

Following this burst of energetic enthusiasm he has a reasonable crisis of faith and needs a little more reassurance. After all, he was about to confront a godless, head-lopping mob of thousands.

With reverence, humility, and respect Gideon seeks a visible sign from the Lord to ensure he’s heard correctly and is taking the proper course of action.

He gets creative and sets out his fleece.

Some view this as “testing the Lord” and another example of Gideon’s many flaws, pointing to Deuteronomy 6:16 where God cautions the Israelites, “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.”

But what happened at Massah? The children of Israel had just recently witnessed the parting of the Red Sea, among other miracles, and were traveling in the wilderness guided by an ever-present pillar of smoke by day and fire at night. Now they were thirsty and threw a tantrum. Like grumbling, fussy children they demand water, claiming they were better off as slaves in Egypt! They were “testy” and impatient with Moses and God.

This isn’t what Gideon is doing. He comes humbly before God seeking one final assurance. This is a natural expression of Gideon’s introvert temperament and personality. The Lord shows no anger or impatience with Gideon.

Introverts appreciate feedback & assurance

Once reassured, Gideon asks for no more signs, but without hesitation does what is asked. And what he is asked to do next is pretty remarkable -- to trim his fighting force from 32,000 to 300!

Later, again recognizing the person Gideon was (and how He had created him), the Lord offers Gideon an opportunity to seek further reassurance even though Gideon didn’t ask.

God tells Gideon to go eavesdrop on the enemy camp. There, he hears a man reveal a dream predicting an Israelite victory, is spiritually bolstered, and without hesitation launches a massively successful assault with only 300 men.

Introverts make bad decisions under pressure & when tired


After successful conquests, with peace and safety restored, Gideon is ready to settle back into a quiet life. But the men of Israel press him to be their king, an opportunity he eschews.

I can imagine the introvert Gideon tired of having to be “on” for such a long time, just wanting to live out the rest of his life in peace. He’s fought a lot of hard, exhausting battles.

Tired introverts tend to make poor judgments, especially under pressure. And that’s what Gideon did. Instead of agreeing to be king, or suggesting everyone take a break so he could think things over, he creates an “ephod” which was a kind of idol.

While the details are sketchy, Gideon takes this ephod and erects it in the city, perhaps in the same place where the altar to Baal he’d torn down a few years prior had stood. His intention may have been to create a visual reminder of all God had done for him and his people, but instead, the ephod became an object of worship and a “snare” to those who worshipped it.

Introverts can adapt to cultural expectations

In the concluding verses of chapter 8, it’s noted that Gideon had “many” wives, a concubine, and at least 71 children. Only sons are mentioned so he probably had some daughters as well. How, you wonder, could someone with such a large extended family be an introvert?

Simple. Introverts know how to adapt to and live within cultural expectations. This ability often causes introverts to be mistaken for being extroverts.

As the influential patriarch of his family, Gideon would have had control over his environment. In his culture and his time, the women watched the children and the men did what they wanted to. It would have been easy for him to manage ample times of solitude to recharge.

Introverts are quiet leaders

Sadly, after his death, “the people of Israel...did not show steadfast love to the family of Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) in return for all the good that he had done to Israel” (Judges 8:34-35, ESV).

Talk about tossing the baby out with the bath water!

But God viewed his situation differently.

Hebrews 11 is known as “the faith chapter.” In it, the writer lists heroic Old Testament characters. These are extraordinary individuals whose stories serve as examples to encourage and challenge our own faith.

Despite his faults, Gideon makes the cut.

Along with others, such as David and Samson (both marked by glaring flaws by the way), they and Gideon are described as having “through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.”

The story of Gideon is a wonderful example of how God acknowledges different personality types, and in this instance showing how He deals patiently and encouragingly with an introvert.

The result was Gideon rising to the occasion as an exceptional leader.

He was not an extroverted, outgoing, charismatic, or flashy warrior. He was a quiet leader who faced a tremendous challenge successfully. He was not in it for his own glory. He was in it for the Lord’s glory, and to help his people.

Yep, introverts can be heroes, too. They may not be as visible as Gideon was in his day, but you probably know one.

Or, maybe you are one.


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Do you agree that Gideon was an introvert? What other Bible characters would you view as introverts? Why? Do you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert? How do you view those with the opposite personality style? Sound off in the comments!

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