A Key To Victory

Last weekend my church had a men's retreat, a camping trip.  After my first night ever in a tent, a long, cold night, I woke up early and considered my options.  It was really too early to get going so I thought about life and my relationship with God.  In many ways life has been very good lately.  On the outside people might think everything is perfect in my life and relationship with God.  But on this morning I could sense something wasn't quite right.  I acknowledged this feeling, admitted I needed to figure it out, and God then spoke to me.

God led me straight to 1 Samuel, a book I've read many times.  He showed me something awesome, and I believe this is a master key for any of us looking to progress in our walk with God.

In 1 Samuel chapter four we quickly see that Israel is in "Ebenezer" (meaning "Rock of Hope") and having problems with the Philistines.  They are defeated in battle by the second verse.  They consider their situation, and they decide to get the Ark of the Covenant (symbolizing God's presence) and bring it to the battle.  This was not a surprising move and in theory seems like a good idea.  Furthermore, when the Ark arrived, "all Israel shouted with a great shout, so that the earth rang again."  Then, "the Philistines were afraid, for they said, 'God is come into the camp."

At this point I am betting on Israel.  God's presence is apparently with them.  They have faith in God's ability to deliver them and they are ready to go up boldly into battle.  Even their enemies are afraid.  So what happened? "Israel was smitten, and they fled every man into his tent: and there was a very great slaughter; for there fell of Israel thirty thousand footmen."  What?  I know I've read this before, but I found it surprising again.  Why did they lose?  Fortunately, God tells us.

Now at some point later (1 Samuel chapter 7), at least seven months, Samuel  (the leader at that time) "spoke unto all the house of Israel, saying, 'If you do return unto the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth (female fake gods) from among you, and prepare your hearts unto the Lord, and serve Him only: and He will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines."  Then "the children of Israel did put away (all the fake gods) and served the Lord only."

Israel then gathered together (They are basically at Ebenezer at this time too.), "and when the Philistines heard that the children of Israel were gathered together . . . (they) went up against Israel.  And when the children of Israel heard it, they were afraid of the Philistines . . . but the Lord thundered with a great thunder that day upon the Philistines, and discomfited them; and they were smitten before Israel . . . So the Philistines were subdued, and they came no more into the coast of Israel: and the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. And the cities which the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel."

You probably see the key here.  You can be a one of God's people.  You can be in church every Sunday.  You can be shouting your praises and even speaking boldly for the Lord, confident in His ability to protect you.  But if you permit false gods, idols and problems to remain in your life, they will hinder your victory and they will weaken your walk with God.  You can even start losing battles.  However, if you take a hard line against such things in your life, and if you get rid of anything that comes between you and God, you will see the mighty hand of the Lord fight for you.

When you put away all of those things that lead you astray, God will thunder for you.  God will deliver you from your enemies.  God will give you peace.  God will even restore your inheritance.  Glory to God.

So this was God's word for me at the men's retreat.  Frankly, the difficult issue for me is identifying these idols.  I don't have an alcohol problem or any other obvious issue.  (I have my issues, believe me, but they aren't always so physically obvious.)  No, I have unseen difficult and dangerous problems, and God hates them just like if I was worshiping idols.  My problem is that I must root out those aspects of the old man that still linger in my soul.  I need to let the Holy Spirit continue to change my temper, to change my desires, to change my thought patterns, energize me, and change every aspect of me so that I can become more fully conformed to the image of Christ.  I have known this for a long time and I have not devoted myself to the prayer, study and time with God necessary for these changes.

"Let us lay aside every weight and the sin which doth so easily beset us."  (Hebrews 12:1)  My friends, whatever false gods are still in your life, whatever takes your focus from God and His will, whatever weights or sins remain, these we must put away.  We must analyze ourselves even to the discerning between spirit and soul, so that anything not of God can be expelled.  We must return to the Lord with ALL our hearts.  God will honor this and bless us as He did the Israelites who made such changes thousands of years ago.

It's not about your physical location or anything physical that you could do (praising, shouting, running to church, going to the men's retreat, etc.)  Even though those can be good activities, God is fundamentally looking at the condition of your heart.  This principle shows up in this passage and carries through 1 Samuel in a big way when God chooses David who was a man after God's own heart.  We need to learn from this, and we need to be vigilant to love and serve God with all our hearts.

I pray this blesses you today and helps you on your journey into the fullness of God's plans for your life.


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