Have you needed an immediate answer from God, but no matter how much you prayed, even begged or pleaded with Him, God’s answer was late? There is an old saying that God is seldom early, but never late; but that statement begs the question: How do you define late?
In the Old Testament book of first Samuel we find the story of how King Saul found himself in a situation like that and, because of the bad decisions he made, he lost his kingdom. This story teaches us some two important lessons we must learn so that we can avoid Saul’s mistake.
In 1 Samuel 13:1-15 we read that Saul’s son Jonathan had attacked their enemies, the Philistines, and had really stirred up the proverbial hornet’s nest. The Philistines got really mad and gathered their army to attack Israel. The Israelites were completely outnumbered, and Saul’s soldiers were so scared that they were running away.
Saul was desperate. The prophet Samuel was supposed to come and help Saul seek God’s guidance and blessings, but Samuel was late. Saul felt that he had to do something, so he broke God’s commandments and offered a sacrifice without Samuel being there.
In the Sunday school class I’m teaching, we were discussing this story. We realized that Saul wasn’t that much different from us. We each recognized that we had all been in circumstances that seemed impossible, and that out of desperation we had made bad decisions. But unlike Saul, we had not lost everything because of them.
So what was the difference? Why had Saul’s actions had such severe consequences when our mistakes had been costly, but had not ruined our lives?
In 1 Samuel 13:10 it says, “Just as he (Saul) finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him.” In other words, Saul had just finished making a big mistake when Samuel arrived. If Saul had just waited a little longer, Samuel would have come and the problem could have been avoided. So why was Samuel just a little bit late?
The first lesson we learn from Saul is based on one of my favorite verses, Psalm 139:23, which says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” There is probably one thing, one “test,” in life that will reveal our anxious thoughts faster than anything else, and that’s when God seems to be running late.
Samuel was late because it created a test that revealed something in Saul’s heart, something that is in all of our hearts, it revealed his doubt and fear.
One of the hardest and most valuable lessons we each must learn is patience, also known as perseverance. In James 1:4 we read, “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
I wonder how many times I have ended up lacking things simply because I had not had the patience to wait just a little longer for God’s help. The promise in James is that our faith will be complete, and that we will lack nothing, if we simply let perseverance, patience, finish its work in our hearts. By revealing our doubts and fears, God gives us the chance to face them, and overcome them, through the promises in His word.
The other important lesson we learn from this story comes from Saul’s answer to Samuel. Samuel asked Saul what he had done, and he said, “When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Micmash, I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the LORD’S favor.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.”
When we look at Saul’s answer we see something that is basic human nature, blame shifting.
We will all face desperate times, and most of us, probably all of us, will make bad decisions. We will do things out of fear and doubt rather than faith, and that may lead us through some hard times. But we need to learn from Saul.
Even if we have blown it, the moment we realize that we made a mistake we have to take responsibility for it. I believe that Saul would not have lost his kingdom if he had simply said, “Samuel, I blew it. I was scared and I did something that I should not have done, will you forgive me? And can we now seek God together for His help?”
Saul paid a very high price for his mistake because he refused to acknowledge his sin. In my Sunday school class we all had stories of times when we had made decisions out of fear, but we also had seen that God had miraculously fixed our mistakes once we had acknowledged them.
When we face desperate times and believe that we need an answer immediately, it’s then that we must learn patience and perseverance. In those times we must wait just a little longer.
And when we make bad decisions, we can know that even then, God will forgive us and help make things right again.