11. Trying to Use God

Meditations in 1 Samuel   11. Trying to Use God

1 Sam 4:2,3    The Philistines deployed their forces to meet Israel, and as the battle spread, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand of them on the battlefield. When the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the LORD bring defeat upon us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the LORD’s covenant from Shiloh, so that it may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.”

Because what I call the Jacob mentality is in the background of  most people’s lives, the old life in the case of Christians, just lurking there waiting to reappear if we give it half a chance, the temptation to try to use God for our own purposes is always there. When I speak of ‘the Jacob mentality’ you remember Jacob on the Old Testament, whose name means twister and for whom most of his life he sought to scheme and plan and worm his way to the top. It’s what self-centred, godless people (i.e. sinners) do.

Do you remember the time when Jacob had a dream seeing angels coming down from heaven, and then God spoke to Him and promised him blessing, Jacob’s response was still that if a schemer: “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s house, then the LORD will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.” (Gen 28:20-22) i.e. OK, God, if you look after me I’ll pay you off with 10% and you can be my God.

For Israel in our present verses in 1 Samuel they are living in a time when they are having trouble with the Philistines. Now we aren’t told this, but if this is typical of the times of the judges then we are probably going through the down time of the cycle that was as follows: i) Israel blessed by God,  ii) Israel drift away from God,  iii) the Lord lifts off His hand of protection from Israel, iv) Israel’s enemies attack and overcome Israel, v) Israel repent and cry out to the Lord, vi) the Lord sends a deliverer.  That was the usual cycle that is repeated again and again in Judges, but it isn’t quite the same now because the Lord has inserted His prophet into the equation. So they are probably at the third to fourth part of that usual cycle and without good spiritual leadership have drifted from the Lord as a people and the Lord has lifted off His hand of protection so Israel’s old enemy, the Philistines are attacking – and winning!

So what do Israel do? They think – wrongly! Well God lives on the Tabernacle with the ark so if we take the ark to battle God will have to come with it and with us and will have to protect it and beat the Philistines!  Wrong!  The ark is just a box. Yes, the Lord had used it to help Israel focus on His presence  but that was all it was. You can’t use God! He is God not some weak person to be manipulated! Now we’ll go on in later meditations to see the folly of all this and its terrible outworkings and how the Lord doesn’t need looking after, but for the moment we’ll simply stick with the folly of trying to use God.

The atheist does it when on his death bed he faces death with fear and cries, “God if you save me I will believe in you”. We do it when we pray, “God if you heal me I will believe in you.” We don’t actually say those words but that is what we so often mean when we pray. I’m not sure if you are there but if you turn up and bless me I will believe.

I believe the truth is that many of us Christians are so unsure of God’s love that we do things to impress Him, to get Him on our side, to get Him to love us and bless us. We pray to do this, we go to church to do this, we fast to do this. We are out to impress Him and get Him to change in respect of us by what we say and do. I have shared this in other series’ of these meditations but it bears repeating.

A number of years ago I had the opportunity to go on ministry trips to Malaysia with an apostolic leader. One of the conditions of going was that we would fast for 7-10 days before going. After several of these trips I had the opportunity to take a small team myself on such a trip. Some time before the trip the Lord said to me, “Son, you will not fast on this trip.” Now I couldn’t believe that it was the Lord so pushed it aside and ignored it. I came to the time I had set aside to fast and simply missed breakfast and put the day aside to pray. Now understand that I had done a number of such fasts, even before I had gone aboard in ministry and I never had a problem with them.  Yes, you got hungry, yes you got weak, but you passed through that stage and it was all right. On this occasion by midmorning of that first day, I was rolling around on the floor (literally) in agony crying out to the Lord. The word of the Lord came immediately to me loud and clear, “Son I told you, you are not to fast. Get up and eat.” I did. Now here’s the thing: the Lord blessed me doubly on that trip and the one the following year and I came to realise He wanted to bless me because He loved me. I didn’t have to try and make Him. In fact since then – for me – NOT fasting has been a confirmation of my assurance of His love.

I don’t know what you do in the spiritual realm but enjoy it for what it is, not because you are trying to impress Him. I sometimes hear people giving testimonies, people who go up and down like a yo-yo and I can’t help feeling that on their ‘up’ they are testifying so loudly almost as if to ward off the next ‘down’. We don’t have to go up and down, just rest in His love. He loves YOU. If I crisis happens in your life, assuming it was an accident or something outside your control, it wasn’t God pulling the sky down on you, it was just one of the downsides of living in a fallen world where things go wrong. If the Lord allowed it, it is not because He doesn’t love you, it is because He does love you and has got something good coming out of it. I don’t write these mediations to get God on my side – He is and I enjoy doing it. Whatever you do, do it knowing He loves you and enjoy it. If things are going badly, thank the Lord that He is with you and He is working to bring good for you out of it (Rom 8:28).  Yes, maybe He wants you to learn things through going through this, and the main thing is HE LOVES YOU, IS WITH YOU, AND IS THERE FOR YOU!  Rejoice in that. Listen out, He may have other things to say but they will all be expressions of His love for you. Hallelujah!

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