If you’ve ever peeked in the drawers of a nightstand while staying in a hotel, at some point you’ve probably encountered a Gideon Bible.
If you’re like me, though, perhaps you didn’t give much thought to who placed it there at the time. After all, the Gideons have been placing copies of God’s word in hotels, hospitals, shelters, and prisons for well over a century.
The story of how they got started, though, is worth knowing. And, considering they placed their very first Bibles on November 9, 1908, now seems like a fitting time to discuss it.
How did the Gideons begin?
The story of the Gideons began when John H. Nicholson and Samuel E. Hill met at a hotel in Wisconsin during the fall of 1898. The two traveling businessmen struck up a conversation and shortly thereafter became burdened with a desire to start a ministry that would serve the Lord.
The details of what such a ministry should look like, however, were relatively sparse. Still, they held their first meeting the following summer at the Y.M.C.A. in Janesville, Wisconsin, and were joined by William J. Knights.
Though they had hoped for a greater showing, the trio began to pray and soon felt inspired by the story of when God used Gideon and a small band of Hebrews to defeat the massive Midianite army in Judges 7. Consequently, they adopted the name of Gideon for their organization and, over the following years, it began to grow.
Still, it would be some time before they received a clear sense of direction as to the nature of what the Lord wanted to do through their ministry.
Eventually, it dawned on them that most of their members were businessmen who traveled extensively for work. As such, they spent a lot of time in hotels and eventually settled on the idea of leaving copies of Scripture at the various establishments where they stayed. They called the endeavor “The Bible Project,” and it became a central part of their mission in 1908.
A lesson in obedience
The Bible Project was an ambitious venture, however, and the Gideons were not entirely equipped to carry it out by themselves. So when the Ministerial Union of Iowa voted to help fund their efforts, it was most welcome. They would plant their first twenty-five Bibles at the Superior Hotel in what is now Iron Mountain, Montana on November 9 of that year and, in the time since, they have seen their numbers and their ministry grow in ways that truly speak to the blessing of God.
There are now more than 269,000 Gideons and Auxiliaries across two hundred countries and territories around the world.
In 2001, they celebrated the distribution of their billionth Bible, some ninety-three years after the first were left. It took only thirteen years more for them to distribute another billion, pointing to the way in which the Lord continues to expand and bless their ministry. They now distribute, on average, more than two Bibles every second and over a million every four days.
And though, in recent years, some hotels have decided to remove the Bibles from their rooms, countless travelers continue to encounter the truth of God’s word through the simple act of continued obedience to the calling the group received more than a century ago.
There’s a lesson in such obedience that each of us would do well to heed today.
Is God’s glory enough?
One of the temptations against which we must guard is to allow our ambitions—even ambitions of service to the Lord—to exceed the limits of our calling.
Leaving Bibles behind in the hopes that people you may never meet will read them and come to know the Lord is a relatively thankless job. There is little glory in doing so, and while you may hear stories of the impact it makes on the lives of other travelers, odds are that most of those who have served with the Gideons have met few, if any, of the people to whom they have ministered.
Their faithfulness to continue in the work must, therefore, be spurred primarily by a sense of calling from God and faith that what he can do with those Bibles warrants their sacrifice.
They know that God finds glory in spreading his word, even if they never do. And that’s enough.
Would it be enough for you, though? For me?
That can be a difficult question to answer, but it is impossible to be fully used by God unless his glory is our primary goal.
So take some time today to evaluate the ways in which you’re currently serving his kingdom.
- What was your primary motivation when you agreed to take on that role?
- Has that motivation changed since you began?
- If, the next time you left to serve, you knew that no one besides God would appreciate or understand what you’re doing, would it change the way in which you approached the work?
My purpose today is not to condemn those who are serving from mixed motives. Lord knows it’s something I struggle with at times as well.
Rather, it’s to call us to a bit of Spirit-guided introspection to see if there are ways in which we could serve God better.
Will you take the time for such introspection today?