What is it?

Looking through my journals and email, I found out that I was wishing for a lot of good things to happen. I claimed to be “hoping,” but I did not/could not be confident the desired outcome would happen. That is not what hope is about. Hope is more than wishing. [Want to know more? Click here.]

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Seek Wisdom

1 Samuel 9 gives us the account of the future king of Israel, Saul, meeting Samuel for the first time. Although Samuel’s circuit, described in 1 Samuel 7:15-17, brought Samuel close to where Saul lived, it seems from the text that Saul did not know of him. At least Saul did not recognize Samuel (1 Samuel 9:18).
This tells me something. It appears that Saul was not interested in spiritual matters. It appears that Saul did not attend any of the events hosted by Samuel or in Samuel’s honor when Samuel was nearby. We can’t tell if this meant that Saul was totally oblivious to God and His teachings, but it may be indicative of the state of the general population of Israel at the time.
Later, Saul is looking for some lost donkeys. His father had sent him on this mission. After a few days, when Saul and a servant had not yet found the donkeys, Saul was ready to give up. Granted, he did not want to be gone even longer and cause his father to be concerned (vs. 5). That’s to be admired; however, there is no record of Saul and the servant praying for guidance. Saul especially seemed to rely on his own wisdom and skills, and became discouraged when they could not find the donkeys.
This man that God picked to be king is not noted for his wisdom, virtue, leaning, or piety. No real accomplishments are even mentioned. Saul was probably around 40 at the time of these events, yet did not have servants of his own to send to find the donkeys. He was also still under the leadership of his father (this may have been cultural). It does not appear as though Saul had any distinguishing characteristics of a good leader. What Scripture does record are Saul’s physical characteristics, those characteristics that would appeal to the people as being someone fit for a king (vs. 2). Those are the characteristics that the kings of other nations displayed, and the people of Israel wanted a king like the other nations.
Back to the story of Saul meeting Samuel: While Saul was not inclined to seek wisdom from the spiritual leaders of his time, the servant did remember that there was a “seer” or “prophet” in a nearby town. The servant suggested they seek him out for advice. Saul had some objections, but the servant’s opinions prevailed and they went looking for the seer. So, even though Saul is not recorded as being a man of prayer, because it was convenient, they went to seek Samuel out.
My contention is that things may have gone differently if Saul and the servant had considered seeking wisdom out in the first place. I take this as a warning for me. I need to seek wisdom first in any decisions or endeavors I attempt. I also, unlike Saul, need to seek it even if it means going out of my way. Waiting for a convenient time should not be an option for me. I must seek out wisdom through prayer and wise counsel, right from the beginning of the decision-making process.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Each His Own Grace

At the beginning of 1 Samuel 8 we have a description of Samuel’s family. Scripture doesn’t tell us Samuel was married but we can make an assumption that he was because he had children. We don’t know what Samuel did as a father. We don’t know what kind of teacher he was for his children. We don’t know anything about his wife. What we do know is found in verses 1-5:
And it came about when Samuel was old that he appointed his sons judges over Israel. Now the name of his firstborn was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judging in Beersheba. His sons, however, did not walk in his ways, but turned aside after dishonest gain and took bribes and perverted justice. Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah; and they said to him, “Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways . . .”

For whatever reason, Samuel’s sons did not turn out well. Was it Samuel’s fault? Did he fail to learn from Eli and his sons? Did he try to do the right things, but the sons were still disobedient and dishonest? We just don’t know.
What we do know is that the children of a good man and servant of God had turned aside from God’s ways. We know that the sons were in a town quite a distance from Samuel. Possibly Samuel sent them there because it was in an area Samuel’s regular circuit didn’t take him to and the people there needed judges. Maybe the power and influence the sons had in that area inflated their egos so they thought they were above the laws.
I learned two important things from this passage. First, honor and prestige can change men’s minds and hearts – and not usually for the better. We need to watch out for that in our own lives especially if we achieve some measure of earthly prominence in society. Second, God extends His grace to individuals, not families (or churches). It’s up to each person to recognize God’s grace and choose service to God over worldly possessions and prestige. Samuel’s faith could not blanket his children. They each have to make the decision to follow God on their own. That’s still true for us today. Whether we did all the right things in raising our children or not, ultimately, it’s up to each child to make a decision to do what is right in God’s eyes. Parents can’t force it on their offspring, and parents can’t make the decision for each individual under their care.
So, whether I did everything right or not, it’s up to my children to come to depend on divine grace for themselves. I hope my instructions and example influenced them in their decision-making process. I did the best I could. Still, ultimately, it’s up to them to depend on God and gain salvation for themselves.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

My Places of Worship

In rereading 1 Samuel 7 the last verse spoke to me: “But Samuel always went back to Ramah, where his home was. There he judged Israel and built an altar to the Lord” (New Century Version). I’m not sure why, but I have a fear of the idea of building an altar to the Lord as part of my spiritual practice. Maybe because many of the altars built in Scripture were to false gods and I don’t want to make that mistake.

Yet as I thought about this, I realized that in a way there is an “altar” in my heart. I’ve dedicated the core of my being to the Almighty God. This is not a stagnant place, but a growing, changing, dynamic aspect of my walk with God. As I bow before God, which I can do no matter where I am, I worship and remember Him. I can bring Him glory through my attitudes and behavior.

We are not required to offer Old Testament style sacrifices, so an actual altar built with stones and mortar is not necessary. This being said, God still desires our sacrifices – sacrifices of service. Romans 12:1 tells us about this kind of sacrifice: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” A living and holy, active and pure service to God is our new form of sacrifice. In order to follow through on the kind of sacrifices God wants from His New Testament followers, we need to be in service to Him.

Then I thought again about having an altar in my home. In a way I do have one. It’s my desk where I have my personal time with God each morning, use my prayer journal to pray, write my daily praises on Facebook, study God’s Word, and meditate and consider what to write in my weekly blog post. It’s where all my study materials are kept and used. It’s where I prayerfully conduct daily business, and write letters and work on writing books. I can’t approach my desk without thinking of and worshiping my God.

What’s the condition of your heart altar? Do you have a place set aside to worship and serve God? Consider making such altars in your world.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Thanksgiving; 1 Samuel 7

In 1 Samuel 7, there’s the story of the Israelites gathering, at Samuel’s suggestion, to mark the occasion of returning to the Lord (20 years after the Ark had been returned to Israel). It took the people that long to “lament after the Lord” (vs. 2). Samuel’s recommendations were for the people to separate from their idols and to engage in service to God. As part of that service, Samuel had them “gather all Israel to Mizpah” (vs. 5), and he would pray for them.
The Philistines got worried thinking Israel had gathered as a rendezvous for war against them; however, they were just there to pray and worship God. The Israelites did not have weapons with them, and when they saw the Philistines posturing for battle against them, they became fearful. They asked Samuel to “cry to the Lord our God for us, that He may save us from the hand of the Philistines” (vs. 8). There’s a lesson here about relying on God as our only weapon, but that’s not what I’m going to talk about in this article.
God answered Samuel’s prayer and the Philistines ended up confused and routed by the Lord, without the Israelites doing a thing. The Israelites “pursued the Philistines, and struck them down as far as below Beth-car” (vs. 11). “Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us’” (vs. 12). So, even though there was unfinished business in the political arena and the future of Israel (and their obedience to God) was yet unfinished, Samuel made sure they acknowledged what God had already done.
One commentator, Matthew Henry, also directed us to Acts 26:22 to see Paul’s reaction to similar circumstances (seeing God work and waiting to see what else will happen): “Having therefore obtained help from God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great . . .” (KJV). I’m convicted that my lack of thankfulness for what God’s already done, especially in some recent issues in my life, is hindering me from proceeding in faith in other areas of my life and ministry. I don’t give thanks and I worry. I don’t acknowledge what God has already done and fail to recognize what He can do in the future. My anxiety level increases and my joy decreases.
This is contrary to what I learned studying Philippians 4:4-9 where in verses 6-7 we are given the “formula” for less/no anxiety: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” My prayers and supplications are not enough. They need to be done with thanksgiving – acknowledging what God has already accomplished in my life and situations – in order to experience the peace God offers. Also, doing that takes my mind off my own problems and allows me to better minister to others. So, I’m pausing right now to give thanks. Do you need to take the time to do the same?