Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Fear of God: A Sermon

We should never think it an unusual thing or a strange experience when life turns nasty and smacks us down. King David, a man after God’s own heart, often experienced this. On one such occasion, while he was evading the pursuit of King Saul, while sojourning in Philistia, he and his 600 men returned to their camp in Ziklag to find that it had been totally destroyed by ravaging Amalekites. But that wasn’t the worst of it. Their entire families—including their wives and children—had been taken captive by the Amalekites, along with David’s two wives.

As a result, “David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep” (1 Samuel 30:4). He had already forfeited his first wife, Michal, in his flight from her father and king, Saul. Now it was happening again! To make matters worse, David’s loyal men were now ready to stone him to death for his bad decision to leave the camp unprotected.

The easiest solution would have been to rally his men together for a mad dash after the Amalekites. This strategy would have deflected his men’s plans to stone him and, at the same time, would have provided some hope for the restoration of their families. However, this wasn’t David’s decision. Instead, “David encouraged himself in the LORD his God” (1 Samuel 30:6; KJV).

What form had this encouragement taken? Earlier, when Saul was pursuing David to take his life, Saul’s son Jonathan risked his own life to meet secretly with David:

• And Jonathan, Saul's son, arose and went to David at Horesh, and encouraged him in God (1 Samuel 23:16; NASB).

Jonathan encouraged David in the Lord! He didn’t say, “Well David, you’ve been through worse situations. Remember, you are a great warrior and have many successes under your belt, and you’re respected by all the people. Therefore, I’m sure you’ll overcome this challenge.” Instead, Jonathan wisely counseled David in accord with the previously-revealed promise of God:

• "Do not be afraid, because the hand of Saul my father shall not find you, and you will be king over Israel…" (1 Samuel 23:17).

This was something that David already knew. He had been anointed years earlier by the prophet Samuel to be the next king of Israel, but he also needed to hear those encouraging words again. David also knew that it wasn’t about him—his strength and righteousness—but about His faithful God. When, years earlier, he went out against the fearsome Goliath, David warned the giant:

• "You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted. This day the LORD will deliver you up into my hands, and I will strike you down …” (1 Samuel 17:45-46).

David’s greatness rested in one fact alone. He knew that he wasn’t great, but instead, he served a GREAT God, who could do all things! Instead of directly pursuing the Amalekites, David called for his priest, Abiathar, to bring the ephod in order to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord answered him: "Pursue, for you shall surely overtake them, and you shall surely rescue all" (1 Samuel 30:8). And this is exactly what happened.

I think that the biggest problem that confronts today’s church is self-confidence. We’ve convinced ourselves that we can handle our problems, and that our judgment is sound. Instead of recognizing that our challenges are primarily God’s challenges and that our victories are His victories, we confidently pursue the “Amalekites” in our lives without hesitating to pray. David had warned Goliath that it would be THE LORD who would deliver him into David’s hand. He knew that it wasn’t about him, but the Lord.

Self-confidence is an esteemed commodity these days, eagerly grasped without any thought of reading the small print. We fail to understand the costs of buying into its intoxicating power. One of these costs is denial. When we trust in ourselves alone, it becomes necessary to deny anything that might cause us to doubt. There might be a shortcoming in our personality or a lack of knowledge or experience that might serve to warn us of our inadequacy. But these are denied outright or are not given a second thought. We can become so blindingly confident that we end up denying reality as we forge ahead.

Another cost is arrogance. When we place our trust in our performance, our assessment is inevitably based upon a comparison with others. Our confidence, then, becomes a measure of whether or not we regard ourselves as superior to others—a mind-set guaranteed to destroy Christian fellowship, or any kind of fellowship or relationship, for that matter!

Today we think that the battle is ours and not the Lord’s. I too am guilty of this. Often, when I write responses against the ideas of atheists and heretics, I forget to ask the Lord to direct my pen. I race off after the Amalekites without first enquiring of the Lord, as if my wisdom and judgment were sufficient.

The Apostle Paul had it right when he confessed…

• Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God (2 Cor. 3:5).

If we really understood this lesson, we wouldn’t tackle any problem without first praying and inviting God to take charge. I’m not saying that we are always going to get a clear answer like the one David received. However, by bringing God into our decision-making process immediately, we acknowledge that we are trusting in Him and that we will give Him all the credit for anything good that happens. When we humble ourselves in this manner, we are trusting Him fully. Then we can rest assured that He will exalt us (Luke 18:14).

In stark contrast to the humility that God prescribes and encourages, an I-can-do-it attitude represents a rejection of God’s help:

• Thus says the LORD, "Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the LORD. For he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitant. Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD. (Jeremiah 17:5-7)

Trusting in ourselves is diametrically opposed to trusting in God. If we trust in ourselves, we are not trusting in God. But if we do trust in God, how blessed we will be. After overcoming the Amalekites, David returned with such abundant spoils of war that he was able to share it with all of his men. The great evil had been turned into a great good!

There is something else we need to glean from this account. David was more concerned about God’s opinions than man’s. Ironically, the more we stop being people-pleasers and forsake the fear of man in favor of the fear of God, the more we will grow in favor with people. When David fled from his son Absalom and his traitorous insurrection against him, he was joined by the very men who had wanted to stone him years earlier at Ziklag (2 Samuel 15:18).

Life is not without its meltdowns. Let us learn from David to be God-centered, not man-centered. David’s confidence was in God, not in himself. Our temptation today is to place our trust in ourselves and others before God, and race off after the Amalekites. However, our Lord assures us that “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD.”

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