Monday, April 18, 2016

Do You Want Peace? Practice the Three R’s




            The ugly truth is that sometimes nations must go to war against evil oppressors—and win the battle—in order to experience genuine, long-lasting peace. The clue to exactly how the peace sometimes comes about is provided for us in today’s study. We’ll also discover one of the reasons behind our lack of peace. And we’ll learn how to practice the three R’s so critical to having, and maintaining Shalom.

            Today we’ll look specifically at the book of 1 Samuel 7:13-14, but we’ll need to go back to verses 1 thru 4 to get the backstory for the clues to achieving peace.


Unanswered Prayers and Lack of Peace
           
            The first thing we learn in this chapter is that Israel has had the ark of the LORD returned to them. The ark was so many things to the Israelites, most especially the identifying item reminding them that God was with them and dwelt in their midst.
           
            But even though the Israelites had their precious ark back, life wasn’t going so well for them. The text says that for twenty years, “the house of Israel lamented after the LORD.” They cried out to and for Him. They probably wept great buckets of frustrated tears. They may have beat their breasts in anguish and showy piety as they called out “Why, why, why!?”
           
            And that’s a very good question: Why? Twenty years is a long time. An entire generation. Wasn’t God listening to their forlorn pleas? Did He no longer care about them? Had He given up on them? What’s the problem here?
           
            We find the answer to their problem in verse 3:

            Then Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, “If you return to the LORD with 
            all your hearts, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashteroths from among you, 
            and prepare your hearts for the LORD, and serve Him only; and He will deliver you 
            from the hand of the Philistines.” (Ashteroth was considered by surrounding countries 
            to be the supreme goddess and was associated with love and war. Israel was now
            worshiping this pagan goddess.)






Being Honest About Ourselves
           
            So, there we see the heart of the problem: The people of Israel had turned their hearts away from God toward the world and were worshiping the world’s idols and gods. They were not satisfied to be a set-apart people; they wanted to look like the surrounding countries. They had compromised. While they cried out to God, their hearts were far from Him. And they were still expecting all of the blessings while rejecting the relationship. And God calls that “playing the harlot.”
           
            Ouch! Even though they had sworn to be in a committed relationship with Jehovah God, the people had really committed spiritual (and physical) adultery. How could they then expect any blessings or protection from God when they and their lives were drenched in compromising sin? That’s pretty presumptuous, isn’t it? Like a married woman who plays around and then comes home expecting all of the love, attention and blessings a faithful husband can give her, they were engaging in sins of both commission (doing what they shouldn’t be doing) and omission (not doing what they should be doing). They were not giving God what He rightly deserved, and they had gone looking for, and finding, other “lovers.”
           
            Samuel (Hannah’s boy who is now all grown up and judging the nation Israel) tells them what they need to do to turn this oppression around. They need to destroy those idols, physically and spiritually, place all of their faith in God and their energies into worshiping Him, and Him alone.
           
            In verse 4 we see that the Israelites do just that. “So the children of Israel put away the Baals (the male god) and the Ashteroths and served the LORD only.”






The Need to Repent
           
            In verses 5 and 6 we see Samuel and the Israelites gathering en masse (a congregation) to pour out water before the LORD—a sign of repentance—and confessing their sin aloud, saying, “We have sinned against the LORD.”
           
            So what does God do then? In a nutshell, the Israelites gathering together like that spooks the Philistines, who must think the Israelites have gathered in force to attack them. Alarmed, the Philistines assemble an army for battle. The Israelites get news of that Philistine assembly, and they, in turn, are frightened. They now have no choice but to go to battle against the Philistines. They beg Samuel to keep praying to God for them to be saved from the Philistines when they meet on the battlefield. (This is all pre-David and Goliath.) We read of the next chain of events—and about how God intervenes—in verses 9-13.
            
            And Samuel took a suckling lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering
            to the LORD. Then Samuel cried out to the LORD for Israel, and the LORD
            answered him. Now as Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the
            Philistines drew near to battle against Israel. But the LORD thundered with
            a loud thunder upon the Philistines that day, and so confused them that they
            were overcome before Israel. And the men of Israel went out of Mizpah and
            pursued the Philistines, and drove them back as far as below Beth Car. Then
            Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its
            name Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.”

            So the Philistines were subdued, and they did not come anymore into the
            territory of Israel. And the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines all
            the days of Samuel.

           
            Wow! Is that not awesome? God blasted the Philistines with such a loud, thunderous noise that they were confused and overcome; and evidently the Israelites didn’t even have to throw a javelin! The vision is almost hilarious—brave, mighty warriors yelling unheard commands; warriors running helter-skelter in the field, trampling one another to escape.
           
            The Israelites run them down and chase them far away. The Philistines are subdued. Only then were the Israelites able to enjoy true Shalom—rest, prosperity, happiness. All because they
           
            1) recognized their sin,
            2) repented, and
            3) relied on God to redeem them.
           
            Recognize, repent and rely on God. Sounds like a perfect formula for all of us to follow, if we truly want to live in Shalom.


Questions to Ponder

1. Do you feel as though you’ve been unsuccessfully crying out to God for what seems like months, years, or decades to be relieved of some kind of oppression? (Remember: The Israelites were wailing for 20 years!) Does it feel as though your cries to Him have been futile?
            
Think about the specific things you’ve been crying out to God over. What prayers seem to continually go “unanswered”? (Keep in mind that sometimes “no” is the answer, and we don’t like “no” so we keep praying for a “yes”.)
           


2. While it is not always the case, often our oppression continues because of sin in
our life, either sins of omission (not doing something you should do) or commission (doing something you shouldn’t do). Their hearts had followed other gods. Their actions indicated they had placed their faith in these pagan gods. They had compromised their faith and relationship.

            Right now, ask God to search your heart and reveal to you the areas of your life you have compromised. You might want to go through the following checklist:

            a. Check your spiritual life and make an honest assessment of where you may
            have compromised. Have you watered down your theology and accepted beliefs
            and practices that are contrary to scripture? Have you stopped gathering together
            with believers who can be your “iron sharpeners” and accountability partners?      
            How is your prayer life? How would you rate your spiritual life in general, and
            how do you arrive at that rating? Does your checklist look more godly or worldly?                               
            How much time do you actually spend with God in prayer, in thought? How are   
            you serving Him? Or are you spending more time serving yourself and your           
            personal, “unauthorized” goals? How would you describe your relationship with    
            the Lord at this time in your life? How committed are you to Him? (What is an
            authorized goal? It is any goal that  God has not specifically placed in your heart. 
            It may be a good thing, but it is not something God has asked you to do or 
            expected you to do. And doing it may be bringing your heart and life great
            agony or frustration.)

            Most important, are there any areas in your life in which you may be 
            compromising that precious relationship and sinning against Him through sins of 
            commission or sins of omission? 

            b. Be honest with yourself and God and confess your sins to Him. When you do
            so, you can be assured that He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and
            cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

            And when you do finally confess, continue to pray and ask others to pray for you.      
            (You should always have an army of faithful prayer warriors, even a small army is 
            good—those on whom you can depend for intercessory prayer.) And look for God 
            to move mightily in your life, right your wrongs, ease your pained heart, cleanse 
            your spirit and heart, and move in such a way that may confuse and subdue your 
            enemies.

            Go forth recognizing, repenting, and relying so you may enjoy peace!


Until next Monday, may your week be full of blessings that you receive and give, your heart be full of joy and thankfulness, and your days be filled with laughter! Build a little heaven in your life right now, and watch your heavenly garden grow!

In Christ’s love and peace,

Andrea


When the eyes of the soul looking out meet the eyes of God looking in, heaven has begun right here on earth. ~ A. W. Tozer

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