God's People are Consistent People
Do you remember I said I was never sure if Saul was a good guy or a bad guy? Well, most of the time, Saul is a bad guy. So as we look at Saul this morning, he will be an example to us, but this time we’re going to say Don’t be like Saul.
In chapter 11, do you remember that Saul acted urgently to an urgent situation. Without even pausing for breath, he rescued the men of Jabesh Gilead. We praised Saul for his urgent action, but its important that we remember that patience is just as much a virtue as urgency. So today we’re going to see how Saul failed to wait when God required patience.
There are many similarities between the situation in chapter 11 that we looked at last time and chapter 13 today. In verse 5 of chapter 13 we see that again a foreign army is waiting to attack Israel, just like chapter 11 and verse 1. In 13:4 we see that Saul sends a message around Israel to summon his army together, just like 11:7. In 13:8 we seen that Saul had one week to get everything ready for the battle, just like 11:3.
In chapter 11 Saul was praised for acting with urgency, and yet in this chapter he is condemned for his impatience. Why is that? Is God contrary. Do he want one thing one minute, and something completely different the next? Not at all. And to prove that, we need to look at the text and see what are the differences between this chapter and chapter 11. So let’s go back to 1 Samuel chapter 13, and try and find out where Saul went so badly wrong.
He lacked fear of God’s power
It’s easy here to see the contrast between chapters 11 and 13. Let’s go back to the end of chapter 11 and verse 7, where we read ‘the terror of the Lord fell on all the people, and they turned out as one man.’ In chapter 13 and the end of verse 7, we have the exact opposite: ‘all the troops with him were quaking with fear’, but it is not the fear of the Lord, but fear of the Philistines that terrifies them. As a result, instead of turning out as one man, 13:8 tells us they began to scatter.
A fear of God’s power brings God’s people together, a fear of men’s power drives them apart. Maybe some of you have felt that fear of God, and it has brought you to God’s side.
I want you to cast your mind back to your school days. I know for some of you that’s quite a long way, but do your best if you can! Where you ever bullied at school? - or perhaps you were the school bully! Can you imagine the school bully saying to you one day: ‘on your way home from school today, at 4 o’clock I’m going to be waiting by the bus shelter next to the chip shop, and I’m going to beat you up!’ Would you be scared? Well maybe a little bit, but if you’ve got any sense, you’d make sure you weren’t at the bus shelter by the chip shop at 4 o’clock! You’d take another route home, or make sure someone was with you. It would be a little bit scary, for a short period of time, but that’s all.
But what if the school bully was to say to you: ‘You better watch out, because I’m going to follow you home every day. You won’t be able to see me, but wherever you go, I’ll be there too. There’ll be nowhere to run, and nowhere you can hide.’ Now that’s even more scary! Why? Because the biggest fear comes when we don’t know what’s going to happen. That’s why lots of people are so afraid of dying - they don’t know what’s going to happen to them.
That’s why Saul and the others were so afraid too. They didn’t know whether the Philistines would attack. They just didn’t know whether they would win the battle. They didn’t know whether they’d be able to escape. And they were terrified so much, they were hiding in caves and holes in the ground.
It’s the same with us, isn’t it? I’ve often been challenged by people who didn’t know what God was going to do, yet still trusted in him.
Too often we’re so much like Saul and his men. Let me give you some examples. Perhaps we’re afraid of telling people about our faith. If so, what are the reasons you give? It usually boils down to something like this: What if they reject me? What if they don’t listen? What if they don’t understand? I don’t know what they’re going to do.
Or perhaps your fear is really doing what you believe to be right, even though your family are not Christians. Perhaps you often say to yourself: What if they think I’m self-righteous? What if I offend them? What if I drive them away from the gospel? What if they think I’m legalistic. We’re afraid of doing what is right, because we don’t know how people will react.
But there is healthy fear as well as harmful fear. A healthy fear is not terror and dread, but reverence and respect. A fear of God springs from love, and prompts us not to offend God and to do everything we can to please him. Proverbs 29:25 says “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.” Or listen to these words from Isaiah chapter 51, verses 7 & 12:
“Do not fear the reproach of men or be terrified by their insults… I, even I, am he who comforts you. Who are you that you fear mortal men, the sons of men, who are but grass, that you forget the Lord your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth, that you live in constant terror every day because of the wrath of the oppressor, who is bent on destruction? For where is the wrath of the oppressor?
Do you see what God is saying? Why should you fear men when their lives are so short, and eternity is so long? Why should you fear men to such an extent that you forget that God is so powerful that he spoke the entire universe into being?
Jesus himself made it perfectly clear:
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
In some ways, that’s quite a scary verse. If you’re not a Christian because you’re afraid of what other people might think, I suggest you burn Matthew 10:28 on your brain, and think over and pray about those words tonight.
But the verse isn’t scary for the Christian. They’re not scary because we know that God cares for us. Listen to the very next sentences that Jesus speaks:
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
But as well as lacking fear of God’s power, Saul also had another problem.
He lacked faith in God’s promises
Let’s go back and look at chapter 10 and verse eight again:
Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you. Go down ahead of me to Gilgal. I will surely come down to you to sacrifice burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, but you must wait seven days until I come to you and tell you what you are to do.
Samuel tells Saul that he will surely come down to you, but when we fast forward to chapter 13 and verse 8, Saul doubts him. You may think that this is perfectly understandable. I mean people let you down all the time. It was hardly Saul’s fault that he started to get worried by Samuel’s absence.
But in order to understand this chapter properly, we need to remind ourselves about of who Samuel was. So please turn to 1 Samuel chapter 3 and verse 21:
The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word. And Samuel’s word came to all Israel.
Samuel was a prophet, that means God spoke to him, and then Samuel spoke God’s word to Israel. When people wanted to know what God was saying, they went to see Samuel.
Of course, we don’t need to do that today, do we? We have the Bible, and we have the Holy Spirit, so we don’t need prophets any more. But three thousand years ago the presence of a prophet was vital if you were to know what God wanted you to do. For Saul to doubt Samuel’s promise here, is just like us doubting God’s promises in the Bible.
You see, when Samuel promised to meet Saul in seven days, it was God who was making the promise. Saul wasn’t doubting Samuel, he was doubting God.
It’s vital we remember that God is trustworthy. We can trust him far more than we can trust our feelings. This is particularly true when we lack assurance. Sometimes our feelings can betray us, but God never will. God has promised: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Has God enabled us to confess our sins? Then let’s trust Him that He has forgiven us, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Not sure whether you have confessed your sins? Then confess them again, and believe God’s promise.
But back to Saul. It seems there were three things he didn’t believe: He didn’t believe that God’s plan was best. He didn’t believe that it was best to wait. He didn’t believe that God must tell him what to do.
The more I read the story of Saul, the more I see myself in the pages of the Bible. I wonder if you can see yourself there, too. I wonder if you have ever struggled to believe that God’s plan was best? Have you ever struggled to believe that it’s best to wait? Ever struggled to believe that God must tell us what to do?
I must confess, it’s usually younger people who find it most difficult to be patient. It’s true when we what things to move forward, it’s true in our Christian life, and it’s probably most obvious when we’re driving. It comes as no surprise to find that in our story, Saul is still a young man.
So let me take a little while to speak particularly to younger people, who are finding it difficult to wait for God. Let me use one example to show you what I mean, and I’m sure you can think of many other applications that are perhaps more relevant to you.
Perhaps you struggle with being single. Perhaps all your friends have boyfriends or girlfriends, but not you. Maybe everything that happens in at work, seems to be for couples. It’s almost as if you feel a second-class citizen just because you are single. The worst thing about this is that often the pressure comes from those in the church more than those outside.
But the Bible is absolutely clear about this. God gives some people husbands or wives. Other people he calls to remain single. It’s not that those who get married are somehow better than those who don’t, its just that God has chosen different paths for different people.
It’s natural to want to get married, settle down and have kids, but there are many more important things in life. Far better to remain happy and single, than locked in a miserable relationship that doesn’t satisfy.
If God wants you to get married, he’ll lead you to the right person. If he doesn’t want you to get married, then he’ll show you how to be content with singleness. It’s foolish to do what Saul did and take matters into your own hands.
So don’t let anyone pressure you into getting involved in relationships unless you’re absolutely sure that is what God wants. I’ve seen too many Christians become unstuck because they’ve rushed into a relationship that wasn’t right for them. Lads, you should ask yourself: could I lead this girl on in her spiritual life? Will she be a help to me? Could I see us still together in ten years time? If not, then leave her well alone. If so, then consider asking her out.
Girls: don’t go out with the first boy who asks you, just because he’s the first boy who’s asked you. You need to ask yourselves the same questions. Will this boy help me to grow as a Christian? Will he protect me spiritually and emotionally? Will I be able to support and encourage him? If not, then politely but firmly say ‘Thanks but no thanks’. Don’t allow yourself to be flattered into saying ‘yes’ when you mean ‘no’.
Listen, God doesn’t care about the things your friends care about. But he does care if you’re entered into a relationship just to please others, or to gain pleasure, or because you’re afraid of being left on the shelf. He does care if the only reason you’re going out with someone is because you don’t trust God enough to know that his timing is always best, his choice always the wisest, his promises always faithful.
But, let’s be honest, it’s not just in the area of relationships where we struggle to wait for God’s timing, is it? Let’s look at some other examples, which perhaps are more of a problem for those of you a little older.
Perhaps the hardest thing that Christians struggle with is when our friends and family are not yet converted. Perhaps that’s something you pray about every day. For your a best friend, your mum, your dad, a son or daughter; that God would save them.
It’s wonderful to know that some of you have been praying for years for people that you love. But sometimes, our faith can weaken, our resolve can fade, and we stop trusting that God will answer those prayers. We stop trusting that his way is best. We find it difficult when another year goes by, and they’re still not converted. So we stop trusting that God’s timing is the right timing.
Perhaps it’s seems that God is not listening. But he is, of course. The Bible is full of promises that God listens to our prayers.
There’s only one solution if it seems as though God isn’t answering prayers that we know he wants us to pray. It’s this: keep praying.
If you’ve been praying for your mum or dad to be saved for five years, and they’re still not converted, then keep praying. If you’ve been praying for your son or daughter to be saved for fifty years, and they’re still not converted, then keep praying.
If you’ve been praying for years that God will show you how we wants you to serve him, then keep praying.
If you’ve been praying that God will guide you and show you the next steps you must take, then keep praying. Keep praying.
Saul’s mistake was that he lacked faith in God’s promises. That meant he couldn’t pray, and if you read the story you’ll see he never prayed. He thought that if he just offered a sacrifice, then that would do. No need to wrestle with God. No need to pour out your heart day after day, night after night. It was so much easier to get a dead animal, a bit of wood, and make a sacrifice. Sadly for Saul he makes exactly the same mistake in chapter 15. When he does Samuel has these words for him:
Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice…
There’s no higher calling, and no harder calling for the Christian than simply to ‘trust and obey’. But trusting and obeying was not possible for Saul, because as well as lacking fear of God’s power, and lacking faith in God’s promises,
He lacked fulfilment in God’s presence
What I mean there is that Saul lacked that joy that God was with him. He didn’t have that closeness with God that so much drives the Christian. God seemed to be absent. He wasn’t, of course. He was there, but he didn’t show himself to Saul.
Now if we are to correctly apply this lesson to ourselves, we need to understand that there are three different ways in which we can talk about the presence of God in positive terms.
The first way is a way that everyone experiences, even people who are not Christians. We all have a sense of God’s presence, a knowledge that he is real, and that he reveals himself to us, and even that he calls us.
The second way is experienced only by Christians. When we become a Christian, God enters our life, and never leaves, no matter how we are feeling. We often use words like the Spirit living in me to explain this fulfilment in God’s presence.
The third way is when the Spirit comes in power. These are special times, and they don’t happen often. It happened to Saul back in chapter 11 and verse 6, and it happened to some of you last night. It’s not normal, it’s not frequent, neither in the Bible, nor in our experience today. We often use the phrase being filled with the Spirit to explain this experience. I’m going to come back to this later, but first let’s to back and consider more the first way in which we talk about God’s presence.
Sometimes God withdraws from us because that is exactly what we wanted. The times when we have turned out back on him so often, that he finally turns his back on us. Sadly this was an experience Saul had far too often. When it occurs for the last time in chapter 28, this is how he describes it:
“I am in great distress,” Saul said. “The Philistines are fighting against me, and God has turned away from me. He no longer answers me, either by prophets or by dreams.”
These are Dale Ralph Davis’ comments on that chapter:
The most hopeless misery in all of life is to be abandoned by God… These are some of the saddest words of Scripture… The text is not gentle, but it is clear: if you despise God’s word he will take it from you. If you persistently refuse to obey God’s speech, you will endure God’s silence. How crucial then are one’s first responses to the gospel, the initial call to enter the kingdom of God. Spurgeon tells of a man on his deathbed who sent for him. In his lifetime the man had jeered at Spurgeon, had often denounced him as a hypocrite. Now is desperation and in death he called for him. This is was Spurgeon wrote about him:
He had, when in health, wickedly refused Christ, yet in his death-agony, he had superstitiously sent for me. Too late, he sighed for the ministry of reconciliation, and sought to enter in at the closed door, but he was not able. There was no space left him then for repentance, for he had wasted the opportunities which God had long granted to him.
What could be worse? To know you need to repent — and can’t. It is horridly solemn. The most hopeless misery in all of life is to be abandoned by God.
Now Dale Ralph Davis was commenting on chapter 28, and we’re only in chapter 13. After chapter 13, Saul has another chance, and we read about that in chapter 15. Sadly he rejects that chance, and he rejects the next chance, hence God abandons him in chapter 28.
If you are not yet a Christian, I do not want to scare you unnecessarily. I don’t know if you are on chapter 13, chapter 15, or chapter 28. I don’t believe any of you have yet been abandoned by God — if he had have abandoned you, I don’t think he would have brought you here. But what if you walk out of that door, having rejected Jesus Christ for the tenth time? Maybe the 100th time? Will that be your last chance? Having stood by and watched God work in other peoples lives. If you do, I would be seriously concerned that you might find out for yourself that the most hopeless misery in all of life is to be abandoned by God.
But if you do feel abandoned by God, there is still hope. But it’s a hope that can only be answered by God himself. It was David who wrote Psalm 13:
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me for ever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, O Lord my God.
In chapter 13 Saul tried to find God in ritual. In chapter 15 by making rash promises. By the time we get to chapter 28, he’s trying to find God in the occult. Isn’t it amazing where people go when they see their need of God? If you feel God has abandoned you, you’re not going to find him in pubs and clubs. You’ll find him by prayer, you’ll find him in the Word of God.
But let me tell you now about the second way we feel God’s presence. Christians know God’s presence in a special way, but sometimes he can seem far away. It may be because of sin, it may be that God simply wants you to seek him all the more diligently. It’s not that God has abandoned you, simply that he has withdrawn for a time. There’s not time to develop this further, but you would do well to read the Psalms, and realise that this is a common experience for God’s people. The answer is not an easy one, but it is the right one. To keep seeking him until you find him. To keep on praying, to keep on reading your Bible, to keep on enjoying fellowship with God’s people. He will not hide forever, and when he shows himself to you, both his grace and your growth will catch you by surprise. If you’re still waiting for him to bring you back, keep calling, but don’t forget to trust that his timing is best.
That brings us on to the final way in which God shows himself to us. Do you remember we said it was when the Spirit comes in power. We said that these were special times, and they don’t happen often.
This is a key difference between chapter 11 and chapter 13. In chapter 11 there was no need for Saul to wait, to call upon the Lord, because the Lord called on him. 11:6 tells us that the Spirit of God came upon him in power. That’s unusual, and very special. Many people pray for it. Too many people seem to suggest that’s the only way we can move forward in this nation.
But life is not normally life that. For me, the most sobering part of Saul’s story is that Saul was able to do what was right when the Spirit of God came in power, but he was completely helpless when God withdrew himself for just a time. It’s easy to behave in school when the teacher is sitting at your desk. It’s much more a test of your character how you behave when the teacher has left the room.
It’s easy to live as a Christian when God’s Spirit comes in power. But a much more important question is how you live when God seems far away.
Each one of us here will go through that experience over the coming weeks and months. There will be times when God seems far away. There will be times when God says to us:
I will surely come down to you… but you must wait … until I come to you and tell you what you are to do.
What then? How will you respond on those days when you warm bed seems so much better than a hard pew? How will you respond when the non-Christian girl seems so much more attractive than waiting for the girl of God’s choosing? How will you respond when your friends reject you and mock you? How will you respond when it seems your prayers for your children are just bouncing off the ceiling? How will you respond when it seems that God is not there?
It’s easy to respond in the way that God wants when the Spirit comes in power. But the challenge of living a godly life in Christ Jesus is to seek his presence even when he seems distant.
Now as I close, let me clear up one point that may be bothering you. After all, haven’t you heard you can only do what is right when God is working through you. So why am I saying you can get things right even when God seems distant?
Have you ever been to the top of the Blackpool tower? It’s hundreds of feet in the air, and many of the people who go up there find it difficult to talk around the top, because they get scared of the terrific height. Most people, with a little difficulty, manage it though. They might cling onto the handrail, they may close their eyes and grit their teeth, but they just about manage to have enough confidence in the tower to trust it will not let them down.
But there’s one particular section that many find impossible. It’s where Saul failed. Maybe it’s where you have failed. You see, one large section of the floor is made entirely from glass. It’s called ‘The walk of faith’. If you look down, you can see a 300 hundred foot drop straight onto Blackpool prom.
It looks as if there is nothing there to support you, and it’s so much harder to walk across the glass floor, than the steel floor.
But of course there is something there to support you, and believe it or not, the glass is ten times stronger than the steel. It will not let you down either.
And so it is with God. So it will be when you return home, when you go back to work, or to school, and when things seem tough. At times in your Christian walk it will seem as though God is not there to support you. It makes it hard to walk in faith, but the only way you can walk is because God is invisibly holding you up, keeping you going, until you reach the steel at the other side.
I’ve seen too many Christians, who walk around the steel floor, and yet panic and give up when the floor seems to disappear.
Don’t be like them. Don’t be like Saul. When you discover that you can trust God in the good times as well as the bad, in the dark times as well as the daytime, when you discover him in the glass as well as the steel, then you will discover there is much to his character that you never knew before. Much to fill you with awe and wonder. Much to fill you with praise. Much to enjoy being in His presence. Lord, blessed be your name.