Rejoice With Those Who Rejoice

“They have credited David with tens of thousands,” he thought, “but me with only thousands…” (1 Samuel 18:8 NIV).

How do we react when someone else receives praise? When you’ve worked hard and poured yourself out for something, and then someone else is thanked or recognized for their service, what happens in your heart? Many of us can relate, at least a little, to Saul’s thought from 1 Samuel 18:8.

Saul had been used to receiving all the accolades, but now David is on the scene. Everyone in Saul’s army, including Saul himself, was too scared to face Goliath. But David, who would most likely have been 13 or 14 at the time, killed the Philistine’s most celebrated warrior in single combat. David gained tremendous popularity with the soldiers and showed his mettle on the battlefield while Saul cowered in the tents. Imagine the embarrassment Saul felt. He sent a boy to do a man’s job, and David did it handily! It’s no wonder the people credited David with exceeding the military exploits of Saul.

But the real point that pressed into my heart when I read these verses was not that David was better than Saul, but that Saul struggled when David was recognized more than he was. As a pastor, I’ve experienced this come around to bite me. I’ve recognized or complimented some, only to have another become angry with me and say, “You said nice things about them, but nothing about me.”

As a human being who struggles with sin, I’ve also thought Saul’s thought in my own heart. When I read these verses, the Lord lovingly reminded me that I serve for His pleasure alone. My reward is from Him. I do receive a lot of feedback from people, mostly positive. But ultimately, I must guard my heart against becoming too dependent upon the praise of people, and continuously refocus my ears to God’s voice. I’ve actually grown to enjoy hearing others receive recognition because it has become a way to test where my heart is. If I react like Saul, I recognize a growing pride in myself. I can confess that sin, pray a quick prayer of blessing over the other person, and hammer another nail in my pride’s coffin.

My prayer for the week is that the Lord reveals in you an area of needed growth and that you take that step!

A Fifth Prayer

May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us– yes, establish the work of our hands. (Psalm 90:17, NIV)

Yesterday, I preached about four prayers that have changed my life:

  1. “Help my unbelief” (from Mark 9:24).
  2. “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening” (from 1 Samuel 3:10).
  3. “Give me wisdom” (from James 1:5).
  4. “Not my will, but Yours be done” (from Luke 22:42).

There is a fifth prayer I wanted to share, but I only recently found it. In other words, it hasn’t changed my life, yet, because I only just started praying it! However, I have a feeling about this prayer–that it will be as life-changing as the other four. So, I wanted to share it with you and invite you to pray it with me.

It comes from Psalm 90:17. “Establish the work of our hands.” It seems to me, as I reflect and pray through this Psalm, that this prayer acknowledges an important truth. I can’t say it any better than Jesus did, so I’ll just quote Him:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5, NIV)

No matter how much we work, no matter how much we make, without God, it all amounts to nothing. As Psalm 90:10 points out, we have 70 or 80 years to make the most of what God has called us to do. What are we doing with those years? One of my friends, Gary Wheeler, says that each day we get 24 hours. And then he asks, “How are you spending your 24?” We can only spend them once!

I know my life is like a mist that vanishes with the sun, and my time on this side of eternity will one day come to an end. But I also know that I want the work of my hands to endure far longer. I want to look back over my life as I near the end and know that I did something that made a difference. So, the best thing I can do is turn to God and ask Him to establish the work of my hands. Without Jesus, my life will have no fruit. But if I abide in Him, and ask God to establish the work of my hands for the glory of Christ and the common good, I know that He will answer that prayer (probably in many ways I don’t expect).

I also recently discovered the song below that was written from Psalm 90:17. My prayer is that it will bless you this week, as it has blessed me, and that God will establish the work of your hands!

A Zero-Sum Game

As they danced, they sang: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.” Saul was very angry; this refrain displeased him greatly… (1 Samuel 18:7–8a, NIV)

Ah, pride. King Saul had it in spades. As the first king of Israel, he pretty much had unlimited power; and we’ve all heard the saying, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” That’s precisely what happened to Saul. And when a new leader began to rise and gain influence with the people, Saul felt his power threatened; his pride was poked in the eye, and he became outraged.

Saul was looking at things from a zero-sum perspective. In other words, if power is a zero-sum game, David’s rise in power and influence is only possible if Saul’s power and influence decrease. As David gains it, Saul loses it. And Saul didn’t like losing it.

As I reflected on this story, it occurred to me that this issue is very prevalent in our families, our workplaces, our schools, our nation, and (if we’re honest) our churches. It’s the mindset behind the posturing and politicking, the manipulating and popularity contests, the territorialism and insecurity. We are in a position of influence, God calls up another leader, and we immediately feel threatened. Often we react the same way Saul did. We get angry. We get scared. We draw battle lines. We try to discredit the other person. We turn passive-aggressive. We try to limit their sphere of influence. Saul tried to kill David. We may not go that far, but we just might attack their character through gossip and slander.

The truth is, power is a zero-sum game, and God has all of it. The moment we think that we have any of it is the moment we put our foot in Saul’s snare. All the power belongs to God, and He raises up leaders to serve His purposes according to His will and sovereign plan. God raised up Saul for a time, but power and position don’t last forever. When we find ourselves in Saul’s shoes, watching a David rise through the ranks, let’s not make Saul’s mistake. The power and the position were never ours; they are God’s and always will be. God has a plan for that person, and we have an opportunity to use our experience, training, and wisdom to help rather than hinder.

My prayer for the week is that God will bring to us someone we can pour into and be part of God’s plan for their life and ministry.

Four Questions for Scripture

We all know that we should spend time with God in His Word on a consistent basis. While it’s true that the vast majority of Christians throughout the vast majority of Christian history have either not been able to read or have not had access to their own copy of the Bible, it’s also true that during those periods of history many of those same Christians attended worship services and Bible studies multiple times a week, often even daily! In our fast-paced society, making time for everything but God, our involvement in the church has dwindled (according to a recent Barna Research Group study, the typical active Christian only attends worship services an average of 1.7 times per month!).

Given that we’re engaging God’s Word less and less in the context of the church (which severely stunts our spiritual growth), it’s all the more important to spend time with God in His Word devotionally. To that end, here are four questions to help guide your devotional time with God in Scripture.

(1) What does this passage reveal about God? The Bible is first and foremost God’s self-revelation to humanity. I hear people call the Bible a “roadmap to life.” While the Bible does contain a lot of truth about you and your life, it is not ultimately about you or your life! It’s about God and His plan to save the world.

(2) What does this passage reveal about the world? The Bible also reveals truth about the world. For instance, the Bible reveals the origin of sin and shows us how the world got so jacked up. When you read, look for truth about the world, the condition of humanity, why things are the way they are, how human nature works, etc.

(3) What does this passage reveal about me? As you work through a passage, start big and gradually get more specific: God, the world, you. Discovering truth about God and the world should spark questions about your own heart and mind. For instance, Jesus said the harvest is plenty, but the workers are few, and commanded His followers to pray that God would send out workers to reap a harvest (Luke 10:2). We see that (a) God desires people to be saved, and (b) the world is ripe for a spiritual harvest. This should cause you to ask questions about yourself like: Am I working to reap a harvest for Jesus?

(4) What does this passage reveal about God’s will for me? In other words, what is God calling you to change, do, or become as a result of reading this passage? What is going to be different in you? Maybe He’s calling you to think differently, feel differently, desire differently, or act differently. Or maybe He’s not calling you to change anything specifically, but rather using this passage to encourage you to pray for someone else, like your spouse or your kids, a co-worker or classmate, or someone in your church. This last step is a big place to dialogue with God and listen to the Holy Spirit’s conviction.

Happy reading! My prayer for the week is that you will connect with God in His Word, and begin learning to recognize His voice as He speaks to you.