Industrial Strength Boldness

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

What if we prayed that God would infuse us with deep courage and a higher degree of trust so that, like Jonathan and his armor bearer, we might tackle the Philistines in our lives—fear, inadequacy, manipulative people, the lack of resources that stand opposed to the vision God has put in our heart, or even our own sinfulness? God is looking to grant Jonathan-like boldness to those who will ask, and who will then step out in raw courage, ruthless trust and risky faith to put God to the test.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Samuel 14:6

“Let’s go across to the outpost of those pagans,” Jonathan said to his armor bearer. “Perhaps the Lord will help us, for nothing can hinder the Lord. He can win a battle whether he has many warriors or only a few!”

This is my favorite story of confidence and victory in the Bible: Jonathan and his armor bearer boldly talking on a Philistine garrison against overwhelming odds—and routing the enemy in a victory as stunning as they come. The raw boldness, ruthless trust and risky faith of Jonathan—and his armor bearer, let’s not forget him—is at an industrial strength level.

Now there is a fine line between faith and presumption in this story. What if the two warriors would have gotten killed right off the bat? We might still be talking about their boldness, but certainly not their intelligence. Sometimes, as they say, discretion is the better part of valor. When you are taking a risky step of faith at the level that Jonathan took, you really need to make sure you have heard from God. By the way, that requires a moment-by-moment walk with the Lord and not just a “hail Mary”, on again, off again spirituality.

Assuming Jonathan walked intimately with God, we can now say that his declaration was an amazing statement of not just high level faith, but incredible submission to the will of God—something that is even more rare that risky faith. Jonathan was willing not only to take on an enemy that was far better equipped, but he was willing to die for the cause, should God choose that for him. Of course, God honored his faith and enabled him to not only rout the enemy but inspire the rest of the Israelite army to take on and defeat the entire Philistine war machine.

No statement in Scripture is more endearing to me than this faithful declaration by Jonathan: “Let’s go take on these Philistines. Who knows, maybe the Lord might even help us!” Jonathan had such a courageous heart, based on a deep belief in the sovereignty of God, that he was willing to put his life on the line to secure a great victory for the people of God.

Obviously, Jonathan had done a lot of thinking about God before he acted—but act he did when the time came. And out of his heroic effort comes one of the great stories of the Bible. Oh how we wish for more Jonathan’s in our day—and desperately need them. And how I wish I had more of Jonathan’s boldness.

Perhaps you and I should begin to pray for a Jonathan spirit. What if we prayed that God would infuse us with deep courage and a higher degree of trust so that we might tackle the Philistines in our lives—fear, inadequacy, manipulative people, the lack of resources that stand opposed to the vision God has put in our heart, our own sinfulness?

You know, I have a feeling that God is looking to grant that kind of Jonathan-like boldness to those who will ask—and who will then step out in bold, daring faith to put God to the test:

The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. (2 Chronicles 16:9)

May God grant us the kind of courage we read about in Jonathan—faith, hope, and such deep trust in his sovereignty that leads us to live heroic lives of risky obedience that inspires others to greater faith and risky obedience.

Going Deeper With God: Let’s pray this prayer together today: God, fill me with your transforming presence and change me into a different person—a mighty warrior for you.

The Heart God Can Bless

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

When our hearts care more about the things of God and less about our own agenda, unimaginable blessings will begin to flow our way. However, putting personal convenience and preference over our loving obedience to the Lord will interrupt the flow of divine blessing both in the present and possibly even to the generations that will come after us. Each of us must choose the kind of heart we offer to God: a Saul-like heart that has become self-absorbed or a David-like heart that is fully after God’s own heart.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Samuel 13:13-14

”That was a foolish thing to do,” Samuel answered. “You have not obeyed the command the LORD your God gave you. If you had obeyed, he would have let you and your descendants rule over Israel forever. But now your rule will not continue. Because you have disobeyed him, the LORD will find the kind of man he wants and make him ruler of his people.”

Saul was thirty years old when he began his reign as king over Israel. He started out with so much promise—he had the physique, the look, the humility, that certain something that gave the people a sense that he was the right man for the job. God had selected him from among all the men of Israel to be the leader of God’s very own people.

But something happened along the way—either character flaws that had been there all along came out when the pressure of leadership was on, and/or he began to read his own press and lost his humility along with his singular dependence on God. The Saul we read about in this story is not the one that Samuel found and anointed as Israel’s first king.

Whatever the reason for the change, after some years of successful leadership, his heart began to cool toward God. He began to depend on his kingly qualities rather than the grace of the King of Kings. He began to cut corners in his obedience to the expressed Word of the Lord. He found ways to justify his disobedient actions. He started to make leadership decisions impulsively rather than prayerfully. He began to drift from God to the point where King Saul, the once promising monarch, was in a full out backslide.

What a sad day for Saul, for Israel, for Samuel, and for God. If Saul had only trusted the Lord by fearing and worshiping him wholeheartedly, he and his descendants would have ruled over Israel forever. Think about that: the same promise that God made—and fulfilled—to David, because he was a man after God’s own heart, had been made and would have been fulfilled to Saul and Jonathon, along with their descendants.

If you had obeyed him, someone from your family would always have been king of Israel. (1 Samuel 13:13, CEV)

What a lesson for us: When our hearts cease to care about the things of God and begin to care more about our own agenda, we forfeit the blessings God has in store for us. Worse, we may very well interrupt the flow of divine blessing prepared for the generations that will come after us. That is some serious food for thought!

Saul’s story has always sent a chill down my spine. I read myself into his sandals. I worry that my heart may grow dull toward the things God cares about; that I may begin to care more about my agenda than his. I am certainly capable of that kind of selfishness. I think you are too. Saul reminds us that this is certainly a possibility among sin-broken people.

May the Lord steer us clear from that kind of spiritual waywardness. May we come to him daily and allow him to cleanse us from any and every offense. May we acknowledge any and every thought, word and act of disobedience—no matter how easily justifiable. And may God give us, and may we offer back to him, a heart like David’s: a heart after God.

A foolish heart or a faithful heart—thankfully, God is ready to help us to continually offer him the latter.

Going Deeper With God: Offer this prayer today—and every day: Father, give me a heart like David’s, which was a heart that cared about the things you care about. I pray that you would protect me from a “Saul-heart”! Soften me, make me pliable, keep me true and continually in the shadow of your protective wings. More than anything, I want to be a person after your own heart. Would you grant me that, Lord?”

Staying In The Game

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

When God places you over another human being, as a parent or a pastor, as a teacher or trainer, as Bible study leader or a boss, as a manager or a mentor, you have assumed a responsibility that is never-ending: to pray for them. Intercession and influence will be your role with them until the day God calls you home. So stay in the game, for the outcome of your charges’ lives depends, to a degree, on how faithful you are.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Samuel 12:23-24

“As for me, I will certainly not sin against the Lord by ending my prayers for you. And I will continue to teach you what is good and right. But be sure to fear the Lord and faithfully serve him. Think of all the wonderful things he has done for you. But if you continue to sin, you and your king will be swept away.”

Of course, God can lift our burden to pray for a certain person whom he has placed on our heart or in our care. There may be a time when God calls us to step away from our efforts to instruct them. At times, God leads us to turn them over to what they have stubbornly pursued.

For a season. Rarely, would that be forever. This would be the exception, not the rule.

To totally, irrevocably disengage relationally and spiritually from someone with whom we have been given influence would be an exceedingly rare thing. It is possible, but it would be highly unlikely. And to pull away from our spiritual responsibility because we are frustrated to the proverbial point of pulling our hair out would in fact be sinful on our part. Not to pray for them would actually mean that we have now entered into their sin.

Case in point: Samuel’s retirement. This great prophet had led Israel for years, calling the nation back to God and getting them on the right path spiritually. And while he warned them against asking for a king, when the nation insisted on a monarch, he led them through the process that led them to Saul, Israel’s first king. In this chapter, now that Saul has been firmly established as the man to lead the nation, Samuel decides to retire—although that is not going to happen, as you will see reading through the chapters that follow.

His retirement speech is a doozy. He repeatedly warns the nation of the likelihood of spiritual drift—and of what the consequences will be if they do. He also, once again, reminds them of how wrong they were to insist on a human king—which, I’m sure at this point, didn’t make King Saul feel too good. And to emphasize the seriousness of his diatribe, Samuel did something that I wish I had the power to do as a spiritual leader (although it is probably best that I don’t): He calls down a sign from heaven:

“Now stand here and see the great thing the Lord is about to do. You know that it does not rain at this time of the year during the wheat harvest. I will ask the Lord to send thunder and rain today. Then you will realize how wicked you have been in asking the Lord for a king!” So Samuel called to the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day. And all the people were terrified of the Lord and of Samuel. “Pray to the Lord your God for us, or we will die!” they all said to Samuel. “For now we have added to our sins by asking for a king.” (1 Samuel 12:16-19)

At this point, Samuel recognizes the sincerity of their repentance, but the fact remains that they have made a sinful decision in selecting a king that will stay with them for hundreds of years. And even though the die has been cast and Samuel could have turned his back on them for their foolish decision, he utters these words that have such meaningful application to our lives to this very day: “Even though I am retiring as your spiritual leader, I will not sin by failing to pray for you. Furthermore, as I can, I will continue to influence you to do what is right.”

This is the eternal call of the spiritual influencer. When God places you over another human being, as a parent or a pastor, as a teacher or trainer, as Bible study leader or a boss, as a manager or a mentor, you have assumed a responsibility that is never-ending: to pray for them.

The content of your prayer will depend on how God leads you to pray, but intercession will be your call until the day God calls you home. Likewise, speaking into their lives as you have opportunity will be your duty. That is the privilege and responsibility you accept.

Samuel wore the role well. You must too, for the outcome of your charges’ lives depends, to a degree, on you staying in the game.

Going Deeper With God: Over whom has God given you influence? Pray for them today!

The Leader and Criticism

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

If you are a leader, you will be criticized. It goes with the territory. You will be misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misrepresented. This happens to good leaders and bad leaders alike. However, good leaders develop the skill of “mining” the gold while discarding slag in each load of criticism.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Samuel 11:12-15

Then the people exclaimed to Samuel, “Now where are those men who said, ‘Why should Saul rule over us?’ Bring them here, and we will kill them!” Saul replied, “No one will be executed today, for today the Lord has rescued Israel!” Then Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us all go to Gilgal to renew the kingdom.” So they all went to Gilgal, and in a solemn ceremony before the Lord they made Saul king. Then they offered peace offerings to the Lord, and Saul and all the Israelites were filled with joy.

Put aside for a moment the fact that you know the rest of Saul’s story—and admittedly, it is a sad one. Yet there were moments when we see why God chose him and gave him the same opportunities that God would later give David. This chapter is a case in point.

Saul was the new leaders in Israel—the nation’s first king. But while he’d won the electoral college—God’s anointing—the popular vote was still coming in. People were still deciding if they wanted him or not. Some didn’t. And when those who didn’t were shown to be short-sighted and foolish—and worthy of being forced to live in Canaan, according to Saul’s sycophants—the new king acted in the most gracious and winsome way imaginable—and he demonstrated a critical posture for godly and good leadership: staying cool when criticized.

If you are a leader, you will be criticized. It goes with the territory. You will be misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misrepresented. This happens to good leaders and bad leaders alike. However, good leader develop the skill of “mining” the gold while discarding slag in each load of criticism.

When I was in my early adult years, a friend of mine once received what I perceived was some unfair criticism. My encouragement to him was to consider the source and reject the criticism outright. But he wisely said to me, “I think on this one I will chew up the meat and spit out the bones.”

In other words, he believed there might be an element of truth in the painful things that had been said to him. There was possibly something here that could help sharpen him. Or at the very least, there would be in his response to this situation an opportunity for him to learn and grow.

His wise response revealed my own immaturity and insecurity that day. I would have reacted harshly, (Proverbs 15:1), proudly (Proverbs 15:33) and defensively (Proverbs 15:18), but missed an opportunity to honor God’s word, grow in his wisdom and cement my leadership in the eyes of others. My estimation of this friend grew that day. And over the course of his adult life, he has proven to be a great man.

Long after Saul exited the monarchy, another king arose who was very wise, at least he was when he first began. As we listen to Solomon’s advice, we discover there is always an opportunity to grow in wisdom, understanding and honor through criticism directed toward our leadership. Here are five keys Solomon gives to making criticism and correction, even when it’s unfair and unjustified, work for us:

First, practice open-mindedness. Proverbs 15:31 begins with these words, “He who listens to a …rebuke.” The failure of some people is to quit listening when they find themselves being rebuked, corrected or even challenged. But Solomon says the wise person will tune in rather than tune out when they hear things that are personally unpleasant.

Second, recognize the positive. Solomon calls it “a life-giving rebuke…” (Proverbs 15:31) We need to be open to the possibility that within the criticism is an element of truth that can keep us from harmful behavior in the future. Sometimes we will experience life-draining criticism from people who, perhaps, are speaking out of their own issues and don’t have our best interests in mind. But before we reject their words, we need to look for life-giving nuggets of truth.

Third, reject defensiveness. Simply refuse to discard criticism outright. Solomon talks about the danger of brushing aside valid criticism when he says, “He who ignores discipline despises himself…” (Proverbs 15:32) When we make a practice of seeing the truth or the good in criticism, then the consequences of rejecting it becomes a lot less attractive.

Fourth, embrace criticism as God’s tool. Solomon says “…whoever heeds correction gains understanding.” (Proverbs15:32) He then says “the fear of the Lord teaches wisdom.” (Proverbs 15:33) Solomon is saying that criticism can be a great teacher, a tremendous source of understanding. A person of understanding will see the criticism not just as coming from a human mouthpiece, but from the Lord himself. The New Testament writer of Hebrews says it this way,

“The Lord disciplines those he loves, and punishes everyone he accepts as a son. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and life. Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12: 5 –11)

Benjamin Franklin captured the essence of both the Proverb and the teaching of Hebrews when he said, “Those things that hurt, instruct.”

Fifth, cultivate humility. Solomon taught, “…humility comes before honor.” (Proverbs 15:33) There is no way we can take a rebuke with a right spirit without humility being a characteristic of our lives. Humility is what disciplines us to hold our tongue and not respond with anger. Humility is what enables us to see the long-term benefits that may be hidden in the criticism. Humility is what enables us to turn unfair and unwarranted criticism, and the person who delivered it, over to God’s care. Humility receives; pride reacts. Humility responds wisely, pride explodes with defensiveness. Humility makes rebuke a growth opportunity, pride shuts the door to a life-giving experience.

At the end of the process, Solomon says, is a life of distinction. When we handle criticism well, we gain understanding and wisdom. And at the end of the day, honor awaits us.

Going Deeper With God: Are you undergoing a season of criticism? Embrace it as the Lord’s tool to sharpen you. And be grateful!

Heart Transplant

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

You may not be called to lead a nation during a time of crisis, but you have been called to carry out God’s plan in your own sphere of influence—to proclaim freedom to those held captive to sin, to heal the sick, to cast out demons, to deliver the addicted, to love the unlovely, to restore the broken, to bring back fractured families from the brink. That’s a pretty tall order when you’re struggling just to manage your own life, but when you invite the Great Heart Surgeon to take away your weak heart and transplant it with one that is equal to the task, you will have everything you need for your divine assignment.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Samuel 10:9-10

As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul’s heart, and all these signs were fulfilled that day. When they arrived at Gibeah, a procession of prophets met him; the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he joined in their prophesying.

That’s exactly what I need—a change of heart. It is not something I can produce on my own; at least not in a way that fundamentally changes who I am, how I perceive the world, how I behave, or how I respond to God. Don’t get me wrong; I have an important part to play if my heart is ever going to get changed. I have to be willing, I need to surrender, and I must daily yield to the Great Heart Surgeon.

The kind of heart-change I that need can only come from God. That’s what happened to Saul. God had great plans for Saul, and Saul was totally unaware, unsuited (at least in his own mind) and unprepared for what God had in mind—to be the very first king of God’s chosen people, Israel. So when the prophet Samuel revealed God’s plan to Saul, this handsome, young Benjamite demurred.

Yet there was something special about Saul that God saw—a pliable heart, a humble spirit, an innate leadership quality that, with some mentoring, seasoning and Spirit-filling, could rally the Israelites. There was also in Saul a willingness to accept God’s plan, even if Saul’s first inclination was to shy away from such a lofty call. So the moment Samuel’s revelation was finished, God’s Spirit took away Saul’s heart and replaced it with one that was equal to the task of leading a leaderless people in a time of national crisis. Of course, I am not talking about a literal heart transplant, but there was certainly a spiritual heart transplant that day.

That’s exactly what I need—and want. How about you? We may not be called to lead a nation during a time of crisis, but we have been called to carry out God’s plan in a sphere of influence over which he has given us stewardship. He has called us to beat back the kingdom of darkness and proclaim freedom to those held captive to sin, to heal the sick, to cast out demons, to deliver the addicted, to love the unlovely, to restore the broken, to bring back fractured families from the brink—well, you get the picture. That’s a pretty tall order isn’t it? Now you get a sense of what Saul must have felt at that moment!

So how exactly are you going to do all of that when you can barely manage your own life? Well, managing your own life plus capturing your sphere of influence for the Lord can and will happen when you invite the Great Heart Surgeon to take away your weak heart and transplant it with one that is equal to the task that he has placed before you.

I get the feeling you have your doubts about what I am suggesting. Well, join the club. But if God can do it for Saul, can’t he do it for you, too? Why not go to him right now and ask him for a heart transplant!

Going Deeper With God: Perhaps you are thinking that praying for a Saul-like heart transplant is a real stretch. But let me encourage you with this thought: It was God who led you to read this devotional piece today, and he did so for a purpose. He wants to do in you what he did for Saul. So go ahead and ask for a new heart—you’re only asking for what God already desires for you!

God Chooses and Uses The Humble

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

The common mistake we make is to think growth in Christ-like humility will occur in our lives passively. It doesn’t work that way. We’ve got to strategically, deliberately, doggedly partner with the Holy Spirit to put on the Christian virtues of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience toward others. As we offer those virtuous attitudes as actions toward others, Christ-hearted humility will grow in us and we will become the kind of people God chooses and uses for eternal things.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Samuel 9:2,17-21

Saul was as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else….When Samuel caught sight of Saul, the Lord said to him, “This is the man I spoke to you about; he will govern my people.” Saul approached Samuel in the gateway and asked, “Would you please tell me where the prophet’s house is?” Samuel replied. “I am the seer. Go up ahead of me to the high place, for today you are to eat with me, and in the morning I will send you on your way and will tell you all that is in your heart. As for the donkeys you lost three days ago, do not worry about them; they have been found. And to whom is all the desire of Israel turned, if not to you and your whole family line?” Saul answered, “But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?”

Tall, dark and handsome! That was Saul: movie star looks with the humility of Mother Teresa—at least at first. Saul had everything a person would need to be successful in the work of God. He had raw talent and gifts on loan from God; he had a proper sense of self-identity, and was from a good family. He had it all going the right way. God saw that long before he touched Saul for the kingship. Samuel saw that too, and he was immediately struck by Saul’s readily apparent qualities when he laid eyes on him. Saul would make an excellent king.

You know the rest of the story of course: Saul’s great beginning was not matched by a strong finish. From the beginning, there were cracks in his character—cracks which all have—that became fissures under the pressure of leadership demands because they were left unaddressed in the run up to kingship. Saul failed to submit his insecurity to his mentor, Samuel, and ultimately to God. Insecurity became independence from God—Saul felt like he had to make things happen for himself. Independence led to significant accomplishments apart from God, and as a result, a growing source of unhealthy pride for Saul. Pride became rebellion, rebellion was justified in his own mind, sin took over and Saul became a very public trainwreck of a king.

But we are not there in the story yet. For now, Saul responded to the call of God in an impressive way: he was unimpressive. By that I mean he didn’t say something to Samuel like, “yeah, I know. Where have you been all my life? It’s about time I was recognized for my incredibly good looks and imposing features. I was born to be king of Israel. Let’s get on with it.” Rather, he authentically and humbly demurred, “Who am I to be anointed king? I am from a small family in an insignificant tribe, and I am not even considered all that much among my own people.” Well played, Saul! And he meant it.

Humility—having a proper estimation of yourself, and of others. It is not thinking too highly or too lowly of yourself; in fact, it is not thinking of yourself at all. It is actually thinking first and foremost of others. With a lot of divine help and great effort on our part, we are called as the children of God to walk in authentic humility, because the humble are the kinds of people God chooses and uses! In Colossians 3:12-14, the Paul describes some deliberate actions that we need to take to live with an attitude of humility:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive each other whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Humility begins when we learn to be concerned with the affairs of others more than our own concerns: “Clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Note the phrase “clothe yourself.” The common mistake we make is to think growth in Christ-like humility will occur in our lives passively. It doesn’t work that way. We’ve got to strategically, deliberately, doggedly partner with the Holy Spirit to put on these Christian virtues. The last time I got dressed, I didn’t step out of the shower and say, “Okay God, make me look good today” and expect a flattering suit to magically jump out of the closet and onto my body. It took a decision and effort and intentionality on my part.

What Paul is saying is that we are to intentionally go into our spiritual closet each day and choose to wrap our attitudes with the virtues of humility. And the way we do that is by choosing to be considerate of the needs of other people who need our compassion, kindness, gentleness and patience. As we offer those virtuous attitudes as unconditional actions toward others, Christ-hearted humility will grow in our lives.

Humility—compassion, kindness, gentleness and patience toward others: are these museum pieces or active ingredients in your life? If they become active ingredients, you will become the kind of person that God chooses and uses in an eternally significant way.

Going Deeper With God: Are the virtuous actions of compassion, kindness, gentleness and patience museum pieces or active ingredients in your life? How are you doing in those five areas? Take some time today to ask the Holy Spirit to check your humility gauge.

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.