Recipe For Revival

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Much is said in the spiritual community about revival—a longing to return to a sustained space of divine favor and uncommon blessing—yet little of revival is ever experienced. Why is that, and is it even possible in our day to have revival? The reasons we don’t and the reasons we still can are the same. There are conditions that must be met to live in the revival zone. Over and again in scripture we are told that it is nothing less than wholehearted devotion, authentic repentance and an organic pursuit of holiness that releases the mighty hand of God.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Samuel 7:1-4

So the men of Kiriath Jearim came and took up the ark of the Lord. They brought it to Abinadab’s house on the hill and consecrated Eleazar his son to guard the ark of the Lord. The ark remained at Kiriath Jearim a long time—twenty years in all. Then all the people of Israel turned back to the Lord. So Samuel said to all the Israelites, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” So the Israelites put away their Baals and Ashtoreths, and served the Lord only.

Finally! We traveled through a nearly 400 year cycle of backsliding, subjugation, repentance and rival during the period of the Judges, and it has been a consistently depressing journey with only brief sunbreaks of spiritual awakening for the most part. Now, however, the prophet Samuel bursts onto the scene and catches Israel at a time of willingness to once again turn their hearts to the Lord.

Samuel will lead Israel as its last and greatest judge for at least a decade. His righteous administration wouldn’t be the longest of the judges, by far, but he would usher in a period of deep and abiding righteousness that he would faithfully pass on to Israel’s first king, a promising young man named Saul. When Saul’s leadership eventually went off the rails, Samuel was still there to steer the brightest star in Israel’s history to the throne, David, the man after God’s own heart. Samuel’s righteous influence cast a large and indelible shadow in Israel’s history.

This chapter is most instructive as Samuel laid out the conditions for national revival. Israel suffered under their pesky bully of a neighbor, the Philistines, until they finally came to their good senses and humbly returned to the Lord. And the Lord welcomed them back—and he would bless them with freedom, joy and prosperity over the course of the next century. 1 Samuel 7:10-12 highlights just one of the many victories that Israel would experience during this golden period—a stunning win over the Philistines where the Lord himself actually took up their fight:

But that day the Lord thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites. The men of Israel rushed out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them along the way to a point below Beth Kar. Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”

“Thus far the Lord has helped us.” That was a prophetic description of life for Israel under godly leadership like Samuel’s. It likewise prophetically described what the nation would experience through the kingly reigns of Saul, David and Solomon—this would be a time of military, economic and spiritual expansion for Israel. Moreover, it is a prophetic description of what will be true for God’s people of any time and place when they, too, return to the Lord and live in the revival zone.

The revival zone—what in the world is that? Samuel was very clear to explain what it would take to get into and stay in that blessable space:

  • Wholeheartedness: “If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts…” Samuel was not referring to just a sense of remorse, but deep repentance and godly sorrow that God’s people needed to offer if they wanted to come back under his sustained favor.
  • Sanctification: “then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths…” Repentance meant a change of mind and heart—a 180 degree turn from evil to pursue what was righteous. It required them to cast off their ungodly practices and dependencies to follow hard after holiness.
  • Service: “commit yourselves to the Lord…” It was not just about what they were no longer to do (worship idols), but what they were now going to do (actively serve God’s purposes).
  • Devotion: “and serve him only.” This was not to be just a partial return, but a full surrender to the rule of God over their lives individually and collectively.

Then Samuel adds that when those conditions of revival are met, God’s favor will ensue: “He will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” We are told that the Israelites did just that, “they repented and served the Lord only.” And the Lord did what he had promised:

So the Philistines were subdued and didn’t invade Israel again for some time. And throughout Samuel’s lifetime, the Lord’s powerful hand was raised against the Philistines. (1 Samuel 7:13)

This marked a turning point for Israel. During the time of the judges, God had also delivered Israel, but they always turned back to their sinful ways once the thrill of the victory had faded. And each time, God would again allow their enemies to subdue them. Not this time; there would be no backsliding. That is why Samuel set up a stone between Mizpah and Jeshanah and called the stone, “Ebenezer”- the stone of help. (1 Samuel 7:12) Each time the Israelites passed this marker, they would remember the joy and freedom of God’s favor. As they passed their Ebenzer, it would be a visual reminder that the conditions of living under God’s mighty hand of blessing required of them wholeheartedness, sanctification, service and devotion.

God still longs for his people to live in the revival zone—that space of uncommon blessing and divine favor. Maybe we need to set up Ebenezer of our own, because those same conditions that Samuel gave will invite God’s uncommon favor into our lives, too!

Going Deeper With God: Do you have an Ebenezer stone that reminds you of the spiritual conditions that invite revival in your personal life or in your church? Think through what would help you to daily remember how you are to live before God.

All Hat, No Cattle

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Too many leaders today are proficient at rising to a place of power, and they might even have the systems set up around them to keep them there, but they have not moved the proverbial ball down the field during their time of leadership. They occupy positions of import but have no track record of impact. They are “all hat and no cattle” as they say in Texas. Do you desire to be a great leader? Then check your motives, make sure your goals are worthy, submit yourself to God, get filled with his Spirit, go all out to serve your people and above all else, make Jesus famous. Do that, and you will have both the hat and the cattle!

Going Deep // Focus: Judges 12:11

After Ibzan died, Elon from the tribe of Zebulun judged Israel for ten years. 12 When he died, he was buried at Aijalon in Zebulun.

Elon judged Israel for ten years, then he died. End of story! And you will find his administration not that unusual in the book of Judges. There were plenty of other leaders who occupied positions of import but had no track record of impact. They were “all hat and no cattle” as they say in Texas.

I don’t want to be a leader like that, and you don’t want to sit under the leadership of a man or woman like that, be it a pastor or a president. Too many leaders in our day are proficient at rising to a place of power and authority, and they might even have the systems set up around them to keep them there, but they have not moved the ball down the field during their time of leadership.

Now to be certain, there is nothing wrong with having a position of importance, nor of desiring that. Those positions can provide much larger opportunities for impact. But a position of importance is not the end game; it is the means to the goal. Leaving a huge footprint of effective service, blessing and mission accomplished is the best evidence of noteworthy leadership.

So what does it take to have both importance and impact? Let me offer some thoughts:

First, while you can position yourself to be important, I believe letting God promote you to places of power and authority is the better way to go. Of course, you need to show yourself winsome, committed, visionary and skillful, but it is the sovereign hand of God that is the greatest PR machine in the universe. Let God promote you.

Second, get a vision—and not just vision for your own fame or success. How will the people you lead be better off because of your leadership? How will your organization—family, church, business, community—creatively and compelling make a difference by collaboratively marshaling your cooperate energies to do what you do? Just how do you expect to change the world?

Third, make sure you have character to match your charisma. Charisma will attract followers; character will keep you in leadership.

Fourth, serve the people you lead. They best lead who serve—a philosophy that is not talked about all that much in our culture, but was clearly modeled by the greatest leader of all time, Jesus Christ. Leaders of impact are truly servants of the public.

Fifth, through your influence, make it your chief aim to make Jesus famous. I am not speaking only of what we would term “spiritual leaders,” pastor types. In whatever you do—at home, in the marketplace, in the academe, in the halls of government—you are on duty for Christ. As the Apostle Paul would says, “In whatever you do, do it with all your might, as serving the Lord, not men; it is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23-24)

If you desire to lead, you desire a good thing. But check your motives, make sure your goals are worthy, submit yourself to God, get filled with his Spirit, then get out there and serve the people and make Jesus famous.

Do that, and you will have both the hat and the cattle!

Going Deeper With God: Whatever state of life you are in, ask the Lord to give you impact. He hears and answers prayer.

This Is What Happens When We Forget God

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Predictably, what we see and sense today at the highest as well as the lowest levels of culture is what happens when, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn lamented, “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” As believers, we must let the moral decay of America turn our stomach, but then turn our heart to God in intercession for a spiritual awakening once again in our land.

Going Deep // Focus: Judges 9:56-57

In this way, God punished Abimelech for the evil he had done against his father by murdering his seventy brothers. God also punished the men of Shechem for all their evil. So the curse of Jotham son of Gideon was fulfilled.

Admittedly, this is a weird story, and it’s even weirder that it was included in the Bible. Like a few others we have come across as we read the Old Testament devotionally, this is a head-scratcher. But at the end of the day, this story of Abimelech’s brief but brutal rule as a judge of Israel and his abrupt, gruesome death is a reminder of what happens in a person, and in a society, when God has been left out of the picture.

Abimelech was one of Gideon’s sons—one of seventy or so. And it just so happens that he was the one son from Gideon’s union with a concubine who lived in a different town, Shechem. So there was probably no love lost with his many siblings; he was probably looked down upon by his brothers his whole life. There is a good chance Abimelech had a chip on his shoulder (that unfortunately ended with a millstone on his head—literally. See Judges 9:50-55).

So Abimelech decided to do away with his seventy brothers—which he did in the most grisly fashion (Judges 9:5): likely beheaded at one time. He killed all but one, Gideon’s youngest son, Jotham, who escaped and hid, and then resurfaced with an incendiary prophecy (Judges 9:7-21). This prophecy was a kind of “pox on both your houses” statement that ultimately came to pass. The prophecy was that in selecting Abimelech to be their king, the citizens of Shechem would end up paying for it with their lives and that Abimelch would likewise come to a brutal end for the murder of his brothers. That is the rest of the story of Judges 9.

Now take away the raw brutality of this story, sanitize it a bit, and what you have is the story of leadership in our culture these days. Far too common is the way leaders attain power and the way the citizens surrender power to them. Lying, cheating, doing whatever it takes to make their opponent look bad, saying one thing to get elected then leading another, coming off as a servant of the people but living like a king once in power seems to be just the way it is in our political world. Often in elections, we feel like we have no choice but to hold our nose to cast our ballots. But we get the leaders we deserve.

Why? Simple answer: men have forgotten God. The writer of Judges prophetically summed up our twenty-first century world in the last verse in this book when he wrote, “There was no controlling moral authority to govern peoples’ lives, so everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” (Judges 21:25) Unfortunately, in our day, as was the case in the day of the Judges, “what was right”, without the presence of the “Controlling Moral Authority”, without fail produces moral, cultural, economic and global chaos.

Predictably, what we see and sense today at the highest as well as the lowest levels of culture is what happens when, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn lamented, “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” In his famous Templeton Address, “Men Have Forgotten God”, Solzhenitsyn said

“The failings of human consciousness, deprived of its divine dimension, have been a determining factor in all the major crimes of this century…Yet we have grown used to this kind of world; we even feel at home in it.”

May we never get used to it! May we never feel at home in this present world the way it is now. As believers, we have the urgent calling to humble ourselves before God, acknowledge our sin, repent and turn to him for the healing of our land. As disgusted as you may feel reading Judges 9, let the moral decay of America turn your stomach, then turn your heart to God in intercession for a spiritual awakening once again in our land.

Who knows, God may give us a revival like he did throughout the book of Judges as his people cried out to him. Thankfully, God has made a way for that, even in our day:

If the people who are called by my name will humbly pray to me and repent and turn away from the evil they have been doing, then I will hear them in heaven, forgive their sins, and make their land prosperous again. (2 Chronicles, 7:14)

Going Deeper With God: Read 2 Chronicles 7:14 and pray your way through it on behalf of your nation today.

We Have One Job and One Job Only: Make Jesus Famous

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Never in the history of Christianity have we had so many famous pastors—and those wanting to become famous—as we do now. But the true spiritual leader, the one with whom God is pleased, has one job and one job only: to make Jesus famous! And if Jesus wants to make the leader famous, well, that is Jesus’ business.

Going Deep // Focus: Joshua 6:27

So the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout the land.

With the advent of television—and all the media technologies that followed—came the rise of the celebrity preacher. Never in the history of Christianity have we had so many famous pastors—and those wanting to become famous—as we do now. If you’re a spiritual leader and you aren’t hawking several books you have authored, beaming your mug to adoring congregants in a muli-site campus, tweeting to your six figure Twitter followers and getting quoted by the media on the issue du jour, you ain’t all that much.

Of course, media technologies now allow us to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ around the world in unprecedented ways—and that is a great thing. But inherent in this ability to communicate to the masses is the danger of showcasing ourselves. The god of fame is lurking; the seduction of celebrity has never being stronger in the Christian world than it is right now—and that’s not a great thing!

The true spiritual leader, the one with whom God is well pleased, has one job and one job only: to make Jesus famous! And if Jesus wants to make the leader famous, well, that is Jesus’ business. Joshua was a leader that God decided to make famous. Joshua 2:7 and 4:14 says,

The Lord told Joshua, “Today I will begin to make you a great leader in the eyes of all the Israelites. They will know that I am with you, just as I was with Moses.” …That day the Lord made Joshua a great leader in the eyes of all the Israelites, and for the rest of his life they revered him as much as they had revered Moses.

And of course, our featured verse today says, “God was with Joshua. He became famous all over the land.” (The Message) How refreshing! In today’s culture of celebrity where leaders do everything they can to make themselves famous, here is a guy who didn’t have to. God did it. And there is no better PR firm that the Holy Trinity!

What makes a leader great and opens the door to his or her fame? Some would say charisma is the key. Others might say it’s a combination of skill, intellect and the ability to inspire others to accomplish a compelling mission. Then there are those who would argue that not only are charisma and persuasion necessary, but it’s also a matter of being the right person in the right place at the right time.

I wouldn’t argue with any of those ideas. But above all else I would argue that what makes a leader a great and fame-worthy leader is simply God’s touch upon his or her life. Where God makes a man or woman great in the eyes of the people, there you have the makings of a leader who is one for the ages. Joshua was just such a leader.

In Joshua, you find true success! Not that he leveraged his considerable talents, sharp intellect, political capital and magnanimous personality to lead the people to victory, but that God made him great in the eyes of the people. Never did Joshua take any credit for himself in the victories and miracles that God performed. As Moses had been a humble leader, so too was Joshua. Like his predecessor, he was a true servant of God and of the Israelites. He served at God’s pleasure and recognized that his success came only by God’s power and grace. And it was God who made Joshua great before all Israel.

That’s the kind of leader I want to be. I want to be a great leader because of the touch of God on my life; because of the work that he does in, for and through me. If there is anything that makes me worth following, may it be because of what God has done. What I do through my own gifts, personality and personal determination will, at best, quickly fade. But what God does through me will last for all eternity, and best of all, bring all the glory to the God who has equipped me to lead.

What about you? Do you desire to be a leader—a person of influence in your home, school, business or some other arena? You might feel unqualified and unworthy. Part of you may want to let someone else to lead; someone more qualified, smarter, holier, better than you. But it could be that God has placed in you the kinds of gifts, talents, brainpower and favor that he wants to use in leading people to extend his Kingdom in this world.

If God is calling you to leadership, submit your life to him. Then, if he chooses, let God make you great in the eyes of those you would lead.

Going Deeper With God: When you evaluate the spiritual leader whom God has placed over your life, make sure this is the chief indicator of their greatness: their consuming passion is to make Jesus famous. If it isn’t, seriously pray for that leader. If it is, thank God for them, and do everything you can to affirm their leadership.

The Making of a Leader

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

What a makes a leader great? Some would say charisma is the key. Others might say it’s a combination of skill, intellect and the ability to inspire others to accomplish the mission. Then there are those who would argue that not only are charisma and persuasion necessary, but it’s a matter of also being the right person in the right place at the right time. I wouldn’t argue with any of those ideas. But first and foremost I would argue that what makes a leader a great leader is simply God’s touch upon his or her life.

Going Deep // Focus: Joshua 4:14

That day the Lord made Joshua a great leader in the eyes of all the Israelites, and for the rest of his life they revered him as much as they had revered Moses. ”

What a makes a leader great? Some would say charisma is the key. Others might say it’s a combination of skill, intellect and the ability to inspire others to accomplish the mission. Then there are those who would argue that not only are charisma and persuasion necessary, but it’s a matter of also being the right person in the right place at the right time.

I wouldn’t argue with any of those ideas. But first and foremost I would argue that what makes a leader a great leader is simply God’s touch upon his or her life. Or at least that’s what should be the defining factor in great leadership. Where God makes a man or woman great in the eyes of the people, there you have the makings of a leader who is one for the ages. Joshua was just such a leader.

In Joshua, you find true success! Not that he leveraged his considerable talents, sharp intellect, political capital and magnanimous personality to lead the people to victory, but that God made him great in the eyes of the people. Never did Joshua take any credit for himself in the victories and miracles that God performed. As Moses had been a humble leader, so too was Joshua. Like his predecessor, he was a true servant of God and priestly guide of the Israelites. He served at God’s pleasure and recognized that his success came only by God’s power and grace. And God made Joshua great before all Israel. Notice the backstory to the verse I selected for today’s reading; here is Joshua 2:7 in combination with Joshua 4:14:

The Lord told Joshua, ‘Today I will begin to make you a great leader in the eyes of all the Israelites. They will know that I am with you, just as I was with Moses’…. That day the Lord made Joshua a great leader in the eyes of all the Israelites, and for the rest of his life they revered him as much as they had revered Moses.

That’s the kind of leader I want to be. I want to be a great leader because of God’s touch on my life; because of the work that he does in, for and through me. If there is anything that makes me worth following, may it be because of what God has done. What I do through my own gifts, personality and personal determination will, at best, quickly fade. But what God does through me will last for all eternity, and best of all, bring all the glory to the God who has equipped me to lead.

What about you? Do you desire to be a leader? You might feel unqualified and unworthy. Part of you may want to let someone else lead; someone more qualified, smarter, holier, better than you. But it could be that God has placed in you the kinds of gifts, talents, brainpower and favor that he wants to use in leading people to extend his Kingdom in this world.

If God is calling you to leadership, submit your life to him. Then let God make you great in the eyes of those you would lead.

Going Deeper With God: When you think of the advancement of God’s kingdom over the millennia, it is amazing how many times this saying has been true of its leaders: “God didn’t call the qualified, He qualified the called.” Maybe he is wanting to qualify you—he is still looking for a few good men…and women!

Let Go of the Past

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

We ought to learn from the past, both our mistakes and successes, but our focus needs to be on the future. As Christ followers, we are always standing at the edge of new opportunities that God has set before us, and the thing that will keep us from possessing our Promised Land is not menaces in front of us but memories of what is behind us, both good and bad. We’ve got to let go of the past and grab hold the future!

Going Deep // Focus: Joshua 1:1-2

After the death of Moses the Lord’s servant, the Lord spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant. He said, “Moses my servant is dead. Therefore, the time has come for you to lead these people, the Israelites, across the Jordan River into the land I am giving them.

Sarah Ban Breathnach offers sage advice for living in victory each and every day of our lives: “You’ve got to make a conscious choice every day to shed the old—whatever ‘the old’ means for you.”

Think for a minute about the very first thing God said to Joshua after the death of Moses: “Moses is dead!” Obviously! Do you think Joshua didn’t know that? Joshua knew pretty much everything about Moses; he had been Moses’ right hand man for most of the forty years the Israelites had wandered through the desert. In passing the leadership baton, Moses had just laid hands on Joshua and commissioned him to lead the people into the Promised Land in Moses’ place. Joshua was well aware that God had just taken Moses up the mountain to take his breath away for the final time. Obviously Joshua knew Moses was dead.

So there is something more going on here than meets the eye. God isn’t revealing new information to Joshua. Rather, what he is telling him is that he is going to do a new work in a new way with a new person. In other words, Joshua needs to bury the past and get on with the future—starting now. In other words, “shed the old.” As someone has wisely pointed out, you cannot set sail for new horizons in your life if you are still tethered to the shore. You’ve got to let go of the past!

That means a couple of things: one, don’t lean on past successes, and two, don’t limit yourself by past failures. Don’t get stuck in the past—either good or bad! Moses represented both: unequaled successes in bringing Israel out of Egypt and unmitigated failure to get Israel into the Promised Land. I suspect that Joshua could have thought, “If Moses, the great leader of all time, couldn’t get the job done, what makes anyone think I can be successful?” So God says, “Hey Joshua, Moses is dead. Let it go. Don’t get caught up in the past; catch a new vision for what is ahead—I’m going to do a new thing in a new way through you.”

The apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4: “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ… Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (4:7,13-14) Shed the past; let it go. Catch a vision for the future and move resolutely toward it.

That is a good word for you and me. We ought to learn from the past, both mistakes and successes, but our focus needs to be on the future. We are standing at the edge of new opportunities that God has set before us, our Promised Land, and the thing that will keep us from attaining them are not menaces in front of us but our memories of the past, both good and bad.

What is it from your past that you need to let go of? Perhaps you are resting on your laurels from some past accomplishment, and you are thinking, “that’s good enough for today!” Maybe you are relying on a spiritual experience from years ago, but honestly, you have never moved on from it into a deeper dimension with God. Don’t make the mistake of assuming a good start ensures finishing well. On the other hand, maybe you are entangled from the guilt, fear and condemnation of sin. Maybe a failure last year, a mistake that you made years ago, keeps you in bondage emotionally, relationally, or spiritually.

Hebrews 12 talks about the weights and sins that so easily beset us in our life’s race. So identify whatever it is that is holding you back from running a great race, good or bad, and declare it over, Moses is dead! In Joshua 1:11, Joshua says these words to the Israelites that I would encourage you to personalize, and say to over your past before you take another step: “I will cross my Jordan right here to go in and take possession of the land the Lord my God is giving me for my own.”

Let go of your past. Remember, you cannot set sail for new horizons if you are still tethered to the shore of yesterday. Today, God is going to do a new thing in a new way with a new person—you. So be strong and courageous, for your God will be with you each step of the way. (Joshua 1:9)

Going Deeper With God: Make a list of the mistakes and victories in your life from this past year. Then put an “X” through them and write over them, “Moses is dead!” Carry that list with you and look at it through the day today.

Permissible vs. Blessable

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

God may give us what we want, but what he gives and what we want do not guarantee it will be for our best. What is permissible is not always blessable. Rather, we should always and only seek what God wants, and trust that he will then take care of what we want.

Going Deep // Focus: Deuteronomy 17:14-16

You are about to enter the land the Lord your God is giving you. When you take it over and settle there, you may think, “We should select a king to rule over us like the other nations around us.” If this happens, be sure to select as king the man the Lord your God chooses. You must appoint a fellow Israelite; he may not be a foreigner. The king must not…

“Like the other nations.” That is an oft-repeated commentary on the mindset of the Israelites. In this case, Israel wants a king, against God’s clear warning. And ultimately, God gave them what they wanted, when what they needed was to trust in his God sovereign leadership.

God had pulled the Israelites out of bondage and ignominy among the nations to be their only God, their one true king, and to give them the high honor of being his distinct people—a holy nation set apart for his purpose. But early and often, they would want to crawl back into the pit from which they were dug. “Everyone else is doing it!” was often the basis of their appeal. “We want to be like them.”

Since God knows the end from the beginning, he anticipated the Israelite’s cry for an earthly king. When they settled into the Promised Land as a nation, he knew they would see that all the other nations had a monarch—even though that wasn’t working out too well for the heathen—and Israel would begin to long for what they didn’t have: a king to rule over them.

Four hundred years after Moses, the Israelites rejected the Lord’s desire to be their sole ruler and asked for a king. At the end of the period when the judges ruled Israel, the people came to Samuel with the request:

“Look,” they told Samuel, “you are now old, and your sons are not like you. Give us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.” Samuel was displeased with their request and went to the Lord for guidance. “Do everything they say to you,” the Lord replied, “for they are rejecting me, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer. Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods. And now they are giving you the same treatment. Do as they ask, but solemnly warn them about the way a king will reign over them.” (1 Samuel 5-9)

God knew way in advance what was in their heart, and in his permissive will, he would accommodate their worldly desire. That brings us to a teachable moment: Sometimes God gives us what we want, but what he gives and what we want do not guarantee it will be for our best. (Psalm 106:15) What is permissible is not always blessable. In Deuteronomy 17, God anticipated their longing for an earthly king and told them when that time came, he would grant the desires of their hearts. However, his provision would be with several important provisos:

One, the king was to be a man the Lord chose. The king was not necessarily to be the obvious, the smartest, the wealthiest or even the guy that would win the popular vote: “be sure to select as king the man the Lord your God chooses.” (Deuteronomy 17:15) God wanted the Israelites to look to him for the leader that he would choose for them. God wanted the people to trust him in the selection.

Two, the king was not to be dependent on human power. He was prohibited from amassing a huge army with overpowering weaponry. He was to trust in God (see Psalm 20:7), not in the arm of flesh: “The king must not build up a large stable of horses for himself or send his people to Egypt to buy horses, for the Lord has told you, ‘You must never return to Egypt.’” (Deuteronomy 17:16) God wanted first and foremost the king’s trust.

Three, the king was not to use his royal position to gain sexual satisfaction. As king, he would have all the power, so he could easily leverage it to gratify his fleshly appetites If he did, God warned that this would be his spiritual undoing—the women he took to himself would turn his heart away from God: “The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 16:17) Both David, and especially Solomon, were royal poster boys of unrestrained fleshly desire. God wanted the king to trust him for satisfaction of his every desire.

Four, the king was not to use his position to gain inordinate wealth. Rather, he was to serve God by serving the people, and by doing this, earthly and material blessings would come: “he must not accumulate large amounts of wealth in silver and gold for himself.” (Deuteronomy 17:17) The temptation with a king, as with all positions of power, would be to use royal authority to serve self rather than the sheep. Again, the king was to trust in the Lord, not in his position, for material blessing.

Fifth, the king was to lead by God’s law, not human wisdom. When a human being ascends to leadership and the people he leads begin to applaud, like clockwork, ego will rise up and cause his downfall. Israel’s king was to lead by the book—Book of the Law: “When he sits on the throne as king, he must copy for himself this body of instruction on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. He must always keep that copy with him and read it daily as long as he lives. That way he will learn to fear the Lord his God by obeying all the terms of these instructions and decrees. This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. And it will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel.” (Deuteronomy 17:18-20) The king was to trust in the Lord with all his heart and not to lean on his own understanding.

God wanted the king’s trust. He wants your complete trust, too—now and at all times. Does he have it?

Going Deeper With God: Power, sex, money—those were the three temptations about which God warned the king. How about you? Are you jockeying for position, pursuing pleasure or chasing money to give your life meaning? God will give you what is best for you as you always and wholly trust him. Surrender you fleshly longings to him.