God’s Faithfulness in the Midst of Establishing Leaders

Recently I’ve been reading through portions of the Old Testament.  There is so much wisdom to be found throughout every section of Scripture, whether its a historical book, one of the prophets or wisdom literature.  That’s what I love about God’s Word- He speaks to us in all of it.

What struck me in the 1 Samuel narrative was how God commissioned the people to respond not to the “right” leadership but to God Himself.  Ultimately Saul was put in place as king over Israel, though he was not God’s choice. Not only was Saul not God’s choice, the desire for a king outside of God’s will was described as “wickedness” (1 Sam. 12:20).  It was in the midst of this wickedness that the Lord beckoned the people to turn to Him wholeheartedly, because He would continue to establish them despite the leadership over them.  This brought out a key point to my heart:  God is sovereign over having weak, imperfect leaders, or even the “wrong” leaders.  Let’s dive in a little to the text itself to pull out the gems.

In 1 Samuel 8, Israel begins to demand that a king be put in place over them so that they could be like the other nations (8:5b).  Up to that point, Israel had been through a season of being “judged and delivered” by judges, then Samuel was established as prophet to the nation (1 Samuel 3:20).  Yet as Samuel aged and his sons did not walk in his ways, Israel became restless and cried out for a king.

The Lord heeded the people’s cries, but the Lord revealed their desire for a king was actually a rejection of the Lord Himself (1 Sam. 8:7).  The character of earthly kings was revealed so that Israel would know what they got themselves into (1 Sam. 8:10-20). After giving fair warning, the Lord promised to give them a king.  He found that king in Saul– a son of the tribe of Benjamin– and anointed him commander over the people of Israel (1 Sam. 9:14-16; 10:1).

Here is where things get very interesting.  God made known that Israel’s cry for a king was not His desire, and He also told them plainly what a king would do to them.  Samuel went so far as to say that Israel’s desire for a king was wickedness (1 Sam. 12:20). And yet despite all of this, the Lord still promised Israel’s goodness and blessing if they continued to obey the Lord and love Him wholeheartedly, saying:

“Do no fear.  You have done all this wickedness; yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart… 22 For the LORD will not forsake His people, for His great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you His people… 25 But if you do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.”

(1 Sam. 12:20, 22, 25).

As I read this, I was seeing the goodness of God surpass the blunderings and failures of man.  Leadership is part of every sphere of society– from international relations, national government, states, cities, business, organizations, and individual homes.  We cannot escape how integral establishing leadership is no matter what sphere it is in.  If we are following the Lord, the desire is to have the right leadership in place at the right time.  But will we get it right every time?  The chances are pretty slim that we will.  And yet here the sovereignty and goodness of God begins to shine through.

Saul was not God’s choice for Israel, but he was anointed at the people’s cries.  Ultimately the Lord’s heart was for the people to love Him, to follow Him and have no idols.  This was still possible, no matter who was established as leader at that time.   God’s purpose for the people remained same though Saul was made king:  “Love Me, follow Me, be holy as I am holy.”  The people could do this despite leadership.

Israel’s choice did create certain dynamics for the nation, but the point being drawn out here is that God promised to be God to Israel despite their wickedness and lack of understanding in demanding a king.  He was going to continue to do them good as they served Him because He loved them and made covenant with them.  God would still establish them and bless them as they turned their hearts to Him.

So often we look at leadership- again, whether on a personal, local, national or international level, and think we are doomed because of who is in place as leader.  The Word reveals that it is actually the response of the people to God that either brings blessing or cursing.  Do we trust the Lord enough to pursue righteousness wholeheartedly and seek to see it established in others around us and forsake thinking all is lost because of who is in leadership?  God is looking for our response to Him.  He raises up kings and tears them down, He has used both good and evil men to accomplish His purposes in the earth, but ultimately He is looking at the hearts of the people– will we turn to Him and serve Him with all that we are?  Our response to God, not the perfection of our leaders or even the “right” leaders, is what saves us.

There will always be a need to establish leaders in various spheres, but we can be confident in the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness despite leadership as we turn our hearts to Him.

Receiving Strength to Overcome Through the Word

Justin Rizzo from the International House of Prayer in Kansas City sings a phrase I have found to be very true:  “Life isn’t only but it’s always a war.”  I’ve taken this to mean that God’s purpose for life was not to be in a battle, but because of sin and the state of our world, we are always in one.  Once Jesus returns this will not be the case as we will receive resurrected bodies and our sin nature will be completely vanquished, but until that time we have a real battle in our flesh and an enemy who is relentless to attack. Our priority is simply to learn how to overcome and learn how to walk in victory no matter the battle we face.

In the midst of a battle against sin, the Word of God is a great comfort and source of strength.  However, I’ve found the enemy easily uses the Word as a source of accusation that hinders me from getting in the Word, which can be even more detrimental!  Peter said to “desire the pure milk of the word” (1 Peter 2:1-2), because as newborn babes, we need strength and nourishment!

Some of the greatest accusations come when reading passages that contain God’s commands: the ten commandments, the Proverbs, the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7), and the various places in the New Testament where we are given a list of “do’s and don’ts” (Romans 12-14; Ephesians 4:17-6:20; Philippians 4:4-9; Colossians 3:1-4:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:14-22; the entire book of James!, etc.).   As we read, there is a conversation in our minds, and I believe the Lord wants that conversation to be redirected and renewed from hearing accusations to receive strength, affirmation, and emboldened to walk in greater godliness.

Jesus testified He was sent to save the world, not condemn it (John 3:17).  But often while reading we may hear condemning words.  For instance, I might read:   “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” (Eph. 4:29)…all the while the thoughts going through my mind are, “I’m a jerk!  I just told Suzie how much Sally is frustrating me, which was definitely not kind or uplifting or grace filled.  Why am I so upset anyway?  It wasn’t that big of a deal! I’m just so emotional.”  This type of conversation lingers, and by the time I’m finished reading I mostly feel guilty, ashamed, and frustrated.

Wow, all that just from reading the Word of God!  Is this really what God desires as we read His word? I don’t think so!  But it is a reality that happens.  Knowing God’s heart becomes key in this instance, as well as renewing the conversation in our minds.   He does not cast His beloved ones into a sea of despair because of their sin– He is the one who lifts us out of it and emboldens us to overcome it, and thus thoughts that bring us into despair are not from Him.  The voice of accusation found when reading the Word has to go, and our conversation with God has to be renewed so that we can receive from Him in the Word as He intended.

While God’s commands are weighty in that they put a high standard upon us to follow, we have to remember no one can fulfill them– Jesus is the only one who did. Yet at the same time He says, “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect”  (Matthew 5:48).  Reading God’s commands, rather than putting an irremovable weight upon us when struggling with sin can be the very comfort and strength we need to overcome, as it creates the opportunity for us to converse with God openly.  It’s as if we are putting a huge spotlight on our hearts where we can be more vulnerable with God.  Rather than talking to ourselves about all the ways we are terrible at fulfilling God’s commands, we can begin to talk to Him, asking Him for help, admitting our failures.  The conversation can be transformed from the former into this:

“Lord, I agree with your command to not have any corrupt word proceed out of my mouth.  I confess that yesterday I said something about Sally to Suzie that was not beneficial for my heart nor hers, and I spoke it out of my frustration and impatience.  I’m sorry Father.  Lord help me to put a guard over my mouth, help me to speak that which brings grace to the hearers.”

And then you can wait, see if He is speaking anything to you, see if there is more you need to repent for or offer up thanksgiving, because often in this conversation He releases His presence and love!  The Word thus becomes a conversation starter between our hearts and God’s.  The weight we feel from the commands doesn’t have to turn into condemnation or despair, but rather can become the source of our hearts turning to Him to receive mercy and strength.  He promises both that He is humble and gentle in teaching us His ways, and also that He releases grace to those who humble themselves before Him to learn His ways.  What assurance we have in going to Him for help when we know we have done wrong!  The enemy wants to press us down to feel condemned, while our Father reaches down to strengthen and encourage us.  He will be completely honest with us, which can be painful, but it is never to bring about despair.  His honesty about our sin and disobedience to His commands is to guide us to repentance, to learn His ways so that we can live in greater abundance that is found from living in righteousness.

“Come to Me…take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”  Matthew 11:29

“Good and upright is the Lord; therefore He teaches sinners in the way.  The humble He guides in justice, and the humble He teaches His way.”  Psalm 25:8-9

“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time…”  1 Peter 5:6

Rather than condemn us, Jesus washes us with His Word to cleanse us and remove every spot (Ephesians 5:26-27).  The Word can thus become, and is, a place to receive from God in the midst of our struggles to help us overcome.  It is a place where our heart can connect to the Lord’s and where He can reveal deeper things in our hearts as His commands are released into our soul, exposing sin and shame.

May the Word of God continue to be a source of strength to your soul, a place of communing with His Spirit that helps you overcome all things.  May it become a delight to your soul, and may you desire His commands, knowing they are good and right.

“Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, for I delight in it.”  Psalm 119:35