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Category: 1 Samuel

Be careful about the desires of your heart

Desires of your heartThe Bible reading plan that I follow divides each day’s reading across four different areas; Psalms and Wisdom, Pentateuch and History, Chronicles and Prophets, and Gospels and Epistles. I really like it. I like it because it ensures a balanced daily diet of both the old and new testaments. I also like it because sometimes I’m surprised by common themes that seem to reveal themselves as I work through the scheduled readings for the day. This morning’s reading contained one of those surprise connections.

First, in Psalm 20 the verse that jumped out at me was:

May he grant you your heart’s desire
and fulfill all your plans! Psalm 20:4

This got me thinking about the fact that this isn’t the only time Psalms references this idea that God will give you the desires of your heart. This idea of God giving us the desires of our heart can be very comforting and inspiring, don’t you think? But what if our desires are impure or not aligned with the character and will of God? What would it look like or how would your life or the lives of those around you be different if God gave you the desires of your heart and fulfilled all your plans?

I let those thoughts bounce around in the back of my head as I moved on to my next section of reading in 1 Samuel 8 where the Israelites reveal the desires of their heart. They want Samuel to appoint for them a king to judge them like “all the other nations”. They wanted to conform to the patterns of the world around them. In effect, they were rejecting the very God who had been so merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.

The LORD instructs Samuel to listen and obey the voice of the people but first, he is to warn them about what they are getting in to. Samuel returns to the people and paints a very dire but very realistic picture of what life will be like under the authority of a king. Despite that fact, the people continue to voice their desire for a king to judge them and go before them and fight their battles.

And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey their voice and make them a king.” 1 Samuel 8:22

Just what I was worried about. The fact that the LORD wants to grant the desires of our heart sounds great in theory. But not if your desires are selfish, shortsighted and sinful.

This morning’s reading didn’t let the story play out to see if Samuel’s warnings come true. But I don’t need to see anymore to know that my encouragement and application from this morning’s reading is to ensure that before I ask the LORD to grant me the desires of my heart that I first ask Him to search me and to know my heart. That the LORD would try me and know my thoughts. That He would see and reveal any grievous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting. That He, by the power of the Holy Spirit, would allow me to desire the things that He desires. That I would trust in Him to withhold the desires of my heart if those desires would be less than His best for me and for His glory.

Growing in stature and favor

Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and also with man. 1 Samuel 2:26

When I read through that verse in 1 Samuel I always find that my first instinct is to think that this should be true of all Christians – that we continue to grow in stature and in favor. My second instinct is to then consider the things that Samuel did that contributed to his growth both in stature and in favor with the Lord and also with man. Surely there would be some wisdom in seeking to replicate those things.

But maybe his growth wasn’t specific to anything that Samuel did as much as it was the fact that his parents enrolled him in “private school” in Shiloh. Perhaps it was because they dedicated him to the Lord and entrusted him to Eli’s care to serve and minister before the Lord.

Or maybe it wasn’t the things that Samuel did or the environment in which he was raised but perhaps it was the faithfulness and diligence of his mother, Hannah. Maybe it was her consistent, intimate and authentic prayer life on behalf of Samuel that really paid dividends. Surely her desires for her son and her heart to honor the Lord is what resulted in a son that was faithfully walking with and serving God.

As parents, we like to try and do everything we can to ensure our children grow up in a way that will result in them knowing and loving and serving the Lord. But at the end of the day, it really all comes down to God’s grace. Our parenting skills will not save our kids. Only God, by His grace and in His mercy, can redeem our children and rescue their souls. Only the Holy Spirit can convict them of their sin and testify to the the way and the truth and the life.

Despite all the things he had going for him, Samuel also had a lot working against him. He was growing up surrounded by a perverse and corrupt priesthood. The example and witness provided to Samuel was one that dishonored God and disregarded His commandments. And yet, despite all of that, Samule grew in the presence of the Lord. God’s grace was sufficient to overcome all that was wrong in Samuel’s life. God’s plans for Samuel’s life would not be hindered.

Yes, we should receive our children as a gift from God and we should seek to be good stewards by raising them in the training and instruction of the Lord. Yes we should faithfully pray for our children. Those are good things. Those are helpful things. But we need to also remember that none of those things will ultimately save our children. Salvation is entirely of The Lord. For His glory alone.

“Good” parenting can’t save your kids

1 Samuel 8 is not about parenting. It’s more about Israel’s transition from judges to a monarchy so that they might be like all the nations around them. However, it was hard for me to not consider some parenting implications from the first three verses:

“When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. Yet his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice.” – 1 Samuel 8:1-3

Of course, Samuel was raised in the house of Eli, the priest. While Samuel was in Eli’s house, he continued to grow in favor and stature before the Lord and before men. Meanwhile, Eli’s sons are described as “worthless”. They were corrupt and used their position to steal glory from God and for their personal gain. Despite the fact that Eli was a priest, despite the fact that he faithfully served the Lord, his sons did not know the Lord.

Here we have Samuel who has faithfully served the Lord for many years and now has sons of his own. And unfortunately, he’s in a position similar to Eli. His sons are similar to Eli’s sons. They are dishonest and everything they do is motivated by greed rather than God’s glory.

Upon close examination I’m sure we could inventory the faults of Eli and Samuel as fathers. Perhaps Eli should have rebuked, corrected, and disciplined his sons before things got out of hand. Perhaps Samuel should not have made his sons judges if they were not walking in his ways. But if we try to use the faults of the fathers as excuses or reasons why the sons did not ultimately know or walk with God, I think we might be putting too much stock in the men and discounting the sovereignty and grace of God.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that fathers and mothers can (and should) have a tremendous influence on their children and the paths their children take. As a parent I believe we are to train our children in the way they should go in the hope that when they are old they will not turn from it. But salvation belongs to the Lord and Him alone. Are we really to believe that God’s grace is not big enough to overcome our failures as parents? Do we not believe that God is strong enough to save our children despite our shortcomings as parents? Do we think that our children need the gospel plus something else that we add to the equation from our parenting toolbox? Or, is the gospel that we responded to the same gospel that our children need to individually respond to as well?

Pray for your children, teach your children, instruct your children, correct your children, and love your children. Extend mercy, grace, and forgiveness to your children. Make much of Jesus Christ to your children. Do these things. But also know that their behavior and response to the gospel is in the hands of a faithful, loving, merciful, patient, and sovereign God. Trust in Him for their salvation not in your parenting skills. His name is the only name by which they must be saved.

Heavenly Father, I thank you for my children. I thank you for the overwhelming responsibility you have given me to raise them and train them up in the way they should go. Lord, ultimately, they are your children. You created them. You know them. There is nothing about them that is hidden from you. And I pray Lord that nothing about you would be hidden from them. I pray that you will continually reveal yourself to them and that they would have eyes to see and ears to hear. I ask that the Holy Spirit would draw them to the Truth of  you. I trust that you will use all circumstances to reveal the truth of who you are, to reveal the reality of their need for a Savior, and that they would be spurred on to respond to that truth – the gospel of Jesus Christ. Lord, I acknowledge that I can’t save them and I acknowledge that I don’t need to save them. You have already done that Lord. I pray that they will receive that salvation and enter into that salvation, for their joy and your glory. Help me to not be anxious about these things but let me trust in you. I pray that I might walk with you in such a way that it is like salt and light in their young lives. That they might desire to commune with you and walk with you all the days of their lives. I pray that my children, your children, might know you and walk with you. Your will be done, Lord.

Pouring out my soul before the Lord

Hannah’s greatest desire was to have children. In a culture where barrenness was perceived to be an indictment on your womanhood or an indication that you were cursed, her inability to conceive was almost too excruciating to bear. As if this wasn’t enough, her husbands other wife was merciless in her ridicule and provocation of her. It got so bad that all Hannah would do is weep and not eat. And then, she provides a wonderful example of a godly response to pain, misery, and unfulfilled expectations.

What I love about what I read in 1 Samuel 1 this morning is that Hannah doesn’t allow her pain to drive her away from God. Instead, it is her pain that causes her to seek Him. In verse 10 it says, “She was deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD and wept bitterly.” She didn’t seek to relieve her distress through her own efforts or by pursuing her own ideas. She prayed to the Lord in her distress. She modeled what Paul would eventually encourage the believers in Phillipi to do which is to “not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” In verse 16, when questioned by Eli the priest about what she is doing she answers, “I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.”

Hannah also doesn’t self-medicate as many are prone to do. She doesn’t pour herself an alcoholic drink in an effort to escape from her misery. Instead, she pours herself. She pours our her soul before the Lord. In verse 15 she says, “I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the LORD.” She was honest with God and was open and transparent with her distress, fear, disappointment, and desires. Realizing that she was troubled in her spirit, she called upon her God. She realized where her help comes from.

Whenever you find yourself feeling anxious, troubled, or distressed, that is a trigger to pray to the Lord. It is an invitation to pour out your soul before the Lord your God. Surely, He will hear your prayer and although He may not answer it in the way that you might hope or expect, He will answer it in such a way that you may know peace that transcends all understanding.

 

The battle belongs to the Lord but sometimes you need to fight

I spent some time in 1 Samuel 17 this morning. This is the chapter that recounts the David and Goliath story. One of the first things that struck me this morning was how back in 1 Samuel 8, the leaders of the Israelites are imploring Eli to appoint a king for them because they “may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” The interesting thing is that, although king Saul is there at the battle line opposite the Philistines when Goliath steps forward to issue his challenge, Saul does not meet the people’s expectations of being a king that will “go out before us and fight our battles.” Instead, Saul was “greatly dismayed and afraid”.

Along comes David, the shepherd boy. We all know how the story ends. But how does David go from making a delivery to his brothers to standing victorious over the giant? Just a few (very) high-level thoughts that basically revolve around David identifying the problem, having a perspective, and then deciding to participate.

The Problem – David does not like it one bit that Goliath, an “uncircumcised Philistine”, is scorning Israel and defying the armies of the living God. Although it seems like David might be personally offended by what Goliath is saying, it is probably more along the lines of, “how dare you speak that way of the living God”. Think of how you would feel to stand in the hearing of someone publicly mocking and speaking poorly of someone that you love dearly. That is how David probably felt.

The Perspective – Although David might have a very physical and visceral response to Goliath, he realizes that it is a spiritual battle and that the battle belongs to the Lord. David is not motivated by a desire to gain honor, fame, and glory for himself but rather, he is motivated by a desire to see (and hear) the name of the living God lifted high. He is more concerned with the reputation of the God of Israel than he is of himself. He’s so concerned in fact, that he’s willing to put his own safety aside and submit himself to God’s mission – even if it ends up being at his own expense.

The Participation – David willingly submits himself and makes himself available to fight the Philistine even though the rest of the Israelite army (and king Saul for that matter) has been unable to muster the courage to do so. David’s willingness to participate in this battle is not based on his confidence in his own fighting abilities or strength. His willingness to participate in the battle is borne from an understanding that the battle belongs to the Lord. In verse 37, David says, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” David doesn’t have any false confidence in himself and believes that the Lord will be with him and be faithful just as He has been faithful in the past.

Although he doesn’t have false confidence in himself, he can certainly see how God has allowed him to experience things in his past that have prepared him for this moment. All those times, while shepherding the flock, where he had to go after a sheep and wrestle it from the jaws and claws of a lion or bear have prepared him for this moment.

The Prayer – This is where I come in. I pray that God will manifest within me a heart like David. A heart that does not melt in the face of opposition or persecution. A heart that does not faint when confronted with things that threaten my comfort, health, or possessions. I pray that I will continually be motivated by a desire to see God’s name lifted high. I pray that I will be available and willing to participate in bringing God glory. I pray that I will be aware of the spiritual battles around me and acknowledge that the battle belongs to the Lord. And Lord, help me to understand that everything that you have allowed into my life – whether I currently perceive it to be good or bad – is for a purpose and you can and will use it to refine me that I might be useful for your purposes.

Fear of man

While reading 1 Samuel 15 today I noticed that the chapter heading in my Bible reads, “The Lord Rejects Saul”. After reading the chapter though, I think a more appropriate heading would have been, “Saul Disqualifies Himself Through Disobedience”.

Saul received very clear instructions from the Lord as delivered by Samuel:

Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’” 1 Samuel 15:1-3 ESV

So, that’s what Saul was commanded to do but this is what Saul did:

And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive and devoted to destruction all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction. 1 Samuel 15:8-9 ESV

It looks like Saul called an audible. It looks like he listened to the Lord, did most of what was required, but then decided to change things up a little bit. Instead of devoting everything to destruction as the Lord had commanded, it looks like Saul spared Agag as well as keeping some of the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs. Well, maybe Saul had a good reason for doing these things. Maybe Saul had information that was useful for rationalizing this change in plans. Regardless, it’s not long before Saul is called out by Samuel:

And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed be you to the LORD. I have performed the commandment of the LORD.” And Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?” Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the LORD your God, and the rest we have devoted to destruction.” 1 Samuel 15:13-15 ESV

It seems like Saul has a pretty good excuse for doing what he did. It seems like his reason for sparing the best of the sheep and of the oxen was so that they might sacrifice it to the Lord. The only problem, is that is not what the Lord commanded. The Lord desired obedience and not sacrifice.

Soon, we learn the root cause of Saul’s disobedience:

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. 1 Samuel 15:24 ESV

Saul “feared the people” and consequently, he “obeyed their voice”. Fear of man can be a snare for many of us. When we are more concerned with the approval, acceptance, and favor of those around us than we are about pleasing God through a sacrifice of obedience, we create problems for ourselves and we fail to bring glory to God.

So, what’s my takeaway?

  • Do things because of the Lord, not necessarily for the Lord – even though Saul was commanded to devote everything to destruction, he thought it would be nice to reserve some of the best sheep and oxen so that they could sacrifice them to the Lord. Saul was more concerned about doing something for the Lord instead of doing something because it was commanded by the Lord.
  • Obedience trumps sacrifice – while there is not necessarily anything wrong with doing things for God, He desires obedience greater than sacrifice. Sacrifice might make you feel better about yourself because it is often more visible and noticeable by others, but obedience is what pleases God and it is also a primary way that we can demonstrate our love, hope, and trust in Him.
  • Fear God, not man – fear of man leads to actions and decisions that are oftentimes contrary to God’s best for you. Fear of man causes you to listen to the wrong voices and inhibits your ability to obediently respond to the Lord’s command. Fear of God, however, is the beginning of wisdom.

Hearing God’s Voice

And the LORD called again, “Samuel!” and Samuel arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. 1 Samuel 3:6-7 ESV

While reading God’s word this morning I found it interesting to see that “Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him”. In this context, “know” means to know by experience. It means to recognize or be acquainted with. Based on the external appearances, I would have expected that Samuel did indeed know the Lord. After all, he’s living with, and training under, Eli the priest. He’s serving and ministering in the temple. Based on what my eyes can observe, I would make the judgement call that Samuel knows the Lord. He must. Right? Maybe not. Perhaps he just knows about the Lord.

Then I remembered something that even Samuel has not yet learned (he will in about 13 chapters) which is, “the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” So perhaps at this point in Samuel’s life, his heart had not yet been touched in such a way that he had ears to hear God’s voice. You see, he hears his name being called but he doesn’t recognize the voice. He keeps thinking that it is Eli that is calling.

Some things that I walked away with from this passage this morning:

  • I want to make sure that I’m in a position to hear God’s voice – it’s interesting to me that the Lord spoke to Samuel while he was sleeping. I don’t know why God chose to do this but it sure causes me to consider my own schedule and whether I am providing myself with enough quiet and restful moments during the day where I can listen for God’s voice. Am I making a way during the day to just be still and know that He is God? Or, am I filling my days with so many distractions that I am at risk of not hearing God’s voice.
  • I want to make sure that I am in a position to recognize God’s voice – even if I was to hear God’s voice, would I recognize it as his? Or, like Samuel, would I think it was someone else? Jesus said that His sheep follow Him because they know His voice. Do I know His voice? Am I following Him?
  • I want to make sure that I am available and willing to obey God’s voice – I don’t want to be like a man that looks intently at himself in the mirror only to go away and forget what he looks like. In hearing God’s word there is benefit for me but in doing God’s word there is glory for Him. And I pray that at no time would I become Pharisaical in hearing God’s voice, lording it over others. Instead, I pray that I would respond in humble obedience to God’s voice.
  • I want to make sure I’m acquainted with Christ before I become active for Christ – now, there is a balance that must be sought here and it can be a fine line. The last thing I want to do is to become a “Dead Sea Christian” where I’m spending all my time enjoying my relationship with Christ, and allowing Him to fill me with His Spirit and never allowing anything to flow out of my life to bless and serve others. But I also don’t want to be all about the “Christian” activities and be so busy doing things for the Lord that I neglect to just be with the Lord or to do things because of the Lord. I want to ensure that all my actions are motivated by the grace that Jesus has shown to me and His love for me.

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