Devotional: Selective obedience is not a thing

1 Samuel 15:10-11, NKJV - Then the Lord said to Samuel, “I am sorry that I ever made Saul king, for he has not been loyal to me and has refused to obey my command.” Samuel was so deeply moved when he heard this that he cried out to the Lord all night.

Who wouldn’t be deeply moved to hear God say “I am sorry to have made you what you are now”? God brought Saul up from nothingness (v.17). Saul was the least of the men of Benjamin, the least of the tribes of Israel. And yet God chose him to be king over Israel, towering in height and in power. But Saul wasted it over his own ideas of how to worship God. The other day, we saw that he took it upon himself to offer the sacrifices, a task delegated to priests. Today, we find him in another battle, once again having little respect for God’s instructions.

There is no such thing as half-obedience, as there are no such things as white lies. God’s instruction to Saul was to completely destroy the Amalekites – sparing no life. (Quick background: When Israel was weak, the Amalekites attacked them. Find the story on Deuteronomy 25.) Saul must have thought he knew better than God, for in their return they brought with them Agag the King and choice animals. And if that wasn’t bad enough, what was he doing when Samuel caught up to him to confront him? He was building a monument for himself. And just like before, instead of feeling any remorse he sought to justify his actions. Saul really believed he could appease God by offering sacrifices.

1 Samuel 15:22, NKJV
What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.

Sometimes, even our worship to God can be lost in self-deception. We cannot go about having our own ideas on how we can please God.  We cannot have our own ideas of God – He is an absolute truth, just as His words are. His expectation of us is obedience and, when we make mistakes, repentance.

What is a grand show of worship if the man bringing it to God has not fully surrendered his heart? Our hearts are much, much more important to God than the grandest sacrifice we can offer. He wants full submission. Disobedience is rejection of God. Obedience proves our love.

1 John 5:3, ESV - For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.

Devotional: A matter of minutes and trust

1 Samuel 13:8-10 - Then he waited seven days, according to the time set by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him. So Saul said, “Bring a burnt offering and peace offerings here to me.” And he offered the burnt offering. Now it happened, as soon as he had finished presenting the burnt offering, that Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him, that he might greet him.

All Saul had to do was to wait just a little bit more until Samuel gets there, but he couldn’t. Out of frustration and ungodly fear, he took matters into his own hand. He was a king, not a priest, and sacrifices were a responsibility given only to priests. As soon as Samuel came, he knew something was wrong and yet Saul, instead of showing repentance, even tried to justify his way out of it. There was no justification. This sealed the deal for him. God knew Saul was going to be some trouble, so He gave a warning early on.

What were his excuses?

  1. “I saw that the people were scattered from me.” It bothered him that the people lost confidence in their king. He wanted to win back the people.
  2. “You did not come within the days appointed.” He tried to justify his sin by putting the spotlight on someone else’s mistake. Even if Samuel was in the wrong, it doesn’t mean Saul can get away with what he did.
  3. “The Philistines will now come down on me at Gilgal, and I have not made supplication to the Lord.” There were many ways Saul could have sought God’s favor, including crying out for help. But he resorted to doing the one thing he shouldn’t.
  4. “Therefore I felt compelled.” Saul trusted in his emotions. A king ruled by his emotions is sure to bring ruin to his people.

All he had to do was to wait a little bit more. God has never failed to keep His promises, and He promised to be with Israel as long as they stayed faithful to Him. His timing is never off, all He needed was for Saul to understand that and learn to trust God.

How different would things have been if Saul only waited a little bit and trusted in the Lord? Can you relate to his story?

Reference: 1 Samuel 12-13 (for a quick background on Saul and the war against the Philistines)

Devotional: Let Jesus in

Matthew 12:43-45, NIV - “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”

It is possible for a man to be freed from the shackles of an evil spirit and still not have Jesus. Turning to conventional morality, however, “with no higher spiritual influence to protect and guard him” (Ellicott), will not be enough to maintain it and get him to heaven.  

Now, I love DIYs – everything from recipes to arts & crafts to fashion. There’s just something about creating with my own hands that makes me feel good inside. And for a while, this also translated to my lifestyle and my “firmware” (morals and principles).  I adored the self-help section of bookstores, enthusiastically seeking the same titles that my “heroes” would be tweeting about. I saw nothing wrong with it – they weren’t advocating wrong, in fact they teach hard work and discipline and positive thinking. I would take chunks of beautifully-stringed words, plaster it on my desk and I felt awesome! The effects were visible and they were good. And yet somehow, I still ended up coming around to a point of emptiness and a strong conviction that “no, this couldn’t be what life is all about”. Until I realized that no matter how good we make life, if God’s not part of it, our efforts are futile. (And that’s from somebody who was raised by Christian parents, studied in a Christian school, grew up in a Christian church, surrounded by Christian friends.)

But did you know that it is just as easy to mistake the Bible for another self-help book? I’ve never thought of it…until this popped out in my devotions:

John 5:39-40, MSG - “You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you’ll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about Me! And here I am, standing right before you, and you aren’t willing to receive from me the life you say you want.

It’s strange how I’ve gone through John (consequently, the entire Bible) numerous times and yet it felt like I was reading this verse for the first time. And it’s so true, isn’t it? It’s so easy to quote Proverbs, where we get practical bits of wisdom, and still miss the big picture.

Sad to say, I’m prone to this too. I can be quite unforgiving and impatient with myself, and I would be seeking (“strong”) scriptures that I may feel I need a refresher on. I would pray, asking Jesus to cleanse me; then go merrily on my way. I would keep it up for a while, until after a few days, I slip into making the same mistakes. This happens many, many more times – a cycle…until I woke up this morning (as in today) with this verse in my head (out of nowhere – this isn’t part of my Bible study plan) and it just makes so much sense.  

It’s not that I had been reading the Bible out of duty (I really wanted to) or prayed for the sake of praying.  But more often than not, I placed greater focus on how I could apply what I learn, only to be disappointed with myself later on, than receiving the grace that Jesus offers – DIY faith. I realized that even with this daily habit of chewing on the Word of God, in a way I was still highly dependent on morality, rather than Jesus. Not to say that Jesus isn’t moral or good – of course, He is – but as for us, who are born prone to sin and wickedness, apart from Him all our efforts to better ourselves are futile.

The Bible does tell us that it is by faith – not good works – that we come to true salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9), and such faith is only valid if we put it on Jesus (John 14:6).

A clean heart left unoccupied is just as easy (or maybe even easier) to mislead as one that never changed. We need to let Jesus in.  

Devotional: Our love grows

1 John 4:17, NLT - And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect.

I’ve been asking God for quite some time now, wrestling with it in my prayers, to teach me how to love better. I had tried to undertake an in-depth study of 1 Corinthians 13 and have searched for “love” as mentioned everywhere else in the Bible. I believe the Word is alive and true, and it has opened up much wisdom in this area. Yet strangely, it’s only now as I stumble upon this verse that I feel God has truly answered that prayer.

The secret to loving better is living in God. He is love in its purest essence. It just makes so much sense that by living in Him, by staying connected to the genuine article, we become better equipped (even with our imperfections) to love people.

1 Peter 3:3-4. Aspirational. Taped on the wall for (Youtube) yoga time. Works much, much better than chanting Om! Faith and fitness, because pwede! I made a muffin top video playlist (a yoga-pilates mix with Tara Stiles and Cassey Ho), if anyone’s interested. #SundayFunday