Fixing Our Focus
I wish that lessons didn't need to relearned.
It would be wonderful if I could understand a principle of God's character in one moment, and never find myself questioning that principle in another. Sometimes my response is so much more godly than at other times. Some days are easy to walk in faith and simple trust and rest in God's plan for my life, and other days are much more difficult, even when dealing with the same part of my story.
I thank God that He uses both to teach us and to share our lessons with others!
A few years back, when our children were all very little, I was expecting our last baby. My husband's construction business was small and much more fragile (although it still feels small and fragile to us!). With construction business failure rates at 53% on average, and rising statistically every year in business, it was an intimidating task, even with as much experience as my husband had.
At the time we were in a personal business recession, finding that as our company grew, so did our overhead, and it became difficult to bid low enough to compete in the construction market while still paying our employees with their families enough to adequately provide.
Stretched to our limit, we searched for bids that could potentially keep us afloat, and our employees paid.
It was during this time that a contractor took advantage of us. This is very typical in the construction industry, whether with homeowners, subs, employees, or contractors. We ended up with a large contract that took the entire summer to complete, non-payment of the contract, promises to help that were never realized, and a debt that ate up an entire years' income. By the time our baby was born, with his emergency c-section and NICU expenses to pay, we were upwards of $100,000 in debt.
It was a long year, and it was hard not to feel that gut nausea most days, wondering if the Lord really would provide for us as He promises to, or if somehow we were messing things up and He would leave us in that mess.
We prayed a lot, and some days our prayers were more like inward groans.
And God heard our prayers.
After the birth of our last baby, the Lord gave us a bid that had a mistake in their blueprints, though we didn't know it at the time of the bid. My husband bid it according to the blueprints, and then they cut out some of the blueprint requirements that were not necessary to code. If you know general contracting in commercial departments, you know that the bid often remains the bid, regardless of errors made with the engineer or architect.
Because of that error, we ended up with enough to pay back everything we had owed. It was a blatant and joyful deliverance by God, and one that I never expected and will never forget. In my mind, I set up an Ebenezer, to remind myself of God's faithfulness in my need.
You would think that I wouldn't need that constant reminder, but I find myself frequently needing to go back to that and many others stones of remembrance in my life in order to have faithful actions in my next season.
This morning was one such moment. Last summer our family and home survived the Beatchie Creek wildfires in Oregon, for which we praise God! Months later, though, we are still dealing with a lack of a kitchen coupled with an insurance company that doesn't wish to pay out all the expenses of an expense fire claim in order for us to restore our kitchen cabinets and flooring.
As a homeschooling mother with so many children, I find this situation to be very stressful. As an added element, we don't have any assurances as how long or even if we will be able to restore our home to functionality.
So once again, I could feel the anxiety rising up in me. But God is so good. He knows how to correct our faulty focus. As I turned in my devotions this morning to 1 Samuel 8, God convicted my heart about my need for an focus adjustment.
The story takes place during the time of the judges, before any kings in Israel. Samuel had been righteously judging the people since his boyhood, but his sons were becoming corrupt and taking bribes (1 Samuel 8:4-5). In addition, the Israelites were facing the threat of the Ammonites and war (1 Samuel 12:12).
Rather than ask for Samuel to discipline or replace his sons with godly judges, the people felt that the entire system was at fault, and if they could only have a different system and a different leader, specifically, like those of the other nations, their enemies, then their problems would be solved.
When we find ourselves facing oppression within and without,
it is a temptation to focus on fixing the system rather than to fix our focus.
Part of my struggle with our situation was feeling like I needed to find a way to make our insurance company do what they are contracted to do, rather than go to God to provide for our needs. When we were being taken advantage of before, we were too little and too small to ever make such a large company pay us. We had no resources for court or attorneys. But when we relied on God, He provided for us regardless of others' right or wrong choices.
I see this happening with our government systems all the time. On social media and news we see so much anger, resentment and fear at this or that unjust or corrupt system or person with authority. We sometimes feel that if we could just switch out the system for a “better” one, or the person in charge for someone we feel is less corrupt, then our problems would be solved.
While voting and trying to improve or reform our country's systems is a good and worthwhile thing to do, we must come to understand that the corruption and problems with our system and systems of authority are only symptoms of a heart issue with us as a people.
God may and does use government authority and systems to bless and administer justice, but He is not limited by them. He often loves to choose what we think least able to help or provide to be the way that He takes care of us and shows His glory and power.
When the people came to Samuel in chapter 8, they made their excuses. They asked for a replacement. And Samuel was upset.
But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” 1 Sam 8:6
Samuel wasn't offended that they would bring up his children's sins. He was upset that they wanted to change the judge system for a monarchy like all the other nations. He knows that he has served them faithfully and without taking a bribe, and yet the people have decided not to trust him or God to deal justly with his sons' corruption. At Saul's coronation, Samuel protests this ill treatment of his decades of service:
...I am old and gray-headed, and look, my sons are with you. I have walked before you from my childhood to this day. Here I am. Witness against me before the Lord...: Whose ox have I taken, or whose donkey have I taken, or whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed, or from whose hand have I received any bribe with which to blind my eyes? I will restore it to you.” And they said, “You have not cheated us or oppressed us, nor have you taken anything from any man’s hand.” 1 Samuel 12:2-4
Regardless, rather than stay angry or bitter at their rejection, Samuel had learned to take his frustrations to God. When he prayed, the Lord told him to let the people have their king and monarchy, because they were not rejecting Samuel's service, but rather God's. He reminded Samuel of the Israelite's tendency to forsake Him and turn to other gods to give them prosperity and security, and that they were simply doing this again.
He does give Samuel two more instructions: he is to solemnly forewarn them and he is to tell them what a king will do to them (1 Samuel 8:1-9).
In Deuteronomy God had given a prediction of this very event in demading a future king, and given laws and warnings for the monarchy when it would happen (Deut. 17:14-17). As we see about the laws governing slaves, polygamy and divorce, it wasn't that these ideas and a monarchy were how God originally created the world in goodness, but rather a set of governances to check the power of sin for a world that would, in their hardness of heart, choose things that went against God's original heart intent to do good for mankind (Matthew 19:8).
At Saul's coronation, Samuel obeyed the Lord's instructions. He reminded them of God's faithfulness in His deliverance out of Egypt. He reminded them of God's faithfulness with Gideon against Commander Sisera. He reminded them of their very own need in Samuel's story for God's salvation, when they had turned away from the Philistine idolatry to plead for God's deliverance from the Philistines, and of God's faithfulness to send the judges to rescue them from their enemies every time they returned with genuine repentance to the Lord:
And the Lord sent Jerubbaal, Bedan, Jephthah, and Samuel, and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side; and you dwelt in safety. And when you saw that Nahash king of the Ammonites came against you, you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ when the Lord your God was your king.
Their sin was in asking for a king because they no longer trusted in God to protect or prosper them. They believed that their oppression was a result of an inadequate leadership system, the judges and of Samuel's corrupt sons, rather than a need for repentance and sincere seeking of God on their own part. They replaced the Philistine idol worship of the previous generation with an idolatrous monarchical worship. While the previous generation had worshiped the idols of their enemies the Philistines, this generation wanted to worship and set up for themselves a replication of their enemies' monarchies.
We worship by serving and trusting in any thing or one
we believe will supply us with provision and security.
In my own heart, I have noticed that when my anxiety levels rise it is a good symptom, much like our bodies' nervous system with pain, to let me know of a deeper problem that needs to be fixed. Whether it is anxiety, depression, anger, frustration, bitterness, and many more negative emotions, if we bring those feelings or wrong reactions to the Lord, His Spirit is faithful to show us the deeper heart issue that the symptom is exposing. The circumstances only allow us to have an ideal condition in which whatever is in our hearts comes to the surface.
In 1 Samuel 12, Samuel obeyed God's instruction by reminding the people that no leadership system will supply them with safety and security without the people sincerely serving and obeying God's voice. If they obeyed God, whether with a king, or with a judge, they would be able to count on God's help. Conversely, without obedience to the Lord, they would be oppressed by both their enemies and their king, putting them in an even more difficult position, since a king would have much more power and authority to hurt them than had any judge.
“Now therefore, here is the king whom you have chosen and whom you have desired. And take note, the Lord has set a king over you. If you fear the Lord and serve Him and obey His voice, and do not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then both you and the king who reigns over you will continue following the Lord your God. However, if you do not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you, as it was against your fathers. 1 Samuel 12:13-15
When we are obedient to serve and worship only God,
He will be our Helper no matter what.
At that point in Samuel's rebuke, I hope I would have wanted to take back my request. Sometimes God gives us this opportunity to take back our demands when we repent, but sometimes he lets us walk out the consequences of our own requests because we aren't changing our wrong heart focus: “He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul.” Psalm 106:15
After inaugurating Saul as king, Samuel informed the people that they would see God's power and control over the whole universe. It was during the time of the harvest, and the voice of God sent thunder and rain, which would have destroyed their crops.
The people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel, and realized their error. They asked for Samuel to pray for them for the sin of rejecting God as their king and demanding a king to replace Him (1 Samuel 12:16-19).
God had mercy on His people, and Samuel told them not to be afraid. They had sinned greatly, but if they served the Lord with all their heart, He would still help them:
...And do not turn aside; for then you would go after empty things which cannot profit or deliver, for they are nothing. For the Lord will not forsake His people, for His great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you His people. Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you; but I will teach you the good and the right way. Only fear the Lord, and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.” 1 Samuel 12:20-25
On the surface, this seems like such a simple, uncomplicated commandment, but I find it quite difficult! I even notice that little things, like a stove, or a laptop or printer becoming non functional when I think I need them, show where I am placing my true dependence. When I become irritable or impatient, I can trace those feelings back to on what or who I am placing my trust.
When my kids fail to “perform” in public or at the grocery store, and display my parenting weaknesses to all, I can be challenged to place my reputation, identity and self-worth back where it belongs—in God's hands. When someone I am counting on is late or doesn't keep their commitments, I find that I am challenged to remember that it is God who is my provision and my source of joy and rest. When my vacation plans fall through, and God's provision of rest comes in less “fun” methods than I would prefer, it can challenge my focus.
I do find, though, that the Lord will “fix my focus” when I obey Him by considering all the deliverance God has given me in the past, and realizing that the God I serve is still all powerful, still loves me and will continue to help me.
When we consider the great things God has done for us,
He fixes our focus for the future!
The Apostle Paul, when speaking of his many sufferings and difficulties in ministry, used this same concept of considering what great things the Lord had done for him in order to walk in faith for current and future suffering:
For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us, you also helping together in prayer for us, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the gift granted to us through many. 2 Corinthians 1:8-11
What is it for you? What or who do you find yourself focusing upon or serving? What symptoms can you identify that will help identify a wrong focus? What deliverance has God given you in your past that you can consider?
“Consider what great things He has done for you.”
1 Samuel 12:24
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Halley Faville lives with her husband and children in their mountain home in Oregon.