October 20 | Beyond Grief

Text: 1 Samuel 16.1

Grief knocks the wind out of you. Devastated by Saul’s failure to obey God’s instructions, (whose failure was evidence of a heart that didn’t love God and resulted in God rejecting Saul as king) Samuel spiraled into a deep period of mourning. So much so God eventually asks him, “How long will you mourn for Saul. . . ? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way…” (1 Samuel 16.1). God was calling Samuel to a hope beyond his grief.

God created us to grieve. It’s important for our emotional health. There should be a period of mourning when we experience the loss of a family member, career, or even a dream. But there will come a day when we need to say “enough,” put the Kleenex box aside, and move forward.

Senior Teaching Pastor Jeff Manion tells us God doesn’t just want us to move on, but forward. God wants us to give him our broken heart in such a way that we’re drawn deeper and closer into his presence as he uses our grief for his good. Imagine the good God can bring from your grief (remember Hannah in 1 Samuel 1.1-20).

There may be something you are grieving. As you welcome God into your week and day, listen to “Oceans” by Hillsong United and soak in these words: “Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander, and my faith will be made stronger, in the presence of my Savior.”  As you do, trust God for the hope that comes from him through your grief.

October 17 | Repentance

Text: Psalm 51

Repentance, by definition, is to simply “turn around.” But when it comes to sinful habits, it’s significantly easier to say than it is to do—especially those habits and patterns we’ve developed over the years.

When we realize we’re walking down a path contrary to God’s desire for our lives, he wants us to “turn around” and starting walking after him. King David, in Psalm 51, gives us an excellent example of what repentance looks like. David had just committed some major moral mistakes and his prayer of repentance gives us insight on what real repentance involves.

Repentance can be broken down into three C’s: contrition, confession, and change. True repentance starts with contrition—a broken heart over sinning against God. Then we must confess to God our error. The truth is, he already knows; but there’s power in verbalizing and owning our fault before God. It frees us from the power of secrecy. Finally, we must change our actions and begin to obey.

Repentance comes full circle when we’re actually obeying God from our hearts: obeying him because we want to.

Today, memorize Psalm 51.17 which talks about the beginning of repentance: having a broken and contrite heart. Ask God to break your heart for the things that break his as you daily turn back to him and away from sin.

October 16 | Patterns

Text: 1 Samuel 15.24-35

As Jeff Manion, senior teaching pastor, said, “We can choose our sin, but we can’t choose our consequences.” King Saul made two monumental mistakes: offering an unlawful sacrifice and not fulfilling his mission to wipe out the Amalekites and all their possessions (1 Samuel 13.8-14; 15.1-9).

Surely Saul did not anticipate his consequences being so harsh. God rejected Saul as king and ripped the kingdom from his hands (1 Samuel 15.6-28). Not only did Saul lose the kingdom, but he also learned if he had obeyed, God would have established his kingdom over Israel forever—a reality Saul forfeited by his rebellious activity (1 Samuel 13.13-14).

Our habits and patterns eventually reap either rich blessing or devastating consequences, outcomes over which we have no control—that task is God’s alone. Patterns of arrogance and self-reliance can utterly ruin us, whereas humility and selflessness spanning a lifetime can reap the richest blessings.

We may think we’re getting away with a deviant habit today, but we’re actually building a case against our own character and ensuring heavy consequences.

As you welcome God into your day, complete this exercise: jot down on a piece of paper the top three or four qualities you hope to be remembered for;  such as faithful, joyful, patient, loving, or generous. Then consider what daily habits or actions would build a case for the embodiment of those attributes. Be specific and think small! It’s often the unnoticed, everyday actions that build a character modeled after Jesus.

October 15 | Fear

Text: 1 Samuel 15.24

After Samuel confronts Saul for bringing back livestock he was supposed to destroy, Saul responds with a simple confession revealing his true motive: “I violated the Lord’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them” (1 Samuel 15.24). Saul’s fear of his own men caused him to disregard God’s clear commands in his life.

Fear prevents us from accomplishing our most significant tasks in our most important roles. This was utterly true for Saul—fear crippled him from leading God’s people in an hour when they desperately needed him—and it rings equally true for each of us. We live in various roles: parent, spouse, child, employee, friend and fear can easily cripple us in those areas if we give way to it.

But this isn’t God’s plan for your life. Throughout Scripture God reminds us over and over he’s the bringer and establisher of peace.

God tells Joshua, an Old Testament leader over God’s people, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1.9). Jesus tells his disciples on the eve of his arrest, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you…Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14.27).

God’s plan for each of us is to live in peace and confidence, not fear and doubt.

This week’s One Big Question is…In what area of your life are you tempted to live in fear? Take time to discuss this with your small group or a close friend. As you identify those areas, encourage one another to invite God into those moments and ask him to deliver you. God is with you and he is not afraid; he is your peace and your hope today.

October 14 | Heart

Text: 1 Samuel 15.1-23

King Saul was given the task of taking care of some unfinished business: completely annihilating the Amalekites. Early in Israel’s history the Amalekites had cruelly slaughtered many of Israel’s weak and unarmed, so God vowed to “blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven” (Deuteronomy 25.17-19).

Samuel’s instructions to “totally destroy all that belongs to them” (1 Samuel 15.3) may seem harsh, but this was God’s fulfillment of justice on a people who inflicted incredible injustice on his people. Saul’s job was simple and clear: don’t leave anything or anyone behind.

Saul successfully began his mission by defeating the Amalekites. But somewhere in the course of his conquest he suffered a change of heart—he thought it might be a good idea to spare the best of the livestock and the Amalekite King, Agag. His excuse for this change of heart: he wanted to use the livestock for sacrifices (1 Samuel 15.15).

Samuel’s rebuke is powerful: “to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15.22b). In other words: God wants your obedient heart more than he wants religious activity.

Living for God [religious activity] without having a relationship with God is a dangerous reality we can easily fall prey to. Attending church services, giving gifts of gratitude, and serving are all good things, but God doesn’t need our sacrifices. God really wants our hearts! In fact, other passages in Scripture point to the fact that God disdains our religious activity when our hearts are far from him (Hosea 6.6; Matthew 9.13). True worship starts in the heart.

Reflect on the song “The Heart of Worship,” performed by Sonic Flood, and consider ways you may have elevated your religious activity above simply giving God your whole heart. Ask God to strip away any pretenses of a religious activity and to help you grow in real relationship with him.

October 13 | Fear vs. Faith

Text: 1 Samuel 13.1-15

King Saul has problems. . .big ones! He has a massive and well-armed Philistine army preparing to wipe out him and his ragtag band of soldiers. His problems only get more complicated when his soldiers start deserting and hiding in “caves and thickets, among the rocks, and in pits and cisterns” — not really a picture of bravery and courage (1 Samuel 13.6b).

Samuel told Saul to wait for him seven days at Gilgal (1 Samuel 10.8) so Samuel could properly offer sacrifices. But when Saul saw his men running and hiding, he acted out of fear and offered the sacrifices on his own, without Samuel.

While Saul needed to trust God’s plan and promises in the midst of his trials, his fear-based decision-making ultimately ruined him. God had promised Israel if they would obey and follow him, he [the God of all creation] would fight for them. Saul needed only to remember the Israelites’ history to realize God makes it a priority to come through on his promises.

We, too, can be easily paralyzed by the enormity of the conflicts around us. But our response should be grounded in faith, not fear. We can embrace each circumstance with the conviction God’s going to treat us according to his promises and character.

As you welcome God into your day, take a moment to list the circumstances you regularly face that cause you to react with fear. Then take a moment to pray over your list, releasing those fears to God and asking him to help you trust his promises.

October 10 | Identity

Text: Colossians 1.9-14

We spend much of our lives defining who we are: the neighborhoods in which we live, the cars we drive, the clothes we wear, our friends, and our accomplishments can all be used to give us identity. We use all of these—and more—to form our identity and security. But as Jesus followers, our identity and security is to be found only in him.

The apostle Paul, a first-century church planter who wrote much of the New Testament, details part of this identity in Colossians 1: “…bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God…giving joyful thanks to the Father…sharing in the inheritance of his holy people…brought into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1.9-14). As a Jesus follower, this is who you are!

The reality is: we’ll move in and out of neighborhoods, trade in old cars, outgrow our clothes, see friends come and go, and dust old trophies. But our identity and security in Christ is sure and never changing.

Today, meditate on Colossians 1.9-14 (try reading it in a different translation) and thank God for your identity in Christ.

October 9 | Integrity

Text: 1 Samuel 12.1-5

As the transition is made from Samuel to Saul—Israel’s first king—Samuel has the opportunity to address the nation (1 Samuel 12.1-5). It must have been a powerfully emotional moment as he asks if there is anyone who can accuse him of taking a bribe or perverting justice (remember, he served for years as an itinerant judge).

Recognizing he had lived with total integrity, the people respond, “You have not cheated or oppressed us. . . You have not taken anything from anyone’s hand” (1 Samuel 12.4). What a satisfying moment this must have been for Samuel, especially in light of his previous rejection by the nation!

We can imagine Samuel, looking back on a lifetime of faithful service, knowing he lived a life of integrity before both God and the nation. While opportunities to pervert justice were certainly present, he didn’t succumb. He needed no courage to ask the nation if he had wronged anyone—he knew he hadn’t.

Living a life of integrity allows us to stand with a clean conscience “in the presence of the Lord and his anointed” (1 Samuel 12.3). Today, memorize 1 Samuel 12.24 and call it to mind when you’re tempted to think, say, or do something which doesn’t meet God’s standard of integrity.

October 8 | Rejection

Text: 1 Corinthians 15.58

Israel’s request for a king hit Samuel hard. He took it as an “in your face” rejection of his godly, faithful, leadership over many years. Year after year he faithfully administered justice and proclaimed God’s truth as he continually called Israel to obedience. Only to hear, as he neared the end of life, “Give us a king” (1 Samuel 8.6).

It’s at this point Samuel hears directly from God (even in the Bible this is very rare), “. . . it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king” (1 Samuel 8.7). It’s as though God wanted Samuel to know his work had not gone unnoticed. God noticed and he knew Samuel needed to hear it.

We need to hear it as well. As you “labor” today (and for you it may truly be labor!), allow these words to sink deep into your soul: “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15.58).

As you welcome God into your day, be reminded he notices as you labor for an audience of One.

October 7 | Security

Text: 1 Samuel 8.19-22

With Samuel now very old, and having experienced the dishonesty of Samuel’s sons (1 Samuel 8.1-3), Israel’s leaders use this pretext to request a king. But their real reason is security—they want someone to lead them to victory in battle. Rather than trust their security to God, who had led them successfully to the Promised Land by providing food and water during their journey from Egypt, they wanted to trust it to a human leader.

Their security was misplaced.

We, too, have a tendency to misplace our security. Instead of placing our security in God, we place it in our bank accounts, retirement portfolios, a spouse (or spouse-to-be), or abilities (including athletic). We mistakenly believe these can “win” our “battles.” Battles with insecurity, fear, frustration, and inadequacy.

This leads to the One Big Question. . .Where do you tend to look for a sense of security? When you identify it, confess it before God. Then remind yourself security is to be placed in God alone, “For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe. I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings” (Psalm 61.3-4).