June 15, 2009
by David Carl
Sometimes I learn things in strange ways. And I annoy the people around me because I get so excited about the things I learn and the weird ways I learn them that I just have to tell all about it. For example, I had a couple of thoughts the other day while watching an episode of CSI. My first thought was, “Never eat while watching an episode of CSI.” My second thought was, “What if you could do a forensic investigation on a soul?” That question reminded me of King Saul. I know; it’s weird. Stay with me.
The story of King Saul holds a strange and gnawing fascination for me. It covers miles of emotional ground. Some average guy finds out one day that he is king. I love that. Who among us hasn’t stapled a paper crown together and walked regally around our first grade classroom? Most of us secretly want to be king one day, and if it comes suddenly and as a surprise—all the better! That’s exactly what happened to Saul, son of Kish. He wasn’t in line for kingship for several reasons. He was from the wrong tribe. And more significantly, up until that point, Israel wasn’t ruled by a king. Saul was raised up out of total obscurity and given a unique opportunity to be a mighty man of God and a blessing to his people. He could’ve been great.
Most men that we think of as great aren’t. Mostly they’re just high achievers. But the Bible never commands anyone to be a high achiever. It never tells men to amass great fortunes, build tall buildings, or wield great power. The Bible records one ultimate purpose for us: to love God (Matthew 22:37-38). This love will naturally work its way out into a number of behaviors, like Bible study and obedience. However, the first priority, our most important goal, is to deeply and wholly love God. In addition to that, fathers are to pass this deep love along to their children (Deuteronomy 6:5-7). That’s the true measure of greatness. Whatever else we do is gravy. I’ve been almost ready to do that for a long time, but I’ve always felt that I needed to grow in a few areas before I could really become a man of God.
I’ve always felt that I didn’t have quite enough to be a godly man. I’ve had a feeling that if God would bless me greatly, that would be the turning point for me. Then I would turn around without hesitation and start doing great things for God. Maybe you’ve thought that too. If I were a better physical specimen, I would be imposing for God. If I were rich and powerful, I could do so much for the kingdom. If I were gifted spiritually, I would serve others gladly. Perhaps on the top of my list, what I really want is for God to actually communicate clearly and verbally, directly to me! If He did, I would do anything for Him. I would obey God so well, so bravely, so passionately. At least I think so. King David had all of these gifts, and he was for the most part a wonderful, shining example of a godly king. On the contrary, every one of these gifts were first given to Saul, son of Kish, but his knees buckled under the weight. He was crushed by the blessing.
It is only fair to give Saul his due. He wasn’t the worst king Israel ever had. I would even argue that to the average man on the street, he would have to be considered in the top five of Israel’s better kings. He didn’t amass numerous wives (think David). He didn’t marry foreign wives (think Solomon and Ahab.) He didn’t build and then worship idols (think of a bunch of others). To his credit he achieved quite a bit. He fought against the Philistines, and he actually built a working kingdom where none had existed before. King Saul was a high achiever. But even with all of these achievements, Saul was a spectacular failure in God’s eyes.
Let’s be the CSI team assigned to the disaster that is the life of Saul. Let’s do the forensic investigation. If we were to zoom in to the soul of King Saul, we would find it underdeveloped, emaciated, and diseased. Now a first-year forensic investigator of the soul might conclude that this resulted from all of the rebellious sins Saul had committed. The older, wiser, and more seasoned investigator would know from experience that though sin can cause this kind of damage, in the case of King Saul, total spiritual negligence warped his soul into this pathetic condition. One day while studying this story, I realized that King Saul is the absolute embodiment of the lukewarm believer. He was neither the vilest nor the most wicked king of Israel. He was uniquely . . . lukewarm. That’s what scares me the most about the story of Saul. I would like to think that I am a little bit like King David. But truth be told, I am more like Saul. I am tempted to be lukewarm.
King Saul was given direction, authority, and divine power to complete his task. But with one initial exception, he saw only what was physically in front of him. When the enemy gathered and he was completely outnumbered, he did not see God’s plan or trust God’s control. He only saw the enemy, and he panicked (1 Samuel 13:6-14). That’s understandable the first time out, even the first few times. God doesn’t mind our panic. I daresay He wants us to be panicked occasionally, because it’s what we do next that makes all the difference. God wanted Saul to see no way out, to know that nothing on earth could save him that day. God wanted Saul to fall at His feet and pray for guidance, to humbly cry out for deliverance. If he had done that, if Saul had run into the arms of God, his battle would have been miraculously won, not by Saul’s strength but by God’s. From that experience Saul could have chosen to change. He could have felt his spirit being nourished as he praised God for His faithfulness. His heart would have been strengthened by deeper knowledge of the nature and character of God. And his soul could have swelled in size with the faith that God would win even more battles in the future. None of this happened in King Saul. This guy makes me crazy! He simply never gave his whole heart to God. That’s exactly what it means to be lukewarm.
How could Saul miss the point so spectacularly? How tragic. How very much like us. We get so scared, so distracted, and so angry. Situations are out of control, and we don’t know what to do next. Actually we do know, but we just don’t like it. It’s really not that complicated. We are to humble ourselves before the God of Jacob. That’s hard to do if we are virtual strangers to Him. But if we love Him, if we delight in Him and trust His desires for us, humbling ourselves is the only reasonable response. We are to pray with humility for guidance, and however it comes, even if it’s not in the direction we want, we humbly stand up like men and obey. When we do, our souls breathe deeply. When we let go of our selfish and silly dreams of prestige and position, we are free to take the risks that are required of a man of God. The more risks we take, the more we will see God make something beautiful out of our mess. Then we’ll be willing to risk even more.
The seasoned CSI investigator of the soul would know that Saul never let go of himself, never took his eyes off of Saul. He was very serious about being king, and that guided his every thought. His kingship was the most important priority in his life. He never realized that being king was only his job. Being devoted to God out of love was his calling. Consequently, he did religious activities only if they would assist him in being kingly. He never worshiped God because He is worthy of worship. Saul did it to impress others. He looked like he was praising God, but he was actually worshipping himself. That’s what a lukewarm soul does. If he had let go, if Saul had taken the risk and devoted all he had to loving God rather than trying to make himself look great, God would have made him actually great. That’s the irony. We need to give up our silly little dreams of looking good so that God can use us for His purposes. In that process, He will make us something more, something totally beyond what we are right now. Christ came to transform us, but we fight him. I did it for years. I wasn’t truly vile or wicked; I was worse. I was like King Saul; I was lukewarm.
One of the most insidious symptoms of being lukewarm is a lack of pain. Leprosy is like that. It damages your nerves so you can’t feel any pain. You’re slowly being destroyed by the disease, but you just don’t feel it. The lukewarm soul is slowly being destroyed as well, and yet there is no discomfort. To even become aware that you are lukewarm, you need a jolt. You need to be shocked out of your complacency. How did I realize I was lukewarm? My wife embarrassed me.
I married up. I didn’t know it at my wedding. I thought we had both married well. I married up, way up. I was very into my job, and I was into woodworking tools, and I was . . . well, come to think about it, that was all. My wife would occasionally tell me about an article she had just read about how to be praying parents, or an article that discussed prophecy, and so on. I would raise my eyebrows and take it from her with feigned interest, and I would never read the article. One day she told me that it seemed like all I read was tool catalogs. She told me, it seemed like I didn’t care at all about spiritual things anymore. I was shocked and I was defensive. Now, I’m a pretty clever fella. I’ve tossed out some terribly witty and biting comebacks in my day. On that day I looked her straight in the eye, reached back into my treasure trove of stinging retorts and said, “Nuh uh.” I was embarrassed and defenseless because it was true. She was right. So I did what I usually do on the occasions when my wife calls me on the carpet. I became impassive. I waited, and I didn’t do anything. A couple of weeks later, when it looked like it was my idea, I took action. (Have I mentioned that I married up?)
I was a dope to think that I needed to be hugely blessed or empowered by God to begin my spiritual journey. The story of King Saul shows us that great gifts given to a lukewarm man will only result in a gifted and lukewarm man. I simply needed to respond to God’s prompting. Occasionally, God’s prompting sounds very much like the voice of our wives.
I joined a men’s group at our church. It centered around a Bible study, but I have to tell you that the Bible study is not what made the difference for me. I already knew all of those stories and concepts. It was as if my faith had good bones but nothing on them—no skin, no muscle, no flesh and blood. What made a difference for me were the men in the group. I bonded with one in particular. Brian loved God like I had not seen in a long time. This was the flesh and blood that I needed. I needed to see a real love for God lived out by a real man. He inspired me; I wanted to be like him. Then I met up with a group of guys in my Sunday school class who were also deeply in love with God. These men were constantly wrestling against incorrect or insufficient notions of Christ. They loved Him so much that they wouldn’t settle for anything but true-truth. I was inspired and I wanted to love God the way they did.
We talked about the beauty of God, the holiness of God, and the passion God has for us. I started to think about Him differently—my soul breathed. We read books by solid, Christian authors, and we’d argue over them, not to win an argument, but to get all of the juice we could out of them. I started to see Christ differently. He had been confusing and ethereal before, but little by little I started to understand that He’s the only One who could make sense of the chaos around me. He is real and present. These godly men taught me that to “do what Jesus did” is too small of a goal. They taught me that I need to start thinking like He thinks, to love what He loves, and hate what He hates. They taught me that I need to believe what Jesus believes! My soul breathed deeply and grew. I used to obey Him so I would be blessed, but this was a different thing entirely. I started to obey Him because I love Him.
I crawled out of the mire of the lukewarm. Men who fiercely love God are infectious, and we need more of them badly. If you don’t have a few in your life, make it a quest to find some. Find them and be with them a lot. Then for cryin’ out loud become one yourself, and look around for some lukewarm knucklehead. Take him under your wing. Let him see how refreshing and invigorating it is be around a man who is devoted to Christ out of love. Then help him to love Christ too.
Some years back I was jolted out of my complacency by a good wife, I was inspired by godly men, and I saw that love for Christ is my calling. I determined to be a godly man and pass my love for Him along to my kids and to a couple of younger men. I’m working at it. If the CSI team was looking into my soul today, they would see one perhaps on the smallish side, but one that clearly shows signs of recent growth. What about you? If you’ve been ignoring God’s prompting—snap out of it! Call out to God for help, and go find men who are on the path themselves. However, let’s not be na?ve; this is not for the faint of heart. It’s hard work. It’s routinely frustrating, and it will take a long time. However, it’s more important than pursuing great power. It’s more important than amassing great wealth, and it’s even more important than becoming a king.