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.

Trespassers

Psalm 59 is the prequel to David being betrayed by the Ziphites as well as the incident in the cave between himself and King Saul. 

This psalm is also called an imprecatory psalm, which is the theological way of saying, “Get ‘em, God!” Since King Saul has sent assassins to try to kill David, you can understand why David is praying this way. But I sort of wonder why he inserts a Selah pause after two rather angry-sounding sentences in verses 5 and 13. 

When we are reading—or even praying—an imprecatory prayer, here are some important things to keep in mind: 

  • This prayer is inspired by the Holy Spirit. All of the words in the prayer, including the Selah pauses, are directed by the Holy Spirit. Getting our angry thoughts out in God’s presence is the safest place to vent. 
  • This is a prayer for justice because an injustice has been done, not just a prayer because David is upset with someone. 
  • Since this prayer says, “Get ‘em, God,” it’s a prayer that turns matters over to God as the Ultimate Judge, taking the judgment out of my hands. 

Really this is a prayer that seeks to balance something vital: The desire to see evil punished while at the same time desiring to see all evildoers come to salvation. 

Think of it this way: When I sin, do I want to meet a God of justice or a God of mercy? Since we are to treat others the way that we would want to be treated, if I want to receive God’s mercy, I have to desire that for others too. Even those evildoers who have hurt me. 

David’s first Selah pause comes after saying that he is innocent of any offense or wrongdoing. When we pray an imprecatory prayer, we would do well to ask the Holy Spirit to search our hearts to reveal any trespasses we have committed (see Psalm 19:12-13; 139:23-24). 

David’s second Selah pause comes after he says, “Then it will be known to the ends of the earth that God rules over Jacob.” Is my “Get ‘em, God” prayer a desire for me to be seen as the overcomer or for God to be seen as glorious? 

As long as my focus is on my trespassers, my focus is off my God. 

I cannot be consumed by thoughts of “them” because then I rob myself of thoughts of Him! 

So when you get angry enough at someone who has trespassed against you that you want to pray a “Get ‘em, God” prayer, Selah pause and pray, “Holy Spirit… 

  • …show me my trespasses; 
  • …help me forgive my trespassers; and
  • …help me to focus on my God, and not on my trespassers or my forgiven trespasses.” 

If you have missed any of the other messages in our Selah series, you can find links to all of them listed here. 

Messes

My good friend Josh Schram shared a powerful message in our Selah series. 

David is the anointed king, but instead of living in a palace, he’s living in a cave. From this cave, David gave us Psalm 57. 

Here are some of my takeaways from Josh’s message, but I would encourage you to watch this 20-minute video for yourself

Takeaways: 

  • To get where God needs me to be, I often have to go through things I never expected. 
  • Even my “cave times” are directed by God. 
  • “David didn’t get down on Saul’s level; he got down on his knees.” —Josh Schram 
  • If David had taken matters into his own hands, what would his legacy have been? Instead, he worshiped God, and let God take care of Saul. 
  • “We don’t worship God because our circumstances are good but because our God is good.” —Josh Schram 
  • My little messes become big messes when I try to handle them myself. I need to run to my Heavenly Father for help with all of my messes! 

If you have missed any of the messages in our Selah series, you can access all of them 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!  

All Of HIStory Is His Story

There were the kings who reigned in Edom before any Israelite king reigned (Genesis 36:31). 

When Rebecca was pregnant with twins, they jostled each other in her womb. God said this was an indication of what was to come of the two nations that would arise from her sons. God also said that the older son would serve the younger son (25:23).

The nation of Edom was a fierce but unstable people. Just take a look at the succession of their kings to see the power struggles at every transition. But eventually, King Saul would war against Edom, and King David would subjugate them—making the prophecy true that the older son served the younger son.

What went into the fulfillment of this prophecy?

  • Esau (also known as Edom) short-sightedly sold his birthright
  • Jacob and Rebecca conspired to get Isaac to bless Jacob instead of Esau
  • Esau married Canaanite wives, which disappointed his parents and strained relations with them
  • God blessed both Esau and Jacob so that Esau had to move to the region that would eventually bear his name: Edom

Along the way, Esau had a son with his Canaanite wife named Eliphaz. Eliphaz had a child with a concubine named Timna—a son that grew into one of Israel’s most deadly foes: the Amalekites!

Yet all of this was foreseen by God and fulfilled His pre-ordained plan. Once again: All of History is His story. There is never any need for us to worry about turmoil—political or otherwise—because God is in sovereign control… always! 

(By the way, this is not an isolated incident. There are countless examples in the Bible of how God’s sovereign plan is fulfilled, despite man’s best efforts to derail it. Check out another example here.) 

How To Respond To Evildoers

I’m sure if I asked for a show of hands, everyone of you would put up a hand (or maybe even two!) to the question, “Has someone done something bad to you?” 

The real issue is not if we’ve been the victim of evildoers doing evil things; the real issue is how to respond to evildoers that do evil things. 

In Psalm 52, David tells us that he wrote this prayer after a vile man named Doeg had done atrociously evil things to a whole town of innocent people. Worse yet: these people were simply trying to help David!

David was fleeing for his life from King Saul, forcing him to leave home with just the clothes on his back. He stopped at the village of Nob and asked Ahimelech the priest for food and a weapon. That act, in King Saul’s mind, was worthy of death. None of Saul’s soldiers would carry out his command to execute the priest, but Doeg quickly responded. Doeg not only killed Ahimelech, but he killed the 85 priests with him, and then he proceeded to annihilate everything and everyone left in the village of Nob. Only one man escaped to tell David what happened. 

When David begins this psalm, he uses the words you or your 14 times in just the first five verses. David is addressing Doeg, almost holding up a mirror to his evil deeds. By contrast, the word I is used five times in just the last two verses of this prayer. 

That tells me that we have to work on this problem of evil from two different directions. We need to see evildoers in their evil, and we need to see a godly response to evildoers. As with many Hebrew poems, the most important principle is in the middle—Surely God will bring evildoers down to destruction, but He will protect the righteous (v. 5). 

In the opening words, David asks Doeg, “Why do you boast of evil?” The word for boast in Hebrew is halal—this is usually the word we translate Hallelujah! In other words, Doeg has put his evil on the throne of his life and is saying “Hallelujah!” to it. A downward slide of all sorts of evil words and evil deeds spiral out from this until the climax: Surely God will bring judgment. 

Notice David says “God” (not you) “will” (not might) take care of this. 

Now let’s look at it from a righteous perspective. Working backwards from verse 9 to verse 5, we see whereas Doeg was praising his evil deeds, David is praising God. David recognizes that it’s only in God’s presence that he can be free, and it’s only God that can ultimately balance the scales of justice. 

▶️ My friend, you cannot make things right. Only God can do this. Please, please, take your eyes off the evildoer that did evil things to you, and put your eyes on the Perfect Judge. He alone can balance the scales of justice. ◀️

So here are four lessons for all of us to learn—

  1. When evildoers do evil things to you, talk to God about them; don’t talk to your enemies and don’t even talk to your friends.
  2. Continue to redirect your heart and thoughts to God’s unfailing love, and away from thoughts of retribution—even if you have to do this a hundred times a day.
  3. When evildoers afflict you, look in the mirror of God’s Word to see if there is anything for which you need to repent and then ask forgiveness.
  4. When judgment comes, don’t gloat. John Bradford, when he saw a cartful of men going off to be hanged said, “There goes John Bradford but for the grace of God.”

In this video I reference our series on the Selahs in the book of Psalms. If you missed any of these, please click here to find a list of the other topics we covered.

The Selah That Keeps Us From Sinning

There is a very natural emotion that we humans have when someone has hurt us, but if we don’t pause (Selah), that natural emotion can lead us into sin. David has good counsel for angry people in Psalm 4. 

Many scholars think that Psalm 4 is a continuation—or a part 2—of Psalm 3. As you will notice in the preface of Psalm 3, David is on the run from his son Absalom, who is trying to steal the kingdom of Israel from him. 

Look at the swing of David’s emotions:

  • Troubled/sad (v. 1) 
  • Anger (v. 4)
  • Contentment (v. 7)
  • Peace (v. 8)

The first time David tells his readers to Selah pause is between verses 2 and 3. The change is almost an about-face: 

Look at this: look who got picked by God! He listens the split second I call to Him. Complain if you must, but don’t lash out. Keep your mouth shut, and let your heart do the talking. Build your case before God and wait for His verdict (vv. 3-5 in The Message). 

My friend Josh Schram shared these truths: 

  1. Don’t sin by letting anger control you. 
  2. It’s right to be angry, but it’s not right to sin. 
  3. When someone hurts us, it’s tempting to break God’s law. We can almost justify it, but it is a sin to give in to anger. 

“Search your heart and be silent”Selah. This pause gives us hope that we can “build your case before God and wait for His verdict.” 

In Romans 12:17-21, Paul gives similar counsel when dealing with enemies:  As far as it depends on you…

  • Don’t repay evil for evil. 
  • Do repay evil with doing what’s right. 
  • Don’t take revenge. 
  • Do let God handle it. 
  • Don’t mistreat your enemies. 
  • Do bless your enemies. 
  • Don’t be overcome by evil. 
  • Do overcome evil by doing good. 

Since David let his anger go, that also means he didn’t sin! His clear conscience meant he could lie down and sleep in peace. 

You cannot hold a grudge and peace in the same heart. 

Please join me next week as we continue our look at the Selahs in the Book of Psalms. 

A Leader’s Priority

But now your kingdom must end…because you have not kept the Lord’s command (1 Samuel 13:14). 

How tragic! 

Saul, as the first king ever of Israel, could have set the standard. He could have raised the bar high. He could have been the measuring stick by which every other king in Israel’s history was judged. But he missed out on all that.

It was not only tragic but short-sighted too. The prophet Samuel told Saul, “How foolish! You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you. Had you kept it, the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 

Saul’s priority was about appearances. Saul’s priority was about betting on a sure winner. Saul’s priority was about working his agenda.

A mark of a godly leader is one who has made obedience to God’s Word his first priority. 

The psalmist tells us some of the benefits—

  • God’s Word keeps us pure
  • God’s Word keeps us from sin
  • God’s Word is the key to God’s blessings
  • God’s Word strengthens us
  • God’s Word preserves us
  • God’s Word does us good
  • God’s Word keeps us from going astray
  • God’s Word lights our path

Make God’s Word your first—and highest—priority! 

This is part 22 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts on this topic by clicking here.

A.L.I.V.E.—The “L” Is For Lives Changed

A man named Paul was visiting Athens. While he was in the marketplace, he began to talk with people about Jesus Christ, specifically how Jesus had been crucified and then raised back to life.

His comments caught the attention of two groups of philosophers: the Epicureans who thought all religions were made up and were simply a crutch for the weak-minded and superstitious, and the Stoics who said that a divine power was in everything but wasn’t a Person that could be personally known. These groups said to Paul, “You are presenting some new teachings and strange ideas that we have never heard before! Would you come and address our next meeting?”

In 2004, renowned atheist Anthony Flew announced something that was a “strange idea” to the ears of his followers. Flew presented one of his first papers on atheism at the Socratic Club at Magdalen College, where the Christian literary giant C.S. Lewis served as the chairman. Over the years Flew had sharpened his rhetoric to become one of the best known and most outspoken atheists on the worldwide stage.

Yet in 2004, an 81-year-old Anthony Flew remarked, “I simply had to go where the evidence led,” as Flew announced to the world: there IS a God.

“My discovery of the Divine has been a pilgrimage of reason and not of faith,” wrote Flew in his book There Is A God, which is why last week I shared the first way we can know Jesus is alive in “A” is for apologetics. Today I submit to you the second way one can know that Jesus is A.L.I.V.E.: Lives changed.

Paul, who was asked to speak to the philosophers in Athens about his “strange ideas,” had been given the name Saul by his parents. When it came to religion, Saul took a backseat to no one! He was a purebred Israelite from the tribe of Benjamin (which gave Israel its very first king, who was also named Saul). Saul called himself a “Hebrew of Hebrews” because he kept the Law of Moses and the strict rules of the Pharisees absolutely faultlessly.

When he heard about Jesus (who claimed to be God), and about the followers of Jesus who claimed He had been resurrected from the dead, Saul persecuted these Christians so vehemently that he not only had many of them thrown into prison, but he had many of them killed as well.

That all came to a complete stop when Saul met Jesus for himself! You can read how Saul retold this story in Acts 22:1-16. After this encounter, Saul’s life was 180-degrees different! He even changed his name to Paul to signify his new outlook. Now he was just as adamant to tell people about Jesus as he was previously to harass and persecute Christians.

Paul’s conversion came at a steep price. The Jews with whom he used to associate now turned violently against him. Numerous times they attempted to kill him. In addition, Paul’s newfound faith in Jesus caused him to be persecuted by the Romans as well. The Roman Emperors wanted people to say, “Caesar is lord” but Paul and the other Christians were declaring, “Jesus is Lord.” Paul ended up being executed under Emperor Nero.

Paul had numerous opportunities to recant, but he never came close to doing so. His life was one that was under constant duress and distress and danger precisely because he refused to back down from his claim that Jesus was alive!

Paul isn’t alone. Millions of people around the globe have come to know Jesus as their personal Savior. Many, like Paul, have been harassed for their faith and some even violently persecuted and martyred, and yet they so firmly believed that Jesus is alive that they were willing to go to their early grave with “Jesus is my Lord” still on their lips!

What about you? Have you met Jesus for yourself?

Check out this video where my friend Scott tells his personal story of how an encounter with Jesus has completely changed the trajectory of his life.

Join me next Sunday as we continue with our 5-part series I can know Jesus is A.L.I.V.E. because of… where we will be looking at the letter “I.” You can join me either in person or on Facebook Live. If you missed the previous lesson, check out “A” is for apologetics by clicking here.

Appropriately Proactive

Saul realized that his troops were rapidly slipping away… (1 Samuel 13:8).

The men of Israel saw what a tight spot they were in; and because they were hard pressed by the enemy, they tried to hide in caves, thickets, rocks, holes, and cisterns. Some of them crossed the Jordan River and escaped into the land of Gad and Gilead. 

Meanwhile, Saul stayed at Gilgal, and his men were trembling with fear. Saul waited there seven days for Samuel, as Samuel had instructed him earlier, but Samuel still didn’t come. Saul realized that his troops were rapidly slipping away. So he demanded, “Bring me the burnt offering and the peace offerings!” And Saul sacrificed the burnt offering himself.

Saul stayed … Saul waited … and as a result, Saul sinned.

Saul ended up being inappropriately reactive, and thus committing a sin. His reaction to his men slipping away, hiding, and defecting was to act in a way that was inappropriate for anyone but the priest.

It’s been said that action has killed its thousands, and reaction has killed its tens of thousands. But if only Saul would have proactively sought God, or proactively formed a battle strategy, or proactively spoke an encouraging word to his men, or proactively moved out with his troops—anything(!) but just sit still—perhaps his legacy as king wouldn’t have been so short lived.

When leaders aren’t appropriately proactive, they risk becoming inappropriately reactive.

A mark of a godly leader is one who is appropriately proactive.

This is part 20 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts on this topic by clicking here.

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