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Running Ahead of God

“Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14).

Most people are aware of the fact that Jonah tried to run away from God. He could not do so, and neither can we. We are also aware of Saul of Tarsus resisting God, or kicking “against the goads” (Acts 9:5). In this article, I want to consider some lessons we need to learn from those who made mistakes in the “opposite direction” – those who tried to run ahead of God. To put it another way, we will consider the accounts of those who presumed to know what God wanted and acted on their own to carry it out.

Sarah Offering Hagar to Abraham

God promised Abraham that he would have descendants, but he was without any children because his wife, Sarah, was barren. Ten years after this promise was made, Sarah grew tired of waiting and told Abraham to go in to her maid, Hagar, and try to have a child by her (Genesis 16:1-3).

Hagar conceived by Abraham. Having been blessed with an honor that Sarah wanted, she began to feel superior and to look down upon her mistress. Sarah realized that she had made a mistake and tried to cast the blame upon Abraham. With his permission, Sarah began to mistreat Hagar and she ran away (verses 4-6).

An angel appeared to Hagar and told her to return to and submit to Sarah. He said that her son was to be named Ishmael, and promised that the descendants of her son would be a multitude, but that her son would be an adversary to all men (verses 7-12).

God kept His promise to Abraham, and Sarah eventually bore him a son named Isaac. After Isaac was born, Hagar and her son Ishmael were driven out for good (Genesis 21:8-21).

Sarah lost her patience, stopped walking by faith, and sought for a fleshly solution to her problem. Instead of waiting on God to fulfill His promise with His power in His time, she took matters into her own hands. The results had an immediate negative effect upon her family, and the descendants of Ishmael eventually became the enemies of the descendants of her son Isaac. How much better things would have been had she waited on God.

Like Sarah, our efforts to “help God” can cause problems in our family. Sometimes young people become discouraged because they are not in a relationship like many of their peers. Instead of waiting to find the right person, they throw themselves at the first person who comes along. The excitement of a new relationship is mistaken for “love” and, despite warnings from friends and loved ones, they soon find themselves in a bad marriage. It may be hard to believe, but there are worse things than being alone. Marriage is forever, and forever is a long time to be bound to the wrong person. When you marry someone, you bring that person into your existing family. If your spouse if a bad person, your entire family will suffer to some extent because of your decision. Do not rush things. God has created someone just for you. Wait on God to bring that person into your life.

King Saul Offering Sacrifice in the Place of Samuel

Saul’s son Jonathan attacked a garrison of the Philistines. The Philistines retaliated against King Saul and his men. The army of the Philistines was a great multitude. All the men of Israel ran and hid. Those soldiers who remained with Saul trembled in fright (1 Samuel 13:5-7).

Samuel had told Saul to wait until he came to offer a sacrifice to the Lord. Saul looked at the desperate circumstances around him and decided that he could not wait any longer for Samuel to arrive (verses 8-15). He needed to invoke God’s blessing upon his army in the face of his enemy.

As he finishing presenting the offering, Samuel arrived and confronted Saul about his decision to go ahead and offer the sacrifice. Saul said that he felt “compelled, and offered a burnt offering” (verse 12). Samuel told him, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you” (verse 13). He went on to tell Saul that, because of his disobedience, God would remove his kingdom from him and give it to a man who would obey His word.

King Saul’s faith in God took a back seat to his fear. He gave in to the threatening circumstances around him. Although he felt compelled to “help God,” he actually disobeyed God and suffered greatly as a result. How many blessings have we lost because we have failed to wait on God to do things in His own time?

Like King Saul, Christians can lose patience with what they perceive to be a lack of progress and begin to make concessions with regard to the work of the church. Sometimes churches engage in questionable or out-right unscriptural practices in an effort to increase their numbers or to “save the lost.” Early on in the Restoration Movement, Alexander Campbell was against a missionary society, but as he got older and grew unsatisfied with various things, he stopped opposing such efforts to centralize the work of the gospel. The introduction and growth of the missionary society led to a split in the Restoration Movement in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Those who favored the missionary society eventually became the Christian church, which is a denomination today.

King Saul got his cues from the people, and some brethren follow his poor example. Some churches have stopped preaching against specific sins. Subjects like immodest dress, dancing, social drinking, and mixed swimming are “no-no’s” for the preacher if he wants to keep his job. Elders drag their feet on marking and withdrawing from members who are walking disorderly because they do not want to upset the family members of these sinning brethren. Like Saul, such preachers and elders may claim that they are compelled to do such, but the reality is that they are disobeying the commandments of the Lord.

King David Moving the Ark

King David wanted to move the ark back to Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 13). There was nothing wrong with wanting to move the ark. The problem arose because of the way David chose to move the ark. David had the ark loaded on a cart that was pulled by oxen. At one place along the path the oxen stumbled and a man named Uzza reached out to hold the ark to keep it from falling. God struck him dead, and David was afraid to move the ark any further.

What went wrong? The people said that it sounded like a good idea. David had a new cart built for the occasion. He and others sang and worshipped as it was being moved. They all had the best of intentions. However, David’s mistake was that he did not consider how God wanted the ark to be moved. It was not until later that David learned he had not moved the ark the way that God had said it was to be moved (1 Chronicles 15:2, 13). The ark was designed to be moved on poles that were to be carried by the Levites. When the ark was moved in the proper manner, it was brought safely to Jerusalem.

Like King David, we may have good intentions regarding things that we would like to do for the glory of God and the furtherance of His gospel, but how often do we “run ahead” with our plans without stopping to see what God has said about them? Sincerity and zeal are important, but they are no replacement for Bible study and prayer. We are not at liberty to implement our own ideas when God has specified the way that He wants something to be done. The “ends” does not justify the “means” with God.

The matter of “Institutionalism” began threatening the Lord’s church in the 1950’s. Some brethren defended the practice of “out-sourcing” the work of the church by arguing that colleges, orphan homes, and brotherhood-wide evangelistic programs needed to be supported out of the church’s treasury. Such a practice was certainly more efficient, but just as David’s cart changed the way that God wanted the ark to be carried, institutionalism changed the way that God wanted the church to do its work. Emotional arguments were made in favor of supporting human institutions, and those who opposed these innovations were called “anti’s.” Tempers became heated, lines of fellowship were drawn, and division occurred. The churches that held to these unscriptural practices soon began building fellowship halls, gymnasiums, and schools in an effort to cater to the physical needs of their own members. All of this was done without regard for what God has said concerning the work of the church.

Sincerity does not atone for innovations. Some non-institutional churches of Christ have been having “Teen Weekend Lectures” in which they invite young people from great distances to come together and enjoy a weekend of instruction and worship designed just for them. Everyone wants to encourage our young people, but a disturbing trend can be seen with regard to some of these lectureships. “Food and fun” have been a part of the advertisement on some of the fliers for these lectureships. This is the beginning stages of the Social Gospel – the use of physical incentives to attract people to Christ and His church. No one expects Christians of any age to abstain from eating food and engaging in social interaction during efforts such as Gospel Meetings and Weekend Lectureships, but when a church uses these activities as a means of drawing young people to such efforts, they have crossed a line. God has chosen to save man through the preaching of His word (1 Cor. 1:21). We do not need to help Him out (to say nothing of insulting the intelligence of our young people) by using pizza parties, sporting activities, scavenger hunts, and sleep-overs as incentives for young people to come and hear the gospel.

Peter Drawing the Sword and Fighting for the Lord

Many of us can relate to the apostle Peter. He meant well, but he was often impulsive – speaking and acting without taking the time to think things through.

Like many of the Jews, the disciples were expecting the Messiah to establish a physical kingdom and to throw off the shackles of Roman occupation. The Lord had announced a number of times that He was not ascending to a physical throne, but was going to be arrested, mistreated, and even killed. Peter responded to this first announcement by insisting that such a thing would never happen (Matthew 16:21-22). Jesus rebuked Peter with very strong language: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men” (verse 23). Peter was thinking about this matter from a purely physical point of view. Jesus told him that in opposing His death would be actually be opposing the will of God, and as such he would be an opponent of Christ.

On the night that He was betrayed, Jesus told His disciples that they would all stumble because of Him (Matthew 26:31-35). Peter said that he would never be made to stumble on account of Christ. Jesus said that he, Peter, in particular would actually go so far as to deny the Lord three times that very night. Peter insisted that he would die before he denied the Lord. It turns out that the Lord was right (verses 69-75).

When Jesus was arrested, Peter (who was thinking that Jesus had to live in order to establish an earthly kingdom, and prompted by his earlier vow to die for the Lord) drew a sword and began attacking the mob that had come out against the Lord (John 18:10). Jesus rebuked Peter in the very presence of the mob, halting further violence on his part, and most likely saving his life (Matthew 26:51-54).

Despite repeated warnings and admonitions, Peter was trying to run ahead of God. He and the other disciples were preparing for a physical kingdom, while Jesus was training them to fight spiritual battles with the truth of God’s word. He was trying to help, but in defending Jesus against the fate of the cross, Peter was actually opposing God.

Some brethren, in their efforts to “defend” the Lord, miss the target by a mile because they do not differentiate between matters of doctrine and matters of judgment. Like Peter, they have in their own mind what needs to be done, but end up actually opposing the will of God. These brethren bind their views and judgments upon others in an effort to “maintain the purity of the church.” They draw the sword and are ready to fight battles that are completely unnecessary. As a result of their misplaced zeal, people are run off, those remaining are discouraged, and the work of that local church is stifled perhaps for decades. In pursuing their pet doctrines they have actually opposed the will of God.

Conclusion: We can be guilty of running ahead of God. Such never turns out well. Instead, we need to strengthen our faith and learn to wait on the Lord. “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).