Did you catch what Phil Robertson begins to say at the 3:49 mark? “If you’re not a believer and you don’t believe God exists at all then the only hope you have is that He not be there. That’s your hope. Maybe He’s not there. What we’re saying is, ‘We trust that He is.’”
If you do believe in God, then you really have one of two directions you can go. First, you can try your best to appease Him and hope your best is enough. Up until the age of 19, that was my plan. I believed the key that would unlock heaven’s door was my good behavior. Of course the all-important question is: How good do you have to be?
I distinctly remember thinking as a teenager that because I hadn’t killed anyone I was qualified to get into heaven. I guess I thought it was okay to lie, steal, cheat, treat people unkindly, ignore those in need and have very little room in my life for God, but as long as I wasn’t guilty of murder–I was fine. My view was that heaven was our default destination and you really had to screw up big (like commit murder) to not make it in.
The problem with this view is obviously found in the definition of “good.” If it’s true that God created me and He created heaven, then what would lead me to think that my definition of good is the right one, that I get to determine the entrance requirements for heaven? Stop and think about it for a minute. It’s a really arrogant perspective.
If you’re trusting in your good behavior to get into heaven, let me encourage you to first find out what your god requires. And then get hard at work following his commands. And hope you don’t slip up. Hope you don’t somehow commit an offense he’s not willing to forgive. Sadly, I think you’ll find you can never quite shake that feeling that maybe you haven’t done enough. And that should motivate you to keep trying harder. As far as ever experiencing genuine, lasting joy or peace–forget it. How could you never knowing if eternal bliss or eternal punishment awaits?
So you can choose to believe God does not exist and then hope you’ve guessed right. Or if you do believe God exists, you can try to be as good as possible as defined by whatever god you’re believing in. Remember, you don’t decide what’s good or bad. He does. If this is your belief system, then your only hope is that you do enough good to outweigh your bad. Good luck with that.
The other option is to believe in the God Phil Roberston spoke of, a God who created us to live in friendship with Him. But because the human race has rebelled, we stand guilty before Him with no hope of ever being good enough to earn forgiveness. So a loving and moral God took on flesh and bore our punishment on the cross. Jesus died in our place and offers us the gift of forgiveness.
But a gift must be received. Have you received the gift of Christ’s forgiveness?
If this whole thing about Jesus seems like a fairy tale to you, then you’re back to either one of the first two options. You can hope God isn’t there or you can hope you’re good enough to appease Him.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:16-18)
In Mark 7, there’s a fascinating encounter between Jesus and a deaf man who also has trouble speaking. Here it is…
31 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. 32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man.
33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened!”). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.
36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
What I find so interesting is how Jesus heals this man. First, He sticks his fingers in the man’s ears. Then, He spits on His fingers and touches the man’s tongue. And with a deep sigh says, “Be opened!”
So why did Jesus stick His fingers in the man’s ears? Why touch the man’s tongue with His saliva? And why the deep sigh?
In the verses immediately preceding these in Mark 7, Jesus told a woman whose daughter was at home and possessed by a demon that she could now go home to her daughter because the demon had left. Jesus could heal and drive out demons without actually being present. He could just speak it and it would happen. So why not just heal the deaf man by speaking?
Have you ever noticed that our “Why? questions often don’t get answers? Asking why really doesn’t get us anywhere. Even if God told us why something happened, we probably wouldn’t be able to grasp it. And sometimes I think our why questions are more of a demand that God explain Himself to us than a legitimate request for understanding, at least that’s true in my case.
Asking “How?” God will do something isn’t much help either. God is infinitely powerful and creative. We can’t possibly imagine all the ways God could meet our needs. Just because we can’t see how something can happen doesn’t mean God can’t see it.
So what do you need God to do?
Provide financially? Heal you? Restore a relationship? Comfort you? Open a door to a new opportunity?
Don’t waste your energy trying to figure out how God will do it. He’s got the “How?” questions all figured out.
The deaf man couldn’t have possibly imagined the unconventional, unexpected way Jesus was going to heal him. Maybe God wants to be just as unconventional and unexpected in your life.
Make it your goal to seek Him and trust Him. There’s great reward in it.
Are you at the point where you can’t see any way out? No way that things can get better?
Your spouse wants a divorce. Your company is laying people off. Your child is a drug addict. Your husband is addicted to porn. Your loved one was diagnosed with cancer.
Maybe you’ve been struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts. Maybe circumstances are pretty good, but you can’t get free from the anxiety and worry.
How desperate is your situation?
And what are you going to do? Who are you going to turn to?
For the past few days, I’ve been reading in the book of Acts. It’s the Acts of the Apostles, but the book should really be called the Acts of the Holy Spirit. He did everything. The apostles were just instruments in His hands.
He told people where to go. He told them what to do and say. He revealed truth. He filled people with power.
He gave them the ability to speak other languages. He gave them power to heal and raise the dead.
Wherever and whenever the Holy Spirit showed up–things changed.
Have you lost hope? Is your situation desperate?
Read the book of Acts. Read John 14-16 where Jesus spoke extensively about the Holy Spirit and what He would do when He came. Cry out to God to fill you with His Holy Spirit. Give Him total control of your life. Don’t hold anything back.
The Holy Spirit can do things you could never do. He can change your circumstances or He can change you. Either way, you win. He will not force Himself on you though. He will wait for you to invite Him to be in control. You can continue to do things in your own wisdom and strength or you can turn to Him for help.
Are you willing to abandon yourself to the Holy Spirit?
My wife and daughter, along with four other Young Life leaders from Northwest Arkansas, are leaving on Wednesday (5/16) for a mission trip to Macedonia. Can I ask you to pray for the Holy Spirit to use them in a great way over the next week and a half?
You can follow the ministry of Young Life in Northwest Arkansas and the trip to Macedonia on their new blog.
In Fayetteville, Arkansas, it’s a beautiful spring day. Sunny, but not too hot. Nice breeze. My son is out of school today and is currently taking a nap in his hammock in the backyard. If it weren’t for the pollen, it would be perfect.
It’s a day like today that gives us a little glimpse of heaven. And when I say “heaven”, I mean the new earth. Revelation 21:1-5 says:
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Heaven is not some spiritual dimension in which we’ll float around forever as disembodied spirits. If that’s been your view, then you probably haven’t been very excited about spending an eternity there. Maybe you’ve felt the tension I used to feel. You know you should desire to be in heaven, but if you’re honest–you’re a lot more attracted to a beautiful spring day on earth.
Well, the good news is that heaven will be much like the beautiful spring day…only without sin, pain or death. The first two chapters of Genesis and the last two chapters of Revelation give us a picture of what God intended. We’ll have bodies. We’ll recognize each other. We’ll eat and drink. We’ll work (and enjoy it!). We’ll live in friendship with others. We’ll worship. And God will be there with us. I believe heaven will be far better than we can imagine, but it will not be unfamiliar to us.
But we’re not there yet, are we?
My friend Jeff had another surgery this week to remove a tumor from his liver. He’s been battling liver and colon cancer for over a year. My son-in-law is a United States Marine and is currently deployed to Afghanistan. He would confirm it’s not heaven. He’s in a war.
This is not peace time. Not in Afghanistan. And not where you live either.
We are in a spiritual fight for our lives. The battles may often be unseen, but they are no less real.
Yesterday, a very close friend of mine was attacked. It was a spiritual attack. It was powerful. It was well-coordinated and well-timed. And it was pure evil.
Heaven is real. It will exceed our wildest expectations. And for now, we get glimpses of it. But let’s not forget we’re in a war. A real one. With deadly, eternal consequences. It’s not being fought in the mountains of Afghanistan. It’s being fought in our minds.
Satan and the demons that fight with him are liars. They are deceivers. They are tempters. Their goal is to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). One of their most effective strategies is whispering lies to us. Lies about God. Lies about ourselves. Lies about this life.
If we listen to a lie long enough–we begin to believe it’s true. We begin to repeat it to ourselves. Our emotions line up with it. So does our behavior.
Are you battling an addiction? A destructive behavior? A bad habit you can’t break?
Do you often feel anxious? Or angry? Or discouraged? Or worried?
Then you’re believing a lie. And the only defense is to know the truth and act on it. There’s no other way.
1 John 5:19 tells us that “…the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” You and I live in enemy territory. One day, God will banish Satan and his demonic army to hell, but that hasn’t happened yet. Today, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
You and I are called to submit ourselves to God, stop living according to the world’s ways and be transformed as our minds are renewed (Romans 12:1-2). We become more like Christ when we begin to think and act like He does. That makes us useful in God’s hands in advancing His kingdom on earth.
It’s easy to let sunny spring days, material things and physical pleasures numb us to the fact that there’s a war raging all around us. It doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy life. But it does mean we don’t forget we’re not really home yet. This isn’t heaven. There’s still a war to be fought.
I left out the first sentence in 1 Peter 5:8. It says, “Be self-controlled and alert.”
I love roller coasters. I love the anticipation of that big first drop. I love that feeling of being out of control. And I love the speed. Now I can love all those things because ultimately I trust the ride is safe. Even though it’s a tremendous thrill, I have confidence that I will make it through to the end of the ride.
My default mode or what I believe about roller coasters is: enjoy the ride because you’re going to make it out alive.
You and I also have a default mode for processing life. We have certain ways of responding to people, circumstances, difficulties, surprises, disappointments, etc. If we do nothing to change, we’ll most likely continue to respond the way we always have.
There’s a lot that goes into determining our default settings. Parents, friends, teachers and coaches had a part in setting them for us. So did the media we’ve been exposed to and the books we’ve read. Without consciously thinking about it–we’ve developed a default mode for how we process life and make our choices.
I’ve noticed something about my default mode that I really don’t like. When faced with bad news or even just the unknown, I worry, I fear the worst and I doubt God’s goodness. That’s my default mode. And it looks like it was the same mode the disciples struggled with.
Mark 4:35-41 says…
That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
Some of these guys were experienced fishermen so they’d experienced bad weather before, but this must have been a really bad storm. There’s no record of anyone saying, “Hey guys, calm down! It’s not that bad. We can ride this out.”
This was a bad storm and they thought they were about to drown. Now what would have changed everything for them, what would have helped reset their default mode, was knowing that the one who was in complete control and who cared for them was asleep on a cushion at the back of the boat.
But they either doubted His power or His care because they wake Jesus up and ask Him a question we’ve probably all asked or at least wondered, “Don’t you care?”
It seems that our default mode, well, I won’t speak for you…it seems that my default mode is to question God’s goodness when circumstances are bad. I allow the severity of the situation to completely obscure the simple fact that God really does care for me.
Even when we don’t see Him doing anything, He is still good and He still cares. We will never escape His grasp. We will never be forgotten. We will never have to go it alone.
So Jesus got up and told the storm to be quiet and still. And it was.
What the disciples didn’t know was that their hearts and minds could have been quiet and still even in the midst of the furious storm. They didn’t have to wait for the storm to be quiet before they could be.
And that should really be my default mode when it comes to life. Sure, there will be tough times and painful circumstances and things I won’t understand, but because God is good and He cares and He’s in control, I can trust Him to see me safely through whatever ups and downs and twists and turns come my way.
Panic. Fear. Worry. Doubt. Discouragement. That’s my default mode. I wish I could say that resetting it is easy, but it’s not, at least it hasn’t been for me. Developing a new default mode requires ongoing effort and time in God’s word to believe the truth–that God is good, that God cares and God is in control.
Have you ever been feeling fine one minute and the next minute you feel anxious or worried or at least a little unsettled?
Does that happen to you? It does to me.
My feelings or mood can change in an instant without any apparent change in my circumstances. One moment I’m fine. The next moment I’m fed up with it all.
Peace gives way to worry.
Contentment turns to restlessness.
Joy fades and is replaced by gloom.
And this can all happen in just about the blink of an eye. But why? What can cause my feelings to change so quickly?
It’s my thoughts. My thoughts are what can change so quickly. And they have a wide-open, direct path to my feelings. Thoughts create feelings.
It’s easy to verify this. Just watch a scary movie. It’s late at night. The babysitter is alone in the house. She’s watching the news and learns a murderer has escaped from a nearby prison. Then the power goes out and she hears a noise. She quietly makes her way to the kitchen and discovers the door has blown open.
How are you feeling as you watch? Nervous? How would you feel if you were watching the movie while all alone…late at night…while babysitting? Anxious? Scared?
The movie is acting as a stimulus, which is producing a response of certain feelings in us.
Or is it?
The movie is the stimulus, but there’s a step in the process before we get to the feelings response. And that missing step is our thoughts about what we’re seeing on the screen.
As we watch, we begin to invest in the character. We wonder (think about) what will happen next? We start to anticipate the murderer showing up and breaking into the house. Our imagination (mind) starts to take over.
And those thoughts produce feelings of nervousness or fear.
Want your feelings to change? Just change your thoughts. Easier said than done, I know. But it is possible. It can be done. God wouldn’t give us a command like, “Do not be anxious about anything…” if it wasn’t somehow possible to obey it.
That passage in Philippians 4 goes on to say, “…but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” How do we deal with anxious feelings? We pray. We offer God our thanksgiving. We present our requests to Him. In other words, we believe God, know that what He says is true and then take action.
And then Paul writes, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Read the rest of the passage to see what else Paul says about thinking.
We can’t change our feelings unless we change our thoughts. And changing our thoughts isn’t very easy unless we also change our actions. And changing our actions will almost always require faith. We must believe God.
So how might this play out in marriage? Maybe for a husband who says, “I’ve fallen out of love with my wife. The spark is gone.”
What would you tell him?
Some people would suggest counseling. And that may be very helpful.
Some would jump to getting a divorce. You’re not happy? Get out. Get on with your life.
But what if the feelings are just a symptom? What if the real problem is a wrong thought? And what if the way to begin correcting the wrong thought is to believe God and start taking action by faith?
Ephesians 5:33 says, “…each one of you must love his wife as he loves himself…”
Do you think God is telling husbands to feel something? “Alright you guys, start feeling warm, affectionate feelings toward your wives!”
That wouldn’t really work, would it? Even if that’s what it meant, we’d still have to change our thoughts. If I told you to feel sad, you’d have to think sad thoughts. The same goes for feeling angry or scared or anxious. Again, thoughts produce feelings. So what needs to change is our thoughts. And those will change as we believe God and start to act in line with His word.
So what about the husband (or wife) who has fallen out of love?
If he’ll listen, he needs to know that he can fall back into love by starting to love his wife. Love is a verb. You do loving things and the feelings will follow along. Maybe not immediately, but they’ll come.
He can begin to serve her and sacrifice for her. He can put her needs before his own. He can engage her in conversation. He can take the initiative to meet her needs in the bedroom. He can cook dinner and clean the kitchen. He can prepare a hot bath for her while he helps the kids with their homework.
Will he feel like doing those things? Not at first. But we’re not talking about what we feel like doing.
We’re talking about the verb, love. And verbs are action words. Run. Kick. Laugh. Climb. Tickle. Love. All actions.
Believe God and walk by faith. Begin to love and think differently. Change your thoughts. Stop thinking love is just a feeling that you’ve “fallen out of.” You didn’t fall out of love. You thought your way out and you can think and act your way back in.
Is this easy? No. It’s going to be hard, because we’re so used to listening to our feelings and assuming they are our guiding light. But they’re not. Our thoughts are.
I know this is much harder if your spouse isn’t interested in the marriage any longer or is not willing to even try to make things work. Our responsibilities and actions are never dependent on someone else though.
We are to walk by faith, do what we know to do and trust God for the results.
Waiting is one of the hardest aspects of walking with God. And since God never seems to be in a hurry, waiting is something we should not only get used to, but learn to embrace.
I won’t suggest I enjoy waiting. I don’t. But I do know it can be a rich, productive season, whether it lasts a day, a year or 40 years, like it did for Moses.
I have a friend who will undergo tests today in Houston to see if he is still cancer free. He had major surgery earlier this year to remove cancerous areas from his colon and liver. He’ll learn the results of the tests on Wednesday. Tonight and tomorrow will be a season of waiting. Two nights might not seem like a long time, but try waiting that long to find out if your cancer has returned.
Maybe you’ve also waited for test results. Or the return phone call after an interview. Or maybe you’ve waited for a spouse or a baby. I have two daughters who are married to men in the military. Each have had to wait for their husbands to return home.
It could be that you’re in a set of circumstances you’d rather not be in. You’re unemployed. You’re in a financial mess. Your marriage is falling apart. Your child continues to live in rebellion. Or you’re sick and the doctor can’t figure it out.
And you’ve prayed. You’ve cried out to God. And you’ve waited. And waited. And waited.
And you’ve wondered where God is and what He’s doing.
I’ve been there. It’s frustrating. It’s discouraging. It’s confusing.
Or, if we let it, the waiting can be a time of growth and greater intimacy with God. It can be a season that prepares us for what’s to come. Greater responsibility? Greater fruitfulness? Greater influence? Only God knows.
In Acts 7, Stephen is speaking before the Sanhedrin (a Jewish court):
23 “When Moses was forty years old, he decided to visit his fellow Israelites. 24 He saw one of them being mistreated by an Egyptian, so he went to his defense and avenged him by killing the Egyptian. 25 Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not. 26 The next day Moses came upon two Israelites who were fighting. He tried to reconcile them by saying, ‘Men, you are brothers; why do you want to hurt each other?’
27 “But the man who was mistreating the other pushed Moses aside and said, ‘Who made you ruler and judge over us? 28 Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’ 29 When Moses heard this, he fled to Midian, where he settled as a foreigner and had two sons.
30 “After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush in the desert near Mount Sinai. 31 When he saw this, he was amazed at the sight. As he went over to look more closely, he heard the Lord’s voice: 32 ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ Moses trembled with fear and did not dare to look.
33 “Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off your sandals; the place where you are standing is holy ground. 34 I have indeed seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groaning and have come down to set them free. Now come, I will send you back to Egypt.’
35 “This is the same Moses whom they had rejected with the words, ‘Who made you ruler and judge?’ He was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself, through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 He led them out of Egypt and did wonders and miraculous signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea and for forty years in the desert.
When Moses was 40 years old, he decided to visit his fellow Israelites. He thought they would see him as the one to rescue them from the Egyptians. And then he commits murder. He decided. He thought. He killed. God wasn’t in it.
Clearly, this was not God’s timing or God’s ways. And so Moses flees. For 40 years. Until it’s God’s timing for him to return to Egypt and do things God’s way.
Look what happens though when it is God’s timing. The very same Moses they rejected is later sent back to them as the one God would use to deliver them from the hands of the Egyptians. Moses had the right idea–his timing was just off.
During your season of waiting, God will continue to work. You may not always see it, but He will never stop working. He will be working to mature you, to give you wisdom, to teach you His ways and to prepare you for what’s to come. He will be at work in your circumstances and in the lives of others.
When you lose sight of God, remember this: no matter what is happening, God will always be at work so you will know Him better and trust Him more. He will always be working for your good and His glory.
Maybe you have a dream or a desire–something you really believe God has put on your heart. But nothing is happening. There’s no forward progress. No end in sight to your current circumstances. God doesn’t seem to be cooperating.
As hard as this will be, let me encourage you to relax. Seek God with all your heart. Trust Him. Do everything He commands. And wait patiently.
Last month, my son and I went to a NASCAR race in Kansas City. On our way back home, we stopped to get some dinner. After leaving the restaurant, I was accelerating to get back onto the highway, when I felt my car hesitate. It had been doing that for a couple of weeks, but it was worse this time. And that’s when the “Service Engine Soon” light came on.
Something was going on underneath the hood that needed to be checked out. Something was wrong and the light was warning me about it.
I’m glad cars come with warning lights. They save us from ignoring or even being unaware of problems that could become very expensive to fix.
I think you and I have some warning lights as well. And when they illuminate, they’re letting us know that something’s wrong, that something needs to be checked out “underneath the hood.”
Those warning lights are our emotions.
I think I’ve had one lit up for a week or two now.
There was a day last week when I just felt annoyed. A bunch of little things were piling up and really starting to bother me. And I was starting to voice my frustrations.
Today, I’ve had trouble identifying just what it is I’m feeling. At first, I thought it was boredom. Then I wondered if I was just feeling stale. Although, I’m not really sure what “stale” should feel like. As I’ve thought about it some more, I think what I’m feeling is depleted. One dictionary defines “depleted” this way:
To decrease the fullness of; use up or empty out.
I don’t feel like I’m on empty, but my fullness has definitely been decreased.
Years ago, I read a book about a pastor who was very diligent in tracking two areas of his life: his workouts and his time with the Lord. He reasoned that if he was taking care of himself spiritually and physically then he would be okay. So he was completely caught off guard one day when he broke down in tears while sitting in his office.
He checked his spiritual and emotional “gauges” and they were both telling him everything was fine. So what was wrong?
There was another area of his life he’d failed to take care of and the breakdown in his office was the warning light. That area was his emotional health.
As he looked back at his schedule, he saw that he was involved in some very intensive activities that were depleting his emotional reserves. His activities were good ones, but they were running down his emotional battery and leaving him with little in reserve. Reading the Bible and exercising were not enough. He needed time to emotionally recharge as well.
How about you? What are your emotions telling you today? Is there a warning light that’s lit up?
Maybe it’s just a little annoyance or frustration like I was feeling last week. Or maybe it’s bigger like anger or discouragement or fear or anxiety.
If you’re not spending time in God’s word and taking care of yourself physically (exercise, eating well and getting enough sleep), then I’d start there. But let’s not ignore the need to also recharge emotionally.
For some of us, that might mean getting together with friends or taking a walk after work. Maybe it’s taking time to paint or go to a movie or read a book.
It’s tempting to think we should just maintain our hectic pace. Just keep going. Keep putting out. The problem comes when we’re depleted. When there’s nothing left to give.
When we get to that place, we’re not helping anyone, including ourselves, if we just keep pushing.
Do you ever read about someone in the Bible and get frustrated with them? I guess that’s the kind way of saying it. Do you ever wonder what in the world that idiot was thinking?
I do. Over the past few days, I’ve felt that way about Saul, the first king over Israel.
This is a guy who had everything going for him. 1 Samuel 9:2 tells us Saul was “an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites–a head taller than any of the others.”
In 1 Samuel 10, Saul is anointed as king by Samuel who then tells Saul to go on ahead of him to a town called Gilgal. Samuel will follow along in seven days and offer sacrifices and tell Saul what he’s to do.
When Saul returns home after his encounter with Samuel, his uncle asks him what Samuel said to him. Saul fails to tell his uncle that he’s been anointed as king. I suppose you could call that humility, but I don’t think it is. It seems like the beginning of a pattern of shrinking back from responsibility, from stepping up to the calling God has placed on his life.
Later, when Samuel publicly brings the tribes of Israel out to indicate who has been chosen as king, the tribe of Benjamin (that’s Saul’s tribe) is chosen. Then each clan in that tribe is brought forth, and Saul’s clan is chosen. And finally, Saul is chosen from those men in his clan.
There’s a problem though–Saul’s nowhere to be found. So the people inquired of God, “Has the man come here yet?”
God answered them, “Yes, he has hidden himself among the baggage.”
What? He’s hidden himself among the baggage? That’s right. Saul was hiding. They had to go look for him.
Once Samuel explains to the people how this new kingship in Israel will work, he dismisses everyone to their homes. Saul returns to his home in Gibeah and was accompanied by “valiant men whose hearts God had touched.” But there were also some troublemakers who despised him. “But Saul kept silent.”
Are you seeing a pattern? He doesn’t step up. He hides. He keeps silent.
He’s not leading. He’s not accepting responsibility. He’s acting passively.
Um, I do that. Before I’m too hard on Saul, I need to take a look in the mirror. And as I do, I’m not sure I like what I see.
How about you?
There’s more though…
Remember when Samuel told Saul to wait seven days? I posted about it here. Basically, Saul waited, but not long enough. Saul didn’t have his eyes on God, they were on his circumstances. That will always lead to feeling fearful, worried or anxious. And that never results in doing what’s right or best according to God.
Saul disobeyed and offered the sacrifices on his own, which was not for him to do. Rather than fear God, he feared his circumstances.
Some time later, Samuel gives Saul instructions from God to attack the Amalekites. God is going to punish them for how they treated the nation of Israel in the past. God commands Saul to spare no one–not people, not animals, not anything.
Saul carried out the attack and did what God commanded. Well, almost. Saul spared the king of the Amalekites. And they also kept the best animals.
That’s when God tells Samuel He’s grieved He made Saul king. So the next morning, Samuel set out to meet Saul. When he reached him, Saul said, “The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.”
But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?”
Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.”
At one point, he tells Samuel that he kept the best animals because, “I was afraid of the people so I gave into them.”
What Saul does is make excuses. Eventually, he agrees with Samuel that he has sinned, but you still get the idea that he’s not truly grieved over what he’s done. He’s more sorry he got caught than sorry He disobeyed and grieved God.
Again, he’s not fearing God–this time he’s fearing the people.
I do that. I fear people. I fear their opinions or what they’ll think of me. And so like Saul, I will remain silent when I should speak up.
I don’t respect Saul and how he failed to lead well, accept responsibility and fulfill God’s call on his life, but before I’m too hard on Saul, I need to take inventory of my own life.
Do I get so focused on my circumstances that I lose sight of God…and as a result make sinful decisions?
Do I fear people more than I fear God? Does that lead me to be silent when I should speak the truth?
Do I make excuses when I fail to fully obey? Do I tend to view partial obedience as enough?
Do I hide from responsibility and act passively when I really need to be stepping up?