All Because of Good Intentions

And Samuel said,
“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
   as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
   and to listen than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
   and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
   he has also rejected you from being king.”
1 Samuel 15:22-23

I feel really sorry for Saul.  He was handsome and strong and a head taller than everyone.  He looked good. In the eyes of the world he was the perfect leader, and yet he was an utter failure.  I think that’s why God chose him. Had Saul submitted to God when he made his decisions, he would have been blessed by the Lord.  But Saul had a lot more confidence in worldly strength than he did in God.

It’s sad, because on the surface it appears as though Saul did inquire of God.  He constantly inquired of the Lord after he made a decision to do something, he had the Arc of the Covenant with them, and he even had a priest traveling with him, ephod and all.  “…The people who were with him were about six hundred men, 3 including Ahijah the son of Ahitub, Ichabod’s brother, son of Phinehas, son of Eli, the priest of the Lord in Shiloh, wearing an ephod…” 1 Samuel 14:2-3 But appearances and tradition are never what God wants from us.   Saul never looked to God until after he’d made up his mind what he wanted to do. He decided his plans were great (probably because he’d been chosen by God, so who needs to ask God again, right?) and then asked God for a blessing after he’d made up his own mind. He did it when he performed the sacrifice to God, instead of waiting on Samuel.  And he did it before going into battle with the Philistines.

Saul’s son Jonathan, on the other hand, boldly moved forward to defeat his enemies by trusting in the power of God to provide the victory even against all odds.  We know this because Jonathan sees an oportunity to attack the Philistines in a really strategic way, and moves forward to act with only his armor bearer to help him!  But where Jonathan differed from Saul is in this: Jonathan inquired of the Lord before He asked. He felt confident that his plan was solid, but he still asked God to make it clear by asking for a sign, and didn’t move until he’d gotten the clear sign of God’s promised victory.  (See 1 Samuel 14 for all the details.)

And so we go back to poor Saul.  This earthly king, chosen by God, who looked the part well and surrounded himself with all kinds of powerful heroes in order to ensure his military victories.  He made sacrifices. He had the Arc. He had his priest. He even had a prophet. The people loved him! After all, they constantly deferred to him, saying, “Do what seems good to you!” (1 Samuel 14:41)  He had everything he needed to look and act like the best darn victorious king who ever lived. And that was his downfall. It became all about him and not about God.

Justifying our bad behavior for the sake of serving God is a terrible crime!  How many times have I justified an act of my own choosing because I had decided it was best without looking to God for wisdom and permission first?  Seriously! If I’m being honest with myself, I do it all the time! Even though the Lord has told me that I need to limit nutritionless food to honor him with my body, I justify dessert because I’m celebrating or I crave it, or I’m free in Christ.  I go on fad diets, justifying the extremes in order to get quick results. I make plans for vacation because I need a break instead of needing sabbath rest, or I read a book instead of read my Bible because I’m tired, or I don’t have time.  If I think about it too hard, I think I could quickly fall into shame over it all!

But that’s not why I’m here.  That’s not why God put me on this planet.  He put me here to worship Him, to partner with me in love and friendship, and to have us be together in all things.  He wants me to be unified with Him and with His Church. I make presumptions that I know what God wants from me, so I don’t need to inquire of Him, and that only leads to rebellion. Rebellion to my solitary purpose in Christ is a stepping stone for sin and more rebellion.  And that disobedience from good intentions leads me further and further away from my King, which is definitely not God’s good plan for me!

I look again to Samuel’s words to Saul after yet another huge failure with good intentions that would lead to God’s rejection of him as King:

And Samuel said,
“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
   as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
   and to listen than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
   and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
   he has also rejected you from being king.”
1 Samuel 15:22-23

Sadly, Saul’s response to this fall from grace is to blame the people he was leading.  

Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. 25 Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me that I may bow before the Lord.” 26 And Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you. For you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.”

His intentions were so pure, weren’t they?! (Yes that’s sarcasm.) And yet, how many times have I been blind to my own excuses and good intentions? So. Many. Times.  I’m so thankful to have the sealed promise of the Holy Spirit within me to convict me of my wrongdoing and correct the flaws of my thinking. Our Lord is not content to leave us where we are.  When we sin against Him and go to Him for guidance through repentance, He is quick to show us what we’ve done and what we need to do differently. It hurts. It’s no fun. Frankly, it sucks. But it is so good, too! Unlike Saul, I have the glorious forgiveness of Messiah, Jesus, to pay for my failings and shortcomings, to pay for my sin, and to give me life and victory.  And He is so quick to forgive and to teach, that the mercy that flows through Him to me would spill out of me into others, and thus share the fruit and life that comes from submitting to the will of God.

 

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Harsh. True. Humbling.

And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14 But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”
1 Samuel 13:13-14

Saul gave up the beautiful blessing of Godly leadership over himself and his people, and he gave up the legacy of being the line from which Messiah would come.  Saul had everything a man could want: looks, strength, a commanding presence. He looked like the perfect person to be a king. But in fact, Saul was fearful, arrogant, and unwilling to follow God.  The world is a liar! It is self serving and shallow. It puts looks above the substance of the heart. It glorifies self sufficiency and a handsome appearance over humble servanthood and an obedient heart.  And Saul was the poster boy of worldly royalty.  

Even though Samuel had warned the people of the folly in demanding a human king, the people would not listen.  The result was utter failure. Their human king wanted God’s blessing, but wasn’t willing to obey God in order to receive it.  Saul didn’t want to share the glory. He didn’t want to wait on the Lord. He let fear and arrogance be his compass. And it led to grievous sin against God.  God is not a lucky charm. He is the Almighty Creator, Our Mighty Defender, Our Solid Rock! And Saul’s impatience made the Solid Rock of Yahweh nothing more than a stepping stone to his own glory.  Saul’s arrogant, fear-driven foolishness became the cornerstone of his defeat. He gave up God’s blessing because he was driven by his own desire and fear, and not by trust in the Lord.

What do I give up when I act against God’s will for my life? 

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
Romans 1:21-25

Harsh.  True.  Humbling.  

Lord Jesus, help me not to give up the truth for a lie because of fear or arrogance or desire for glory!  Humble me and encourage me after Your own heart, that I might be able to walk in the truth for the rest of my life.  I recieve Your loving forgiveness that I never earned or deserved, and I accept again Your leadership in my life. Keep me from fear based decisions by building up my faith and confidence in who You are.  Help me know You better and trust You more. Draw me nearer to You, so Your light surrounds me and casts out all darkness. Create in me a clean heart, O God! Restore me to Yourself. Cast me not away from Your presence!  Lead me in the paths of righteousness for Your Namesake. I will trust You. I am Yours.

 

God’s Got a Plan. Really.

There is a way that seems right to a man,
   but its end is the way to death.
Proverbs 16:25

Sometimes I feel like my life could be defined by failure after failure after failure, as I’ve turned away from God and His protection countless times in order to defend myself by my own means.  I didn’t know that’s what I was doing, but it’s the truth nonetheless. Like all people, I have a tendency to think I know best. And honestly I can’t help a bit of sardonic laughter at the thought of that because I’m acting like I know better than the Creator of the Universe.  The One who made all things. The One who made me. And everyday it seems that I can find at least one opportunity to say boldly in the face of the Lord of Hosts, “Nah, I got this one, Jesus. I can handle it.”

This isn’t a new concept for me.  I know this stuff. I know I need a Savior.  I know I’m hopelessly lost without Jesus. And then the whim hits me, and I let sin take charge, and voila: folly.

Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes,
   and shrewd in their own sight!
Isaiah 5:21

Yep, that’s me.  Everyday. I get so darn cocky about how wise I am and how smart or safe or satisfied I will be making choices for myself.  God doesn’t need to be bothered with this little stuff. God’s busy running things in the world, He doesn’t have time for this sort of thing.  And he gave me an intellect, I should use it. That’s how He helps me, right? After all, it’s my life, so it’s my choice. Right? Sure, ok. And the Lord says to me, “How’s that working out for you, Daisy?”

In a word: badly.

I find myself in a constant state of repentance with that kind of behavior.  I approach the throne of grace with hat in hand, embarrassed and ashamed, ready to sing out the Britney Spears line, “Oops I did it again!” to the Lord.  And the Lord shakes his head at me and responds with open arms and a forgiving smile. He isn’t asking for me to be ashamed. He isn’t asking me to be afraid.  He just wants me to believe Him when He says He knows best for me.

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Hebrews 4:16

But, God, I screwed up.  I knew the truth and I stubbornly chose to act against it.  I deserve to be punished. I need to be humbled. I need to be chastised.  I need. I need. I need.

And God responds with a solid and resounding, “Nope, nope, and nope. Look to the cross, my silly little daughter.  Punishment paid in full. Now stop whining, pick yourself up and let’s try this again. Only listen to me this time, would ya?”

And Samuel said to the people, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. 21 And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. 22 For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself.
1 Samuel 12:20-22

Sounds like a good plan, Jesus.  Help me trust You this time.

 

Help Them to See

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
   They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity;
   there is none who does good.
Psalm 53:1

That seems to be the world today.  Carnal and selfish pursuits are the gold standard for humanity.  The world proclaims itself as god: capable of determining right and wrong for itself.  The lie of the enemy from the beginning has been that we could be like God and choose for ourselves right from wrong.  

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.
Genesis 3:1-6

The arrogance to think that we could no better than the one who made us.  We are like little children talking back to our parents, insisting we are right and they are wrong.  Insisting we know better. Insisting we choose for ourselves what is best. It is complete folly!

I know that it is only by the grace of the One Who Made Me, Jesus Christ, that I can even comprehend this great tragedy.  It was only when I made the decision as a small child to let the King of my Heart be Jesus instead of myself. One small act of obedience led to an understanding of God’s goodness that I will carry with me for eternity.  God is love and light. In Him is no darkness. He knows what will be best for me and I can trust Him like the good Father He is. I can trust that He will lead me in the straight path and protect me from the wickedness of my own arrogance.

Because isn’t that the crux of the matter?  People don’t want to submit to any authority but their own.  Why would they want to let someone else tell them what to do? It sounds so much better to choose your own path.  

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
Genesis 3:7-8

And all this knowledge that they had chosen for themselves separated them from God by shame.  They suddenly knew shame and fear. Things that had never been in their lives before. I wish people could see how simple it is.  I wish they could see that trusting You is good and trusting in ourselves only leads to fear and shame and death away from Your Goodness.

Lord, help them to see that the time is short.  Help them to see that Your ways are good. Open their eyes and let them see that they can be made righteous by Your Son, Jesus.  Help them to see, Lord. Help them to see.