1 Samuel 8:1-22 – Be Careful What You Ask For: You Might Get It

Now when Samuel got old, he appointed his sons to serve as Israel’s judges. The name of his oldest son was Joel; the name of the second was Abijah. They served as judges in Beersheba. But Samuel’s sons didn’t follow in his footsteps. They tried to turn a profit, they accepted bribes, and they perverted justice.

So, all the Israelite elders got together and went to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “Listen. You are old now, and your sons don’t follow in your footsteps. So, appoint us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.” It seemed awfully bad to Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us,” so he prayed to the Lord.

The Lord answered Samuel, “Comply with the people’s request—everything they ask of you—because they haven’t rejected you. No, they’ve rejected me as king over them. They are doing to you only what they’ve been doing to me from the day I brought them out of Egypt to this very minute, abandoning me and worshipping other gods. So, comply with their request, but give them a clear warning, telling them how the king will rule over them.”

Then Samuel explained everything the Lord had said to the people who were asking for a king. “This is how the king will rule over you,” Samuel said:

“He will take your sons and will use them for his chariots and his cavalry and as runners for his chariot. He will use them as his commanders of troops of one thousand and troops of fifty, or to do his plowing and his harvesting, or to make his weapons or parts for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, or bakers. He will take your best fields, vineyards, and olive groves and give them to his servants. He will give one-tenth of your grain and your vineyards to his officials and servants. He will take your male and female servants, along with the best of your cattle and donkeys, and make them do his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and then you yourselves will become his slaves! When that day comes, you will cry out because of the king you chose for yourselves, but on that day the Lord won’t answer you.”

But the people refused to listen to Samuel and said, “No! There must be a king over us so we can be like all the other nations. Our king will judge us and lead us and fight our battles.”

Samuel listened to everything the people said and repeated it directly to the Lord. Then the Lord said to Samuel, “Comply with their request. Give them a king.”

Samuel then told the Israelite people, “Go back, each of you, to your own hometown.” (Common English Bible)

“No one but a fool would measure their satisfaction by what the world thinks of it.”

Oliver Goldsmith

In the days of the prophet Samuel, the people asked for a king. They had never had one before. Samuel, and others before him, served as Judges, leading the people in special times and acting as intercessors between the people and God. 

Samuel was quite displeased that the people asked for a king. Ever the wise and discerning leader, Samuel understood there were two realities behind such a request:

  1. Israel wanted to be just like all the other nations in having a king.
  2. Israel was rejecting God as their rightful king.

The ancient Israelites wanted from an earthly king what God was really supposed to do for them. Whereas an earthly mortal king can only rule partially and temporarily, the eternal sovereign God reigns supreme over everyone and everything. 

It is impossible for an earthly king to provide the totality of everyone’s needs within a geographical realm. Yet, even in this present day and age, all kinds of people still look to earthly politicians, pundits, presidents, prognosticators, pastors, and/or people in charge to meet their every need. That’s likely why so many people get upset and have strong visceral reactions to politics and the church – far too many of them expect a human authority figure to do for them what God is supposed to do. 

No other human being can fight your battles for you. No other person can do your relational and spiritual work for you. We must all take charge of our own lives and be responsible to develop and cultivate spiritual and relational practices which connect us with the God who is in charge of the universe. 

We can then ask God for what we need and want according to divine purposes, and not ask for what everyone else has that we don’t. God ended up giving Israel a king, even when it was not the best of ideas on their part. 

Be careful what you ask for. You just might get it.

All-wise God, I look to you for the discernment to even know what I ought to be asking for in prayer. Guide me into truth and grace so that in everything I will make wise decisions that reflect your sovereignty over the church and the world. In Jesus’ name I pray.  Amen.

**Above art comes from the Morgan Picture Bible, c.1250. The aging Samuel is approached by four elders representing the people of Israel who ask him to anoint a King so that Israel will be powerful like other nations. Samuel warns them of the dangers a king would pose to the liberties of the Israelite people.

Mark 10:42-45 – True Leadership

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (New International Version)

Leadership as Service

I remember a time when all politicians, government officials, and police were known as “public servants.” It was routinely assumed that such persons served the common good of all persons, regardless of who they are. I am also not delusional about the fact that, back in the day, just as today, there are those who served themselves first. However, at least, the ideal and vision of service was continually before the people.

Power is to be wielded for the benefit of the powerless. Authority is to be used to help those who cannot help themselves. Contemporary understandings of authority for many people today often do not have the common good as their guiding principles of leadership.

Misuse of Leadership

Rather, authority becomes the means of convincing others of the leader’s opinion or position. Power is used to influence, even arm-twist people toward the leader’s ideas. What’s more, those who enabled the leader to come to power expect that leader to use authority to benefit a particular agenda and only one slice of the human population. Lost is the vision of meeting needs for everyone, not just a certain constituency.

The ultimate use of power is to share it, even lay it down. Jesus did it in his incarnation, life, and death. He only took it up again after his mission was finished. We are to follow his cues on power and authority. We have opportunities galore to follow Christ in his leadership practice. For example, I once lived in a community with a large single parent family population. After talking with the elders of my church about this situation, they became excited about the prospects of reaching moms and children struggling to make it day to day.

The discussion did a hard turn of direction when I suggested we have some of those moms come in, sit around the table with us, and dictate what would constitute effective ministry which meets their needs. I was intentionally proposing that we, as church authority figures, share our power with the moms. The elders weren’t having it. One of them said outright, “Well, we can’t do that! We know better!” (than the moms do)

Whenever those in power and authority believe it is their mandate to make decisions without even having conversations with those whom those decisions effect, then they have become masters of small worlds, lords of folly, and ideational bullies. It is not the way of Jesus.

Appropriate Use of Leadership

Proper use of authority doesn’t mean we boss people around. It means we do what we need to do to help everyone in our scope of power. Taking charge must always begin with self. The self-control and self-discipline of the leader is the basis of leadership.

The heart of Christianity is loving service to one another as Christians, and humble service to a world which doesn’t believe, or act like us. Christian leaders are to focus on others’ well-being, success, and growth. They are to value character over career.

Christian disciples follow Jesus in the use of power and authority through:

  • Taking a humble posture of consulting and collaborating with others. And when decisions are made, they maintain relational connections.
  • Including others, and never vilifying or casting blame when stating a case for something.
  • Dealing with trouble and working to clear a toxic environment of noxious attitudes.
  • Directly confronting those they have an issue with, without creating destructive triangles to diffuse responsibility.
  • Encouraging a healthy dynamic of love and service which seeks listening before acting.

Leadership is more about being than about doing. Responsible use of authority comes from the person who understands themselves, is curious about others, and seeks to wisely apply Christ’s compassion to meet human need.

The Leadership of Jesus

Jesus healed people and delivered them from evil, sometimes at great risk to himself. He continually eschewed the perks of power to single-mindedly pursue the Father’s will. Even in his selection of disciples, Jesus purposely overlooked others to choose a rather motley band of men made up of uneducated country bumpkins, the poor, and the overzealous.

The Lord Jesus proclaimed a kingdom that belongs to children, using power to drive out demons and forgive sins. Christ delegated his authority to the disciples to do this same sort of work.

Jesus isn’t offering leadership theories; he is offering himself. Christ is our model of the appropriate use of power. Therefore, humbling ourselves must become our ambition! Our Lord, the ultimate authority above all authorities, humbled himself. Though being powerfully divine, he took the form of a servant, and became obedient to death, even the particularly shameful death on a cross—the ultimate humiliation. Yet God exalted Jesus Christ as Lord of the universe. (Phil 2:5-11)

Will you divest yourself of the pride in believing you know what is best for everyone around you? Will you cease speaking and start listening? Will you follow Jesus to the risky place of sharing power and authority with the powerless?

God, I am far too often influenced by what others think of me. I am always pretending to be either richer or smarter or nicer than I really am. Please prevent me from trying to attract attention. Don’t let me gloat over praise on one hand or be discouraged by criticism on the other. Nor let me waste time weaving imaginary situations in which the most heroic, charming, witty person present is myself. Show me how to be humble of heart, like you. Amen.

Amos 8:1-7 – A Prophet’s Perspective on the Powerful and the Poor

This is what the Almighty Lord showed me: a basket of ripe summer fruit.

He asked, “What do you see, Amos?”

“A basket of ripe summer fruit,” I answered.

Then the Lord said to me, “My people Israel are now ripe. I will no longer overlook what they have done. On that day, the songs of the temple will become loud cries,” declares the Almighty Lord. “There will be dead bodies scattered everywhere. Hush!”

Listen to this, those who trample on the needy
and ruin those who are oppressed in the world.
You say to yourselves,
“When will the New Moon Festival be over
so that we can sell more grain?
When will the day of rest—a holy day, be over
so that we can sell more wheat?
We can shrink the size of the bushel baskets,
increase the cost,
and cheat with dishonest scales.
We can buy the poor with money
and the needy for a pair of sandals.
We can sell the husks mixed in with the wheat.”

The Lord has sworn an oath by Jacob’s pride:
“I will never forget anything that they have done.” (God’s Word Translation)

I’ve been in the church most of my life. I have listened to thousands of sermons, as well as preaching thousands of them myself. I can count on both hands how many times I’ve heard a sermon from one of the twelve minor prophets in the Bible. Although I personally have preached on them more times than that, it still pales in comparison with how many sermons I’ve preached from the New Testament gospels or epistles.

This, I believe, is an indictment on us, especially those with privilege and power. If you add the major prophets, we have sixteen books contained in Holy Scripture calling out powerful and influential people’s oppression of others. To overlook such a girth of text is to stick our fingers in our ears and refuse to listen to God.

Those with power, position, and privilege must continually be vigilant to use such influence for the benefit of all persons – not just themselves or people just like them. The books of the prophets make it quite plain that God cares about justice. God will uphold the needy. The Lord will stand with the oppressed. If we fail to share a divine sense of justice and injustice, there will be hell to pay.

“Extreme poverty anywhere is a threat to human security everywhere.”

Kofi Annan

God is longsuffering. The Lord patiently awaits us to pay attention. Yet, eventually, that patience will run its course. A prophet will be sent to voice God’s concerns. Like a basket of ripe fruit now finally ready to be eaten, so God’s justice is ripe and ready for action.

The prophet Amos delivered a scathing message to the ancient Israelites about their total disregard for the poor and needy in the land. The people in positions of authority and power only looked on the less fortunate as commodities – as pawns to be taken advantage of for the rich merchants. 

Because the wealthy never took the time to listen to the poor, God would not listen to them. Judgment was coming, and it would not go so well for the power brokers of society who only thought of their business and squeezing others for more money.

The bald fact of the matter is that few people rush to have poor folk as their friends. Those in poverty are often overlooked and disregarded. Either they are ignored altogether or are given hand-outs and services without ever having any significant human contact. Even when there is help, it comes from a distance.

In other words, those in authority rarely take the time to listen and get to know the real face of poverty. If there isn’t a photo opportunity, then encounters with the poor are not likely to happen with politicians, or anyone else. After all, so many are busy making money, checking stock portfolios, and considering how to get bigger market shares…. 

Oh, my, perhaps we have an answer as to why there is no revival in the land. God shows such solidarity with the poor that to ignore them is to ignore him.  No matter our financial picture and outlook, every one of us can grace the poor with the gift of time and listening.  For in doing so we might just be listening to the voice of God.

Gracious God, you are found everywhere – both the halls of power, and the back alleys of slums.  As I seek you more and more, may I see the face of Jesus in everyone I encounter, whether rich or poor so that I can share the gift of life with them all.  Amen.

Christ the King Sunday

Stained glass window at the Annunciation Melkite Church in Roslindale, Massachusetts

Christ the King Sunday is intended to help us see the cosmic reality that Jesus reigns over all creation as the only rightful Sovereign of the universe.  This Sunday always comes just before Advent so that we remember to anticipate both a baby and a king.

Christ as Lord of all exposes three problems humanity faces:

  1. Building our own petty kingdoms and setting ourselves up as masters over our own small worlds.  People who have been hurt (all of us) often attempt to seize power for themselves in order to avoid ever being hurt again, or in the belief that wielding power could have prevented others from being hurt.  The classic villains of movies and literature are ones who seek to destroy the earth so that they rebuild it in their own idea of how the world should operate.  It is protection of self and loved ones from pain. The irony is that much hurt is inflicted to alleviate such pain.
  2. Bowing to other kings besides King Jesus.  When we are distressed, we might rely on alternative authorities to address our hard circumstances.  We might expect other people to give us only what Jesus can.  Instead of repentance and faith in Christ, we may run to the politicians or pastors we have set up in his place to cope with whatever is going on in our lives.
  3. Lacking awareness of the power we possess as subjects of King Jesus.  Christians possess authority in Jesus Christ.  As believers in Jesus, we reign with him and can exercise authority over every dominion that exists, especially the dominion of darkness.

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesian believers provides God’s design for the church.  It is a plan for believers in Jesus to know their spiritual blessings and exercise the power they have as Christians united to Christ. God wants us to understand this power and authority, and to actively use it.  We will know King Jesus better by availing ourselves of his authority given to us as believers. (Ephesians 1:15-23)

We have a clear understanding from Ephesians of how to pray: To know Jesus better.  There is probably no higher prayer.  Paul prayed that believers in Jesus would know the hope to which we have been called and the incomparably great power accessible to us.

The word for “power” in the New Testament (Greek dunamis, pronounced “doon-a-miss”) is where we get our English word “dynamite.”  When I was a kid, we had a neighbor who had a fondness for playing with dynamite, especially when he drank too much.  Even though he lived a mile down the road, when he blew up a tree stump or anything else on his property, it would shake our house and feel like the windows were going to break.  One stick of dynamite is nothing compared to God’s power, an incredible might without equal.

This divine power is for us who believe in Jesus the King.  It is the same power used to raise Jesus from the dead and which exalted Christ as Lord of the universe.  The rule and reign of Jesus is far above any other existing authority – including powers and authorities of the dark domain.

When it comes to dealing with the powers of darkness, we have the authority of Jesus Christ.  We have a vital and inseparable union with Jesus Christ, because of his resurrection and exaltation.  Jesus redeemed us and we belong to him.  We are adopted children of God.  Since all earthly and spiritual powers are subject to Christ, they are also subject to us.  The imagery of Jesus as Head, and believers in Jesus as the Body of Christ means we have an inseparable union together.  Since we are united with Christ, we share his authority over all spiritual powers.

It is one thing to know this information; it is quite another thing to use it.  God wants us to experience Christ’s power through exercising our authority as believers.  We are to pray in a way which links faith and knowledge together in a confident use of spiritual authority.  We have unimaginable rights as blood-bought children of God.

The 118 feet high Christ the King statue in Świebodzin, Poland

Tackling the forces of darkness needs to be a communal activity; going it alone is dangerous. So, let us pray the following prayer together, united in Christ and with one another in spiritual bond a million times stronger than superglue. This is a prayer that boldly exercises authority in Jesus Christ. So, let us come confidently before the throne of God’s grace.

God Almighty, we bow in worship and praise before You.  We thank you that the Lord Jesus Christ is King over all creation, and that he is the rightful Sovereign of the universe.  We thank you that because of this truth, we have power together with Jesus.  Since Jesus is King, we surrender ourselves completely in every area of our lives to You.  Since Christ’s authority extends over every dominion, including the dominion of darkness, we now take a stand against all the work of Satan that would hinder us now in prayer.  We address ourselves only to the True and Living God and refuse any involvement of Satan in our prayers.

Therefore, Satan, we command you, in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to leave our presence with all your demons.  We bring the blood of Jesus Christ between us.

Sovereign God, we recognize You are worthy to receive all glory, honor, and praise.  We renew our allegiance to You and ask that the Holy Spirit will enable us to pray.  We are thankful, Lord God, that You have loved us from eternity past and that You sent the Lord Jesus Christ into the world to die as our substitute.  We are thankful that Christ has completely forgiven us; You have adopted us into Your family; You have given us eternal life; You have offered Yourself to us to be our daily help and strength.

Glorious God open our eyes so that we will see how great You are and how complete Your provision is for today.  We are thankful the victory Jesus Christ won for us on the cross and in His resurrection has been given to us and that we are seated with the Lord Jesus in heaven.  We take our place with Him and recognize by faith that all wicked spirits and Satan himself are under our feet.  We declare that Satan and his demons are subject to us in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

We are thankful for the spiritual armor You have provided.  We put on the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the sandals of peace and the helmet of salvation.  We lift the shield of faith against all the fiery arrows of the enemy; and we take in our hands the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.  We choose to use Your Word against all the forces of evil in our lives.  We live and pray in complete dependence upon You, Holy Spirit.

We are grateful the Lord Jesus Christ disarmed all power and authorities, triumphing over them by the cross.  We claim all victory for our lives today.  We reject all the insinuations, accusations, and temptations of Satan.  We affirm that the Word of God is true, and we choose to live today in the light of God’s Word.  Almighty God, we choose to live in obedience to You and in fellowship with You.  Open our eyes and show us the areas of our lives that do not please You.  Cleanse us from anything that would give Satan a foothold against us.  We stand into all that it means to be Your adopted children and we welcome all the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives today.

By faith and in complete dependence upon You we now put off the old sinful person and stand into all the victory of the crucifixion where the Lord Jesus Christ provided cleansing from the sinful nature.  We put on the new person and stand into all the victory of the resurrection and the provision Christ has made for us to live above sin.

Today we put off the old sinful nature with its selfishness and put on the new nature with its love.  We put off the old nature with its fear and put on the new nature with its courage.  We put off the old nature with its deceitful lusts and put on the new nature with its righteousness, purity, and honesty.

In every way we stand into the victory of Jesus Christ’s ascension and glorification, in which everything was made subject to Him.  We claim our place in Christ as victorious with Him over all the enemies of our souls.  Holy Spirit, we pray that you would fill us with the righteousness of Christ.  Break down every idol and cast out every enemy of our souls.

We are thankful, mighty God, that You have blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  We are grateful You have given us new life into a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  We are thankful You have made provision for us so that today we can live filled in the Holy Spirit with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.  We recognize and affirm that this is Your will for us and so we reject and resist all the attempts of Satan and his demons to rob us of God’s will.   

We are thankful, Blessed Holy Trinity, that our spiritual weapons have divine power to demolish demonic strongholds, arguments, and every pretention that sets itself up against the knowledge of God.  We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.  Therefore, we tear down the strongholds of Satan and smash the plans of Satan that have been formed against us.  We affirm You have not given us a spirit of fear but a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline.  We choose to make right decisions of faith. 

Powerful God, show us the ways Satan is hindering, tempting, lying, and distorting the truth in our lives.  Help us to be aggressive in prayer and faith.  Help us to think rightly, and actively practice Your Word.  Help us to give You Your rightful place in our lives.  We now cover ourselves with the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ and pray that You, Holy Spirit, would bring all the work of Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and all Your work of Pentecost into our lives today.  We deliberately surrender ourselves to King Jesus.  We refuse to be discouraged because You are the God of all hope.  You have proven Your power by resurrecting Jesus from the dead, so we claim this victory over all satanic forces in our lives, our families, our neighborhoods, our workplaces, and our faith communities.  We pray in the Name and through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ with thanksgiving.  Amen.