Sermon Script: 1Samuel 4:1-11
Sermon Purpose: Why is it we fail?
Sermon Title: You Don’t Tell God
This morning we are going to talk about something hard. Let’s start with a show of hands. How many of you have ever tried to do something and failed? I’m not talking about a little mess up. I am talking about having your heart and soul set on something. I am talking about doing everything in your power to make something happen – putting all of your time, and resources into seeing something come true; only to watch it all fall apart in the end? It’s not a good feeling, is it? I won’t call it a bad feeling. I’ll call it heart breaking. It is heart breaking to put everything you have into something, and to pray, and beg God for something to go the way you want, only to see it lie in broken pieces on the ground. I have found it hard to look at my beautiful little dreams ripped to shreds and lying on the ground like confetti. Do any of y’all know what that feels like? Do you know what it is to feel like a total failure? Do you know what it is to blame God for our dreams not coming true? I have been there. I can tell you with clarity part of the reason those situations are hard for me is because of the way we measure success. Is success really about me getting what I want? Is success about me achieving my goals? Or, could success be about something else?
In this morning’s passage the Children of Israel were fighting again with the Philistines, and this time The Children of Israel lost. According to the text some 4000 Israelite men died on the battlefield. When this happened the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines” (1Samuel 4:3)? Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? That’s a funny question. It is even a funny perspective. The Philistine army could have just been stronger and better prepared for battle. Why then do the Children of Israel blame God for their defeat? Have you ever done that? Have you ever failed at something and then pointed your finger at the heavens asking God why God let you be defeated? I have. I know what it is like to feel that shame. And I can tell you sometimes failure is one of the ways God helps us to grow. Sometimes we learn more about God through our failures than our successes. What lesson do you think God was trying to teach the Children of Israel?
There is a strong theme throughout scripture which says God does things and performs miracles so no one can boast in their own strength. Our passage from Philippians last week tells us plainly salvation is a gift from God so no one can boast. In this morning’s passage from 1Samuel the Children of Israel have tried to fight with the Philistines and lost. In whose strength did the Children of Israel go up to fight the Philistines; theirs’ or God’s? (theirs’) The Children of Israel recognized they were trying to fight the Philistines with their own strength, and that is why the Children of Israel lost the battle. Then the Children of Israel did something awful. They decided to go to Shiloh and to bring the Ark of the Covenant into the battle. They didn’t pray about it. They didn’t ask God for help. The Children of Israel continued to take matters in their own hands.
The Children of Israel thought if they brought the Ark of the Covenant into battle, surely God would fight for them. Basically, the Children of Israel were treating God like a big dog on a chain. They believed if they brought the dog’s chain (the Ark of the Covenant) into the battle, God would fight for them. Do you see? They were trying to make God do what they wanted God to do. There is just one problem with that idea. You don’t tell God what to do? Amen? Amen! God is not our servant. Amen? Amen! If we accept Jesus Christ, then Christ is our Lord. Not the other way around, because after all God is no respecter of men. Right? Right! Amen? Amen! So what happened? What happened when the Children of Israel took the Ark of the Covenant into battle as if they could make God do something? Take a look at the rest of the passage. What happened? They didn’t just lose. The Children of Israel got whipped; again. Worse than being whipped, the Ark of the Covenant was taken by the Philistines.
In this passage I think the message is plain, You don’t tell God – anything. Amen? Amen! We cannot make God do what we want God to do. Amen? Amen! God is God, and God is the one in charge. Amen? Amen! We cannot tell the King what to do. The King tells us what to do. Amen? Amen! God is God and we are not. So what does this passage mean for us? As I read this Scripture it seems plain I need to spend less time trying to figure out what I am going to do, and to spend more time in prayer asking God what God wants me to do. Amen? Amen!
Alright, now, at the start of this message we talked about failure and success. The Israelites measured failure by defeat and lives lost on the battlefield. After studying this passage I wonder if God did not consider it a failure because the Children of Israel tried to defeat the Philistines on their own. I wonder if God then chose to use the Children of Israel’s mistake in taking the Ark of the Covenant without asking as a teaching moment. Sometimes that happens. Sometimes God uses what we consider failures to be teaching moments. In this instance the Children of Israel learned a painful lesson the hard way. They lost the Ark of the Covenant. In their minds they lost God when they lost the Ark of the Covenant. The Children of Israel were heartbroken. Eli the prophet who watched over the Ark fell over and died when he heard the news. Eli’s daughter-in-law went into labor early and she died in labor; but before she died she named her son Ichabod. Ichabod means, “The glory of God has departed from Israel.” The people were heartbroken, absolutely heartbroken.
Please. Close your eyes for a moment and think. When have there been times in your life when you have tried to do things, or make things happen by your own strength, and in your own power? If you succeeded did the success draw you closer to God, or did the success give you more reason to focus on yourself? Did you grow in pride over your own abilities, or were you shamed in defeat? There is more strength in the power of God’s love than in the military might of all the nations of the earth combined. Amen? Amen! Do you believe it? Then why do we keep trying to tackle the world on our own? God’s strength is more than sufficient.
Maybe the fact God’s strength is sufficient is exactly the point. Maybe we don’t want to pray, and we don’t want to ask God because we are afraid God will say, “No,” or, “Wait.” Maybe we don’t want to ask God because of pride. Maybe we would rather do it on our own so we can boast. Or maybe we are too stubborn because to receive God’s strength, and achieve success for the glory of God means doing things God’s way. We can’t be mean, or stubborn, or complain, or put people down. We can’t be whiney, or make excuses. To rely on God’s strength to find success we must put away the lesser parts of ourselves so God’s strength has room to work in and through us. Then again, maybe that is the real definition of success. Maybe success should be measured by how good a job we do of getting out of God’s way so God can work through us. Victory is not about achieving goals. Victory comes by allowing God to work through us. Failure is what happens when we try to achieve goals without God because there cannot be a true victory without the love of God in us.
In the name of Jesus Christ – Amen.