“Although you once considered yourself unimportant, have you not become the leader of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel and then sent you on a mission….” (1 Samuel 15: 17-18a)
The words above were the words of admonition from the prophet Samuel to king Saul. Saul was once just an ordinary man. He was humble and shy. He did not think too highly of himself. In fact, when prophet Samuel called him before the entire congregation of the Israelites to anoint him as the first king of Israel, he hid himself. Soon after he became king and defeated the Ammonites, Saul began to gradually become full of himself. He bent over backwards to please people but began to deny God in his actions. Pride crept into his heart. He began to make decisions independent of God. This was the beginning of the downfall of Saul.
Saul’s only sin, a very grave sin, was this: he considered himself more important. Even more important than God. Pride dethroned humility. His sin is alarmingly quite common in our current times. We live in a world of the “self”. Self-confidence. Self-esteem. I, me, myself. My plans, my future, my way. Pity “me”. Notice “me”. Pay attention to “my accomplishments”. Praise “me”. We have bowed down to the “me” demi-gods that we have made of ourselves. There is little room for God. We want to be noticed. We want to take credit for what we do. We take pride in the fact that our hard work has brought us the success we have. We want to be honored. We want others to respect us. We fight for a place in the society. We want to be valued by others. Yet the more I study Scripture, the more I find that the aggrandizement of the self is in direct opposition to what Jesus teaches us.
Yesterday it was my birthday and I took a walk in the morning to a nearby bakery and supermarket to buy some extra spreads so my family could enjoy a sumptuous breakfast. All along, I caught myself fighting with these thoughts: “It is MY big day, so my family better make it memorable for ME!!” This attitude of seeking to get attention (it was my birthday after all, and it occurs just once every day!) gnawed away at my mind all morning: I was crushed to return with my surprise goodies from my shopping trip to find that the dining table was not set, the kids were still asleep and my husband was already typing something busily on his work laptop. Visions of my favorite Paeonias in soft pink (despite unabashedly hinting at it all week to my husband!!) gracing the center of the table evaporated into thin air. I seethed inwardly and suppressed my anger and hurt feelings from raising their ugly head as we sat to have this meal together. By lunch time, the casual attitude of my family made me even more hurt that my disappointment reached a threshold limit. I burst into tears. “This is the most disappointing birthday ever!”, I declared. “I serve you all year and did so even this morning, despite it being my birthday, I surprised you with the large breakfast spread but you don’t even care to make my ONLY special day memorable”, I sobbed (as if one is noticed only on their birthdays and on no other day during the year!!).
I was mad that my husband was in meetings all day and barely had time in between to spend time with us. I was mad that my teenage daughter had not bothered to set up the dining table. Oh, how it hurt. As I tried to make sense of the surge of emotions, I realized that I had elevated my expectations to a much higher level than my family could offer. It was not that they did not love me. My husband was in the middle of sorting a messed up team work for a client and had to send some work to the client by evening. The senior management was involved and he had to get everything right. My daughter had stomach cramps and felt sick to do anything. I realized (and how ashamed I was when I did!) that in my quest to draw attention to myself, and to feel gratified, I had turned a blind eye to what they were going through. I had adamantly and foolishly decided to base my worth on how they treated me on my ONLY important day! Ugghhhh. The Holy Spirit was slowly, yet gently shifting my focus to my Bible reading last morning: Christ came to serve. He was born in humble circumstances. He never called attention to Himself. He never looked to people for acknowledgement. He did not entrust Himself to men. He never sought attention. He went about God’s work. Even though He was God, He never made prideful statements about His authority. Neither did He command nor demand respect. He gave of Himself. Freely. At every given moment, He sought to serve. The Bible says that He did not commit Himself to man for He knew what was in man.
Going back to king Saul: a few verses after Samuel’s reprimand, Saul still did not acknowledge his sin: although God asked him to completely annihilate the Amalekites, he disobeyed and kept the best of everything for himself. Instead of repenting before God, king Saul defended himself. His apology was insincere. In 1 Samuel 15: 30 we read, ‘Saul said, “I have sinned. Please honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel.” As a dramatic consequence of his continued rebellion, God abandons Saul. The prophet Samuel never sees his face again. God anoints a new man in Saul’s place. David was a multi-talented man. The Bible describes him in 1 Samuel 16: 18 as a “valiant man, a warrior, eloquent, handsome”.
Here is something else we know about David: when God sent Samuel to anoint one of the sons of Jesse as the next King, Samuel takes one look at the muscular Eliab and thinks to himself that this is certainly the Lord’s anointed. In 1 Samuel 16: 7, we read, however, ‘But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or his stature, because I have rejected him. Man does not see what the Lord sees, for man sees what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart.”
David considered himself unimportant. Even his own family considered him unimportant!! When Samuel arrived at Jesse’s house to anoint the next king, Jesse had lined up only 7 of his 8 sons. He did not think David was fit to be a king. David was left to tend his sheep at that moment. Imagine the most powerful prophet in the land was coming home for a historic visit and David was not deemed fit to witness this. I can imagine the disappointment David must have felt to be left out.
From the story of David and Goliath, we understand that David’s brothers were warriors. They fought in the army of Israel. His older brothers also seemed to despise him . It is evident that David’s father and brothers considered him only fit enough to do the menial and trivial job of tending sheep.
Yet God saw David’s heart. He noticed how sincerely David watched over his sheep. How loyally and fearlessly he defended the sheep and fought lions and bears that came to attack them. David also revered God. He was a man of faith. He was humble. He considered himself unimportant. He sought to serve. Every single thing that David did in secret in this menial task assigned to him, God took notice. God saw how much David feared Him. So much so that David is named in the Bible as a man after God’s own heart. He is found worthy to be in the lineage of Christ Himself.
In the self-centered, self-seeking world we live in, it is so easy to be swayed by popular opinion. Of being made important. Of being noticed. Of chasing after ambitions and dreams driven by self-motivation. These are qualities that the world elevates and admires. However, the principles of God’s Word are diametrically opposite to what the world teaches. The Bible calls on us to daily die to our “selves”!! To elevate Christ and Christ alone. To forget ourselves but set our sights on Jesus who is the author and finisher of life.
Matthew 16:24 says, “Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.”
John 3:20 says, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
In 1 Corinthians 15:31 Paul, one of the greatest apostles of his times says this, “I assure you, believers, by the pride which I have in you in [your union with] Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily [I face death and die to self].”
The moment I allowed God to break through the hurt in my heart yesterday and to let go of my expectations, something beautiful happened:
I realized that my family had not really forgotten my big day after all: they had planned a cake for me (that we cut late afternoon) and had also given me birthday cards. Sure there were no pink Paeonias but my husband was working on getting me something else that he knew I needed. My daughter and I also bonded and continued our study of the book of John together. We ordered pizza for dinner and had our first ‘movie and camp in the living room together’ night as a family of four last night. Our 5-year old was so excited at the prospect of doing something together that he was excitedly cavorting around the living room like a spring lamb. God brought joy and peace. The day ended memorably.
I believe God is looking for hearts and lives that are solely submitted to His will. That look to please Him and Him alone. Where there is no selfish motive or pride or self-seeking will. Would He find you and I willing today to surrender ourselves into His immensely capable Hands? Oh, what a glorious adventure awaits those of us that are ready to embark on this journey with none other than Christ alone as the Head.
Heavenly Father, I see that far too often I keep one foot in the world and the other foot in the church. But You are calling me today to abandon the way of the world and live in selfless abandon for You and You alone. Oh, that I may pursue everything You have purposed for me and give up and give away everything my limited human heart runs after. Take hold of my willingness today, Lord Jesus and keep me humbled and submitted to Your will all the days of my life. Help me not just to live existentially but to life with a definitive purpose from this day forth. In Jesus’ Matchless Name, amen.