I have to admit I love January. After the rush of the holidays and busyness and cozy clutter of Christmas decorations, I love the sense of stripping away the old, new beginnings, and the promise of a new year. I don’t really make resolutions but I love the new sense of purpose that January brings.
Many people resolve to read through their Bible in a year, starting with Genesis and eventually giving up around Leviticus or perhaps showing fortitude and making it to Numbers before their resolve weakens. Now I happen to love Leviticus (one of my favorite books in the Bible) but at this time of year I want stories. I want to read about change in other people, resolutions they make, goals they have for themselves. So this has led me to start reading through 1 Samuel. I haven’t studied through it for a while and I’m planning on going through the Historical Books. I need stories. I need to read about the lives of other people, messy and successful in turn, as they try to live out lives that please God.
1 Samuel 8 spoke to me today about the idea of resolutions and goals. Samuel, who was a priest, prophet, and the leader of Israel was getting old and his sons were really awful so the people of Israel came to Samuel and said, You’re getting old and we don’t want those jokers as our leaders, so ask God to give us a king. I can’t really fault them for that. I think there are times when we all look at who’s next in line and groan inwardly, whether it be in a position of leadership or the person in line ahead of us to get coffee.
What was interesting to me, though, was God’s response. Samuel was offended but God says that it is not Samuel that they have rejected but God, the God who brought them out of Egypt, who they have forsaken and continually turned to other people and gods for their safety and security. What really struck me was what God said next. God says to remind the people that there will be consequences to their decision. “Let them know what the king who will reign over them claim as his rights”.
1 Samuel 8:11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots…13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants…17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves.
As I thought about this, I thought about resolutions we make and desires we have. We want to be better, thinner, healthier, smarter, stronger, less this, more that, be seen as something and overcome our reputation as something else. As we want change we look to systems and other people and cures for what ails us. We want what that church has, what that person has, what we don’t have. In our secret thought of thoughts and heart of hearts we think “If only I…” then I would be happy.
We get trapped in the idea that there is something that will fix us just as the Israelites thought that having a king would be the answer to their problems. They didn’t see God as a part of the solution. Their faith didn’t extend to taking God out of the box they had put him in to allowing him free rein with their lives. They wanted an intermediary. They wanted something they could understand, perhaps something they thought they could control or have a say in. They wanted a solution of their own making.
There are times when I concoct solutions for myself. I strive and I maneuver and I try to fix myself or make things different. Then the system or the plan becomes all-consuming and no one’s allowed in there to mess with it, even God. Sometimes my resolutions can become idols, in a way. My good intentions to be better fail to take into account what God may want for me, plans that he has, or they may take away time I spend with him. It might not even be that malicious. It might just be that in my plan over here, I forget about God over there. But there are consequences to this. God tells the Israelites that they need to realize that their plan, their solution, their idol, will trap them and enslave them. We can get so caught up in systems of our own making that we forget about God. Forget that he has plans for us that are beyond what our hearts and minds can dream up. We get trapped by fear, by the unknown, and our attempts to make things better.
I look at the Israelites and wonder what I’m planning, what I’m holding on to, what I think will make things better, what am I doing that I haven’t talked to God about. Maybe it’s my health. Maybe it’s my desire for something new and different. Maybe it’s just going about my everyday life, seeking peace and structure and discipline but not seeking God’s voice in it. I need to change my resolutions. I need to ask God first and plan later. Align with what he’s doing and trust him to know what’s good and right for me. Let him into those areas of my life where I think I’ve got the answers and the solution and be guided by him. Seeking him first and then resolving to follow his plans, not my own.