Grace tidings: Obedience is better than sacrifice

Obedience is better than sacrifice

Our lives can get so complicated that it’s hard to figure out how to get from where we are to where God wants us to be. We all make mistakes and it’s easy to start thinking about what might have been if we had done just a few things differently. But I don’t think it’s helpful to regret things you have done and start asking yourself, “What if I would have followed God? What if I hadn’t done this or that?” Satan uses thoughts like that to beat us up.

Rather than reliving the past, it’s better to understand that God has ways of getting us from where we are to where we need to be after we surrender our lives to Him. It’s always better for us to focus on the solution instead of the problem. The Old Testament book of First Samuel tells the story of Saul, Israel’s first king. Saul’s story is miraculous from the beginning. He was anointed king while he was out searching for some lost livestock.

Then he stopped by to ask the prophet Samuel for help. He went there thinking that Samuel might be able to tell him where his lost donkeys were, but instead, Samuel told him that he was going to be the first king of Israel (1 Samuel 9:14-10:1). At that time, however, Saul had no desire to be king. Despite Saul’s humble beginnings, he was anointed by God and became a powerful ruler. He led the nation of Israel in battle and won great victories. The people rallied around him. But two years into his reign, the Philistines gathered to fight against him in such large numbers that the men of Israel became afraid and ran off to hide in caves.

Saul regrouped the people to fight against the Philistines, while he waited for Samuel to come to offer a sacrifice before leading his men into battle. (The offering was a request for the Lord’s blessing before they fought the enemy). Saul waited the appointed time for Samuel to arrive, but he didn’t come. The people grew restless and began to scatter.

It was a crisis situation. So Saul decided to make the burnt offering himself, instead of waiting for Samuel. And Saul said, “Bring a burnt offering to me, and peace offerings. And he offered the burnt offering. And it came to pass, that as soon as he had made an end of offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him, that he might salute him. And Samuel said, What have you done? And Saul said, Because I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered themselves together at Michmash; Therefore, said I, The Philistines will come down now upon me to Gilgal, and I have not made supplication to the LORD: I forced myself therefore, and offered a burnt offering. (I Samuel 13:9-12).

 In those days, only priests who were anointed by God to offer sacrifices could make a burnt offering. We don’t know what caused Samuel’s delay, but regardless Saul was wrong in overstepping his bounds and moving into the office of a priest. Saul wasn’t anointed to be priest; he was anointed to be king. By assuming the role of priest, he took authority that he knew he didn’t have. Saul said “I forced myself,” which shows that he knew it was wrong.

He was admitting that normally he wouldn’t have done such a thing, but the situation compelled him to do it. So he did it even though he knew it was wrong. Saul’s behavior reveals a character flaw that’s true of many people today—the tendency to do whatever is in their immediate best interest, regardless of whether or not it’s the right thing to do. Christians shouldn’t live like that. We need to be people of integrity. If God tells us to do something, we should do it. God’s will should be nonnegotiable for us, regardless of the circumstances or consequences.

Unfortunately, not many people live that way. Anyone who allows an excuse to cause them to deviate from what they know is right will end up getting off course. We need to get to a place where we drive a stake in the ground and say, “This is non-negotiable. If God tells me to do something, I’ll stand here and do it, even if it kills me. I will not change.” We have to be uncompromising about the will of God, because we will veer off track once we start giving in to circumstances. Saul knew he wasn’t supposed to offer that burnt offering, but he forced himself because it was the convenient thing to do. It might have seemed like a good reason at the time, but he knew he was disobeying God. He compromised.

And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly: you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you: for now, the Lord would have established your kingdom upon Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue: the Lord has sought him a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be captain over his people, because you have not kept that which the Lord commanded you” (I Samuel 13:13-14).

This is amazing. Samuel said that if Saul would have obeyed God that day, he would have ruled over Israel forever. Instead, God chose David to replace Saul as king. If Saul had obeyed God, there never would have been a King David. We never would have heard of him, because David wasn’t God’s first choice. Saul was not just a temporary king until David came along. Saul was God’s first choice.

This incident happened in the second year of Saul’s reign (I Samuel 13:1). Then Saul reigned for another 38 years (Acts 13:21). We also know that David was 30 years old when he finally became king at the end of Saul’s reign (2 Samuel 5:4). So that means that Samuel prophesied that “the Lord has sought a man after His own heart,” eight years before David was even born. God said He had sought out a man after His own heart, long before David was even conceived. David was born to be king—that was his purpose—but he wasn’t God’s first choice. David became king because Saul failed to do what God called him to do.

But look what God did with second best. David became a mighty man of God. He was a man after God’s own heart and he accomplished great things. We can’t second guess about what could have or should have been. If you have wasted time chasing your own dreams or made some bad decisions, don’t get caught up in mulling over the past. Just start seeking God. Submit yourself to God. He can take wherever you are today and make His Plan B for your life better than you could ever have imagined Plan A would be.

The fastest route to God’s perfect will for your life is to simply start seeking Him today. Saul’s life also demonstrates that God doesn’t sovereignly move us around and make everything automatically work out according to His will. Saul didn’t cooperate with God, therefore he missed God’s will for his life. Don’t get worried though — God has never had anybody qualified working for Him yet. We will all make mistakes, but God is so awesome that He can take the little bit we submit to Him and use it to accomplish His will.

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