Kicking against the goads

March 22–1 Samuel 24-26

“Now, behold, I know that you will surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hand.”–24:17

He knew! At some deep level (and for some time) Saul knew that God had removed the kingdom from him and given it to David. Review Samuel’s words in 15:23. How could he not have known?

Everyone else knew too. Jonathan gives testimony in 23:17. Abigail speaks the same confidence in 25:30.

It came clear (again) in the cave. When David subordinated his passions to the expressed will/ordinance of God (exactly what Saul had been unable/unwilling to do) the decision of God was confirmed. But, in keeping with his long pattern, Saul could not surrender to it. For a moment, it looked as if the clouds of confusion would lift from his soul. Soon after, sadly, he was back in the darkness of his own anger, and pride and anxiety. The way of the sinner is hard. But, usually not hard enough to convince a man to repent.

The Bible tells of a second Saul. Same struggle. Better outcome. As he comes close to salvation, Saul (Paul) hears the Lord say, “Is it hard for you to kick against the goads?”–Acts 26:14. A goad was a sharp stick used to guide an animal on a specific path. To kick against it didn’t change the inevitable, it just caused additional injury and pain.

I do well to remember this lesson. My flesh doesn’t submit. Doesn’t know how. Even knowing that every knee will bow, and every tongue confess, my flesh rages on and must be denied. Struggling against the Lord will bring me only what it brought Saul.

“Thus says the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel. . .’In repentance and rest you will be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength.’ But you were not willing.”–Isaiah 30:15.

Pray it again

March 21–1 Samuel 21-23

“Then David inquired of the Lord once more.”–23:3

I must be patient in prayer. I must be humble. I must always be prepared for this powerful privilege to take longer and ask more of me than I like. I must learn that prayer is not a way for me to convince the Eternal One to support my schemes or my schedule. “Call unto Me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and might things, which you do not know.“–Jeremiah 33:3

My (our) example in this is David. In his fugitive years, David believed that he and his men should continue to fight the Philistines. Impressive! He did not use the excuse that when life is hard a man is exempt from spiritual service. Instructive! The heart and calling of a king even before he had the crown.

So, David prayed. And when the predictable push-back came, he prayed again! No hurry. No pride. Patient pursuit of God’s will.

Our greater example of patient prayer is the Lord. In Gethsemene He stayed on his knees seeking the Father’s will. In the end, he concluded a direction that everyone thought was madness! Everyone but the Father and the praying Savior.

I hear people talking about prayer as if it were a quick conversation spoken in a moment of stress and need. Perhaps. The Bible describes something else. A patient discernment of the Father’s will.

Do not rush your prayers, dear one. Take time with this powerful privilege. It will cost you hours but give you days of Spirit-powered life.

Assertive

March 20–1 Samuel 18-20

“If you do not save your life tonight, tomorrow you will be put to death.”–19:11

A few years ago, in an intense chapter of medical treatment, I learned a lesson. I needed to be assertive.

American medicine is amazing. I am grateful for it. But, it can be complicated and inefficient. There are can be mistakes and delays and miscommunications. Gradually, the patient learns to become his own advocate. To ask questions and get answers. To be assertive and responsible for his own care.

For believers (in all aspects of life, not just medical) this can be uncomfortable. We are taught to be patient. Forbearing. Gentle. The 11th Commandment is “Thou shalt be nice.” So, when assertiveness is required we sometimes feel guilty or unprepared.

In 1 Samuel 19-20 we see young David as he enters a difficult chapter with different skills required. For a while everyone interpreted Saul’s erratic behavior as mania. Soon, however, the evidence pointed more to malice than mental illness. What must David do now? Michal is the first to verbalize his new task. You must act! You must do so quickly!

I have a friend who overuses (I believe) the idea that God will protect him. Faith, for this friend, is to relax and let God take care of all needs. Assertion or decisive action feels like unbelief. It is the very attitude that David is unlearning.

I think sometimes of Moses in Exodus 14. “Why are you crying out to me?” said the Lord to him when the Egyptian army came near. “Tell the people to go forward!” There are times (for all of us) when prayer and waiting is the right thing to do. There are also times (and David was in one of those moments) when more prayer is the wrong thing.

“Through many tribulations, we must enter the kingdom.” This being so, there are times that my assignment is to survive. As you begin today, the Spirit may be shouting at you, “Move!” “Act!” “Don’t wait!” Like David, it will be good if you can recognize His voice as He calls you to be assertive.

Be Thou my vision

March 19–1 Samuel 15-17

Which did he mean? In the 8th Century, when Dallan Forgail wrote the poem that became our hymn, did he mean, “Be what I see”? (When I look at the world and all my circumstances, I want to see only Christ.) Or did he mean, ‘Be how I see”? (My eyes perceiving the invisible things that He perceives, establishing priorities in line with His mind and will.)

For David it was both. We often consider him from the perspective of his heart. Today, will you reckon how a heart for God is expressed through the eyes?

The soldiers of Israel saw a giant. David saw someone taunting the armies of the living God. Saul saw inexperience. David saw God’s power to deliver. “He will deliver me”, he said to the King without wavering.

With spiritual health comes spiritual sight. Hannah didn’t shout of a successful pregnancy. Her song was about God. In the midst of a national emergency, Isaiah “saw” the Lord, high and lifted up. Paul’s salvation depended on being convinced that, while he previously considered himself perceptive and wise, he had actually always been blind!

For nearly fifty years, mornings with the Lord have been “eye-opening” for me. In daily renewal, the Scripture and Spirit have helped me see the eternal categories of truth. God. Man. Sin, judgement and mercy. The Son and Savior. The Spirit. Unseen things above.

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know the hope. . .the riches. . .the greatness of His power.”–Ephesians 1:18-19. When you look out on your world this morning, what do you see?

No small matter

March 18–1 Samuel 13-14

“You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God. . .now your kingdom shall not endure.”–13:13-14

It was not a small matter. The punishment may seem excessive to us, but it really wasn’t.

From the first moments of their friendship, Samuel predicted this moment. Carefully and clearly he prepared the young leader for the day of liberation from the Philistines. Please see the early conversation in 10:7-8. When the day came, Saul was to wait. Wait for Samuel. Wait for God to tell him what to do. Did God plan a victory like the Red Sea defeat of Egypt? We will never know.

Saul’s protest, of course, was that he did obey. For seven days he waited. Certainly a reasonable standard by any human measurement. But, in the last hours of the last day he yielded to his anxiety and took matters in his own hands. Like Adam, he learned too late what obedience means to the Father. Complete. Entire. No substitution of self or logic for God’s clear word.

His disobedience disqualified him. For a kingdom to be permanent in Israel one principle must be inviolate. Our strength is God. Our wisdom is God. Our single task is to walk with Him. At the cost of all other things! We will wait for Him. We will obey Him.

I must remember. Partial obedience is worse than full failure because it claims some merit without ever learning the lesson of a fully surrendered heart.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.” Serious words. No small matter to God. Or to those who love Him.

Inner man

March 17–1 Samuel 9-12

“The Spirit of the Lord will come upon you mightily, and you shall prophesy with them and be changed into another man.”–10:6

Saul is a puzzle and a warning. And more a warning than most of us know. He experienced the power of the Spirit but never preferred it. He was qualified to be more, content to be less.

On the outside (and to most people) Saul had every appearance of success. Handsome. Anointed as King. Brave. Successful in battle. 40 years as ruler. Many victories. Much honor.

On the inside, however, Saul was empty and anxious. The longer he lived, the more evident this inner illness became. Jealousy. Insecurity. Insane anger. Fears. Cruelty. Why couldn’t Saul see his condition?

Nothing necessary about his collapse. God had qualified Him for service. Changed his heart (10:9) in the sense that a new path was presented and possible. More than once the Spirit came upon him in power. But, when Saul got up the morning after these significant experiences, he stayed (in his inner life and ambition and confidence and affection) as a material man. No shift from self to Spirit.

Paul saw the same problem facing us. “I bow my knees before the Father. . .that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man.”–Ephesians 3:16 It is in the inner life that victory comes. Or defeat.

Saul was a failure because he was a shell of a man. All appearance and material success, his confidence was on externals. What he never learned, in fact refused, was the call to be filled with the Spirit (embracing this new life, new power with His whole heart) In this tragic choice, he is a warning to each of us.

“We are the true circumcision who worship in the Spirit. . .and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.”–Philippians 3:3

Unwilling Spiritual warriors

March 16–1 Samuel 4-8

“Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.”–8:4

Samuel’s job was to teach (illustrate) spiritual warfare to Israel. With disobedience, defeat and difficulty had come. Now, in Samuel, they were to learn a more powerful approach. Three lessons were necessary.

Substance over symbol–In their immaturity, the children of Israel came to view the Ark with superstitious eyes. Like all symbols, however, (baptism included) the Ark represented a power that is only possible and present with real repentance and faith. The symbol can never substitute for the real relationship. Note Samuel’s call to repentance in 7:3.

Power of prayer–Samuel’s preparation for war was to pray. He knew (and wanted them to know) that nothing is impossible for the one who believes. All power is God’s! We can fight after we pray. We dare not fight until we pray.

Patience required–Life in the Spirit is a patient affair. One step and then the next. After a great victory, Samuel puts up a marker ( a lesson) and calls it Ebenezer “thus far hath the Lord helped us”. Tomorrow (and the next day and the next) we will still need to seek Him. Daily bread.

For all the excellent instruction, the people, ultimately, were unwilling. By desiring a king they reject the unique and powerful life of the Spirit. They prefer conventional warfare over spiritual. They want to be like other nations.

Am I the same? Not unaware just unwilling. How often do I envy and explore the strategies of the world? God has given me such excellent examples of spiritual warfare. Our Lord first among them. Why do I shrink back from learning/living this gates-of-hell-conquering path?

“My heart has no desire to stay where doubts arise and fears dismay. Though some may dwell where these abound, my prayer, my aim is higher ground.”–Johnson Oatman Jr.