Getting What You Want

Heritage Presbyterian Church

June 6, 2021
2nd Sunday After Pentecost
Scripture reading: 1st Samuel 8: 4-22

The British writer Oscar Wilde once said, “There are two tragedies in life: one is not getting what you want, and the other is getting it.”  I think Mr. Wilde might be right…

I also think it might have been wiser for the ancient Israelites to realize Mr. Wilde’s point without hundreds of years of learning it the hard way.

You can almost see this coming, can’t you?  The Israelites demanded that God appoint a king for them so they could be like all the other countries that were strong and successful; Samuel told them this was a bad idea; God didn’t like it either, but God told Samuel to do as the people wished.  Samuel adjourned the meeting, and the motion went forward anyway.

But there were three problems with their demand for a king, and all three can teach us valuable lessons even today:

  1.  The people didn’t fully trust God.
  2. The people didn’t listen to God.
  3. The people were telling God what they wanted – instead of waiting to learn what God wanted for them.

All three are big trouble, and I doubt you need a preacher to tell you.  So, let’s unpack this situation and see what we learn.

First, the Israelites didn’t fully trust God.  This point came up time and time again when Moses was leading their ancestors out of their bitter slavery in Egypt and into the Promised Land.  

Do we need to go back and count the number of times they whined and cried out and complained and even threatened Moses instead of trusting the God who had delivered them and shown them such amazing acts of His protection?  It may have taken all those plagues to convince Pharoah, but it shouldn’t have taken much to convince those people of God to trust Him.  

Yet it did…and their ancestors weren’t much better in the Trust Department…

Still, those Israelites did have a point when they first approached Samuel: he had obviously not learned anything from his own mentor, Eli.  It appeared Samuel was getting too old to be the voice of God for much longer, and his corrupt, rotten sons – who represented Israel’s future – would replace him.  The Israelites could see what could happen, so they came to Samuel for a conversation.  This was a legitimate point, but to turn away from God and not show any trust at all was pretty foolish. They could only imagine the worst-case scenario…they couldn’t imagine what else the Lord might have in mind.

Second, the Israelites didn’t listen to Samuel at all.  They barely even seemed to hear him.  Instead, they were locked into their position, and that was all they were going to hear.  Being a stubborn person myself, I can sympathize with stubbornness; what I can’t sympathize with is digging into a stance or an idea or a position and not changing for anything.  That’s a very special type of stubbornness.  That kind is dangerous.

When you can’t see the big picture, when you “can’t see the forest for the trees,” when you are too stubborn and you only see yourself as a “tough negotiator,” you run the danger of also not seeing other points of view which we all need sooner or later.

I recently heard an amazing idea called the “Tenth Man Theory.”  Let’s say that everyone on your team thinks a new idea is a great one; everyone has examined it thoroughly and carefully, and every single person agrees it will work well.  When that happens, you automatically appoint someone strong to take the opposite position to guarantee you haven’t missed anything important.  That Tenth Man is responsible for making absolutely sure everything has been considered and heard. 

Those Israelites wouldn’t even allow themselves to consider another option, other than the one they insisted upon.  So why should they listen to Samuel, the voice of God, who had guided them for many, many years?  

Not only did they not listen to Samuel, if you read the passage closely, they barely heard his words at all; they seemed to just wait for their turn to talk.  That’s not the same as listening.

Third, the Israelites were telling God what they wanted instead of asking for guidance and direction.  We could actually soften this part by carefully reading and cleverly interpreting one line of the passage: Scripture tells us, “All the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah.”  This indicates the LEADERS came to Samuel; this doesn’t necessarily mean they represented ALL the people in this difficult opinion.  But virtually all the text evidence tells us this was the opinion of either most or all of the people.

Once we get to this point, Samuel felt he had no choice but to inquire directly of the Lord.  The Lord told Samuel, “They are not rejecting you…they are rejecting me.”  That had to be an uncomfortable conversation for Samuel to be a part of.  Then the Lord told Samuel to tell them exactly what will happen when they get a king.  When Samuel did this, the governing verb in his description of their life under a king was the verb “take.”  Samuel told them all that their new king would take, and he told them carefully and in excruciating detail.

Instead of listening to the warning, instead of hearing the voice of future destruction, they stubbornly insisted that they understood and still they wanted a king – like all the other strong countries.  There seemed to be a sense of “don’t worry…we’ll get this right” in their insistent answer.

But none of those other so-called strong countries had the Lord…that’s what the Israelites completely forgot.

And the people were told one more detail that should have chilled their stubborn hearts and turned them away from this foolish path.  At the very end, Samuel told the people that the Lord had always responded to the cries of his people in the past; but if they insisted on going forward with this idea, when the day came that they cried out to the Lord again, this time, the Lord would not answer them.

This is a whole new definition of “not hearing, not listening.”  And it should have been a frightening one!

Now just to be sure the message for today is clear, let’s review:

  1. The people didn’t fully trust God.
  2. The people didn’t listen to God.
  3. The people were telling God what they wanted instead of waiting to learn what God wanted for them.

Do we do the same things?  Do we ever make the same mistakes those ancient Israelites made?

Do we fully trust God?  Or do we sometimes go with, “Watch this, Lord!  I’m doing this for YOU!”

Do we listen to God?  Do we ever take the time before, during, or after our prayers to just sit and listen and wait and be QUIET for a few minutes?  Or are we so busy giving the Lord our list for the day that we never stop to imagine the other side of that conversation?  We may not hear the words of the Lord like Samuel did, but do we even try?

Do we ever EVER plow ahead with our own holy plans and ideas and wait for the Lord to catch up with us?  

(Doesn’t that last sentence just sound ridiculous?)

The ancient Israelites seemed to have discussed what they wanted and then came to a consensus on how to implement their plan.  That took some conversation, but I doubt it took much prayer.  

We can learn from their BIG mistakes. 

We can decide to fully trust God – even when we don’t like what’s coming our way, even when things aren’t working out, even when we must learn some things the hard way.

We can listen to God, including his ancient word – the Bible.  We can read and study it.  We can listen to it read in multiple formats, whatever we are comfortable with.  

We can and should pray daily and often – but we could do what most believers never take the time to do: we could sit and listen and just be quiet for a few minutes.

We can talk about plans with other believers who love and believe in us.  We can brainstorm with people that see things much differently than we do; after all, none of us knows everything, none of us has experienced everything.  We can all learn from one another.  

We can plan carefully, slowly, and with great care – and with great prayer.  Then once a plan is figured out, we might even consider the theory of the Tenth Presbyterian – I mean the Tenth Man – and see if there is anything wrong with our plan.

We could avoid a lot of heartache and pain and lost time if we do these things.

And as Psalm 37 states, we could “delight in the Lord, and he will give us the desires of our hearts.”

Getting what you want shouldn’t be that hard…especially if we trust our Lord.