I have no doubt that God has a sense of humor. I can just hear Him chuckle as He listens to the steward at the wedding of Cana remark that the host of the wedding saved the best wine for last. I imagine His belly laugh after He tells Peter to cast his net on the right side of the boat when he and his friends had caught nothing all night long. Heeding the Lord’s advice, Peter’s net could barely hold the catch! And, who wouldn’t snigger at the illustration He gave of a huge camel trying to squeeze through the eye of a needle. What a picture! So I have always imagined God “tee-heeing” a bit when He had me work with three year old children when I found that with my own kids, that was the age that challenged me the most.
Spending time with threes can be amazingly fun, but it also is an exercise in patience. While for some the pull begins during the terrific twos, the desire for independence becomes firmly rooted in the heart and soul of a three-year-old. In so many ways it is a good thing, less mom is still putting on socks and buttoning the shirts of her high school graduate before his commencement exercise. It’s really neat to see pint-sized grocery carts at some stores allowing children the freedom and experience of shopping for food staples. (Tip: It just might cut down on grocery bills if you can keep to only what your child can place in his cart.) Allowing a child to be more independent is the way he will grow into a successful, productive adult. The trouble begins, however, when that same three-year-old steps into territory far above his maturity level. What parent has not at sometime waited for a determined youngster to tie his own shoes when he does not have that skill mastered? Problems can occur, however, when an adventuresome kid decides that he is old enough to cross a busy street alone, use mom’s electric mixer, or cut sister’s hair into the latest style (of course, uneven is in!). Even if a true tragedy is averted, mom and dad may find themselves dealing with some big messes in junior’s independent wake.
Unfortunately, as adults we can get into the same trouble. Independence is good, right? So we practice it even in our endeavors for God. We go it alone, as proud as can be, when God’s Word encourages us to rely on God and the power He provides through His Holy Spirit. The Lord is clear that nothing is significant and lasting unless He is in it.
The people of Israel were often champions of the “go it alone” route. Israel’s first king, Saul, certainly had a flare for independent thinking and actions. He started out humble and fully dependent upon God, but then as he determined it was slowing things down to wait on God, he began to do things his own way. In 1 Samuel 15, Saul is told to attack the Amalekites for their despicable treatment of the Israelites when they left Egypt. The Israelites were to destroy every man, woman and child along with all the livestock, whether strong or weak, desired or despised. Following this act would put everything in God’s hands. Saul did a pretty good job, at least in his own eyes. But, he spared the king, Agag, and in his supposed zeal for God, he kept the best of the sheep, cattle, calves and lambs to sacrifice to the Lord. God, however, was not looking to hold a barbecue after this rout, and Samuel the prophet took Saul to task for his independent action. 1 Samuel 15:10 relates, “The word of the LORD came to Samuel: ‘I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.’ And Samuel was angry, and he cried to the LORD all night.” Samuel then headed out to confront Saul, found out that he had been in Carmel where he had set up a monument in his own honor (oh where did our humble boy go?), and then went on to Gilgal.
When Saul saw Samuel it seems he was expecting a pat on the back, sharing with Samuel, “I have performed the commandment of the Lord (vs. 13). I love Samuel’s retort, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?” (vs. 14). Saul continued to defend his actions, insisting that he had obeyed God, then blaming the Israelite people for taking the spoil. The following is God’s rebuke of Saul through Samuel:
“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king,” (1 Samuel 15:22-23 ESV).
This was only the beginning of a downhill spiral that would take Saul further from God and away from his kingship.
To exercise independence from God may not carry with it the penalty of losing a kingdom with the resultant headaches, heartaches and further drift from God’s will. While God’s Word insures that “for those who love God, all things work together for good for those who are called according to His purpose,” (Romans 8:28 ESV), we should never test that out by deliberately following a path independent from Him. How much better it will be to exercise dependence upon God, receiving guidance from His Word, staying connected to Him though prayer, and asking Him to give us wisdom to know His perfect will. We can then walk in the ways of Jesus remembering that this gives us true freedom and independence, “for those whom the Son has set free, will be free indeed,” (John 8:36 ESV).
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