This past weekend our church kicked off a new church-wide series: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. The series, which includes weekend sermons and small groups, is based upon the book of the same name by Pete Scazzero. Scazzero is a pastor in New York who, after recognizing his own stalling spiritual growth, realized the potential in pairing emotional health with contemplative spirituality.
“Emotional health” and “contemplative spirituality” can be loaded terms in our world today. In the context of this study, though, they are very much centered on Christ and the transforming work he can do in our lives. If you want more information about those terms or the series in general, you can read an article I wrote posted at our church’s website.
During this series I’m going to share some reflections on the previous weekend’s sermon. In part because I like sharing what’s going on at my church, but it also helps solidify the lesson in my own life.
This past weekend we looked at the iceberg each of us has in our own lives. We only see the tip of the iceberg and are often unaware of everything beneath the surface. As James Cameron reminded us with Titanic, what’s below the surface can be the most dangerous.
In 1 Samuel 15 we see an example of this in the life of Saul. God had called Saul to completely destroy the Amalekites. Instead of fully obeying God, Saul spares the Amalekite king and some of the choicest livestock. After the battle Saul builds a monument to himself and celebrates with his men. When Samuel confronts Saul, Saul makes excuses and justifies his sin.
How could someone who looked so good on the surface as Israel’s first king have so much beneath the surface, which eventually derailed his life?
First, Saul cared more about others than he cared about God. When confronted with his sin, Saul said that it was his soldiers who had spared the life of the Amalekite king and taken the livestock. Eventually Saul admits that he was scared of his men and gave into their demands. On the surface Saul was king and a leader of men. Underneath the surface he was so insecure that he cared more about what others thought than what God thought, even when that attitude led to disobedience.
Second, Saul cared more about his own glory than God’s. God is glorified when his people obey him and follow his commands. Instead of glorifying God with his obedience, Saul glorified himself by building his own monument. An ego that builds its own monument leaves little room for anything else, much less God. On the surface Saul appeared to be the spiritual leader of his people, but beneath the surface his pride made him only care about drawing attention to himself.
Ultimately Samuel lays it out for Saul in a tremendous passage of scripture found in 1 Samuel 15:22:
“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
In the end God doesn’t care about the activity of our faith but the quality of our faith. Today our burnt offerings and sacrifices are church attendance, quiet times and serving. We could fill our days with such activities, but God is still more interested in our hearts and our obedience.
Saul may have looked good on the surface but beneath he was a disobedient mess, straying from God. If we can focus on what’s beneath the surface and ensure that our hearts are truly obedient, then we can trust that the surface will take care of itself.
What helps you look below the surface of your life to your heart and motivations?