The heart of the matter

Who would you choose as your leader? On the playground as children, we’d pick the big, strong, athletic kids. As teens, perhaps the best-looking guy or girl. As adults, the one that looks like they have it all together.

Saul was that man. He was big and strong. He stood a head taller than everyone else. He was good-looking. He had it all together. He was God’s first choice. But he wasn’t God’s lasting choice.

Three times in 1 Samuel 15, Saul, while speaking to Samuel, refers to God as the Lord your God. Never once did he say, the Lord my God. Even though Saul had been chosen by God, anointed as king over Israel, and had the Spirit of the Lord upon him, Saul had not sought the Lord for himself.

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance of his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7 (NIV)

Because Saul refused to seek after Him, the Lord chose to remove His hand and His Spirit from him.

But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.

1 Samuel 13:14 (NIV)

Israel asked for a king and God gave them what they wanted. But when the king God gave them led them away from Him, it was time to replace that king.

God is not at all concerned with what position we may or may not have. He gives position and He can take it away.

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

Romans 13:1 (NIV)

Power and position here on earth are of no consequence to God. Just because Saul had been made king didn’t mean that he would remain king. By not following God’s instructions and for not seeking the Lord for himself, Saul disqualified himself from ruling over Israel. Instead, God led Samuel to seek out the one man who would chase after Him no matter what.

When we choose to honour God not matter what, He will elevated us to a position of His choosing. We won’t all be kings or queens, nor will we necessarily take up positions of great power or authority. But for those who search for the heart of God, He will make a place.

Read: 1 Samuel 15-16, Luke 14:25-35

Just a few

While Saul sat in hiding, his son Jonathan, was out trying to find a way to defeat Israel’s enemy. Without questioning his own motives, the young man place his trust entirely in God. Without care for his own being, Jonathan pushed ahead and trusted that God would lead him to save Israel.

Perhaps the Lord will act on our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by a few.

1 Samuel 14:6b (NIV)

If it is God’s will to accomplish something, all He needs is one willing and obedient person to turn the enemy’s camp into confusion. While Saul sat indecisive, Jonathan followed God’s guidance—which lead Israel to victory.

God will direct the steps of those that acknowledge him in all their ways, and seek him for direction, with full purpose of heart to follow his guidance.

Matthew Henry

The will of God in the hands of just a few is far greater than swords in the hands of many. When our confidence is in God, nothing should be able to stop us from pursuing His will and achieving victory in His name.

What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?

Romans 8:31 (NIV)

Like Jonathan, we can put our confidence in our God who knows the ending from the beginning and everything in between. He has ordered our steps, all we need do is take them as prescribed.

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.

Hebrews 10:35-36 (NIV)

Read: 1 Samuel 13-14, Luke 14:1-24

Teach. Pray.

It is our duty as believers to pray for one another and to pray for the Church. Prayer is good and it is right, but it cannot take the place of teaching.

Near the end of Samuel’s life, he has a heart-to-heart with Israel. He’s been their spiritual Father for many years. He’d made his fair share of mistakes. So had Israel. But at this point in time, Israel was on the road to repentance. What Samuel really wanted to do at times was walk away from them as a parent might wish to walk away from a belligerent child who just can’t seem to learn his lesson. But because the Lord was faithful to Israel, Samuel would be, too.

He encourages the people to set aside all idols and worship God alone. He tells—he teaches—Israel the right way in going about life as God’s chosen people. Prayer is all fine and good, but if someone is never taught the right way to do something, their chances of getting it right are slim. In addition to praying for them, Samuel chose to tell Israel what to do.

As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right. But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you.

1 Samuel 12:23-24 (NIV)

And he prayed that God would help them to do what is right.

Train a child in the way he should go,
and when he is old he will not turn from it.

Proverbs 22:6 (NIV)

Obedience and faithfulness must first be taught. To neglect teaching it to remain ignorant and immature.

Then we must pray that those lessons we have learned take root and grow and become fruitful. Once we learn what God says and how He says it, our prayers allow us to hear His voice so that He can continue to train us in the way we should go.

Read: 1 Samuel 10-12, Luke 13:22-35

We will possess

Now since the Lord, the God of Israel, has driven the Amorites out before his people Israel, what right do you have to take it over? Will you not take what your god Chemosh gives you? Likewise, whatever the Lord our God has given us, we will possess.

Judges 11:23-24 (NIV)

What God has given, no man can rightly take away. God gave Israel an inheritance. A good land where they could live and prosper so long as they remained obedient to God. While I’m not Jewish, nor do I live in Israel, God has given me (and you) a great many things that no man can ever take away.

The trouble comes when believers live in shame, pain, poverty, foolishness, sin, and more because they don’t know what they have. So many believers haven’t taken the time to learn the promises of God and, in the words of my brother-in-law, live their lives broke, busted, and disgusted because they believe that is where God would have them remain. Not so!

Here are just a few of the things that we don’t need to ask God for—He’s already given them to us.

Eternal life.

And this is what he promised us—even eternal life.

1 John 2:25 (NIV)

Forgiveness.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:9 (NIV)

The Holy Spirit.

…how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

Luke 11:13b (NIV)

Guidance and truth.

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.

John 16:13 (NIV)

Physical sustenance and clothing.

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Matthew 6:31, 33 (NIV)

These are just a few of the many promises we have been given as children of God. But we often forget about them. Our focus turns to things other than God. We begin to worry and allow the day-to-day cares of this world to bring us down. We become like Israel—forgetting who we really are and what we have already been given.

Once God has given us something, the only one who can prevent us from obtaining it and maintaining it is ourselves. Whether it be by losing focus, getting distracted, a lack of faith, or all-out rejecting God, only you stand in the way of your promise.

So keep this in mind: if God has promised it, He will perform it.

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

2 Corinthians 1:20-22 (NIV)

Read: Judges 10-11. Luke 9:1-36

Places, everyone!

Do you know your place or position? I hope you know your position at your job (it won’t be your job for long if you don’t). Maybe you have a place at the family dinner table. I bet there’s a place at the grocery store you like to park. Do you have a favourite position to sleep in?

Through much of our lives, we know our place and, most of the time, we’re prepared—if not willing—to take that position. So why is it so difficult for us to take our place in the kingdom of God? Sure, we’ve got a place once we accept Jesus as our Lord, but there is much more to it than that.

Way back in Judges, a woman—yes, a woman!—was judge over Israel. Through Deborah’s wisdom in hearing from God, Israel was able to defeat Sisera and his Canaanite army. Through her joy in victory, she sang a song.

When the princes in Israel take the lead,
when the people willingly offer themselves—
praise the Lord!

Judges 5:2 (NIV)

In modern language, I believe this verse could read something like this:

When leaders take their place and lead,
when the people willingly submit—
praise the Lord!

Deborah’s song goes on to describe the battle, then she closes.

So may all your enemies perish, O Lord!
But may they who love you be like the sun
when it rises in its strength.

Judges 5:31 (NIV)

In modern language, I believe this verse may read something like this:

No one can deny you, O Lord!
The Church will rise and endure
when those who love you take their proper place.

The only time things went well for Israel was when they had a leader who first submitted to God and led from a place of humility and a people who submitted themselves to their godly leader. Every other time in their history, Israel fell into slavery and war.

We may not be in a physical battle, but we are certainly in a spiritual war. Like Israel, the Church is never more victorious than when we take our proper places. Some are called to lead, but we are all called to follow.

To whom then should we be submitting?

God. No matter who we are, where we’re from, or what our place is, we must always submit to God over anything or anyone else.

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

James 4:7 (NIV)

Each other. If we can’t even love each other as members of the same body, how will we ever win anyone else over with love? The greatest part of loving someone is submitting to them.

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Ephesians 5:21 (NIV)

Human authority. As much as it may pain us to do so, we are all under human law and authority. So long as we are not asked to go against the Word of God, we are expected to submit.

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.

1 Peter 2:13-14 (NIV)

And how is all of this supposed to help us to be victorious?

For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.

1 Peter 2:15 (NIV)

Nearly every argument the world has against the Church can be silenced if only we would live as we’ve been called to. If we take our places as children of God, submitting to Him, each other, and those in authority over us. It is only when we take our positions that we can truly wage our spiritual war and win.

Read: Judges 3-5, Luke 7:31-50

As for me and my house

Every person on the planet—whether they realise it or not—has made a choice about God. There are only two ways to decide, but many ways that decision can be made.

  • Ignorance—some people’s choice has been taken out of their hands. By not knowing about God, sadly, their choice is against Him.
  • Misinformation—some people make their choice about God based on hearsay. They don’t really know the truth for themselves and trust in the word of another, whether right or wrong. Again, sadly, many make a choice against God because they believed a single person’s opinion over the actual Word of God.
  • Fact—I  personally know people who have weighed all the facts and still made a choice against God. It is a conscious decision to reject the Lord.
  • Personal desires— some are under the impression that a life lived for God is boring and useless and too costly, so they reject Him.
  • Truth—there are those still, who know and understand the truth of the Word of God and accept it.

No matter what we choose or how our choice is made, we do make the choice and there are consequences either way.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.

Romans 6:23 (NIV)

At the end of his life, Joshua gathered Israel together for one final pep rally. He recounted all that God had done in bringing them out of Egypt and into the land of promise. He closed with this:

Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods you forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, of the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.

Joshua 24:14-15 (NIV)

For Israel, the consequences of rejecting God to serve other gods was dire. Along the way from Egypt to Canaan, He made it pretty clear how things would go for them if they went against Him.

If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make and end of you, after he has been good to you.

Joshua 24:20 (NIV)

Now, we are no longer under the law, but under grace (Romans 6:14). God is not going to smite us should we refuse His gift of salvation. No, we bring ruin upon ourselves.

Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slave, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?

Romans 6:16 (NIV)

No matter what choice we make, we must be prepared to live (or die) with the consequences. But, so long as there is breath in your lungs, it is never too late to make a declaration like Joshua: But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.

Read: Joshua 23-24 Luke 6:27-49

Waiting room

Sometimes life, for all it’s hurry, seems like a long stint in a waiting room. When you’re a kid, you wait to grow up. When you grow up, you wait to find the right person to spend the rest of your life with. When you’ve found that person, you wait to start a family. And those are just the big things. We wait for bedtime. We wait for the alarm clock to ring. We wait to start work and we wait to finish work. We wait at lights and stop signs, checkouts and check-ins. And in all that waiting, what are we really doing?

Israel had waited a long time to obtain their promise. When God sent Moses to get them out of Egypt, it should have just been a few weeks at most before their arrival in the land of milk and honey. Instead, it was over forty years. And that was just to get across the river! There was a lot more waiting involved once they crossed over. By this time Joshua, a young man when he was first sent to scout out the land, was old. He’d seen a lot in his day. He’d led Israel into their promise and fought with them to take hold of it. And after all that waiting, Israel still waited.

So Joshua said to the Israelites: “How long will you wait before you begin to take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you?”

Joshua 18:3 (NIV)

Here Israel stood, in their promise. And they stood around waiting to take hold of it. They got exactly what God told them He would give them and still they waited.

This week, Major League Baseball begins a new season. My team is the Toronto Blue Jays. I’ve followed the team all through the off season and have watched as many spring training games as have been aired on television. I know that there were some pretty major trades since the fall. I know some players got healthy, while others will begin the season on the disabled list. I also know that, through the spring, the coaches and trainers have worked with all of the players to make sure that they’re in the best shape they can be, that they know their roles on the team, and know the plan for the team in the season ahead. They’re prepared.

Let’s say that opening day arrives and the Blue Jays take the field at Rogers Centre. Pitcher J. Happ takes the mound and the first Yankee in the lineup steps up to the plate. The Jays stand in the middle of the field as though they have no idea what’s going on.

Joshua must have felt like the manager of such a team. All that time, preparation, and waiting led them to where they were and then they waited while all that time, they could have been taking possession of a fruitful land!

I bet God feels that way with us sometimes. He’s given us everything we need to succeed. We have what we need to see His many promises come to pass. But most of us sit waiting for something to magically happen.

I understand that some people may be waiting for a word from the Lord regarding a specific situation, but that’s no excuse to put everything else on hold. The Bible is our rulebook, playbook, and instruction manual all in one. It has guidelines on how we should live, methods on how we can do it, and practical examples of how others were able to accomplish it.

We can add to all of the waiting we must already endure or we can take Jesus’ lead and go out and take hold of God’s promises for us. The Blue Jays are going to do everything they can to win the World Series this year. They’re not going to wait for it to come to them, because it won’t. It takes hard work, endurance, and determination. The same went for Israel as they took the Promised Land. And the same goes for us if we want to see God move on our behalf.

Read: Joshua 116-18, Luke 5:1-16