Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Being With You Is All That Matters

This is the journal entry from my quiet time with God today.

Look: “David asked him, ‘Why weren’t you afraid to lift your hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed?’” (2 Samuel 1:14)

The question is asked by David of the Amalekite who had brought news of Saul’s death to him. Saul, resentful of David, had marshaled armies to kill David for a long time. You might expect David to feel relief, even happiness, at the death of his tormentor. But he’s not.

In the course of conversation, David asks the Amalekite how he knows that Saul is dead. It turns out that the man had seen Saul on the battlefield, near death. Saul begged the man to take his life. While Saul’s feelings are understandable, this request is typical of him: Saul had a lifelong pattern of finding “easy ways” to avert responsibility without reference to the will of God. In fact, his entire sorry kingship was the result of just this impulse. Now, Saul, rather than facing death at the hands of enemies or his already severe wounds, begged this Amalekite to give him a way out. Saul feared humiliation more than he feared dying. The Amalekite complied with Saul’s request.

David was horrified that the man who stood before him had the temerity “to destroy the Lord’s anointed.” Saul had long fallen prey to the idea that he was bigger than the office to which he had been called, that this office belonged to him to be wielded in ways that pleased or made things easy for him. Whenever people denigrate their callings by viewing them as their entitlements, they make their egos larger and their souls smaller. And they make their egos larger precisely because they are filled with feelings of inferiority. This is why Israel’s last great judge told Saul after God had become vexed with Saul’s flights of egotism born of inferiority: “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The LORD anointed you king over Israel…” (1 Samuel 15:17)  

Saul had been called and anointed by God to be Israel’s first king. Had he relied on God, respected his calling and been humble about his person, all would likely have gone well for Saul and for Israel.

But Saul reversed things: He denigrated his calling and been arrogant and self-seeking for himself and his own glory, constantly replacing his own faulty, impatient judgments for the will of God, sought in God’s Word and in prayer.

To the last, Saul sought to have his own way, which is why he begged an Amalekite to kill him. He wanted the man to violate the sixth commandment: “You shall not murder.”

David, by contrast, had respect for the office to which Saul had been anointed. (Although as David’s life unfolded, he wasn’t always respectful of his calling.) Samuel, in fact, had already, before Saul’s death, anointed David to be his successor.

For this and other reasons, Saul had tried many times to kill David. And David, had many chances to kill Saul, an easy way out that would have enjoyed the support of many in Israel. But each time he had the chance to kill Saul, David refused. He would not destroy or harm God’s anointed one; he wouldn’t usurp the office of king from Saul. He wouldn’t take what God intended to give to him.

And David was horrified that this Amalekite would show such contempt for the will of God, which had made Saul king, by murdering the Lord’s anointed one.

Listen: There are lots of lessons here. But one of them is to patiently seek to do God’s will, to not force our will on circumstances in the search for closure or convenience or to avoid the difficult. God says through the prophet Isaiah: “...they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

That’s true. But in the waiting, we’ll also experience the temptation to despair, the temptation to give up, the temptation to seek human closure rather than divine solution. The adversity and pain that sometimes happens in the waiting can be the road by which God refines us, makes us new, teaches us dependence, integrity, and most of all, faith.

The apostle Peter talks about how God works in the lives of Christians through adversity near the beginning of his first-century letter to the churches in Asia Minor:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:3-7)

David was renewed in his faith and in his life by God through the strength God provides to those willing to admit that they don’t know it all, control it all, understand it all.

When things are unendurable, believers in the God we know in Jesus own the reality of their vulnerability and give up on trying to draw strength from within themselves, drawing it instead from God. God gives us His endurance.

Paul wrote “...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” (2 Corinthians 12:13). When I can own my weakness and my need of Christ, He fills me with His strength.

For Saul, there was nothing worse than being judged as weak or unsuccessful by the world. He loathed to see his poll numbers go down, his generalship deemed weak or inadequate.

In this, he wrecked his life and showed himself to be a fool because wisdom and strength only come from God. Proverbs 3:5-6, one of my favorite memory verses from the Bible, says: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

Saul didn’t trust God and he did lean on his own understanding. He didn’t submit to God and he took a crooked path away from God and the life that only God can give.

David was always at his best when he was dependent on God. Like all of us, he could be a fool (that adultery and murder thing was a disaster). But he also knew what to do when, like Saul, his life got off track. His confessions of sin and professions of faith, spoken by a man broken by his willfulness still move me:

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” (Psalm 51:10-12)

Respond: Forgive me, God, for the sake of Jesus, for wanting to take easy ways. I don’t seek to suffer, of course; that would be masochism. But I do seek not to avoid adversity, challenge, difficulty, or opposition. I do seek to trust in You when things aren’t perfect, when the going gets tough. I do seek to thank You and honor You even in the midst of tough times.

Forgive me too, for wanting to deny my vulnerability, for pretending invincibility. I know that these pretenses act as walls that keep Your grace, power, guidance, and wisdom from penetrating my life. When I’m busy building up my own walls of invincibility, I can’t be the clay that’s molded by its Maker.

Help me to remember how essential it is to sacrifice my broken spirit to You, as David wrote: “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17) Help me to lose my pride and so gain Your power in my life, even in the face of death.

And if my spirit isn’t broken by the realization of my sin, imperfection, and mortality, break me, smash me in pieces; it’s only in being broken by You that I can be made new. It’s only by volunteering for last place that I’m qualified to take the place You assign to me.

Forgive me for being inclined in my thinking and in my speech, to lift myself up. James says: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 1:7). Help me to rely on You to lift me or place me wherever You want me to be, because wherever You put me is where I should be. Help me to embrace the ambition of Psalm 84:10: “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.”

Being with You, Lord, and having You with me is all that matters. That’s where the grace is. That’s where the strength is. That’s where the life is.

In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen

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