Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Don't Be a Saul

            1 Sam 28: 5-7:  “When Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid; terror filled his heart.  He inquired of the Lord, but the Lord did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets.  Saul then said to his attendants, ‘Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and inquire of her.’” 

            Have you ever sought God’s guidance or help about something only to feel like He wasn’t listening?  Have you ever struggled with His “absence” and with feeling abandoned by Him?  Been tempted to go out on your own because He just wasn’t answering you fast enough?
            I have.  I’ve already talked a lot about this in my two blogs, but I know how it feels to plead with God for His help and guidance and yet get silence instead.  Sometimes for days, sometimes months, sometimes years.  It throws you into confusion, makes you doubt everything you’ve ever believed, and makes you wonder if you are a “good enough” Christian or if you matter at all to the Lord.  His silence is one of the hardest things to deal with.  It leaves you feeling like you leaned on Him – the One you should be able to rely on more than anyone else – only to have Him pull away and let you fall on your face.  It hurts.  It really hurts.
            But it’s all part of the journey.  It is an important step on the road to real, solid faith.  And it is not abnormal - it happens often in the lives of people who seek after God.  And when it happens, it is a chance to test and purify our faith because it brings up all sorts of things that we keep hidden deep down inside of us, things that we need to deal with but don’t when life is going peachy. 
            Struggling with God’s silence exposes these hidden things – doubts, fears, idols, sins, self-sufficient behaviors, etc. - and forces us to deal with them.  It forces us to choose what we will really believe about God and ourselves.  It forces us to choose who we will really lean on.  And ultimately, His silence is a fork-in-the-road that forces us to decide if we will cling to Him or give up on Him. 
            Saul had a real problem that he needed help with, and he sought God’s guidance and help.  Yet the Lord did not answer him.  And instead of waiting for God or searching his heart for any hindrances in his relationship with the Lord, Saul took matters into his own hands.  He couldn’t handle not having an immediate answer, so he went a different way.  He sought help from someone else, someone God expressly told the people not to mess with – a medium.  And she contacted the spirit of Samuel so that Saul could ask him for advice about the Philistines.  And Saul got an answer.  Just not one he was hoping to get. 
            Samuel said, “Because you did not obey the Lord . . . the Lord will deliver both Israel and you into the hands of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me.”  (Meaning “You’ll be dead!”)  (1 Sam 28:18-19)
            And 1 Chronicles 10:13-14 adds this: “Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord; he did not keep the word of the Lord and even consulted a medium for guidance, and did not inquire of the Lord.  So the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse.”
            Of course, we just read that Saul did inquire of the Lord but that the Lord did not answer him.  But the point is that Saul did not rely on the Lord for His guidance or help.  When the answer did not come as quickly as he wanted, he found another way, apart from having to rely on the Lord. 
            This is such a human thing to do.  We can easily find ourselves so distraught or upset about a problem that we simply “cannot” wait on God’s slowness. 
            “I need my answer NOW and if God isn’t going to come through for me, well, then I guess I’ll just have to deal with it myself.”
            Of course, we don’t really say this (out loud, at least).  But we behave like it.  When He is slow or quiet and we are desperate, we rationalize disobedience and going against God’s Word and not waiting patiently for clear direction.  We act like we simply had to do things this way because God wasn’t coming through for us. 
            But it is no excuse.  Saul died because he went ahead without the Lord.  He decided he needed an answer about the Philistines . . . when what he really needed was to take some time and examine his spiritual life to see if anything was out of order.  Sometimes God’s silence is to get us to look deeper into ourselves and see if anything is broken or if there are any sins we are trying to get away with. 
            If Saul had humbly sought God’s wisdom and counsel about his spiritual life – instead of focusing solely on his “need” or prayer request - then I believe God would have revealed things that Saul needed to rectify before He would answer Saul’s request for help with the Philistines.  But because Saul couldn’t wait and wouldn’t examine his heart, he made a foolish, deadly decision to give up on God. 
            In order to stay in God’s Will, the best path for us, we have to resist the urge to give up on God.  If He is slow in His answer or not answering at all, there are reasons.  And if we sense that He is “far” from us, we need to explore why. 
            Have we wandered away from Him?  Have we done something to grieve the Spirit?  Have we hardened our hearts in some way?  Have we been living self-sufficiently, relying on ourselves, and living like we are in control and know better and can do things on our own?  Do we really know Him (and ourselves) according to the Bible?  Do we really understand what is required of us, according to the Word?  Is His silence uncovering sins, doubts, fears, self-esteem issues, and idols from deep inside of us that we need to deal with first?  If so, bring these to the Lord in prayer.  Work through them with His help before demanding that He answers you and before giving up on Him.    
            Resist the urge to “find another way,” apart from the Lord.  He is not being silent because He doesn’t care and isn’t listening.  His silence is an opportunity to examine and purify your heart and your faith and to grow in your understanding of Him and of yourself. 
            And if you have worked through all you can and He is still silent, then it’s an opportunity to learn to persevere, to learn contentment, to learn to let God be your all, and to learn to glorify Him anyway.  And His silence may also be because He is working on the problem and it will take time.  He does things in His time and in His way.  And we need to trust - even if we don’t see any action – that He is in the process of helping and bringing an answer. 
            But I am learning that His help is usually a lot slower in coming than we want it to be.  (But it's never later than He plans it to be, as long as we are being obedient and sensitive to His leading.)  But our job is not to worry about how and when He answers.  Our job is to seek Him, to lay our requests at His feet, to seek righteousness and be obedient, and to rely on Him, trust Him, delight in Him, and glorify Him, whatever the circumstances of life. 
            Saul’s life is a cautionary tale about the dangers of giving up on God out of fear and frustration and our “need” for an immediate answer.  When facing a trial that’s too big for you, don’t be a Saul. 
            Be a Paul instead.  Paul also had trials he was going through.  He was persecuted and insulted and even had a “thorn in his side” – a chronic problem that severely distressed him.  And even though Paul brought this “thorn” to the Lord three times in prayer, God still did not answer him the way he wanted.  But instead of losing faith in God and “going a different way,” Paul clung to the Lord anyway.  He accepted the trials as part of God’s plan for his spiritual development. 
            2 Cor. 12:7-10: “To keep me from being conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
            But getting to the point of being able to have faith in God despite problems does not just happen.  You have to consciously work for it, by examining your heart for anything you need to work through or bring to the Lord or confess.  You need to abide in the Word regularly so that you can really understand who God says He is and who we are in relation to Him.  You need to be praying and talking with Him often so that you are living your life with Him, instead of on your own.  And you need to allow Him to grow you through the trials and the silence and the disappointments of life. 
            As you walk with Him, you will face times that will test your faith - times when God is testing to see if you are a Saul or a Paul, if you will give up on Him or cling anyway.  And it’s by walking with Him through the trials that you’ll get to the point where you will be able to fully trust Him.  It’s the trials that grow and strengthen your faith.  And like Paul, you will be able to say that God’s grace is sufficient, even when things aren’t going the way you hoped they would go.  Life, circumstances, and other people will let you down; but God never will.  And you’ll only learn this by clinging!  Don’t be a Saul.  Be a Paul, and cling!