- J.R.R. Tolkien
I'm reading through 1 Samuel and this morning I read chapter 15 which is titled "The Lord rejects Saul". I've read this chapter many times at this point and it always bothers me. Basically in it God is like "go fight the Amalekites and leave no one alive". Saul does that but brings the king Agag alive and some of the best ox and sheep. He was planning on sacrificing these things to God. But, God is like "that's not what I asked you to do. I reject you. I'm choosing someone else to be King."
Every time I read this chapter I can't help but think "Gosh, God. Ain't that a little harsh?" I mean, Saul wanted to sacrifice to God. He was doing something that, in his eyes, seemed holy and right. He probably was thinking that God was even gonna be proud of him for how extra spiritual he was going to be today. Instead, God rejects him.
I think one reason why this chapter bothers me is because I like control. I like being the one who controls my destiny or even just what I'm going to eat for breakfast. I want to make life the way I want to make it. I want God to be there with me, but I want to make it. I want God to bless my endeavors, but I want them to be my endeavors. And I've even been led to believe that that's what God wants to.
But Samuel says in the chapter:
“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.
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 ESV)
God knew that, for whatever reason, this group of people needed to be completely destroyed. Saul's obedience was that important. But, also, I think God was trying to teach him and me, thousands of years later, that God doesn't care of what we think we can do for God. He is not concerned with my grand plans and "sacrifices" I have and will make with every good intention. Not because God is just that stubborn or strict or cruel but because (a) it's not about me and (b) he knows that wherever he has called me is exactly where I am supposed to be. And it's better than anything I have planned.
That scares me. Because I know what I want in life. And the things I want are all good things. It's not like I'm deciding between a path of becoming a serial killer or a doctor. The wrong route there is a little more obvious. But I find it so interesting that Samuel says "presumption is as iniquity and idolatry". Saul presumed that God would want sacrifices. But God wasn't lying when he said he wanted no one left alive. Presuming we know what God wants for us is idolatry. That's crazy. But I can see that in my own life. Sometimes the dreams I have that start out as dreams of ministry turn into my dreams. Dreams I have to have or I won't be happy. Dreams that make me great. But I have to live life with open hands. I cannot hold too tightly to the dreams I have or the things I've been given thinking I have a right to them. Because God is gonna call me to exactly where He wants me. And He's gonna get me there no matter what. But if he has to pry me away from the things I grip on with my life because I want them it will be a much more painful process.
I know I'm kind of making a stretch with my connection but the bottom line is: God desires obedience to him rather than the measly little sacrifices we try to make him. He desires us to follow his lead rather than us create a life based on how we think we can serve God.
And this chapter ends with Samuel hacking Agag to pieces so that's cool too.
The other morning I was reading my bible and it was one of those times when you read the Bible and every verse is alive and refreshing to you. Every chapter I read, God was speaking to me in a specific way and I was filling up pages in my journals with verses, thoughts, prayers, etc. I kept thinking "man, if only God always spoke to me this way and I got this much refreshment from reading every day". But, then God stopped me in my tracks. I guess I realized that it wasn't God who decided to "show up" that day but it was me. God is always speaking. God is always there. God's word never comes back void. The Holy Spirit is always whispering. Am I listening? Do I come to God and wait? Many days I'm too impatient. But, if I be still maybe I would hear what he's been saying all along.
I've kind of struggled with hating the fact that every time I spend time with God I have to work through the same thing over and over. I think of all the things I could be learning instead of the same lesson over and over that I can't seem to actually believe or apply. So, I decided to strengthen my mind and strengthen my will (which are good things) but that process is harder than I wanted it to be.
This phrase keeps running in my mind: this summer is going to be a win. It's usually when I feel the weakest that I speak this because I want so badly for this to be true. I already alluded to this but the summer has started off rocky. I have struggled to keep my mind on the Lord. I am swaying way too quickly to idolatry and to desires of the flesh. And I know when it's happening but I am too weak to stop it. It makes for kind of pitiful prayer times that are consumed in my woes. And I keep thinking to myself that if I work harder, if I control myself better, if I put all these parameters up in my life maybe I'll come out happier or more at peace. And if I could just let go of my idols and not ever think about them then I could put a W next to Summer 2014. But maybe instead of seeing those accomplishments as "wins", maybe just coming to God every day and laying at his feet even if I am too weak and too sad to say anything is the win I need. Just coming to God. Just laying out everything in front of me. Maybe if I can focus on that, this summer will be a "win" whether I get over all my idols and sinful desires or not. Because Jesus is the point. Not a cleaned-up life. And coming to Jesus will ultimately purify and sanctify me. But if I focus on the purifying part instead of focusing on Jesus I won't get as far. I'd be worse off actually.
God is always faithful. I am mostly not. But, if I can just show up and if I can get with God I can hear what he has to say and what he is trying to teach me. And it'll change me because his word is living and active and does not come back void. And all that right there is all I need. Jesus' win on the cross is all I need to make it through. He pours out his love and his grace daily. All I need to do is turn and hold out my hand to receive it. And I'll consider that a win any day.