The Big Picture

The Abbey Notre-Dame of Senanque, ©2019 Lynn Abbott
The Abbey Notre-Dame of Senanque, ©2019 Lynn Abbott

© 2015 Lynn Abbott

I whinged a bit this week.

Yup. With some embarrassment, I must report that discontent and regret paid me a visit.  And I felt sorry for myself.

Sitting in Starbucks with a dear and very talented artist friend, I moaned, “Why didn’t I start sooner? I have so much to learn, and I’ve let so much time pass…”

I felt the full weight of my “mistake.”  I had abandoned art as a young teen.

My motives had been kind. I had done nothing inherently wrong.

I’d simply let my art go so as not to rain on my then best friend’s parade.

Years passed.  In mid-life, I picked up my paintbrush once more.

But I’d lost so much time.  I looked back in regret and with some measure of discontent.

Why hadn’t I stuck it with it and pursued formal art education like so many of my artist friends?   I began to compare my journey with theirs.

And you and I both know how dangerous comparisons can be…

At the very least, comparisons unsettle us.  Or in my case, they serve to discourage and dishearten.

The Abbey Notre-Dame of Senanque, ©2019 Lynn Abbott

The child in me wishes is tempted to plant myself in the field and wilt. Moving forward, under the cloud of comparison, seems pointless.

“I’ll never arrive at my destination,” I say, wallowing in low spirits.

I dunno.  Maybe, artists are especially prone to such bouts of melancholy.  But I suspect that at one time or another, all of us fall victim to the thief Comparison.

Actually, the scoundrel  delights in fostering doubt and stealing joy.

Sometimes, he even encourages us to take harmful detours.

I know this because such was the case for God’s chosen people.

And in fact, when Comparison knocks on my door, I would do well to  turn the deadbolt, pick up my Bible and reread a page from Hebrew history.

Of course, God’s people had their bouts with discontent and doubt.  If I’m perfectly honest, I even sympathize at times.  Wandering in the desert proved overwhelmingly difficult.  The contrast of past life in Egypt with their life in Mt. Sinai’s shadow was undoubtedly extreme.

Yet, by the time God called Samuel, Israel’s days of wandering were part of their distant past; the Hebrew people had lived in the Promised Land for quite some time.

Even so, life did not always run smoothly.  And the people’s hearts wandered. They disobeyed Yahweh, their Shepherd-King.  For this reason, they face hardship again and again.

Indeed, the book of Judges recounts their pattern of disobedience; God’s discipline and their repeated repentance.

This cycle is the backdrop for Samuel’s story.  Abba called Samuel, the last of Israel’s judges, when Samuel was a young boy.

Scripture tells us, “Now Samuel judged Israel all the days of life. And he used to go annually on circuit to Bethel and Gilgal and Mizpah, and he judged Israel in all these places,” (I Samuel 7:15-16).

However, Samuel grew old in the saddle.  I guess for lack of any better idea, he appointed his sons as judges.  It made sense to train those who would naturally replace him.

The problem?  Well, like his mentor Eli,  Samuel evidently had problems at home (I Samuel 2 and 8).

God tells us that Samuel’s sons “did not walk in his ways, but turned aside after dishonest gain ad took bribes and perverted justice,” (I Samuel 8:3).

The Abbey Notre-Dame of Senanque, ©2019 Lynn Abbott

And rather than ask Samuel to correct the problem, the people looked around at their neighbors.  They made comparisons.

Rather than trusting God for direction and persevering in His calling, they looked for an escape hatch.  And they spied their neighbor’s patch over the fence.

That’s right.  You can predict what happened next because you and I both know what kind of grass grows in the next row over.

Despite God’s clear leading, despite His establishment of a judicial system for His people, the Israelis yearned for what their neighbors had.

Doubts grew as the nation faced a variety of challenges.  The difficulties derailed their faltering faith.  Although God had blessed them, life in the Promised Land was not without its trials.

They hadn’t bargained on that.

I can almost hear them say,

This is a mistake. 

We’re moving in the wrong direction.

Our row of lavender does not match the others…

Yahweh certainly couldn’t have intended this.

It seems impossible for our situation to work out well. 

If only…

They confronted Samuel, “Behold, you have grown old , and your sons do not walk in your ways.  Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations,” (I Samuel 8:5).

Discontent muddied their thinking.   I suspect they thought that if they had what their neighbor’s had, all their problems would be resolved.

The Abbey Notre-Dame of Senanque, ©2019 Lynn Abbott

Thus, rather than tending their patch of land, they wished to put it up for sale.

Or as my grandma loved to say, they wanted to “throw the baby out with the bath water.”

Samuel’s sons had proven corrupt and therefore, the people demanded a new system.

I hate to admit it, but I certainly can relate.  When I hit a few bumps in the road, I’ve been known to throw up my hands and say, “I blew it.  I missed my connecting flight. It’s too late.  I’ll never arrive at my destination.”

My husband just rolls his eyes.

Samuel, though, was less amused. And lest we miss the point, Scripture reveals that the root of his displeasure was not a personal one.  Samuel didn’t react as an offended parent.

Had I been in Sam’s position, I don’t think I would have done as well.  Quite frankly, I might have lost patience with God’s people.  The “mama bear” in me would have sought to defend her brood.

Samuel, however, wisely discerned the crux of the matter.  For this reason, he immediately prayed.

I love the gracious response that Abba gave Samuel.  He reassured Sam that the people’s demand did not signify a rejection of Samuel. Ultimately, their complaints did not  reflect on God’s prophet.

But here’s the kicker:  their discontented demand actually rejected God sovereignty.

Their faith in God’s ability to fulfill His plans for them wavered as they compared their lives to those around them.

Ouch.  Personal attitude check.

God had a unique plan for Israel.  He had established the judicial system to settle disputes, but Israel had no earthly king. Instead, God directly lead His people.  This unusual relationship would be a testimony to the nation’s around them.

Their unique journey would bring God glory.

However, Yahweh’s disgruntled children doubted His ability to bring good from the not-so-good of their circumstances.

They questioned whether God could fully protect them from trials, the consequences of their blind choices, the wrongs of others, or even, the dishonesty of Samuel’s sons.

Quite simply, they were not convinced that God indeed works all things together for the good of His beloved children.

Obviously, they lacked an understanding of the all-sufficiency of God’s grace.  I get that.

The Abbey Notre-Dame of Senanque, ©2019 Lynn Abbott

For them, obstacles equated with a complete system shut-down.  And they longed to trade places with those around them.

If only…

Abba allowed them to pursue their own way.  But first, He gave Samuel the task of delivering a gentle warning and offering the people an opportunity to renew their faith.  In today’s vernacular, we’d boil Samuel’s message down to a simple phrase:  “Be careful what you wish for…”

But as so often is the case with fallen humanity, Abba’s children didn’t listen.  Everyone else had a king, and they wanted one, too.  They wanted an impressive  king, one that all the world could see.

Of course, Saul certainly was that.  Scripture tells us that  not only was he handsome, but that he was also taller than any other Israelite.  But more than that, His father was a renown warrior.  Obviously, Saul had popular appeal as well as the “perfect” pedigree.

Nevertheless, his reign proved disastrous for Israel.  And soon after Saul’s inauguration,  it became clear that the grass was not greener.

The wisest of men cannot compete with omniscient and omnipotent God.  Saul’s kingship could not compare.

And because Saul’s personal faith frequently wavered, his hand proved unsteady.

Having gathered his men to defend the nation against the Philistines, Saul grew anxious when Samuel did not arrive promptly to offer sacrifice to God before Saul and his men went into battle (I Samuel 13:8).

As tensions mounted and men began to defect, Saul took matters into his own hands.  Like the nation he led, Saul allowed difficult circumstances to blur his vision.

Instead of placing his faith in Yahweh’s sovereignty, Saul substituted conventional wisdom for God’s revelation.

Perhaps, he thought, “I can’t wait for Samuel any longer. If I don’t do something now, if I miss my opportunity, all will be lost.”

Like Peter, Saul was distracted by the wind and waves.  Whatever the case, Saul began to sink.  He leaned on his own understanding.

Although he was not a priest, Saul offered the sacrifice; he clearly disobeyed God  (I Samuel 13:11-13).

The Abbey Notre-Dame of Senanque, ©2019 Lynn Abbott

Saul’s life unraveled; it’s a tragic tale of ongoing disobedience, bitterness, jealousy and violence.  Civil unrest plagued Israel as Saul sought to eliminate David, God’s newly anointed and Israel’s future king.

God’s people certainly paid a price for their discontented detour.

Yet, in spite of Israel’s faithless detour and Saul’s disobedience, God’s will for His people could not be thwarted.

As the apostle Paul notes, “…the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable,” (Romans 11:29).

Yes, God allowed His people to veer from His perfect plan.  While they made seemingly irreparable mistakes,He nevertheless worked everything together to fulfill His promise.

In God’s relationship with Israel,  I see that God’s calling and His will do not depend on you or me.

In fact, Paul states, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself,” (2 Timothy 2:13).

Although a fallible, human king did not represent His perfect plan for Israel, Abba redeemed His people’s faulty choice when He established the line of David.  Through David, the Messiah–God incarnate–would come.

God will once more be Israel’s king.

That’s right.   Isaiah recorded God’s gracious plan for us,  “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace,”  (Isaiah 9:6).

Nothing can ultimately derail God’s plans for His children, (Psalm 139:7).

God’s grace overcomes all our sin.  He is bigger than any so-called mistake.

After all, He designed you and me, (Psalm 139:13-14).

He planned our days, (Psalm 139:16).

And in grace, He fulfills His plan for our lives, (Psalm 139:9-10).  He is able to work it all together–the good, the bad, the ugly–for the good of those He calls (Romans 8:28).

The Abbey Notre-Dame of Senanque, ©2019 Lynn Abbott

Of course, you and I avoid much grief if we follow God from the outset.  But when we lose our way, the Good Shepherd picks us up and carries us back to His pasture.

Yes, Grace directs every part of our lives.

Thus, instead of whinging about the past, I can say with the apostle Paul, “…I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do; forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 3:13-14).

I guess all I needed this week was a little, long-term perspective.

It’s true. In the short run, I lost a little time.

Yet, of this I am sure: what God has purposed will be accomplished (Romans 8:28; Job 42:2).

We may encounter a few dark and discouraging moments along the way.  Yet, the light of His grace shines bright on the horizon.

After all, Abba’s in it for the long haul.  Eternity, in fact.

“I know that Thou canst do all things, And that no purpose of Thine can be thwarted,”  Job 42:2