Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Tuesday, 1 May 18:
1. 1 Samuel 3:1 — “And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.”
2. 1 Samuel 3:1 — “And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.” Samuel 3 begins with the above ominous statement. The people had stopped hearing from God, and without God’s leading, they are doomed. The Book of Amos makes a similar statement — “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “when I will send a famine on the land— not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord (Amos 8:11). Today’s readings reveal not only that the “branch” had been separated from the “Vine” and was withering and dying, but the readings also reveal that the people were not aware of their condition – they felt that they were in a normal relationship with God. Why had they ceased to hear God? Simple: Iniquity! (1 Samuel 3:13, 14) They had walked away from God and expected Him to follow them down their unholy path. So, when they were being defeated by the Philistines, they asked, “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines (1 Samuel 4:3)?” Then, in desperation, they turned to the idol of religion and the ark of God (which had become for them an idol), believing that their salvation rested in it rather than God — “Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies (1 Samuel 4:3).” Remember that similarly, Samson believed that his strength came from his uncut hair rather than from his relationship with God. Eli fell dead when he had heard that the Philistines had captured the ark of the covenant, the wife of Phinehas died in child birth “because the ark of God had been captured and because of her father-in-law and her husband.” Her dying words were, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.” She did not understand that the glory of God departed long before the ark of God had been captured; it departed when the people departed from God. Too many Christians have grown comfortable both with iniquity and with not hearing from God or experiencing his presence in their lives. They believe that the “distance” from God they feel, along with the silence, is normal – “From a distance God is watching (Bette Midler).” To fill the void, many turn to religious activities, but religion is no substitute for relationship and fellowship with God that comes through obedience. Self-serving, self-justifying, presumptuous, and prideful religion has no real power. God does not honor ritual without love and obedience. Only those who have a true relationship with God hear from God. Even Bible study can become an empty ritual. We must study God’s word, which is our primary source of revelation from God, but we must also walk with God in spirit and truth.
– James 4:8 — Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
3. 1 Samuel 3:13 — “…his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them.” God expects His people to challenge sin, both within the family and in other relationships.
4. 1 Samuel 3:18 — “And he said, ‘It is the LORD. Let him do what seems good to him.’” Eli’s response to God’s malediction could be interpreted two different ways: 1) Eli’s statement could be taken positively as a demonstration of Eli’s respect and trust in God’s sovereignty through his punishment, Eli subjugating all else to God’s glory. 2) On the other hand, Eli’s statement could be seen as a complacent fatalism – “It doesn’t matter what I do, God is going to do what God is going to do, so why try?” The Bible does not reveal a concerted effort on the part of Eli to repent and to plead for mercy from God, contrary to the response we see from so many others when God pronounced judgment against them. What do you think?
5. 1 Samuel 4 — “The glory has departed from Israel!” If God is not with a person or nation, their plans are futile. Proclaiming that God is with you doesn’t mean He is. If you are not with God, He is not with you.
6. Proverbs 1:2 – “To know wisdom….” There is a difference between knowledge and wisdom. Wisdom is knowledge rightly applied and understanding beyond experience. There are many knowledgeable people in the world, but few with wisdom. Wisdom can only come from God, and the Holy Spirit uses God’s word to give wisdom. How much you value God’s words reveals how much you care about wisdom and truly knowing Him.
7. Proverbs 1:7 – “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Both true knowledge and wisdom require a proper respect for God. How tragic it is that schools in America start with the premise that God is not required to obtain knowledge and wisdom. The decision to take God out of our schools has sown the seeds for national destruction.
8. Proverbs 1:8, 9 — Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.
9. Romans 15:1 — “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.” You must be patient with immature Christians who act inappropriately. When someone offends you, you want to defend yourself and get gratification, but the Bible says not to, but rather to respond to abuse with love and kindness. As we read previously, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse…. Do not take revenge… (Romans 12:14-19).” Of course this is really, really hard and goes against everything we are taught by the world. Yes, you will likely mess this up almost daily. If you doubt that you will, ask the people closest to you how often you get it right. God knows how hard this is and commands us to have “endurance” but also to be encouraged by Jesus’ perfect example which ultimately resulted in the Cross – he knows better than anyone what you are going through: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me (Romans 15:3).” You must take up your personal cross to follow Jesus, and this starts with denying self and considering others, particularly those who offend you as more valuable than yourself, the lost sheep that consume the mind of the Shepherd. Try this experiment for a while: stop defending yourself; respond to everyone who lashes out at you with love, kindness and blessings. See what happens.
10. Romans 15:5 — “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus.” God wants you to suffer maltreatment from others with endurance so that you can promote unity and reconciliation.
11. Romans 15:18 — “…bring the Gentiles to obedience.” The goal is obedience. Look at your great godly commission at the very end of Matthew 28.
12. Romans 15:30, 31 — “I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea.” Paul’s words teach us much about prayer: First, Paul greatly valued to prayers of fellow believers, appealing to or begging them to pray. Obviously, he understood the prayers of the righteous are powerful. Second, he had in mind prayer that was akin to striving, a true struggle. This was earnest, persistent prayer that was effective and powerful, more powerful than any physical power. Third, he recognized the unique power of communal prayer, hoping that they would “strive together.” Fourth, he asked for prayer for requests he believed were aligned with God’s purpose and will, not for selfish ambitions or desires. Finally, Paul was not certain his prayers would be answered in the affirmative by God (as often they weren’t), but this did not hinder his understanding of the importance of prayer. We all need a deeper understanding of the power of prayer. The best way to grow in prayer is to pray, pray, pray.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 1 May: Overlook offenses committed against you, remembering that people are weak and need mercy and grace just as you do. Don’t satisfy your own desire to defend yourself or to stand up for your ‘rights’ but rather consider how you can transmit the peace of God. References from today’s readings: “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.’” (Romans 15:1-3) Strive in prayer today — committed, hard, tiresome prayer. (Romans 15:30)