“Us, ministry, and God!”
In recent days reading through the earlier chapters in 1 Samuel, I’ve been impacted by Samuel’s responses to the different issues that confronted him. Note a major, recurring theme in the following verses:
“But when they said, ‘Give us a king to lead us,’ this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. And the LORD told him ….” (1 Sam.8:6-7a)
“When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the LORD. The LORD answered ….” (1 Sam.8:21-22a)
“Now here is the king you have chosen, the one you asked for; see, the LORD has set a king over you. If you fear the LORD and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the LORD your God–good! But if you do not obey the LORD, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you, as it was against your fathers. ‘Now then, stand still and see this great thing the LORD is about to do before your eyes! Is it not wheat harvest now? I will call upon the LORD to send thunder and rain. And you will realize what an evil thing you did in the eyes of the LORD when you asked for a king.’ Then Samuel called upon the LORD, and that same day the LORD sent thunder and rain. So all the people stood in awe of the LORD and of Samuel.” (1 Sam.12:13-18)
“As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right.” (1 Sam.12:23)
“’I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.’ Samuel was troubled, and he cried out to the LORD all that night.” (1 Sam.15:11)
Samuel was a man of God, a man who walked with God, a man who talked with God, a leader who spontaneously connected all the difficulties and dangers he faced with God. God was at the very centre of all his thinking and responding.
How is it with you and me? Frieda and I had a college professor, Dr. Harry Stam, who was well known among the students for his refrain: “Let’s pray about it!” Whenever students came to discuss some personal problem or issue with him, he’d give them some fatherly advice but then no matter where they were chatting, he’d say: “Let’s stop right now and pray about it.”
Question: What does this tell us about such Christian leaders? Answer: they don’t trust in themselves and their own insights, but in the Lord and His wisdom. They know that unless they hear from God, they have little or nothing of any lasting value to say.
God wants to communicate His wisdom through us. He desires to use us as His channels to speak His Word and His truth to those we lead, to whom we are called to minister.
Please allow me to ask you: Do you do a “Samuel” when you’re faced with crises or problems – your own, your family’s, your church’s, your organisation’s? Is it your spontaneous response to “repeat” a matter to the Lord, to “cry” out to the Lord about a troubling matter?
Samuel prayed because he understood that the matters he was dealing with in the lives of God’s people, right to the king, were inseparably connected with God’s name, His honour, and not with the honour of his own name.
Let’s reflect for a moment on how things go in many church and mission forums. It seems that we God’s people / Christian workers love to hear ourselves talk!! We set aside little time for talking with God and give over much time for talking among ourselves. Yes, we do follow the usual pattern or tradition – to open and close our meetings “with a word of prayer”. The vast majority of time is then spent in airing our own opinions, hoping in this way to reach some good conclusion or make a wise decision.
Far be it from me to deny the place for open (and hopefully friendly, loving) discussion about ministry matters as a part of the process of finding God’s direction. And I’m not saying that opening and closing meetings in prayer is an empty and meaningless tradition. Nor am I saying that unless we spend “x” number of minutes in prayer over some point of discussion, God can’t guide us. We should know about God and His character to reject this line of thinking.
But here’s the point: Samuel’s life reminds us that we need to make God Number One in all planning, business, problem-solving and ministry as God’s people. And how do we do this in practical terms? By spontaneously, freely, frequently turning to Him in prayer.
Prayer connects situations of ministry with God – whether it’s preparing a message or lecture, writing a ministry email, offering counsel to a friend, listening to the distress of our mates or children, or whatever!
Prayer connects us and the situation of need with the divine Source of truth and wisdom. If we fail to make this connection through prayer, we are in danger of doing a “Saul”. Remember how Saul faced the various crises of his leadership? Instead of seeking God and waiting for His direction, he followed his own heart on the matter. And the end result? Not only did he lead poorly but he disqualified himself from being God’s leader of His people.
Saul’s heart was ruled by Saul. Samuel’s heart was ruled by God. That’s the heart of the matter. And how do we see Samuel’s heart in action? In spontaneous and frequent prayer. The spirit of prayer is the spirit of humility and trust. That was Samuel’s heart.
If our response to this reflection is to focus our attention on clocking up more hours in prayer, then we will have missed the whole point. God calls us to examine our hearts and our actions in ministry, to see where the evidence points – either to exalting the rightness of our own plans, ideas and solutions, or to humbling ourselves before God, in order to hear from Him before we speak and act.
Learn to have the heart of “Samuel” who spontaneously turns all matters over to God in prayer – wherever, about whatever, whenever. And fear lest we ever allow our hearts to become infected with the spirit of “Saul”.
Graham M. Roberts
Equip & Encourage International
15th April, 2009