After Falling

1 Samuel 18:6-9 (NLT)

When the victorious Israelite army was returning home after David had killed the Philistine, women from all the towns of Israel came out to meet King Saul. They sang and danced for joy with tambourines and cymbals. This was their song:

“Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands!”

This made Saul very angry. “What’s this?” he said. “They credit David with ten thousands and me with only thousands. Next they’ll be making him their king!” So from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David.

By Chuck Griffin

Sunday during sermon time, I preached the story of David and Goliath, the classic Bible tale that I suspect even most unchurched people know. Today’s verses are the beginning of the story of what happened afterward.

It’s painful to watch this story play out in the Bible, and then repeatedly throughout history, into the present day. Some people just cannot let go, particularly if they have become accustomed to honor and power.

Saul knew he had fallen out of God’s favor, and that another was to take his place. The cry of the women likely confirmed for him what he had begun to suspect: David was the one. Read on in 1 Samuel, and you’ll see the lengths Saul was willing to go to cling to what was never really his, anyway, descending into madness in the process. The Lord had given, and because of Saul’s lack of faith, the Lord had taken away.

It’s unlikely any of us will ever achieve the lofty status of King Saul, and I hope none of us ever loses our place in God’s kingdom because of faithlessness. Even so, it may be that we find ourselves moving through our lives from roles that seem honorable to roles that seem like demotion or outright rejection.

Maybe the change needed to happen—it’s possible the Peter Principle kicked in—or maybe life has once again proven to be unfair. Regardless, we have to be very careful how we react.

A soft, obediently spoken “What now, Lord?” is always a good prayer at such a time. Christians keep serving God regardless of their perceived station in life. I have seen pastors do great work on behalf of the kingdom after receiving church appointments they considered slaps in the face.

And never forget, from a worldly perspective, the kingdom is an upside-down place. It never hurts to return to the Beatitudes for a refresher course.

Lord, today is a good day to remember John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
Exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O Glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

Means of Grace, Day 2

By Chuck Griffin
Editor, LifeTalk

Philippians 4:6 (NLT): Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

Like Scripture, prayer is an extremely broad subject. Again, we are talking about a many-layered discipline, one with more depth to it than we can hope to explore in a lifetime.

Prayer takes time, and that causes us to shy away from a deep commitment to it. And yet, prayer also seems to interact with time in mysterious ways, making other moments more fruitful.

In one of his great sermons, “Degrees of Power Attending the Gospel,” C.H. Spurgeon spoke in 1865  of how important the “spirit of prayerfulness” was in his church, Metropolitan Tabernacle in London.

“Let me entreat you never to lose it,” he said. Later in the sermon, Spurgeon exhorted his congregation this way: “Let us increase our praying as we increase our doing. I like that of Martin Luther, when he says, ‘I have so much business to do today, that I shall not be able to get through it with less than three hours’ prayer.’ Now most people would say, ‘I have so much business to do today, that I must only have three minutes’ prayer—I cannot afford the time.’ But Luther thought that the more he had to do the more he must pray, or else he could not get through it. That is a blessed kind of logic—may we understand it!”

Like so many spiritual activities, the only way we can understand prayer is to actually pray. If we over-intellectualize the process, seeking to understand everything before we begin, we will never give this work of piety the time it deserves.

Prayer is very much about submitting ourselves to the will of God. Too often, we see prayer as our effort to get God to do what we want, when instead we first need to be sure we are aligned with what God wants. For me, anyway, it has been important to get to a place where I’m allowing the Spirit to enter.

I am far from being an expert on prayer. All I can do is offer what has helped me as a person who has struggled with sustained prayer through the years. I certainly make sure to praise God in prayer and lift up petitions, but I have become more comfortable with prayer as I’ve combined it with Christian meditation, a deliberate effort to set my shallow desires aside so God can shape me.

I will not go into great detail about this meditative aspect of prayer—your details may differ from mine. I will say that location, posture and breathing are important. The place of prayer must be quiet and feel connected to God. The posture needs to be reverent and submissive, but also comfortable enough to not be distracting. The breathing needs to be slow, deep and deliberate.

If you feel the need to be led through prayer, there are all sorts of guides, ancient and modern, and many of them build in time for meditation or reflection. “A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God,” by Norman Shawchuck and Rueben P. Job, is one of my favorites. Combining prayer with Scripture, which go together like ice cream and hot fudge, this particular guide keeps me in the flow of the lectionary, used in particular by some preachers as they work their way through the church season.

As you commit to a deeper prayer life, promise me this: Expect something big to happen. You may find yourself shaken into a bold new life—for an example, see Acts 4:23-31.

That’s the kind of prayer experience that changes not just us, but the world around us.

Lord, bless us with a deep desire to pray, and bless us continually as we pray. Amen.

Put in Place

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor
Psalm 131:1-3

Lord, my heart is not proud;
    my eyes are not haughty.
I don’t concern myself with matters too great
    or too awesome for me to grasp.
Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself,
    like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother’s milk.
    Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, put your hope in the Lord—
    now and always.

Scripture can be tough on free thinkers. The Bible reminds us from time to time that our thoughts must be kept in place.

If you’re an American, even a Christian American, there’s a good chance you’re already wriggling with discomfort. The idea of submission can sound very negative to us—it seems in conflict with favorite words like “freedom” and “independence.”

And yet, the notion of humility before God is a constant theme of the Bible. With no reference to the Garden of Eden or forbidden fruit, the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 1 about haughty, foolish thinking being the root of sin. Paul’s account does us a great service—he helps us see how we personally cause the cycle of sin to continue.

We also could categorize our problem as “overthinking.” We take our eyes off plain revelations about God to create notions of our own, a process that inevitably leads to idolatry. Our desire to be novel can quickly cut us off from what is eternal.

Real freedom, the psalmist tells us, is found when we humble ourselves, maintaining proper perspective about who we are in relationship to God. As Christians, we know we cannot grasp God in full, but we can cling to what God has shown us through Holy Spirit-inspired Scripture. 

God is the maker of all things, standing outside of creation and ruling over creation. God also is love, and because of love God keeps intervening to pull us back into a righteous relationship with our creator and with each other, despite our ongoing foolishness.

In particular, God has come among us as Jesus Christ, dying on the cross and demonstrating the defeat of death in the resurrection. We are restored to right relationships simply by believing Christ’s sacrifice is real.

Belief also should lead to enhanced creativity—it opens the door to the eternal mind of God. When we submit to the truth of the cross, the Spirit of God rushes into our lives, penetrating our souls and our minds. We become more than we ever could have been on our own, and we are freed to grow into the images of God we were intended to be.

These are broad concepts, but they have very current, specific applications. As a nation, we are embroiled by a serious, important debate, one that goes to how we best ensure that people have the same rights and opportunities regardless of skin color. The debate has been deeply complicated by a piling on of ideas and causes, some possibly holy, some likely foolish.

Is there any way we can take a step back and humble ourselves, putting our opinions and decisions in the context of who God is and what God has revealed? I cannot ask that of nonbelievers, but I certainly can ask it of people who claim the name “Christian.”

The ongoing debate is sometimes summarized in the question, “Should I take a knee?” Perhaps the Christian answer should be to get down on both knees, head bowed. That posture best prepares us for any conversation.

Lord, may we take time today to seek eternal wisdom, and may the Holy Spirit give us the strength we need to carry our understanding of your will to the places and people we affect. Amen.