1 Samuel 7-8, Ezekiel 19, Ephesians 6

Read 1 Samuel 7-8, Ezekiel 19, and Ephesians 6 today. This devotional is about 1 Samuel 7-8.

I don’t know about you, but I always think of Samuel as a priest. It is true that he served in that role (see 7:10), but the Bible speaks of him more as a judge—think guys like Samson, Gideon, and other characters from the book of Judges—than as a priest (see 7:15 where he is called a “leader”).

Although he attempted to install his sons as as judges (8:1-2), they failed morally (v. 3) and were rightly rejected by the people (vv. 4-5). So Samuel was Israel’s greatest judge even though he and Deborah were the only non-military judges. The quality that Samuel and Deborah shared was spiritual: they feared God and judged justly as a result. Yet, godly as he was, Samuel’s own sons used their position as leaders for personal gain rather than to serve God’s people. Instead of becoming a spiritual dynasty, Israel continued the same cycle of deliverance in one generation and disobedience in the next.

One thing we’ve learned in the past three chapters of 1 Samuel is that God did not need a military ruler to defend himself or his people. Although God had decreed that battle would be the usual way that Israel secured and defended the land promised to them, their military successes were secured by God. He kept his promise to fight for them, as we see 7:7-12.

Yet despite God’s supernatural work on their behalf, Israel did not ask him for another godly judge like Samuel. They asked for (and, indeed, insisted on) a king (8:6, 19-20). Note their reason for wanting one: “Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” I have heard people emphasize the first phrase, “Then we will be like all the other nations…” and warn against wanting to be like the world. But I think the key phrase is the next one: “…with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

Remember that God had told Samuel that their desire for a king was a rejection of him as their king (v. 7). God had shown himself more than capable of protecting and providing victory for his people if they followed his word, obeyed his leaders (like Moses, Joshua, Samuel, etc.), and—believing his promise to go before them—fought in faith.

Although Samuel spelled out for Israel the high costs of having a human king (8:10-18), they chose to pay dearly for one to do the dirty work instead of believing God and fighting based on his promises.

We have the same kind of problem, frankly. God has given us his word, his Spirit, and his church. “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us” (2 Peter 1:3). But how often do we want someone else to fight our spiritual battles for us—our parents, our spouse, our elder, some devotional writer, or someone else. Yes, we need leadership and all the people I mentioned in the previous sentence can and should provide spiritual leadership for us. But that’s all they can do for you. Consider this: I have always taught that people need to be in God’s word daily. That idea is not remotely unique to me; you knew that already if you’ve been a Christian for any length of time. But it is easy to lose our way, to develop habits that crowd out Bible reading, or just to be overwhelmed with the task of finding a plan. I know how it is, so I created this devotional. Everyday it arrives in your inbox; all you have to do is click on the link and read the passages. If you don’t want to read them all, you can just read the one I’m commenting on. And, I write enough to hopefully get you thinking about what the passage means and how it might apply to your life. I do this because, as your pastor, I want to provide you with some tools to help you grow. That’s my role as a leader.

But I can’t come over to your house and read the passage to you. I can’t make you listen to it, I can’t make you think about it, and I can’t force conviction of sin on you.

I also can’t force you to obey what the Word says. Sometimes, though, people seem to think that I should; they think I have some magic power that can make them live a godly life. They think I should be calling them if they don’t come to church. Or they sometimes seem to think that my words or my presence or my prayers can cause them to do something they don’t want to do.

It doesn’t work like that.

God has given you everything you need to develop into a godly man or woman. He will do some of the work for you—purging and purifying your desires through conviction of sin and causing you to realize areas where you still need to grow through trials and discipline. But he’s promised us that we can overcome sin by the new nature he’s planted in us (see 1 John 2:1-6). It takes faith to believe that promise of God, then obedience to God’s word to make it happen. You can look all you want to someone outside of you, but only you can walk with God.

Numbers 27, Isaiah 50, Proverbs 13:1-14

Read Numbers 27, Isaiah 50, Proverbs 13:1-14. This devotional is about Numbers 27.

Although his sin prevented him from entering the land, Moses did not mourn his own loss or spend the rest of his life moping about how he deserved better. In fact, his focus was not on himself at all; he was concerned about the future of Israel without a clear leader. We saw this in today’s reading in verses 15-17: “Moses said to the Lord, ‘May the Lord, the God who gives breath to all living things, appoint someone over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.’” Israel had such a hard time living in obedience to God’s word with a clear leader like Moses; how could they possibly follow the Lord without someone who would care for them and watch over them like Moses did? What an incredibly tender heart Moses had for the people who had treated him so poorly. When they sinned, he interceded for them. When they were ready to receive God’s promises without him, he prayed that the Lord would send them a good leader to shepherd them.

God answered Moses’s prayer with Joshua in verse 18. Notice, though, that Joshua would not fulfill 100% of Moses’ responsibilities. Moses led the people, spoke to God directly on behalf of the people, and received God’s communication for the people. Joshua would fill the role of leader, especially in a military sense, but Eleazar would take the role of communicating with God (v. 21). And this transition of leadership did not wait until Moses died; God wanted to begin answering Moses’ prayer now, so in verse 20 God commanded Moses to begin handing over leadership to Joshua even while Moses was still alive. In obedience to God, Moses publicly designated Joshua as his successor and commissioned him in the sight of all the people (vv. 22-23). Many leaders would be threatened by this, but not Moses. His concern was for the people, not for himself. Truly “Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Num 12:3).

The lesson for us is clear. Godly leadership is concerned with providing what the people need to be obedient to God; it is not concerned with receiving as much power, respect, success, or whatever as possible. This is the difference between humble, godly leadership and the worldly leadership that thinks it is all about me. As you consider how you lead your family, or the ministry at church that you’re involved in, or whatever  you find yourself leading, is your concern to find the best way to provide godly leadership—even if it takes the spotlight off you? Or, do we let the strength of our sin nature corrupt how we lead so that we think of ourselves first and our flock last?

Numbers 20, Isaiah 43, Proverbs 12:15-28

Read Numbers 20, Isaiah 43, Proverbs 12:15-28 today. This devotional is about Numbers 20.

It is hard to read about Moses’ life and not identify with him. He faced one challenge after another. At one time or another everyone was against him, including his own brother and sister. Yet, despite the challenges, he kept leading, kept praying for the people, kept faithfully doing what the Lord commanded him to do.

Here in Numbers 20 he faced another crisis—a familiar one—the lack of water. Of course the people complained about it (vv. 2-5) and Moses, as he did so often in the past, went to God in prayer looking for the answer (v. 6) this time with his prayer-partner Aaron. God commanded him to “take the staff” (v. 8) which he had once used to strike a rock and bring forth water. This time, however, the instruction was to “speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water” (v. 8).

On his way to do what the Lord commanded (v. 9), the pressure of all this grumbling may have finally gotten to him. He and Aaron gathered the people (v. 10a), but then Moses made a speech. He called the people “rebels” and asked “must we bring you water out of this rock?” Hopefully God was included in that “we” but that’s far from certain because Moses’s next act was not to obey God by speaking to the rock as he had been instructed. Instead, Moses smacked the rock twice with his staff (v. 11). God graciously provided the water, but Moses and Aaron were judged for Moses’ disobedience (v. 12).

What caused Moses to disobey? “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites” (v. 12b). It was a lack of faith in that moment—not a lack of faith in God to provide the water, but the lack of faith to demonstrate the holiness of God to the people.

Had Moses obeyed God’s command to speak to the rock, God would have been exalted and revered when the rock gushed forth. But by striking the stone with his rod, Moses was acting in anger not in faith.

In the ministry, it is hard not to get frustrated and even angry with people when they disobey God’s word. It’s also hard not to become angry as a parent when our kids disobey. But, when we correct someone who is disobedient, are we concerned about them learning the holiness of God or are we mad because they’ve challenged our authority, exhausted our patience, or just disrespected us?

Any of these negative responses is sinful because they don’t come from a sanctified desire to show those we lead–and the world–the greatness of God. When we act in anger toward a godly purpose, we’re not acting in faith; rather, we’re trying to coerce obedience through anger or manipulation.

Anger, coercion, and manipulation do not honor God. When we act in these non-faith-filled ways, we should expect that God’s discipline. God wants to purge us of our disobedient ways and teach us how to lead in faith rather than anger or fear or any other motivation.

Have you been dealing with someone in your life out of anger? Have you been trying to get someone to do right by doing wrong in disobedience to God’s commands? Ask the Lord for faith to trust him as you speak truth in love rather than speaking truth in anger. Then watch to see if God chooses to work through you.

Numbers 12-13, Isaiah 37, Psalms 54-56

Read Numbers 12-13, Isaiah 37, and Psalms 54-56 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 37.

Yesterday’s reading from Isaiah 36 described how the Assyrian king Sennacherib attacked the southern kingdom of Judah and put the city of Jerusalem under siege. Having successfully stopped the flow of water into the city, the Assyrians invited the people of Jerusalem to surrender before they died of dehydration and starvation.

Here in Isaiah 37 Hezekiah the king of Judah showed great spiritual leadership. Instead of mustering his army and trying to fire them up with a rousing speech, Hezekiah recognized that God was the only possible route to deliverance.

Hezekiah began his demonstration of spiritual leadership by humbling himself, personally before the Lord by putting on the garments of humility and going to the Lord’s temple (v. 1). Then he sent some of his deputies, themselves clothed in humble sackcloth, to Isaiah the prophet (v. 2). Their message to Isaiah, in verse 3, was not “Get us out of this!” or even “Pray for us!” Instead, they acknowledged how desperate their situation and need for God was (v. 3) and pointed out to Isaiah that the Assyrians had spoken words of ridicule against the one true God, the God of Israel (v. 4a). As a result, they asked Isaiah to pray that God would preserve his people from this dangerous moment in their history (v. 5).

Isaiah responded by assuring Hezekiah’s officials that God would fight for Israel and repay the Assyrians for their blasphemy (vv. 5-7).

Meanwhile, Sennacherib sent a personal letter to Hezekiah once again denying that God would deliver them and calling on Hezekiah to surrender (vv. 9-13). Hezekiah took the letter he received and brought it before the Lord (v. 14). He prayed and began by praising God for who He is (v. 15-16) and calling on God to deliver his people (vv. 18-20).

At the end of Hezekiah’s prayer, he said the words that God always wants to hear: “…deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are the only God.” As he called on God to fight for his people, Hezekiah tied his request to the demonstration of God’s glory (v. 20).

God answered Hezekiah’s prayer (vv. 21-38) and here we are thousands of years later reading about what God did and praising God in our hearts for his almighty power and defense of his people.

When we ask God for something in prayer, do we ever think about what God would get out of answering our prayers? The biggest human need we think we have is insignificant compared to the importance of magnifying the glory of God and calling people to surrender to him.

God is loving and compassionate toward his people but his main objective in this world is to spread the knowledge of himself throughout the world. Do we ask God to use our weaknesses, our needs, and the answers to prayer that we seek from him in ways that help spread the knowledge of God and bring worship to him? Or is our praying self-seeking, concerned mostly (or only) with getting what we want from God for our own relief or our own life-enhancement?

The kind of prayer God loves to answer is the one that recognizes God’s purposes in this world and aligns the answer we seek with the advancement of God’s agenda in some way.

If you’ve been praying for something, how would God’s giving you the answer you want spread his knowledge in the world? Tying our requests to what God is concerned about—his kingdom—is important for an encouraging answer to our requests.

Think about what you find yourself asking from God in prayer. Is the answer you want really just a way to make yourself comfortable? Or do you see how answering your prayer might have an impact on the real reasons Christ came into the human race? Do you see how God is glorified when he answers in such “difficult” situations? When you pray, connect your prayers to the promises of God and his mission to reach his chosen ones and see if God does not answer more quickly, more completely and thoroughly in your life.

Leviticus 7, Isaiah 2, Luke 22

Read Leviticus 7, Isaiah 2, and Luke 22 today. This devotional is about Luke 22.

There are moments in life when it is hard to think about or care about anything other than the big thing that is about to happen. It might be a really big thing like major surgery or something a bit less scary like a job interview, your wedding, or the birth of a child. When we were kids, a big game or major exam might fit with what I’m describing.

You remember how it felt to be waiting for one of these big things. You might have gotten so nervous that you couldn’t sit down. You tried to watch TV or do something else to distract you but you couldn’t concentrate. When we’re faced with moments and events that scare us, it is hard to think about anything else.

At the end of this chapter, Jesus betrayed by Judas, arrested by the chief priests, and put on trial (vv. 39-71). He knew this time was coming and had predicted it to the disciples. In the first part of Luke 22, then, it would be normal for a person in Jesus’s position to be nervous and unable to think about anyone but himself.

That was not Jesus’s mindset, however. Instead, he sought to make the most of the time he had left with his disciples by having the Passover–his last supper–with them.

While Jesus was not focused on himself, the disciples certainly were. Oblivious to the danger that Jesus was about face, they were arguing openly with each other about which one of them should be “considered to be greatest” (v. 24).

Jesus used their argument as a teaching moment. He flipped their expectations about greatest and taught (as he had before) that the greatest servant is the one who matters (vv. 25-26).

So often we are defensive about our rights, sensitive about perceived slights from others, and miffed when we don’t get something that is owed to us. And, at our worst, we compare ourselves to others, accentuating in our own minds the ways in which we feel superior to those we measure ourselves against.

But the words of Christ in Luke 22:27 cut through all of that like a knife: “For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” The greatest of all came to serve us and he served us well, bearing our sins in order to be our salvation.

As his followers, he calls us to emulate his example—serving him by serving each other. Do you have a servant’s heart or a “serve me” heart? How can you follow the pattern of Christ today? Who can you serve for the glory of God?

Genesis 7, Ezra 7, Matthew 5

Read Genesis 7, Ezra 7, and Matthew 5 today. This devotional is about Ezra 7.

Isn’t it interesting that this book of the Bible is named after someone who doesn’t appear until chapter 7? And, the book of Ezra only has 10 chapters, so the man Ezra is absent from most of it.

And yet, it is fitting that this book is named after Ezra because Ezra, we will see, was given by God to be a key spiritual leader for Israel. Verses 1-5 told us that Ezra had the human pedigree needed to hold the office of priest (see also verse 11: “Ezra the priest”). This was important because of God’s commands about the office of priest. But, one could be humanly qualified to be a priest without actually being a true spiritual leader. Eli’s sons from another era are an example of that.

So what made Ezra special? Well, the grace of God of course. But, in keeping with that grace, Ezra prepared himself. Before he showed up in Jerusalem to be a spiritual leader in Israel, he “was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel, had given” (v. 6b). Ezra prepared to teach God’s word before he showed up to serve as a leader of God’s people.

That preparation is elaborated on in verse 10. How did he become the man verse 6 says was “well versed in the Law of Moses”? According to verse 10a, he “had devoted himself to the study… of the Law of the Lord.” He put in the time; he was in the word himself.

That’s not all though, because verse 10 goes on to say, “Ezra had devoted himself to the… observance of the Law of the Lord.” That means he obeyed it himself. After he learned what it said, Ezra abided by it in the way that he lived his life. Only then did he devote himself “to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel” (v. 10c).

This is the pattern that any and every one of us who leads spiritually must follow. We must be in the word personally, applying it personally and obeying it personally before we teach it to others. If we try to teach without study, we will lead people to error and false doctrine. If we study without application, we will be exposed as hypocrites, creating a crisis of credibility for ourselves and causing some who follow us to stumble.

Are you an elder in our church? A deacon or deaconess? A Calvary Class teacher? An AWANA leader? A parent? Almost everyone of us is leading someone in some way. May the Lord use Ezra’s method of preparation for leadership to call us to prepare well before we speak in God’s name.

1 Kings 21, Daniel 3

Today’s readings are 1 Kings 21 and Daniel 3.

This devotional is about 1 Kings 21.

There are two types of leadership: (1) positional leadership and (2) personal leadership. A personal leader is someone who is influential because of who they are. They have the right combination of characteristics that cause others to follow them naturally. This kind of person is sometimes called a “natural born leader.”

A positional leader is someone who occupies a position that gives them influence over others. Your boss is a positional leader because s/he decides whether you keep your employment and pay, or get demoted or promoted. Even if you personally dislike your boss or wouldn’t follow that person (or any positional leader) if you didn’t have to, you have to follow him or her because they can help you or hurt you.

Ahab definitely had positional leadership. He was the king of Israel. But when it comes to personal leadership, he seems to have far less of that quality than his wife Jezebel had. In this chapter of scripture, Ahab wanted Naboth’s vineyard and attempted to get it in a righteous way. He made Naboth a fair offer (v. 2) and accepted Naboth’s rejection, even though it hurt his feelings (vv. 3-4). Later on in this chapter, after receiving the Lord’s declaration of judgment for his sin (vv. 21-24), he responded with a degree of repentance (v. 27).

So if Ahab had a few principles, why was he said to be unlike anyone else “who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord” (v. 25)? One answer to that is his own idolatry (v. 26) but a key component was the personal leadership influence of his wife Jezebel. The last phrase of verse 25 told us that he did all this evil, “…urged on by Jezebel his wife.” It was was her personal leadership–her influence–that gave Ahab the confidence to follow some of his own sinful tendencies. Furthermore, we read in this chapter that it was her idea to frame and kill Naboth (vv. 7-14) in order to make it easy for Ahab unjustly to take Naboth’s vineyard (vv. 15-16). Jezebel led her husband into sinful actions that he (apparently) would not have taken himself (v. 7).

One important lesson, then, is to be careful about who you marry and, generally, who your friends are. Relationships give people great power over the choices and decisions of others. If you’ve ever done something you were reluctant to do (or that it never occurred to you to do), you know how powerful personal leadership can be. So be careful to choose people who are growing Christians with high moral character to be the closest people in your life.

Even though it was Jezebel’s idea, Ahab was still accountable for what happened. Don’t ever let yourself believe that your sin is excusable just because you were following someone else. Ultimately we will answer to God for everything we do regardless of what led us to do it.

Who are the biggest personal influences in your life? Are those people leading you (influencing you) in godly ways or ungodly ways? Would making some changes in your relationships help you to make better, more righteous decisions?