The Destructive Power Of Self-Sufficiency

…Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and inquire of her (1 Samuel 28:7). 

How sad for King Saul! But this is the inevitable path for one who was put into his leadership position by God and then completely turned his back on God. 

God did so much over so many years to try to get Saul to turn back to Him, but Saul persisted in his self-sufficiency. As Paul wrote in Galatians, “A man reaps what he sows.” Militarily, Saul had one shining moment: delivering the people of Jabesh Gilead. The closing words of 1 Samuel show us the valiant man from Jabesh conducting a covert nighttime mission to remove the bodies of Saul and his sons from the Philistines, and then giving them a proper burial. Just imagine how many more valiant men may have been around if Saul had continually obeyed God! 

Now, nearing the end of his life, Saul is at his wits’ end: God is not answering him by any means he tries. As a result, this final chapter of Saul’s leadership is characterized by words like:

  • afraid
  • terror filled his heart 
  • great distress 
  • filled with fear 
  • his strength was gone

Until King Saul ultimately takes his own life.

The consequences of Saul’s sinful self-sufficiency impacted more than just him. A leader’s sins have devastating effects on his followers. Throughout Saul’s reign as king we see the army fearful, hesitant, ill-equipped, slinking away, confused, set up for failure, and ultimately defeated. Saul could never get out of his own way, taking Israel down with him.

A mark of a godless leader is sinful self-sufficiency.

How sad for Saul and Israel. Especially because Saul’s demise was totally avoidable if he only would have repented of his pride and turned wholeheartedly to God.

This is a sober reminder for all leaders: if God has put you in a place of leadership, you will experience success. Don’t let that success fool you, as it did with Saul, into thinking you created that success. This is the first step toward the downward slide that ultimately destroyed Saul, and it will be your undoing as well. 

This is part 49 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.

How To Pray When You’ve Been Stabbed In The Back

Sadly, some of the people who do us the most harm are those whom we least expected to hurt us. They seemed to have our back, but then they are stabbing us in the back! 

It’s sad, but it shouldn’t be totally unexpected. Matthew Henry said it well: “Never let a good man expect to be safe and easy till he comes to heaven. … It is well that God is faithful, for men are not to be trusted. 

David learned that lesson. He rescued the town of Keilah from the Philistines, only to hear that King Saul has called out his army to destroy Keilah and kill David. This prompted David to leave Keilah and flee to the Desert of Ziph. It appears that David has given Saul the slip, but the Ziphites send a message to the king saying, “We know where David is hiding, and we’ll gladly hand him over to you.” 

Here’s the painful part for David: Both Keilah and Ziph were in Judah—David’s tribe! His own family—that should have had his back—stabbed him in the back instead! 

I wish I could say this was a once-in-awhile thing, but we all know that it’s not. In fact, this sort of betrayal probably happens more often than we would care to admit. 

It was during this time of betrayal by the Ziphites that David wrote the 54th Psalm. In the opening verses, David laments the ruthless, Godless men that have betrayed him. And then comes that word of pause: Selah. 

I believe this Selah may have come when “Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God” (1 Samuel 23:16). One of the definitions of Selah is to weigh things to see what is more valuable. Notice that Jonathan took David’s attention off his evil betrayers and turned it to his loving God. So in the very next phrase after the Selah we read David saying, “Surely God is my help; the Lord is the One who sustains me.” 

Notice four key components of David’s prayer—

  1. David’s motive for praying. In the opening verse, he says, “Your Name…Your might.” To me, that sounds a lot like the opening words to the model prayer Jesus taught us: “Hallowed be Your Name.” 
  2. David’s prayer. He said, “Hear my prayer, O God; listen to the words of my mouth.” It’s interesting to note that David says nothing to the Ziphites themselves, but he only speaks of them when he is alone with God in prayer.  
  3. Prayer’s result. David didn’t have to try to make things right on his own because God took care of it—evil recoiled on those who stabbed David in the back. 
  4. David’s praise. Notice the words “I will praise Your Name…[You] have delivered me.” Again, this praise and focus on God sounds like the end of the model prayer Jesus taught us: “Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever!” 

When enemies assail, when you have been stabbed in the back, don’t look to men for help and don’t take matters in your own hands. Instead take a Selah. Consider that God is worthy of your attention, and not the “ruthless men” who hurt you. Turn your pain over to God and say with David: Surely God is my help; the Lord is the One who sustains me. 

Evil will recoil on evildoers, you will be kept safe, and you will be vindicated by God’s might! 

If you missed any of the messages in our Selah series, you can find them all by clicking here. 

C’mon, Let’s Go!

In May 1917, the British war cabinet was divided. Some of the generals wanted to continue a combined assault on the German forces, but other generals saw the need to confront the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East. They selected General Edmund Allenby to lead the British Egyptian Expeditionary Force against the Turks.  

Allenby’s forces were able to quickly recapture Jerusalem, but the Turks had entrenched themselves at Micmash Megiddo, allowing them a place to launch counterattacks. As battle plans were being contemplated, Major Vivian Gilbert came to Allenby with an unorthodox solution. Major Gilbert was a student of history, and he remembered the name Micmash Megiddo from an ancient text. Reading in his tent by candlelight one night, he rediscovered the text. 

Gilbert brought his report to Allenby. To take advantage of this text, conventional battle plans would have to be scraped. Instead of attacking with overwhelming force, as was usually done, Allenby ordered one company out. This small force discovered just a few Turks whom they overpowered with hardly a sound. Then scaling the cliffs, the company took up their position just before daybreak. When dawn broke and the Turks saw Allenby’s men on the highest, most strategic point, they panicked, thinking they were nearly surrounded, and quickly retreated. 

In his journal, Major Gilbert wrote, “And so after thousands of years British troops successfully copied the tactics of Jonathan.” 

Who was this Jonathan that he referred to? He was the oldest son of Saul, king of Israel. 

Before his successful assault, Jonathan had another military campaign that ended poorly. The Philistines seized the high ground, the Israelite army was reduced to a fraction of its original size, and many of the Israelite soldiers who remained were defecting to the Philistines or deserting the army altogether. And if that weren’t bad enough, Israel had only two swords left: one for King Saul and one for Jonathan. 

Jonathan’s first military campaign had been with 1000 men. As he discovered, that was actually too many men! For his next assault on Micmash, Jonathan switched tactics: he alone would attack the enemy with only his armor bearer to assist him. 

Was Jonathan impetuous? reckless? a man with a death wish? No! He was a God-fearing initiator. He knew that God would fight for anyone who was fighting for God’s people. I think his inspiration came from this promise—Each one of you will put to flight a thousand of the enemy, for the Lord your God fights for you, just as He has promised (Joshua 23:10). 

Knowing that God would help him, three times Jonathan implores his armor bearer, “C’mon, let’s go!” 

Jim Rohn noted, “The difficulties you meet will resolve themselves as you advance. Proceed, and light will dawn and shine with increasing clearness on your path.” 

Just look at the light that dawned with Jonathan’s c’mon-let’s-go initiative: 

  • his armor bearer said he was with Jonathan “heart and soul” even though he didn’t even have a sword!
  • God sent an earthquake that caused the Philistines to panic 
  • King Saul finally mobilized the remaining army that remained with him 
  • God so confused the Philistine that they turned and fought against each other
  • the Israelite deserters returned from Philistia 
  • the fearful soldiers that had deserted returned to their posts 

Could God have defeated the Philistines on His own? Of course He could have. But He was waiting for just one godly leader to say, “Enough is enough! C’mon, let’s go!” 

Godly men are never satisfied with maintaining the status quo. Godly men know that standing still is really moving backward. Godly men know that their initiative can start a momentum that liberates others. 

Fellas, your family needs you to initiate. Your Christian brothers and sisters need you to initiate. Your countrymen need you to initiate. 

Take the initiative for God’s glory, for your family’s protection, for your nation’s revival, for generations yet to be born. Let’s charge the enemy of our souls together—

C’mon, let’s go!  

The Source Of A Leader’s Moral Authority

Samuel said to all Israel… (1 Samuel 12:1-25). 

A mark of a godly leader is one who leads with God’s moral authority. 

Samuel had always been a public person: accessible and visible to all. Now he calls all Israel together to challenge them to point out where he may have taken a bribe or used his position to his own advantage. All Israel was silent on this—no one could speak a word against him (v. 4). This gave him the moral authority to speak a hard word to the people. 

Samuel reminds Israel that God is sovereign:

  • God appoints leaders
  • God overrules evil plans
  • God fulfills all His purposes

Samuel had to “confront [them] with evidence” (v. 7) that they had not acted like those things were true about God. A prophet frequently has to say, “Here is God’s standard, and here is where you are falling short of His standard.” But a shepherd’s voice quickly adds, “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” (v. 23). 

This prophet-shepherd is attested to by God Himself. God will sometimes thunder His thunder (vv. 17-18), but God will always make sure that none of His servant’s words fall to the ground (3:19). This moral authority is gained by both fearing God and delighting in Him.

Fear of God brings the prophet’s voice forward. Delighting in God brings the shepherd’s voice forward. God’s effective leader needs both voices to lead with moral authority.

This is part 47 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.

A Mother’s Thunderous Prayer

Hannah only appears in the first two chapters of 1 Samuel, but her legacy thunders through her son, and its rumblings continue to reverberate today. At first glance, it seems somewhat ironic that Hannah’s name means grace (undeserved favor) because we tend to think of a grace-filled person as quiet and unassuming. We don’t typically think of grace as thundering, but indeed it does! 

Notice 3 P’s from Hannah’s life—

  1. Hannah is grace personified. She didn’t crumble because of Peninnah’s taunts, nor did she compromise on her heart’s prayer because of Elkanah’s compliments. She never responded verbally to either Peninnah or Elkanah, but she took all her anguish to God in prayer. 
  1. Hannah is persistent in prayer. Hannah lives out the definition of importunity—unswerving, unabated, persistent prayer. The Bible tells us, “year after year…in bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord … she kept on praying to the Lord.” Notice an important contrast: Peninnah means jewels (from earth), while Hannah means grace (from God). God wants to give us answers that are eternal.  
  1. Hannah is piously reverent. Three times Hannah called herself a servant. She is respectful to the high priest Eli even when he falsely accuses her of being drunk. After Eli assures Hannah that God is going to grant her prayer request, notice her reverent actions—she broke her fast, her face was no longer downcast, she worshipped before the Lord, and she and Elkanah tried again to get pregnant.  

Hannah’s anguish drove her to God. Year after year her bitterness of soul kept her in God’s presence. And after God answered her prayer, her rejoicing continued to keep her in God’s presence. She was importunate in prayer.

But also notice that God was silent while Hannah prayed year after year. Oswald Chambers says, “God’s silences are His answers. … Some prayers are followed by silence because they are wrong [this wasn’t Hannah’s case], others because they are bigger than we can understand.” 

God was going to give Hannah a son, but the time wasn’t right yet. God needed a strong man in a dark time, and it wasn’t dark enough yet. 

Israel had to sink into even deeper darkness. While Samuel was still a young man, the Israelite army was defeated, Eli and his two sons all died, and the ark of the covenant of the Lord was captured. This prompted Eli’s daughter-in-law to name her son Ichabod—God’s glory has departed. 

This darkness allows Samuel to lead the people into a revival and then on to victory (1 Samuel 7:3-10). But notice how God responded to Samuel’s revival prayer—the Lord thundered with a loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites. 

God’s response was a fulfillment of Hannah’s prayer. After God answered her and gave her a son, Hannah’s song of rejoicing foretold God’s response that was coming years later in Samuel’s revival—“It is not by strength that one prevails; those who oppose the Lord will be broken. The Most High WILL thunder from heaven…. 

Hannah’s song of rejoicing after years and years of bitter, importunate, persistent prayer was prophetic—and God’s thunderous answer to Hannah’s prayer is still rumbling today! 

Moms, don’t stop praying! God wants to answer your prayer. The Holy Spirit will help you pray (Romans 8:26). God’s timing IS coming. He will thunder His thunder in answer to your persistent prayer! 

If you have missed any of the posts in our We Are: Pentecostal series, please click here to access them.

In > On

When it comes to the Holy Spirit’s involvement in a Christian’s life: In > On.

Sometimes, instead of referring to the two major divisions of the Bible as Old Testament and New Testament, I prefer to use First Testament and Second Testament. This helps me remember that “Old” doesn’t mean outdated, and “New” doesn’t mean forgetting what came before it.

B.B. Warfield had a great analogy. He imagined the First Testament to be a perfectly-constructed mansion. Only the finest materials had been used, and the mansion had been constructed by the best craftsmen being overseen by the world’s premier Architect. The only problem was this mansion had no lights. With the appearing of Jesus in the Second Testament, finally the lights are turned on. Jesus reveals the beauty that was already there! 

In the First Testament, we frequently read that the Holy Spirit comes ON people, usually for leadership functions. We see this phrase with Moses and his co-leaders, several of the judges, Israel’s first two kings, and many of the prophets (see Numbers 11:25; Judges 3:10, 6:34, 11:29, 15:14; 1 Samuel 11:6, 16:13; 2 Kings 2:15). 

However, there is one leader in the First Testament about which we notice the Spirit came IN him. Twice Ezekiel says this (2:2, 3:24). This was hinting at a to-be-fulfilled promise in the Second Testament (36:25-27). 

The Holy Spirit being IN God’s people—which makes them God’s leaders—is described by Jesus in Acts 1:5. Many translations render this verse, “You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” But the NIV footnote and The Message both say “in the Holy Spirit.” Indeed, the Greek word means “by, with, or in.” But in context to being baptized (which means immersed, submerged, cleansed, overwhelmed), I think the best word is: baptized IN the Holy Spirit.  

Let me say it again: When it comes to the Holy Spirit’s involvement in a Christian’s life: In > On. 

“You hardly need to pray to have the Spirit poured out, for that has been done. What you need is a baptism of the Holy Spirit; to go down personally into that glorious flood that has been poured forth. Oh, to be immersed in the Holy Spirit and into fire—covered with His holy influence—plunged into the Godhead’s deepest sea and lost in His immensity! Here is our life and power.” —Charles Spurgeon 

Jesus wants all of His followers to be baptized IN the Holy Spirit. So He told us to keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking, keep on waiting for God’s promised infilling (Luke 11:9-13; Acts 1:4-8). 

Don’t stop at salvation—with just the Holy Spirit deposited in you—press on to be submerged deep into the Holy Spirit. 

If you missed the first couple of posts in this series, check out Where’s God Today? and The Holy Spirit Keeps Christians “Oscar Mike.” 

Certainty In Uncertain Times

… Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf … The God we serve is able to save us from the furnace…but even if God does not save us… (1 Samuel 14:6 and Daniel 3:17-18).

We often remember and even hold in high regard those leaders who rise up in times of crisis or uncertainty. But I think we might be shocked if we knew exactly how scared these seemingly unflappable leaders actually were! 

The Philistines really had the Israelites on the ropes. Israel’s army was slowing melting away, as soldiers one by one were deserting and heading home. The Philistines had captured all of the sword-makers, so that there were only two swords left—one for King Saul and one for his son Jonathan. 

And to make matters even more desperate, the Philistines occupied all the strategic high ground, so that even if the Israelites were going to attempt an attack, they would have to scale the cliffs in order to do so.

For Jonathan, this situation was unbearable. So he said to his armor-bearer (keep in mind that this armor-bearer didn’t really have any armor to bear!), “Let’s go attack the Philistines.” And then he adds this line that probably didn’t instill too much confidence in anyone, “Perhaps the Lord will give us victory.” 

Perhaps?!

Many years later, when the nation of Israel was in exile in Babylon, three Jewish young men found themselves in a literal hot spot. King Nebuchadnezzar had built an enormous statue of himself and commanded that everyone bow down and worship it. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had been promoted into leadership positions in the capital city of Susa, so there was no hiding in the outreaches of the countryside for them. Their disobedience to the king’s command would make them stand out to everyone. The king had ordered that anyone who disobeyed his edict would be thrown into a fiery furnace. 

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were God-fearing men and knew that they could not worship any other god except Yahweh. When the king confronted their disobedience, they also responded with words that didn’t sound very confident, “God can save us, but we’re not sure if He will save us. But even if He doesn’t, we’re not going to bend our knee.” 

If?!

“Perhaps” and “if” don’t sound like very confident words, do they? 

And yet these godly leaders were totally certain in their uncertain times. They weren’t certain of the outcome, but they were certain of God’s ability to bring the ultimate victory. Even in dark times of crisis, godly leaders are certain that God is greater than their uncertain circumstances. 

A mark of a godly leader is one who has a certain confidence in God even in an uncertain crisis.

Jonathan, and Shadrach, and Meshach, and Abednego would all tell us, “Whether God was going to give us victory in the moment of crisis or not, we will remain in God’s presence! We will not compromise. We will not give in to fear. We will not disobey God. We will continue to cling to Him—rescue or not—knowing that He will be glorified in whatever way He chooses to respond.” 

These young men teach an invaluable lesson for all of us even today: Trust God no matter how uncertain the times are. 

This is part 45 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.

Leaders Listen

“The moment you wake up each morning your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job of each morning consists in shoving them all back; in listening to that other Voice, letting that other, stronger, larger, quieter Life come flowing in.” —C.S. Lewis 

“God said, ‘Abraham!’ ‘Yes?’ answered Abraham. ‘I’m listening.’” —Genesis 22:1 

Then God came and stood before him exactly as before, calling out, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ Samuel answered, ‘Speak. I’m Your servant, ready to listen.’” —1 Samuel 3:10 

“How much of God are we missing because we don’t stop to listen to the many voices God uses to speak to us?” —George Washington Carver 

“To answer before listening—that is folly and shame.” —Proverbs 18:13 

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” —Winston Churchill

A mark of a godly leader is one who listens to the counsel of other godly leaders. 

“Wise, godly leaders know they must listen to the counsel of wise, godly leaders.” —Craig T. Owens 

“Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear.” —James 1:19 

“There are none so blind as those who will not see, none so deaf as those who will not hear, none so ignorant as those who will not listen… and none so foolish as those who think they can change those who will not see, hear, or listen.” —Warren Bennis

“Correct the wise, and they will love you.” —Proverbs 9:8 

“What is a great man who has made his mark upon history? … He is a man who has looked through the confusion of the moment and has seen the moral issue involved; he is a man who has refused to have his sense of justice distorted; he has listened to his conscience until conscience becomes a trumpet call to like-minded men, so that they gather about him, and together, with mutual purpose and mutual aid, they make a new period in history.” —Jane Addams, in a speech about George Washington 

“People don’t lose intimacy when they stop talking, but when they stop listening. Leaders seldom realize how much their listening empowers the other person. Because they are leaders, the sheer act of listening speaks volumes that even a great speech can’t communicate. …   

“A leader’s communication must be consistent, clear, and courteous. But leaders must also be good listeners. When leaders don’t listen: They stop gaining wisdom. … Leaders listen; leaders learn; and then leaders lead.” —John Maxwell 

This is part 43 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.

Poetry Saturday—Let Not My Words

Let not my words fall to the ground, O Lord, 
like Onan’s wasted, self-indulgent seed.
Let mine convey Your ever-fruitful Word,

and let them be far-flung, and gladly heard 
or read according to each person’s need.
Let not my words fall to the ground, O Lord,

like some discarded, useless, broken shard.
Let many take them up, and as they read, 
let my words bear Your ever-fruitful Word;

and in the chambers of men’s souls, deep bored, 
let them embed and germinate with speed.
Let not my words fall to the ground, O Lord,

but draw them from Your scabbard with Your Sword, 
and both together for Your glory wield.
Let mine with Yours be ever fruitful, Lord. 

This calling, this vocation, let me heed
with diligence and faithfulness, I plead.
Let not my words fall to the ground, O Lord,
but let them prove Your ever-fruitful Word. —T.M. Moore (based on 1 Samuel 3:19)

Stop Letting Fear Limit Your Life

It’s inescapably true: We let fears limit us when we listen to them. 

John Piper wrote, “I call you today to stop defining and limiting your future in terms of your past and start defining it in terms of your God.”

When we have a spirit of fear instead of the confidence that comes from a right relationship with God through Jesus, the smallest of things sends us ducking for cover! “As for those of you who may be left, I will also bring weakness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies. And the sound of a driven leaf will chase them, and even when no one is pursuing they will flee as though from the sword, and they will fall.” (Leviticus 26:36 NASB) 

God says, “Fear not—there is nothing to fear—for I am with you; do not look around you in terror and be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen and harden you to difficulties, yes, I will help you; yes, I will hold you up and retain you with My victorious right hand of rightness and justice.” (Isaiah 41:10 AMPC)

“When God calls you to be free from fear (to overcome this natural emotion and have peace), He does not leave the command hanging in the air. He puts pillars under it. Five of them in Isaiah 41:10. That’s the nature of all biblical commands. They come with divine support.

  1. Fear not . . . God is with you.
  2. Fear not . . . God is your God
  3. Fear not . . . God will strengthen you.
  4. Fear not . . . God will help you.
  5. Fear not . . . God will uphold you.” —John Piper

When we grasp that God is with us, that God is helping us, that God is bigger than the things we wrongly fear, there is nothing we cannot do! 

As Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, “Come, and let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; it may be that the Lord will work for us. For there is nothing to prevent the Lord from saving by many or by few.” (1 Samuel 14:6 AMPC)

O Sovereign Lord! You made the heavens and earth by Your strong hand and powerful arm. Nothing is too hard for You! (Jeremiah 32:17 NLT)

“Because you’re not yet taking God seriously,” said Jesus. “The simple truth is that if you had a mere kernel of faith, a poppy seed, say, you would tell this mountain, ‘Move!’ and it would move. There is nothing you wouldn’t be able to tackle.” (Matthew 17:20 MSG)

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