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

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

The seventh day

Read: Exodus 31-33, Matthew 22:23-46

When you think of something as being holy, what comes to mind? A certain place? The empty tomb. Jerusalem. A church or temple. A specific thing? The Bible. Communion elements—bread and wine. The ark of the covenant. Things that are holy usually generate a picture in our minds. But the very first thing that God set aside as holy was neither a place nor a thing.

And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

Genesis 2:3 (NIV)

According to our religious way of thinking, once God had completed creation, we would expect that He would create a dwelling for Himself, a holy sanctuary where He could reside. But He didn’t. No such thing was made.

Things are only temporary. Out of sight, out of mind. Had God set aside a place or a thing, it could (and probably would) be easily forgotten. Instead, He set aside time, a regular occurrence at which point humanity was to set aside all else so that our focus could be on our Creator alone.

Exodus 31:13

We can set aside places and things to be considered holy, but unless we actually take time, God will not be glorified or worshiped. Even though western Christian tradition sets aside Sunday—the first day of the week—as the Sabbath. I don’t believe God is so concerned with which day or time we set aside as He is with the fact that we actually take the time to turn our focus off of everything but Him.

Our holiness is entirely dependent on God’s holiness. And we cannot be made holy if we do not know the One who makes us holy. Whether you take the first day, the seventh day, or the fourth day, take a day. Consider it holy. Don’t just abstain from work, but use that time to pursue God. Let it continue to stand as a reminder for the generations to come that He is the Lord, who makes us holy.

No place to hide

Read: Genesis 3-5, Matthew 2

But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

Genesis 3:9-10 (NIV)

We can all look at this verse and have a bit of a chuckle. Who does Adam think he is to try and hide from God? Did he really think that God wouldn’t know what was going on? That he wouldn’t be found out? It’s almost like a toddler trying to play hide and seek. When someone calls out their name, they’re conditioned to answer and when they do, they give away their hiding spot. Adam is trying to hide and gives himself away all at the same time.

Cain tried something similar after killing his brother, Abel.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother, Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Genesis 4:9 (NIV)

It seems so silly, trying to hide things from God. We know that He knows everything. But there are still things we try to hide, to cover up. We keep secrets and, even though deep down we know that God knows, it’s almost as though we hope He doesn’t.

Doing what is right may sometimes seem difficult in the moment, but even more difficult are the consequences of doing wrong. After God refused Cain’s offering, He had a little chat with him.

Geneses 4:7

Obviously, Cain did not take the conversation to heart because he went out and brutally killed his own brother. His reason? Abel’s offering was accepted and his was not. Cain opened the door to sin and allowed it to get a foot inside.

If you’ve already opened the door to sin, there is a way to shut it again—Jesus.

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)

And if the door is still closed, keep it that way. In just the first four chapters of the Bible, we learn that it is much easier to have everything out in the open rather than try to hide things from God. Would God have responded to Adam differently if he’d gone to Him immediately after realising his mistake? Maybe. We’ll never know. But we can learn from it.

Our approach to God must be on His terms. But they are not difficult terms and He’s promised to help us when we reach out to Him. There is no place to hide with God. And that’s a good thing.

 

A hug a day

“As a belt clings to a person’s waist, so I created Judah and Israel to cling to me,” says the Lord. “They were to be my people, my pride, my glory—an honor to my name. But they would not listen to me.

Jeremiah 13:11 (NLT)

As I read this verse this morning, what came to mind were the actions of a father and son. On Sunday morning, as a group of volunteers were praying before the church service, one of the kids came running in. He made no sound as he rushed to his father, grabbed him tight and climbed into a position where he could be held. The boy’s arms were wound tight around his father’s neck, his legs wrapped around his waist. The father held on to his son just as tightly. They remained that way for the duration of our prayer time.

I think that’s how God would love for us to be—as innocent children seeking safety and comfort in the arms of the protective Father. It is to the benefit of both parties. We receive our comfort and God receives His glory. But only if we cling to Him.

CLING: To adhere closely and firmly, in interest or affection; to stick to; to hold fast upon.

If you’re at all concerned that this promise was strictly for the Jews, don’t be. God addressed it just a few verses back.

“And if these nations quickly learn the ways of my people, and if they learn to swear by my name, saying, ‘As surely as the Lord lives’ (just as they taught my people to swear by the name of Baal), then they will be given a place among my people.

Jeremiah 12:16 (NLT)

We’re good. Even long before Paul was sent out to reach the Gentiles, God made a way for all people to be able to come running to Him, to throw our arms around His waist, to hold on to Him, and be held by Him. He made a place in His embrace for all of us.

Studies show that the benefits of being embraced go far beyond that of a simple touch. In a physical sense, those who embrace others with regularity have stronger immune systems, lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and are less likely to become depressed. A hug is an affirmation of love and, according to Stan Tatkin, PsyD, can have measurable neuro-biological consequences.

While a physical embrace with God may not be possible, I have no doubt that, the closer we are to Him, the more we cling to Him, the more we can also reap these benefits along with many others.

Do not forget that you are God’s child. You are His pride and His joy, set apart for His pleasure. And when we pursue him as the boy with his father, we bring honour and glory to His name. Embrace it. Embrace Him.

Have you hugged God yet today?

Daily Bible reading: Jeremiah 11-13, 1 Timothy 4

Home

Home. It is more than simply a place. It is not just a house or a home town. It may not be with family or anyone at all, for that matter. Home, more than anything is a sense. A sense of belonging. A sense of safety and refuge. Without exception—whether we would admit it or not—we all desire a home.

Maybe you’ve always had a home. Maybe you’ve never had a home. Maybe you lost your home. Maybe you left home and never looked back. No matter what state you find yourself in, you can always find home right where you are.

Lord, through all the generations
you have been our home!

Psalm 90:1 (NLT)

It was Moses who said those words. If you know anything about Moses, you would know that he never had a real home. As a baby, his mother gave him up and sent him down the river in a reed boat. He was raised as a prince in a palace and ended up exiled to the wilderness before returning to rescue his people from slavery only to end up wandering the wilderness once more. He never had a home in the practical sense, yet he called the Lord his home.

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
Will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

Psalm 91:1 (NLT)

If you make the Lord your refuge,
If you make the Most High your shelter,
no evil will conquer you;
no plague will come near your dwelling.

Psalm 91:9-10 (NLT)

Home doesn’t have to be a place. It doesn’t have to be the house you grew up in. It doesn’t have to be the city you were born in. It can be the Lord. And He will be with you no matter where in the world you go (even if you make it to the moon or Mars, He’ll be there, too).

For he orders his angels
to protect you wherever you go.

Psalm 91:11 (NLT)

Home will follow you. And God offers an open invitation to anyone who will accept His offer.

You prepare a feast for me
in the presence of my enemies.
You welcome me as a guest,
anointing my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love
will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.

Psalm 23:5-6 (NLT)

God is calling you home. He is inviting you in. He has already prepared a place for you—even in the middle of whatever situation you may find yourself in. It doesn’t matter if you have a home, you left home, or never had a home, God wants to be your home.

If you make your home in Him, He will make His home in you.

Home truly is where your heart is.

Daily Bible reading: Psalm 90-92, Romans 11:1-21

Sound Advice

I have trouble letting go of things. If I know I can get the job done, I’d rather run myself ragged than let someone else do it for me and risk not having it done my way.

Now, I’m not Moses, but Moses was in a similar situation. Israel had escaped Egypt and were now wandering the desert complaining. (Do you ever catch yourself whining even when you’re in the middle of a miraculous situation?) Moses, being the one in communication with God had been set up as a judge of sorts over the entire nation. People would line up for days in order to have him settle a dispute. Then Jethro comes along. Moses’ father-in-law shares some sound advice.

“Now let me give you a word of advice, and may God be with you. You should continue to be the people’s representative before God, bringing him their questions to be decided. You should tell them God’s decisions, teach them God’s laws and instructions, and show them how to conduct their lives. But find some capable, honest men who fear God and hate bribes. Appoint them as judges over groups of one thousand, one hundred, fifty, and ten.”

Exodus 18:19-21 (NLT)

Maybe you’re like me and are the type to take everything on yourself. Or maybe you’re someone who fears God and hates bribes. Either way, you’re needed.

God needs the people who can do it all, but He also needs people who can take a share and do some. Just because you may not be able to lead one thousand doesn’t mean you can’t oversee ten. And just because you oversee ten doesn’t mean you’re any less important than the person looking over all of it.

God didn’t put all these orders in place for the sake of making work for Himself. They’re in place because structure is necessary in order to do a good work. No one person can do it all on their own. Some people are ready to lead large groups, while others are able to lead small. There truly is a place for everyone and, the sooner we are able to find our own place, the better we are all able to grow together.

Daily Bible reading: Exodus 16-18, Matthew 19:16-30