“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” II Timothy 4:7-8
“So, if everyone else jumps off a cliff…”
Our Bible study group was in I Samuel, reading about Israel’s wanting a king so that they could be “like everybody else,” and the prophet Samuel’s reluctantly agreeing. (I Samuel 8) He anointed the young man Saul, (I Samuel 9) and later Saul was chosen by the people to be king (I Samuel 10) – although finding him hiding in the baggage did not give a great first impression!
According to Scripture, there were some “troublemakers” present who spoke ill of Saul and despised him that day. Most of the people, however, judging by outward appearance, accepted the tall, handsome man as the leader they had been wanting.
In chapter 11 of I Samuel, we read that the city of Jabesh had been besieged by the Ammonites. Although all the men of Jabesh surrendered and offered to serve their enemies, for the sadistic Ammonite leader, Nahash, surrender wasn’t enough. He wanted to gouge out the right eye of every man in the city and “bring disgrace on all Israel.” The men of Jabesh negotiated with Nahash and managed to buy seven days in which to send messengers throughout Israel and see if anyone would come and rescue them. (Since Israel was scattered at that time, we figured Nahash probably didn’t expect a rescue. Perhaps he was anticipating further humiliation for the city when no one cared enough to help them.)
“My, how you’ve grown!”
But when Saul got their message, he appeared a far cry from the young man who had hidden himself, not wanting to be king! “[T]he Spirit of the LORD came upon him in power, and he burned with anger.” (I Samuel 11:6) He forcefully mustered 330,000 men who ambushed Israel’s enemies in their camp on the last night, continuing to slaughter and scatter them into the next day. Jabesh was saved!
While celebrating this great victory, some fiercely loyal men wanted to kill those who had formerly despised Saul, but “Saul said, ‘No one shall be put to death today, for this day the LORD has rescued Israel.'” (I Samuel 11:13)
Okay, that’s enough…
It would have been a great encouragement, seeing how a timid young man had risen to be a great and humble king, who gave Jehovah credit for Israel’s victory.
Trouble was, I had already read this story, numerous times.
“Can we just stop here?” I asked sadly, knowing the answer. I really didn’t want to go on to “the rest of the story.”
Saul was one of those tragic characters in the Bible who started out with the Spirit of the LORD empowering him to do great things. But by the end of I Samuel, Saul had deteriorated into a paranoid, irrational tyrant, whose reign ends like a Shakespearean tragedy, with his taking his own life.
What went wrong?
There were multiple factors – ego, selfish ambition, jealousy, even going so far as consulting a witch to bring up the spirit of the departed Samuel. But it all began with taking his eyes off the God he was so quick to credit at the beginning, and onto self.
Although I don’t like to read about the fall of people who had been so promising at the beginning, it’s a good thing for me to do. I have known the LORD most of my life, and He has done marvelous things for me and through me – things I never could have done myself. Now one of the prayers that I pray repeatedly is:
“Help me finish well.”
Salvation is not something you do once and then go back to business as usual. It isn’t walking an aisle, signing a card, raising a hand or standing up in a service.
It’s a commitment of one’s whole life, and renewing that commitment daily, “offering your bodies as living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1) and being daily “transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (verse 2)
It’s confessing every known sin and receiving forgiveness, letting God purify you from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:9) It’s taking sin seriously enough to confess and repent immediately, and taking God seriously enough that you don’t continue to condemn yourself after He has forgiven you.
It’s recognizing and rejecting the lies of the enemy: that God isn’t real, or that He’s unfair, or that He’s given up on you, or He doesn’t really care about you – and why would He, since you’re so [fill in the blank]? It’s knowing God’s Word well enough to combat those lies with Truth.
It’s acknowledging daily our utter dependence on the LORD and His utter dependability. It’s asking Him to make us sensitive to the first hint of proud or self-sufficient attitudes, and running to Him for help when they rear their ugly heads.
It’s never letting the thought cross your mind that you have arrived and don’t have any more growing to do. It’s always looking for what God’s next plan is for your life, and believing that as long as you have breath in your lungs, He has a purpose for your being here.
It’s believing that God works all things together for the good of His children. (Romans 8:28) It’s looking at every situation for the good in it, and if you can’t find the good, trusting the LORD that it’s there, and He has a plan for you that is better than you know.
And all the while we are running the race, it’s realizing that nothing we do saves us. It’s still all God. It always has been.
Prayer: LORD God, source of all life and everything that’s good, You have brought us so far. Now help us to finish well, in Jesus’ name. Amen.