I've always appreciated the story of Gideon found in the Bible. For those of you who don't know the story, you can find it in Judges 6 - 8. Here's the breakdown of the story:
God's people, the Israelites, aren't the best followers! They have this nasty pattern of following God, disobeying God and ignoring God. Eventually, to end each instance of this pattern God sends a reminder of their defiance through some kind of oppression or defeat, and then raises up a redeemer of sorts to save them. In this cycle, this redeemer leads the people back into the "following God" phase.
Gideon is one of these "redeemers," who God chooses to save his people. It's really important to note that Gideon is a runt! He's the smallest kid from the weakest family from the lowest tribe of the followers of God. In other words, NO ONE would expect a redeemer like Gideon. And right out of the gate, Gideon knows it! He goes so far as to questions whether God has the right guy! (As if God can't make a redeemer out of anyone he chooses!)
So this is the part of the story that you may not know you're familiar with. To test God ... just to make sure Gideon isn't screwing this whole deal up ... he tells God that he has put a wool fleece outside his tent, and if God really has picked him to save his people, God will soak the fleece and keep the rest of the ground dry.
Of course, God does just that - soaking wet fleece, perfectly dry ground.
Then, just to be double sure, Gideon asks for ANOTHER sign! This time, he puts the fleece out and asks God to soak the ground and keep the fleece dry.
Of course, God does just that - soaking wet ground, perfectly dry fleece.
The rest is history! Gideon obeys God, events the point of whittling his army down to almost nothing (another great story in Judges 7), then taking only a handful of men to conquer tens of thousands of Midianites!
This is usually where we stop the story, and if we did end it here, there is so much to identify with:
- The "little guy" becoming the hero
- Testing God for our certainty
- Testing God again for more certainty
- Obeying God even when we don't understand it
- Celebrating victory because of God's hand, not our own
So. Much. Good. Stuff.
But I believe one of the greatest leadership lessons ... cautions ... comes in the aftermath of the story.
After Gideon's heroic leadership, the people rally around him in Judges 8 and say, "Be our ruler! You and your son and your grandson will be our rulers!" It would be a perfect ending, right: from zero to hero, from runt to ruler. But Gideon knew better ... sort of. His reply?
"I will not rule over you, nor will my son. The Lord will rule over you!"
If he'd have left it there, we're good. End of story. Gideon points everyone to God and that's the end ... but he didn't stop there:
"I will not rule over you, nor will my son. The Lord will rule over you!
HOWEVER, I do have one request ..."
And so the "Gideon Complex" begins to show itself.
Now, before I get into this "complex," let me confess that the reason I identify with Gideon so well is because I see a lot of him in me. In other words, I identify the struggle in Gideon's story because I see it in my own story.
After Gideon turns down the people's offer to be their ruler he requests that they bring some of the gold to him from their victories. This, in and of itself, is not an unusual request; to the victor goes the spoils, right? It was common place for the victorious leader to share in some of the bounty. What Gideon does with the gold is a different story.
Gideon fashions an ephod of out of the gold. Now, the ephod was, in general terms, the most important and symbolic piece of the high priestly gear; it was often treated with great reverence and respect. So, while Gideon doesn't want to be the ruler of the people, he clearly wants something to do with the respect and reverence of a leader.
Gideon has the ephod of solid gold created and placed in his home town, where the scriptures tell us that the people soon began to worship the ephod and that it became "a trap for Gideon and his family."
This "complex" gets even stranger when we are told that Gideon had at least 71 sons - 70 from his wives and one from a concubine. The one, a guy named Abimelech, would go on to be a pretty nasty piece of work, but what is striking is what the name "Abimelech" means: son of a king.
For a guy who didn't want to be the ruler and who pointed people to the only true King, Jehovah, isn't it strange that Gideon would create a golden ephod, a symbol of reverence and power, and give one of his sons a name that means "son of the king?"
Before we're too hard on Gideon, let's remember a few things:
- Gideon was the weakest child from the weakest family in the weakest tribe of Israel.
- Gideon had self-doubt even when God clearly showed him his support.
- Gideon's victory was clearly because of God's hand, not his own.
- Gideon is considered a great man of faith in the New Testament (Hebrews 11:32).
So here's the point of Gideon Complex:
Most leaders struggle to balance honor and humility.
Let's face it, most people struggle with this too.
I think there are a few reasons that the Gideon Complex exists.
1. ALL OF US STRUGGLE WITH INSECURITIES.
That's certainly no new revelation, but sometimes we forget it. EVERY ONE OF US has deep seeded doubts, fears, frustrations, shortcomings, and insecurities. ALL OF US. Even the most confident of leaders deals with the "dark side of leadership." It's a strange and alienating thing to lead people who look to you for answers, direction, and even purpose when you yourself wrestle with questions, direction, and often, purpose.
The insecurities are often covered up by talent, charisma, and results. Leaders lead, and often their insecurities and shortcomings are either ignored or unrecognized because they are "getting it done." But the truth is, while people on the outside often miss these insecurities, on the inside, the leader is fixated upon them, often defining them more than they want to let on.
Gideon had to have struggled with his deepest, darkest, doubts and fears. From the "lowest" to the "highest." From the "runt" to the "ruler." I wonder if his own self-doubts were obvious to his followers? Did he tell others about the fleece tests?
Part of dealing with the Gideon Complex is recognizing your insecurities. For Gideon it was: "you're too small ... you're a nobody ... you're not good enough ... whey would God choose you?" Even after he was victories, I wonder if it was his insecurities that both kept him from leading as the king AND caused him to still crave the affirmation and praise of the people through a golden ephod. Your insecurities are there, deal with them. The Enemy uses this part of your make-up to feed you a steady stream of lies, lies that will debilitate you and keep you from what God is calling you to. I'm not suggesting that you'll overcome them completely, but the more you ignore them, the more powerful they become.
2. ALL OF US STRUGGLE WITH HUMILITY.
Yes, all of us. I appreciate that some of you out there will say, "Well I know so-and-so and they are the most humble person I know." I would suggest that if you asked that person if they struggled with humility they would say, "YES!" Humility is a difficult and tricky character trait to pursue. Here's why:
You act humbly, in earnest, and are considered by most to be a humble person ... and they tell you that. Humility, by nature, attracts attention, which threatens humility! Do you see what I mean With this attention, pride begins to sneak in. It's ironic how the recognition of humility often leads to the loss of it.
It is here that many leaders (people) begin a dangerous game of back-and-forth between pride and insecurity. It's as if a pendulum is set in motion, swinging back and forth between what we struggle with in the dark - our insecurities, and what people praise us for in the light - our humility.
For instance, someone points out how well you do something, or how successful you are, or how impressed by your humility or your actions they are. While you accept their praise on the surface, deep down, in an attempt to "stay humble," you are countering their praise with your insecurities. "If they only knew" becomes a staple thought in your mind and your darkest insecurities take up residence in your heart. But then you remember that God HAS done much through you; you ARE good and you ARE doing good things, and God HAS chosen you. So in order to eradicate the insecurities in your heart, you begin to buy into the admiration and adulation of the people around you.
Back and forth ... back and forth. A sort of spiritual nausea begins to set in as you feel you identity slip away.
"I don't want to be the ruler ... however, I do have one request ...
It's this part of Gideon's story that I relate to the most: the constant pull and tug of "you're never good enough" and "you're not as good as you think you are."
So how do we solve the Gideon Complex? Here's what I try to do:
D.L. Moody said, "There will be no peace in any soul until it is willing to obey the voice of God." Jesus said it this way, "All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them" (John 14:23).
Gideon, though he obviously struggled with this back-and-forth, was obedient to what God called him to. Yes, he put the fleece out ... twice ... but he obeyed. I think one of the most significant keys to working through and overcoming the Gideon Complex is obedience. And how do build up the trust and faith to remain obedient ...
REMAIN IN HIM
"Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For part from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). The times that I struggle the most with pride and insecurity is when I focus more on me and less on Jesus. I start looking at where I've fallen short or where I've succeeded. I begin to claim victories from my own strength and, at the same time, I willingly stumble into my own sins and failures.
You can see this at the end of Gideon's life - while he was alive, and an influence on Israel, they worshiped God. Remember, he DID turn down the kingship saying, "The Lord will rule over you." As soon as Gideon was out o the picture, we are told that "as soon as Gideon died the Israelites ... returned to worship images of Baal." In other words, Gideon, as flawed as he was, remained in the Lord. I believe this is why he is mentioned in the "Hall of Faith" in Hebrews 11.
REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE
You are NOT your mistakes; you are NOT your victories: You are BOTH! THAT is who God wants you to be - his imperfect, powerful, mess of a child.
That statement may surprise you, but in the end, God doesn't want you to be trapped in your insecurities, rooting your identity in your failures, but by the same token, he doesn't expect you to be exacting and perfect, rooting your identity in your successes.
God wants you to be rooted in the newness of Christ, even in your imperfections. He wants you to be dependent upon his mercy and powerful in his Spirit, but not perfect in your actions. In other words, he wants you to be his masterpiece - insecurities, victories, messiness, and all. (For more about that, take a slow read through Ephesians 2:1-10.)
It is in this truth that I identify with Gideon. He was a man with faults and a leader with victories. He was a person of great faith who wrestled with insecurities. He was flawed and messy and powerful and humble and prideful and faithful ... all rolled into one. And history remembers him as a hero, I think, not just because of the "good parts" of him, but because of all of him.
And while I will continue to wrestle with the Gideon Complex, likely for all of my life, I will also strive to be named in a list like Gideon was: a man of faith, in spite of his faults.