It’s possible to disobey God with your efforts to please him.
Recently I was reading 1 Samuel and the stories of Saul, Israel’s first king.
It’s a tragic story.
Saul begins wonderfully. He’s head-and-shoulders taller than everyone else. He’s handsome. He’s humble, hesitant to take on the mantle of king. God’s Spirit is empowering him to the point that those who have known him his whole life wonder, “What’s going on with Saul? God is sure blessing him.”
But then it turns bad. In 1 Samuel 13, Saul gets impatient in waiting for the prophet Samuel to arrive and decides to offer sacrifices. He wanted to honor the Lord through sacrifice, but it wasn’t his place to do it.
In wanting to please God, he sinned against him.
Then in 1 Samuel 15, Saul is commanded to devote the Amalekites to destruction. Every person and animal is to be killed. But Saul and the people wanted to honor the Lord, so they kept the best livestock to offer as a sacrifice. Worse, Saul is self-deceived. When Samuel asks him why he hasn’t obeyed the Lord, Saul answers:
And Saul said to Samuel, “I have obeyed the voice of the Lord. I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me. I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.” (1 Samuel 15:20–21, ESV)
Again, in wanting to please God, he sinned against him.
And Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. (1 Samuel 15:22, ESV)
It’s great that Saul intended to please God but, in essence, his behavior was saying, “God doesn’t really know best about how I should honor him.”
It’s like a child who is asked to clean her room and instead makes an “I love you” card for her mommy. It’s great that she wants to make a card, but what mommy really wants is for her to just clean her room.
As a pastor, there have been times when I’m working for God — preparing a sermon, leading staff, training leaders, counseling people — but doing it without depending on him. Preparing to preach for God without praying to stay connected to God.
Has the LORD as great delight in well-prepared sermons as in prayerful, humble walking with God?
In Saul’s case and mine — and yours — the consequence is that God removes his power. If we want to please God on our terms instead of his, we will not have God’s support.
God really does want you to obey him.
All the way.