Sunday, December 9, 2012

Incompetent and Yet Called

By Jennifer Grant

Every month, on a Tuesday night, we gather at church. One of us has felt a divine call to ordained ministry; the other five are walking through a discernment process with him. We sit in a messy circle, and we pray together. We follow a procedure stipulated by our denomination that draws out details about his professional and personal life. We ask him to share his weaknesses and failings, and we confess some of our own.

Last night, after the meeting had adjourned, one of the committee members said he had one last thing to say. We all settled back into our chairs.

“This process is nothing like other such interviews,” he said, gesturing at the discerner. “We’re not determining your competence, but learning whether you know your own incompetence.” He went on to say that if our discerner felt incompetent to the task ahead when our process concluded, we should recommend that he seek ordination.

I was puzzled. If our discerner felt incompetent, we should endorse him? But my confusion soon stepped aside as I reflected on how – over and over again – God uses “incompetent” people. I was reminded of one of these people a few weeks ago when I taught my fifth grade Sunday School class the story of Gideon.

Do a quick Google search on Gideon and you’ll learn – if you didn’t already know it – that his name means “destroyer” and “feller of trees.” Wikipedia notes that in Hebrews, Gideon is revered as a “man of faith.” With a nickname like “Feller of Trees” he was likely not only competent, but more like one of the Avengers, right?

But, in the book of Judges, when we meet Gideon, his response to being visited by the angel of the Lord is almost laughable. When the angel proclaims that the Lord is with him and calls him “mighty warrior,” Gideon rejects the message. He very politely argues with the angel. Beginning his sentences with “Pardon me, but…” he explains that he feels abandoned by God, that his clan is weak, and that he’s really and truly the weakest of them all. (Not me! Not me! Don’t choose me, Lord!)

God persists and tells Gideon that he will save his people. (God is patient with human timidity - remember when Moses said he couldn’t free the Israelites from bondage in Egypt because of his fear of public speaking?)

Gideon, insecure and frightened, asks God a number of times to give him a sign that it’s really God speaking to him and not some “undigested bit of beef, blot of mustard, or fragment of an underdone potato,” if you’ll allow the allusion to Ebenezer Scrooge. (The fleece was dry; the fleece was wet -- God keeps proving it’s really God.)

This doubting, cringing, crouching person is a mighty warrior? A “destroyer”? An esteemed man of faith? But, then, with a little pack of men and only lamps and trumpets in his arsenal, Gideon defeats a powerful army. Or, rather, God takes a frightened weakling, almost ridiculous munitions, and a tiny militia and does something miraculous.

Do you ever find yourself praying “Not I! Not I! Don’t choose me, Lord!”?

May we – scared and weak and uncertain as we are – learn to be still and listen for God’s leading. And let us remember that God has the strength and inventiveness (think trumpets and clay lamps) do great things through us.


Jennifer Grant is the author of two books about family: Love You More and MOMumental. She is a regular contributor to her.meneutics, Christianity Today’s blog for women and God’s Politics, Sojourners magazine’s blog. Find her online at and on Twitter @jennifercgrant.


  1. "Not I! Not I! Don't choose me, Lord!"? ...pray it all the time. :o) so good. Thanks.

  2. Feeling like a little fish in a big ocean,Gideon's story inspires fresh courage. I love the insight about God's inventiveness. Thanks Jennifer!

  3. Jennifer: Excellent! Reminds me of Steven Covey's Circle of Influence & Circle of Concern. We are called to action baased on our placement, our view, our capacity within and outside of our strengths.... when led. Oh, discernment!!! Here is one for you to figure out: When is fear a healthy emotion/reaction and when is it a sin (i.e. lack of faith) ?

  4. YES! To God be all the glory for whatever is accomplished!