It has been said that the best defense is a good offense. As I have continued to meditate on the Psalms this week, I believe that is true, but with a qualification. I have noticed that our strategies for life are often far too wearying for us because we end up on the offensive lines when we shouldn’t be. We become tired and overwhelmed, trudging after the Lord reluctantly. We excuse or eliminate ourselves from His battles because we have already been expended fighting when we were not called to fight. In short, we miss the rest and refreshment He has provided for us along the way.
I've been reading 1 Samuel again, this time studying David's nemesis, Saul. One of the frustrating things for a "type A" person like me is the tendency to run ahead of God and try to do things in my own strength. This week, the Lord gently revealed to me that I had done something very "Saul-ish," and hadn't waited for His leading. (ouch!) I appreciated the correction (only God can tell you that you've completely missed it and still have you love Him in the end!) The Scripture He gave me actually opened up the idea for today's post. So here it is, in raw form, for you.
The context is 1 Samuel 13 where Saul, who had been anointed King of Israel only one year before, faced the threat of battle against a massive Philistine army at Michmash, near Gilgal. Israel was for the most part defenseless - partly because they had neither sword not spear (verse 22), and partly because many of Saul's men had fled in fear to hide themselves in caves, thickets, cellars, and cliffs (v. 6). Saul had been instructed by Samuel earlier (1 Samuel 10:8) to wait seven days for him at Gilgal, and Saul himself was growing fearful and impatient.
Samuel (God's prophetic representative) was nowhere to be seen, even as the seventh day arrived. We can be fairly sure this was a test for Saul which he failed (and would fail again in chapter 15). Saul knew his people were fleeing; he feared the thousands of Philistines assembled against him, and he didn't see any help from God showing up. So he took matters into his own hands, commanding the priests to bring him burnt offerings and sacrifice peace offerings: things that Samuel had said he would show Saul how to do when he came. (1 Samuel 10:8).
On the outside, this looked like the right thing to do. After all, Saul was offering sacrifices and seeking God in the hope of currying His divine favor and help in battle. In Saul's own words, "The Philistines will now come down on me at Gilgal, and I have not made supplication to the Lord. Therefore I felt compelled, and offered a burnt offering." (1 Samuel 13:12). But Samuel was not impressed. Although Saul had kept the outward ceremonies, he had not honored God in his heart, and had acted foolishly. His sin was a childish one, not the action of a man who intimately knew and trusted God, but the work of one who doubted whether God would show up. We know from Romans 14:23 that what does not proceed from faith is sin.
Saul's excuse to Samuel in verse 11 reveals three things that hindered him from waiting on God:
1. "I saw that the people were scattered from me" (fear of rejection and a need for approval)
2. "You did not come within the days appointed" (fear of not hearing from God)
3. "The Philistines gathered together at Michmash" (anxiety and fear of his circumstances).
The result was that because Saul rejected God's commandments, God ultimately rejected him from being king, and established David as a more godly ruler instead.
Here's the clincher. Saul didn't know it, but his situation was exactly the kind of setup he could have used to tap into the greatest power known to man. Defenseless, he could have made God His defense. Had he been willing to wait for God, he could have seen an explosive victory, overcome his own fears, and deepened his spiritual life by working in partnership with God. Instead, someone else became instrumental in winning the battle.
Our fears do little to further the Kingdom of God. Today, the Holy Spirit actually dwells within us in order to convey God's specific instructions and timing. The test, however, is the same for us as it was for Saul: Saul had to wait for Samuel; we must wait for God. I believe that in our busy world, this is an even bigger challenge. We often fail. And the enemy loves to "compel" us to move out ahead of God's timing. Unfortunately, this causes us to miss out on the power of the gospel, as we end up reducing it to mere words or ceremonies.
Thankfully, when we fail to wait for the Spirit's leading, God provides an advocate for us through His Son: My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.
~1 John 2:1, NASB.
When we bring our failures to the cross of Christ, we do not have to fear condemnation. We can become more like David instead of Saul, keeping our hearts tender towards God and making sure our consciences stay clean. Through prayer, we can ask God to help us resist the urgency of the enemy and learn to trust Him. He will show us if one of Saul's three fears might be hindering us from waiting for Him. And by His grace, our failures will become the grounds for our training, not our disqualification. When this happens, the Philistines of the world had better look out, because we will be coming forth with God's anointing and power, and in Him, we will be unstoppable.
Wait and hope for and expect the Lord; be brave and of good courage
and let your heart be stout and enduring. Yes, wait for
and hope for and expect the Lord
~ Psalm 27:14, AMP.
If you’re like most Christians, one of your biggest questions is probably, “How do I know the will of God?” It can feel pretty frustrating, at times, to try to communicate with a God who is largely unseen and (most of the time) not speaking audibly! Why doesn’t God just give us a sign when we need it, or be a little more obvious about His intentions? After all, we are trying to obey Him! And life is complicated enough without attempting to figure out how to follow an invisible God into His will.
Believe it or not, there is a way to know the will of God. And – big surprise – He has outlined how to do it in the Bible. In order to follow Him successfully, we need one thing: wisdom.
The Hebrew word for wisdom (Strong’s #8454: “tuwshiyah”) is defined as “sound and efficient wisdom, or abiding success.” I like that. Abiding success sounds good to me, when most of the time life seems very unstable! Another definition of wisdom (this one by Merriam-Webster online) is “good sense or judgment,” or the “knowledge gained by having many experiences in life.” The good news is that you don’t need to be old to get wisdom. There is Someone who has already experienced everything you and I will ever experience in this life, and His name is wisdom!
Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom; I am understanding, I have strength.
With Him are wisdom and strength, He has counsel and understanding.
The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him (Jesus), the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.
Jesus is the beginning and end of all wisdom. He created us, He knows how we’re wired, He knows where we’re going, and He can tell us how to get there. A related verse is Proverbs 9:10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
The first step to knowing God’s will is to begin a relationship with Him. Relationship is necessary to hear and understand His voice. We cannot truly hear or follow someone whose voice we do not know.
For example, at Passover the disciples had just been told that Jesus would be betrayed and would leave them. The plan of resurrection was not yet clear to them, and they were asking questions of Jesus during the meal. Thomas asked the question that many of us still ask today: “Lord, we do not know where you are going, and how can we know the way?” Jesus’ reply was this: “I AM the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:5) So He tells us that knowing Him is the first key to finding the path we should walk on. (He also hints, in case you missed it, that our ultimate goal is to come into relationship with the Father!)
The disciples who were with Jesus had the benefit of speaking directly with Him, but how do we know God will speak to us, now that Jesus no longer walks the earth? We have promises from His Word. John 10:4 says that Jesus’ sheep (that’s us!) follow Him because they hear His voice. And Psalm 32:8 says: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you (counsel you) with My eye upon you.” In other words, all of us have the spiritual ability to hear God.
Later in the New Testament, however, Paul and Timothy were praying, asking that the believers at Colosse “be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and understanding…” (Colossians 1:9). Why would they pray for wisdom if believers already had it? I believe this is the million-dollar question for believers, one that will lead us into the deepest, most powerful life we can live. They prayed because they knew that there is a supernatural understanding that must be activated in order for believers to fulfill their ultimate callings in the Kingdom of God: the second step to knowing His will.
Look at the disciples again, post-resurrection. In Luke 24, Cleopas and another disciple were walking along the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, “conversing” and “reasoning.” They were discussing between themselves all the things that had recently happened. Their eyes were said to be “restrained,” so that even when Jesus drew near to walk with them, “they did not know Him.” (Luke 24:16, NKJV). Remember these are people who did know Jesus, and had traveled with Him and heard His voice for years! Their reasoning was leading them nowhere, though, until Christ “expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” When God’s thoughts became their thoughts, suddenly everything made sense again.
Notice the similarity between the three things that happened in this last chapter of Luke to show us how God guides us:
1. Jesus “opened the Scriptures” to them. Cleopas and the other disciple immediately recognized truth when Jesus explained Scripture and their hearts began to burn within them. (Luke 24:32).
2. Jesus broke bread with them, and “then their eyes were opened and they knew Him.” (Luke 24:31).
3. Jesus later returned to the full gathering of disciples in Jerusalem, talked and ate with them, and “He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:45).
The common denominator in each of these encounters is that Jesus was supernaturally opening the understanding (or the minds) of His disciples, so that they could truly perceive what God’s plan was all about. It was a deeper level of hearing: not just a hearing of the ears but a hearing and understanding by the mind and spirit as well. This kind of hearing is activated by the Holy Spirit alone.
It was not until after the Holy Spirit was released upon all the believers in Acts that the disciples began teaching and explaining the Scriptures to others as Jesus had to them.
Peter’s first recorded teaching in Acts 2 is lengthy enough to show us that He now had a full grasp of the meaning of the life of Jesus and the message of the Kingdom of God, as well as his own place in it. When the Spirit of God came upon Peter, he immediately knew what to preach! And his anointed words now contained the same power that Christ’s words had carried earlier with the two disciples on the road. Peter’s speech cut to the hearts of his listeners (Acts 2:37), and they asked what they needed to do to change and be transformed, as he had been. As many as “received his word” were baptized – about 3,000 people in one day! Now that’s success!
So how do we get Spirit-infused wisdom and abiding success? We ask!
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5)
“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:13)
God does not withhold any good gifts from His children, and He is delighted when we ask for more of Him! He wants us to know His will, and He has made a way for us to tap into His own eternal wisdom through the Spirit which He released to us at Pentecost. As we pray and ask the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of our understanding, Scripture will come alive to us and He will guide us clearly through His Word.
But what about the trickier, nitty-gritty decisions of life? Is there a way to know which job to take, or how to handle a difficult relationship? Fortunately, the Bible gives us wisdom for those things, too. We can use "checklists" like the ones in James 3:17 or Galatians 5:22-23 to see what walking in wisdom and in the Spirit looks like. It is commonly taught that wisdom brings peace, but godly decisions are also full of the spiritual fruits of love, patience, and mercy. If our course of action is consistent with these qualities, we can be more certain that we are following the Father's heart in our daily situations. We can ask Him to continue to open up our understanding, and He will gladly confirm His Word to us more than once! We will find that this process of knowing Jesus, then coming into relationship with the Holy Spirit, brings us ultimately to the knowledge of the Father, just as Jesus said. And in the end Merriam-Webster is right: the more experiences we have with Him in life, the more we will know His will.
" God promises to speak to those who know Him. "
Deborah Perkins is passionate about helping others connect with God. She writes about knowing God and hearing His voice at His Inscriptions. To follow her blog, Subscribe here
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A severe hearing loss from childhood caused Deborah Perkins to develop what she now calls her secret weapon: tuning in to God's voice. A Wellesley College graduate and an award-winning writer, Deborah is now a wife and mother of 3 boys. Deborah has devoted over 25 years to professional and lay Christian ministry in New England and beyond. Her passion is inspiring people to cultivate greater intimacy with God.