Be Careful What You Ask

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1 Samuel 8:1-22 (Israel Asks for a king)

INTRODUCTION: Today is the last message in our series on the Life of Samuel. It’s not the last chapter that has to do with Samuel. Samuel doesn’t actually die until chapter 25, and he still has an important role to play in the chapters ahead, but after chapter 8 the focus changes from Samuel to Saul and then eventually to King David.

And so chapter 8 is a transitional chapter. It is in this chapter that we see the transition from Samuel to Saul, from judgeship to kingship, from Israel as a theocracy to Israel as a monarchy, from the kingship of God to the kingship of man. And it is in this chapter that we learn some very important principles about prayer and praying according to God’s will. (Read 1 Samuel 8:1-10 and pray.)

How careful are you when you pray to God? Do you think about what you say before you say it? Do you consider your requests carefully before bringing them to God? Or do you approach God carelessly without much consideration or forethought?

The book of Ecclesiastes says, “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.” (Ecclesiastes 5:2) There’s a balance we need to strike here, of course. God is our Father and he delights when we talk to him. So Ecclesiastes is not telling us not to pray or not to pray a lot. But it is a reminder that God is our heavenly Father, and we do need to consider how we approach him in prayer.

And that is the lesson in prayer we learn here in chapter 8. It is a remarkable chapter, because Israel asks for something against God’s will, and God actually says yes! That’s a scary thought, and one we need to take to heart as we examine our own prayer life before God.

Chapter 8 teaches us that there are three things we need to consider as we approach God in prayer. 1) Consider God’s will in the matter. 2) Consider the consequences. 3) Consider the stubbornness of your own heart.

I. Consider God’s will in the matter (1-9)

So let’s look at each of these. First of all, consider God’s will in the matter.

    A. You are called to be different from the world around you (1-5)

Verses 1-5 present the background to Israel’s request and at the same time remind us of a very important principle which is this: You are called to be different from the world around you. Let’s look at verses 1-5 together:

When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as judges for Israel. 2 The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. 3 But his sons did not walk in his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice. 4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” (1 Samuel 8:1-5)

Samuel was getting old, and so he appointed his sons to take his place when he was gone. Unfortunately, Samuel’s sons weren’t much better than Eli’s sons earlier in the book of Samuel. They were dishonest, they were greedy, they accepted bribes and they perverted justice. Basically everything you don’t want in a judge.

The nation of Israel was not happy with the situation, so their elders paid a visit to Samuel. They confronted him with his age and with his sons’ behavior, and then they made their request: “Appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” (1 Samuel 8:5)

Now there wasn’t anything necessarily wrong with asking for a king. God had told Israel earlier that one day he would give them a king. What was wrong here was the reason Israel wanted a king. They wanted to be “like all the other nations.” God had chosen Israel out of all the nations to be his own treasured possession. God said to Israel in Leviticus: “You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.” (Leviticus 20:26) This was a great privilege that no other nation enjoyed. God had called Israel to be his very own. They were meant to be different, but now they just wanted to be the same.

Just as Israel was called to be different from the nations, so we as Christians are called to be different from the world. God calls us to be holy, but many times we don’t want to stand out. You may prefer to blend in, and there are plenty of pressures to conform, but as a Christian, as part of God’s people, you are called to be different from the world around you. And that should affect how you approach God in prayer.

    B. Rejecting God’s will is the same as rejecting God himself (6-9)

Which leads us to the next principle in this passage: rejecting God’s will is the same as rejecting God himself. Look at verses 6-9:

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.”

Samuel wasn’t happy with Israel’s request for a king. He took it personally, but God told him, “It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.” It was not God’s will for Israel to have a king at this time, and by rejecting God’s will, Israel was not rejecting Samuel, they were rejecting God himself. God was their real king, and they were asking for a substitute. They were in fact breaking the first commandment which says, “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)

Now it was not completely wrong to ask for a king, but Israel’s motivation and timing were wrong. They were asking for the wrong kind of king, and they were asking at the wrong time. They wanted a king now, and they were not willing to wait for God’s timing in the matter. If they had been patient and waited, God would have given them a different kind of king in his time. Instead of a king like all the other nations he would have given them a king like David, a king after his own heart. Ultimately, he would have given them Jesus.

Saying “now” to God can be just as wrong as saying “no” to God. Part of accepting God’s will is accepting his timing, waiting for God’s best instead of settling for something less.

We also need to realize that there is a big difference between asking God for help and telling him how to help. Israel had a problem – Samuel was old and his sons were not following in his ways. Instead of just bringing their problem to God and asking him to help, Israel came up with their own plan, and then they demanded that God do things their way. But don’t we do the same thing? How many times have you told God how to do his job?

So when you pray to God, you need first of all to consider God’s will in the matter. Remember that you are called to be different from the world around you, and that rejecting God’s will is the same as rejecting God himself.

II. Consider the consequences (10-18)

Secondly, consider the consequences. Proverbs 22:3 says, “A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.” (Proverbs 22:3) A wise man looks ahead and considers the consequences. There are two questions you should ask when bringing your requests to God. What will happen if God says “yes” now? And what will happen if God says “no” later?

    A. What will happen if God says “yes” now? (10-17)

First of all, what will happen if God says “yes” now? Look at verses 10-17:

Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. (1 Samuel 8:10-17)

Samuel’s warning to Israel over and over in this passage is that the king they are asking for will be a taker. He will take their sons, he will take their daughters, he will take the best of their fields and their produce, he will take a tenth of their grain and vineyards, he will take their servants and the best of their cattle, he will take a tenth of their flocks. Six times in seven verses Samuel says the king will take from the people.

In other words, Samuel was helping Israel to consider the consequences of their request. As much as they wanted a king, there would be some serious consequences if God said yes.

In the same way we need to think through our requests more carefully. For example, have you ever asked God to help you win the lottery? If so, have you considered what the consequences might be if God said yes? Proverbs 20:21 warns us, “An inheritance quickly gained at the beginning will not be blessed at the end.” (Proverbs 20:21) Many lottery winners have found that their winning turned out to be more of a curse than a blessing. What good is it if you gain a million dollars and you lose your family and your friends?

Or how about relationships? Perhaps you are attracted to someone and you are asking God, please let it work out. What if God says yes, and it turns out not to be a good relationship? What if God says yes, and you miss out on a better relationship God had in mind for you?

We need to be careful what we ask, and we need to carefully consider the consequences, all of the consequences. Too often we only consider the short term consequences, but God wants us to think about the long term as well. This takes wisdom and Scripture and prayer and the counsel of others, but too often we skip over this step. Consider the consequences. What will happen if God says “yes” now?

    B. What will happen if God says “no” later? (18)

Or an even more sobering thought. What will happen if God says “no” later? Look at verse 18. Samuel tells the people:

When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day. (1 Samuel 8:18)

The Israelites wanted a king because they were tired of crying out for relief from their enemies. Samuel tells them: In the future instead of crying out for relief from your enemies, you will cry out for relief from the king! “And the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

If you ask God to get you into trouble and he says yes, what will you do if you ask him to get you out of trouble later, and he says no? In other words, there are consequences to your decisions. And some of those consequences cannot be reversed. Sometimes you get into a situation that was not God’s will for you, but now that you’re there, the decision cannot be changed. And so God’s will for you now is to love and serve him in that new situation.

You need to be careful what you ask. Consider God’s will in the matter. Consider the consequences.

III. Consider the stubbornness of your own heart (19-22)

And thirdly, consider the stubbornness of your own heart. Anybody stubborn out there today? Anybody too stubborn to admit it?

    A. Our stubbornness can get us into trouble (19-20)

We need to consider the stubbornness of our hearts first of all because our stubbornness can get us into trouble.

Notice that God didn’t grant Israel’s request right away. He had Samuel talk with them about the consequences of their request first. He showed them all the downsides of having a king, all the negative consequences that a king would bring. You would think after being faced with the consequences, Israel would have backed off, they would have withdrawn their request. But unfortunately that’s not what happened. Look at verse 19-20:

But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” (1 Samuel 8:19-20)

Even after Samuel rehearsed all the negative consequences for them, Israel still demanded a king. They wanted to be like all the other nations. They wanted a king to lead them into battle. God had always gone before them and fought their battles; now they want a king to go before them and fight their battles instead.

Oh, the stubbornness of the human heart! The people refused to listen to Samuel, and how often do we refuse to listen to God. Our stubbornness can get us into big trouble

    B. God’s “yes” may be God’s discipline for you (21-22)

And then secondly, realize that God’s “yes” may actually be God’s discipline for you. Look at verses 21-22:

When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord. 22 The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.” Then Samuel said to the men of Israel, “Everyone go back to his town.” (1 Samuel 8:21-22)

When we are stubborn, God lovingly disciplines us to help us grow. And sometimes that discipline comes in the form of a “yes” to our wrongful request. When Israel was in the wilderness, they complained to Moses and cried out for meat. We read in Psalm 106: “In the desert they gave in to their craving … they put God to the test. So he gave them what they asked for, but sent a wasting disease upon them.” (Psalm 106:14-15)

When God says yes, it is not always a sign of his favor. It may be a sign of God’s discipline for a stubborn heart. Which is why when you bring your requests to God, you need to be careful what you ask. Consider God’s will in the matter. Consider the consequences. Consider the stubbornness of your own heart.

Guidelines for prayer that pleases God:

1 Samuel 8 is largely a study in what not to do when you go to God in prayer. So I would like to end this message with some positives for you. What are some good things we can do when we go to God in prayer? Let me share with you three guidelines for prayer that pleases God.

    1) Humble yourself before the Lord – First of all, humble yourself before the Lord. When you go to God in prayer, begin by praising him, exalting him, acknowledging his majesty and greatness. And then be sure to confess your own sins and weaknesses before him. Don’t be afraid to confess. When you come to God through Jesus, all is forgiven. He will not chide you or scold you, but he will draw you close to himself, he will pour out his love in your hearts through the Holy Spirit. Humble yourself before the Lord. This will go a long way towards taming that stubborn heart that so often gets you into trouble.

    2) Seek God’s will first – Secondly, seek God’s will first. Jesus said, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33) 1 John 5 says, “If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him.” (1 John 5:14-15) One of the main reasons for unanswered prayer is seeking our will instead of God’s. James 4:3 says, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:3) Whatever your request, let your attitude always be: “God, only if this is your will.” Read God’s word, seek godly counsel from other believers, present your requests to God, but always, always seek God’s will first. Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” – not “My will be done, in heaven as it is on earth.” Seek God’s will first.

    3) Trust God with the answer – And then finally, trust God with the answer. It may not be the answer you expected. It may not be the answer you wanted. But you need to trust God. He loves you, and he only wants what’s best for you.

So humble yourself before the Lord. Seek God’s will first. Trust God with the answer. Be careful what you ask God for in prayer.

© Ray Fowler

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