The Recovery of Spiritual Power

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 5 - Knowing the Lord as Our Life

Reading: Judges 6:24; Hebrews 13:20-21; Revelation 2:14,17; 1 John 2:14-17; 1 John 4:4-6; 1 John 5:4-5.

We have been occupied in this conference with the matter of the recovery of spiritual power and the greater part of the background scripturally has been the book of Judges. We have by no means covered the book; there is very much yet here for the instruction of the Lord's people in this great matter of the recovery of spiritual power, but now I feel the Lord would have us confine ourselves to one fragment of the book, and that with regard to Gideon as in chapters 6 and 7.

We have been seeing that this book of Judges is the book of spiritual weakness and failure, and we learn from the failure and weakness of the Lord's people as presented, what are the causes of weakness and therefore, what are the secrets of power. Now, it is almost impossible for us to take the whole of this matter with regard to Gideon, and we shall have to be content with a very few things, but I trust they will be those things of very great value to us.

We were speaking in chapter four about Gideon and the Midianites and we were saying that the history of the Midianites represents the history of the world interfering with the things of God among His people. May I repeat that it was Midian, with Moab, who hired Balaam to curse Israel and thereby brought them under a state of bondage, defeat, paralysis, weakness and dishonour. This was not carried out in a direct way, but it succeeded eventually in an indirect way inasmuch as Balaam was compelled to bless rather than curse, but obtained the same thing by teaching Israel to commit spiritual fornication. That is, to make alliances religiously with the nations round about. And so Balaamism is the world being allowed to come into relationship with things of God, and the people of God entering into fellowship and relationship with the world. This has perhaps more than anything else brought the people of God into spiritual weakness. It is patent to all who have eyes that the great paralysing tactic of the enemy in the case of God's people right through, has been to bring about an association between them and the world in some way or some form. Their strength is destroyed, liberty is taken away, and they find themselves in a paralysing bondage when they have come into fellowship with the world.

We have read what the Lord's own mind is about that. John has given us that mind very clearly: all that is of the world, or in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the vain glory of life, this is of the world and this is enmity with God. This is the Midianite and this is Balaamism and it was that that brought the tremendous censure upon that church of which we have read in the book of Revelation, "Thou hast there those that teach the doctrine of Balaam". In other words, more simply, it amounted to this: there are those there who introduce worldly methods, worldly means and resources, worldly policy into the realm of the things of God and among the people of God.

Every one of us is assailed far more subtly than we recognise in this very thing. It is not just a matter of introducing the grosser forms of worldliness, but it is sometimes just a little bit of worldly wisdom, for example, in making decisions, where the thing is not wholly of the Holy Spirit and we use man's standards of values and judgment; where we are sometimes tempted to take a line of less resistance in order to gain some advantage; where we come down from the high place of trusting the Lord for everything in a day of pressure, adversity or trial and do not hold on to the Lord to meet the situation. Instead we are tempted to turn to some expedient way of meeting the situation... expediency, to a little bit of human diplomacy, patronage, stirring of the flesh in order to get through. All that is the spirit of the world and it works in very subtle ways from time to time, and when it has dictated a course or governed a decision, there has come about a state of compromise where the Holy Spirit Himself has to stand back in helplessness and leave us to get on with it and we find ourselves in a state of terrible bondage and spiritual weakness. That temptation is one which is overcoming multitudes of the Lord's people today.

The situation today is just honeycombed with that sort of thing - great instrumentalities which have been raised up and used by God, which have been wholly of God, which have been faith institutions, faith instrumentalities, which had a testimony to the power of God and faith of God, by trusting wholly in God and not resorting to the flesh or world in any way whatsoever for support. These are being assailed along this very line and they are coming down from their high position, beginning to appeal, letting their needs be known in all directions, to get patronage, names.... You know the whole thing and it represents a coming in of something that will paralyse the spiritual life. There is a subtle moving of the enemy to destroy the testimony to the absolute sovereignty of God in every realm and every matter; God's sovereignty to carry on His own way.

That is what you have in Midianites and when you come to this, Midian is unveiled. And what a lot is said about Midianites; they overran the country! They were a multitude like the sand, like locusts; they ate up everything... the very food of God. And here is Gideon trying to preserve a little grain behind the wall and hide it in the winepress for fear of the Midianites. Why is there such spiritual starvation? Why is the food question so acute, that wherever you go people say, "We cannot get spiritual food; it is all husks; the locusts have eaten it up". It is the inevitable result of the world getting hold of things of God among the people of God.

The church has been captured by the world, and honeycombed by the world, and the church is depending upon the world and its resources and that is the result: that the food has gone. We have to understand the nature of the things that are around us today. People are hungry for spiritual food. It is one thing to recognise this and another thing to know why. You cannot deal with it unless you know the cause of it. It is because the Lord is not the whole portion of His people. So you have got to come back to the place where the Lord is the portion of His people absolutely and where He is the whole portion and look nowhere but to the Lord. And when the Lord is everything and has His place, you are well-fed and sustained and the Lord can look after His interests. The Midianites devour everything. They represent that subtle link of looking to the world rather than to the Lord, and drawing upon other sources than the Lord to help in the things of the Lord. The issue will be spiritual weakness. That introduces you to the whole matter of Gideon.

When you come to Gideon the Lord arrives behind that wall, as it were, and sits over under the tree and watches Gideon do his secret work trying to preserve a bit of food from the Midianites. Then He addresses Gideon in most astounding words, "The Lord is with thee thou mighty man of valour"! And he was anything but that, "I am the least of my father's house..." and when put to the test and told to destroy the idols, the images, the groves of his father, he did it by night because he was afraid to do it by day. Then he tested God three times before he would move. A mighty man of valour! I get a good deal of comfort out of this.

The Lord wants a Gideon instrument today, and the explanation of this is that the Lord called Gideon not what he was, but what He was going to make him. The Lord saw Gideon as the product of His own dealings and activity in him and He saw him as a mighty man of valour in the future, not as he was then. Peter had exactly the same thing happen to him. "Thou art Simon, thou shalt be called Peter". "Thou art Peter and upon this rock..." - Peter denied the Lord with oaths and curses after that was said to him and could not even stand up to a servant maid! Petros, a rock. It was not what Peter was; it was what the Lord saw he was going to be when He had done with him.

The Lord calls the things that are not as though they were, and He saw the possibility of the energy of the Holy Spirit in this man and so called him according to His own grace and power, and not according to what he was by nature. There is hope for all of us. "The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man" - that is not you and me by nature. It is you and me when the Lord has got His way with us. Now, when did that take place? "And the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon" - and then it started. It is not what we are, but what the Holy Spirit is. When He comes in, things happen. That is the secret of might. It is with the Lord, not with us.

Now, you notice the next thing is that Gideon raises a question. It is a beautiful question. It sounds like an argument, "If the Lord is with us, wherefore is all this befallen us?" Do you notice there is a change in one word? Why has this befallen, not "me", but "us". Do you catch the significance of that? Gideon was not living to himself or for himself; he was in close, suffering touch with his people. You will never get an instrument that is going to be of use to God that has not that close suffering touch with God's people. God is not going to take an instrument that stands apart from His people and begin to hammer them. If you are going to have Daniel's ministry you must have his burden. If Ezra's, then you must have that passion that he had. He was down on his face before God with a heart suffering touch with the condition of things. Gideon was not taking this thing for himself. He was concerned about the spiritual state of the Lord's people.

The Lord is not trying to get hold of something that He puts out there in detachment to take down the spiritual state of His people everywhere, but is trying to get something that will help them because they are suffering together. That instrument has them on his heart. Beware of occupying a pedestal because of some experience which makes you think that you are better than the rest and you must begin to "hammer" others because they are not where they ought to be. If you look through the Word of God you will find this principle continues, that whenever God raises up an instrument to meet the situation among His own people, that instrument suffers terribly. Ezekiel, "l sat where they sat" - that is it. A man in touch with the situation and overwhelmed by it, loses. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Paul had all come to that place. Paul said, "I could wish myself accursed for my brethren's sake". Not taking them down, but suffering in their suffering, and he is keenly touched with the state of things. That is the kind of instrument the Lord must have: one who is in sympathetic fellowship with things as they are.

That was Gideon's answer to the Lord. We should take fragments as we go along in the matter of the recovery of spiritual power. That is the way. After that the operations of God commenced in the constituting of faith in order to bring Gideon to the place where he was in the mind of God. In the mind of God he was a mighty man of valour; but he was not that in himself, so the process commenced by which he was going to be what he was in the thought of God, and it was the process by which faith was constituted, a basis of faith upon which he was to stand for all the future of his ministry, for you recognise that it was on the basis of a mighty faith that Gideon delivered Israel from the hand of the children of the East as they were spiritually abroad.

Hebrews 11: "And what say I more; time would fail to tell of Gideon, Barak, and so on... who through faith...". It is this kind of faith, and it was a faith in God that had to be constituted to mightily overthrow this thing, this mighty force, and deliver the Lord's people from this paralysing entanglement with the world and its tyranny. This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith. There had to be a course of deep experience to constitute a faith like that. All these Judges had to go through an experience to get to a place where they could deliver Israel. And the ministry of emancipation, or the secret of spiritual power in a day of weakness, is found in a deep experience through which God takes you, wherein and whereby you learn to trust God. You learn what faith is. For many of us it is a long-drawn-out thing, represented in simple tests on the part of Gideon. Take the three as you see them.

First, his sacrifice. His altar built and his sacrifice laid thereon, and the Angel of the Lord touched it and it was consumed and went up in fire. Here you have Gideon presenting himself to the Lord and having the witness in himself that the Lord had received him. That present represented the gift or presentation of himself to the Lord. "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God" (Rom. 12:1). The whole consumed unto the Lord and the witness of the Lord that you are the Lord's and that you are accepted of the Lord. When Gideon brought his sacrifice his test was, will the Lord accept, and if the Lord will indicate that He accepts, that will be the first step in the construction of his faith. That principle holds good, in this way: that before ever you step out in your ministry in the power of God, you have got to have the assurance in your heart that the Lord is well pleased to receive you.

The Lord Jesus came through at Jordan and presented Himself, in type, at Jordan to the Father in a whole burnt offering: in death, burial and resurrection. The Gospel of Mark says, "Thou art My Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased". Luke and Matthew say, "This is my beloved Son". The change is significant because in Mark it is the Servant of the Lord; before the Servant could step out into Divine service of power He has got to have the attestation Himself that He is accepted of God and then, coming out of that service, because the Lord is well pleased, He will draw the attention of others to that One. That is what you have got with Gideon. First of all they were going to slay him for what he had done. He presented his offering to the Lord and got the witness that the Lord was well pleased, and after that the very people that were going to slay him, rally to him. It is as if the Lord drew attention to this man and they had to accept him because God had accepted him.

We are no good to God in a day of weakness if it is not settled with us that Christ has risen, and that God has accepted us for Christ's sake, that we are accepted in the Beloved. So many are still uncertain of that. They are wondering if the Lord is quite well pleased with them and really does love them, or whether He is against them, and round they go in a continual terrible introspection as to whether the Lord has a delight in them at all, and they are in bondage and cannot lift a hand to deliver another soul. It is not what we are, but what the grace of God can make us. Because of the grace of God we are accepted in the Beloved. God has accepted us for Christ's sake, and all that we come short in has been made over to us in the Person of Christ, and He has become our sufficiency to give us a standing in the presence of God with the definite attestation of approval. It is all of grace. It is not what we are. If we have presented ourselves wholly to the Lord (have you done that?), the Lord brings down all the perfections of His Son and lays them to our credit, and gives us the assurance that for His Son's sake we are accepted in the Beloved. Get that settled and you can take the other steps. Until that is settled you are in weakness, bondage, defeat and helplessness. So he presented his offering to the Lord as a test as to God's acceptance; that was his first stage of training. He believed the Lord a bit at that time!

The second and third tests were with the fleece. Most people have got this fleece business out in the wrong realm. You have heard of people going to "test the Lord" with their fleece. But God has given us a far more adequate base than that. It is dishonouring to the Lord, this fleece business is an infinite thing. First of all he said, "I will put the fleece out; let it be dew on the fleece only and dry all round". The Lord accepted his test. In the morning the ground was dry, but he wrung out a basin full of dew. The next night he said, "Forgive me, Lord but do allow me to put another test. This time let the fleece be dry and the ground all round be wet". And the Lord was again gracious. He was constituting faith. He did what Gideon asked. The next morning the fleece was dry and the ground all round was wet. Notice that in these tests Gideon built an altar and offered sacrifices and called the name of that place, "Jehovah-Shalom", Jehovah is peace.

See Hebrews 13:20-21 to explain Gideon's situation. Paul explains Gideon's fleece. He explains it beautifully in relation to the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. That fleece is the skin of the sacrifice. That Lamb has been slain and stripped. It is related to the altar. By reason of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus something has taken place in the life of Paul which is altogether contrary to nature both ways, and which is an abiding testimony to the absolute supremacy of God. "That the life whereby Jesus conquered death might be manifested in my mortal body" - that is one side. The other side is: "Wherefore death works in us but life in you." The life whereby Jesus conquered death may be manifest in my mortal body. Death all round and life within; triumphant over death. Dryness, death reigning without and yet in the midst of death we are in life. It is this upon which Gideon went forward - the miracle of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus becoming a new reality in the servant, instrument and vessel. The mighty power of His resurrection became an inward and experimental thing when death was round everywhere. Follow the life of Paul and see if it is not true. He says, "We despaired even of life... that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raiseth the dead" (2 Cor. 1:8,9). This man is a living testimony by the saturation of resurrection Life with death everywhere, death assailing. This is the secret of spiritual power. We are not a part of the situation, but different from it. Death around us everywhere, but we live, by the power of His resurrection. The truth is all the way through the scriptures. It is the principle on which God builds faith.

By faith Enoch was not, God took him. Do you know where that statement comes? In a long chapter with its monotonous, "So and so died and was buried with his fathers" and on you go until the whole thing is broken into - "and Enoch walked with God and he was not" (Gen. 5:24). God broke in upon the universal reign of death as a testimony to resurrection, ascension life. Gideon had to have his faith constituted - that God was in him - the mighty power of overcoming Life, and in principle he overcame on that. That is something different to putting your fleece out to test the Lord. Proving the power of His resurrection when everything around you is death; in a place of death you would be swallowed up, engulfed, but because of the living Lord who has conquered death within you, you can wring it out! Life triumphant. "Death worketh in us but life in you." It sounds like a contradiction, but what he is saying is that while we are continually suffering, going through trials and difficulties, death is at work; the fact of it all is that our suffering is producing Life all round. Dryness inside and Life outside. Sometimes when you feel you are as dry as you can be, other people get the biggest blessing. The sufferings which happen unto us are working out for the very Life of the body of Christ. It is contrary to nature; all of God.

The fleece is dry: suffering, knowing much of death, but all round is Life because of all that suffering, that working of death. Jehovah-Shalom, "the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that Great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight" - that is the basis of faith. When you know something about that, you have an inward secret or power. People seem to think that putting out their fleece means that if the birds chirp in a certain way, tomorrow they will do something specific; if things go a certain way, they will know what to do. But it is founded upon nothing less than the mighty resurrection of the Lord Jesus made real in the life of the believer; that is the faith of the Son of God. That is mighty. Gideon got that in principle. He saw the work of God which was in every case contrary to nature. When you ought to be dead you are alive! This is some other Life than natural life; it is the very Life of God! When you have an experience of that, you can go on into the conflict. Things are settled.

What the Lord must have is the inward thing with His people; where they know Him and He is their very Life within. And when it seems that suffering is swallowing them up in death, to know the Lord still lives and that is not the end, but the Lord can do great things even through suffering. Sometimes we have thought that we must be vigorous, but have found at our lowest ebb God did the biggest thing; the time when we were most at a discount that the Lord was enabled to do the biggest thing. It was God working in the power of a life that was not natural. It is the Lord. You see Gideon's vessels and the lamps - the inward revelation. Paul, as we have seen, explains that for us. The Lord is the treasure in earthen vessels. "God hath shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6). We are earthen vessels containing that revelation of Jesus Christ as risen, as Saul saw Him on the Damascus road, Jesus Christ in glory, shining into our hearts. Then the Midianites do not stand a chance.

The Lord must get a people where we know the Lord within as our very life. This is the secret of spiritual power. That makes you an overcomer. It is the victory that overcomes the world - our faith - the faith which is constituted upon the basis of that experience which has made us know the Lord in a mighty way in the presence of death, and in the power or His resurrection. You can do a lot in the Name of the Lord then.

It is a very important factor in the case of Gideon, that virtue of breakableness, brokenness. Paul says, "Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received Christ (mercy), we faint not... Though our outward man is perishing..." although the vessel is being broken, the new man is being renewed day by day. Though the natural man is breaking up, in ourselves getting less and less, yet the Lord is able to do all the more as we are breakable, and we are broken. He is in need of such as be broken. Breakableness and brokenness gives God His chance. Not what we are, "Thou mighty man of valour" never can be said of a man in himself. It is what he is in the Lord, not what he is in himself. He is a vessel of fragile clay, and that broken. It is strength destroyed that the Lord may be everything; that is the secret of spiritual power. The Lord would bring us there spiritually, would make us know what His strength is in order that we may be constituted an instrument in a day of weakness to destroy the universal tyranny and domination of these foreign elements.

There must be a testimony in the earth that the prince of this world does not reign and that Jesus Christ is Lord. Every company of the Lord's people is a "gap". Every child of God is a gap in the universality of the reign of "the prince of this world". Are you that? Do I stand, do you stand, to represent and declare that the god of this age, and prince of this world has not universal sway? It is costly. You know that, but you can look upon one another, some have been thinking upon this and saying that they have been through the depths, some thought God had failed and everything they had sought the Lord for had gone the other way. There has been a time when faith could have been terribly shaken, and a testimony to what God can do when no man could have stood that. We go through extraordinary experiences. The faith of the man of the world would not go through the experiences that you and I go through.

If we were to launch into the realm of human reason we could not believe God any longer. Naturally, you could not trust God any more, but God has brought you through a time when you were sorely tempted to have done with the Lord as One who could not be trusted. Am I too strong? Or did He fail you? Today you know the Lord and that is a mighty gap in the universal dominion of the god of this age. A faith that triumphs. A faith which is not our faith, but the mighty energy of the Holy Spirit in us and we know the Lord in a better way than we ever knew Him before. This is a gap, a break in the dominion of the devil, a testimony that Jesus Christ is Lord.

The Lord strengthen us by these words and get us to the place where we may be perfect in every good work to do His will, to whom be the glory for ever.

In keeping with T. Austin-Sparks' wishes that what was freely received should be freely given and not sold for profit, and that his messages be reproduced word for word, we ask if you choose to share these messages with others, to please respect his wishes and offer them freely - free of any changes, free of any charge (except necessary distribution costs) and with this statement included.