Writer’s Note: I (Merribrooke) wrote this week’s journal about four years ago, but never posted it anywhere. This week and next week’s posts were written at the same time and flow together. The next action word of Deuteronomy 13:4 is “listen”. Next week’s post will specifically focus on listen, but I felt like next week’s post will be better understand in light of this week’s, so I am sharing both. I pray they bless you.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” illustrates the spiritual principle that Jesus teaches in Matthew 7:13-14. “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” It is easy to look at our culture and see that this principle is true. In the midst of corruption where sin is accepted, even celebrated, Christians who are willing to live counter-culturally are few. It is not easy to take the narrow gate. You will face adversity and ridicule. You will be pushed out of your comfort zone. You will have to make choices that will make you stand out. You will live in dramatic contrast to the rest of the world. Recently, I came across a biblical example of someone who took the road less traveled.
As I was reading through the first few chapters of 1 Samuel in the New Living Translation, one repeated phrase stood out to me, “Meanwhile, Samuel…” In chapters two and three of 1 Samuel the phrase “But Samuel,” is used once and “Meanwhile, Samuel…” is used three times. That means that scripture directly contrasts Samuel to his culture and surroundings four times in two chapters. What was it about this man of God that merited that degree of contrast?
Samuel, the son of Hannah and the last of Israel’s judges, provides a powerful example for believers living in the middle of a godless culture. Samuel was raised in the temple of the Lord along side Eli, the priest. Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are described as “scoundrels who had no respect for the Lord.” Among other things, one of their primary offenses was stealing animal sacrifices right off of the altar so that they could eat it instead of offering it to the Lord. 1 Samuel 2:17 NLT says, “So the sin of these young men was very serious in the Lord’s sight, for they treated the Lord’s offering with contempt.” The very next verse provides us the first of several contrasts between Samuel and Eli’s corrupt sons. “But Samuel, though he was only a boy, served the Lord” (1 Samuel 2:18a).
The first thing that set Samuel apart from the sons of Eli and his culture as a whole is that he served the Lord. We see that in 1 Samuel 2:18 and again in 1 Samuel 3:1a, which says, “Meanwhile, the boy Samuel served the Lord by assisting Eli.” Immediately before making this statement God is warning Eli of the judgment his family will experience because of his sons’ actions and his lack of discipline. Again, scripture contrasts Samuel and Eli’s sons. Samuel had a different purpose. His purpose was to serve the Lord. As priests, this should have been Hophni and Phinehas’ purposes as well. Instead, their purposes were to serve themselves rather than the Lord. Our culture shares Eli’s sons’ purpose, self-gratification and self-glorification. As believers, we should have a purpose that is counter-cultural. The second you asked Christ to save you and be Lord of your life your purpose became serving God and bringing glory to Him. This means your goal is no longer to have a great job, wonderful husband, a house with a white picket fence, two kids and a dog. Your goal is to serve the Lord no matter the cost. If the Lord chooses to bless you with some or all of those idyllic “American Dream” components, that’s wonderful, but will you still serve Him if He doesn’t? Will you live according to your rightful purpose even when your flesh is screaming at you to choose the common and easy path of self-glorification? It is clear that Samuel had a different purpose, therefore everything he did flowed from his purpose of serving God. What purpose motivates your actions? We see that Samuel had a different purpose than the people around him, but what else made Samuel stand out in the midst of a corrupt culture?
The next “Meanwhile, Samuel…” statement provides another point of contrast between Samuel and his culture. 1 Samuel 2:19-21 discusses how God blessed Samuel’s mother, Hannah, by giving her more children. Verse 21 says, “And the Lord gave Hannah three sons and two daughters. Meanwhile, Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord.” The verses following that one give further explanation of Eli’s sons’ wickedness and Eli’s awareness of their actions. Immediately after describing the sons’ wickedness and refusal to repent, 1 Samuel 2:26 says, “Meanwhile, the boy Samuel grew taller and grew in favor with the Lord and with the people.” Both of these “Meanwhile, Samuel” statements reveal the same thing. Samuel stood out from his surroundings because he grew. Not only did he grow physically, he grew spiritually. Growing spiritually in the midst of a corrupt culture is not something that happens by chance. It is a daily battle. It requires that I feed the Spirit inside of me more than I feed my flesh. Young boys eat lots of food because they are growing, and this principle applies to spiritual growth as well. I have to feast on the Bread of Life and drink of the Living Water in order to have the nutrients I need for spiritual growth. Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord, meaning he was daily feasting on God. Yes, Samuel physically lived in the Temple where the Spirit of God resided, but as New Testament believers we have the Spirit residing in us. Therefore, we have the same opportunity to grow up in the presence of the Lord that Samuel had.
If we desire to stand out in the midst of our culture as Samuel did, we have to choose to feed the Spirit. Spending time with our Savior each day should not be negotiable because it is necessary for spiritual growth. The more corrupt our culture becomes, the harder the battle gets. Turn on the TV and you will understand that. We are constantly bombarded with media that appeals to our flesh. Sins that used to be culturally shameful are now accepted and even celebrated. The only way we will ever grow spiritually is if we follow Samuel’s example and live in the presence of God. In order to do that, we must make the choice to pursue Christ with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. I think of the hymn, “I Have Decided” and the line that says, “The world behind me, the Cross before me. No turning back. No turning back.” We have to stop straddling the fence and keeping one foot in the world. Christ deserves whole-hearted commitment. If that means I have to give up my favorite TV show because it glorifies and normalizes things that are repulsive to my Holy God, then so be it. Whole-hearted commitment to Christ might also mean that I have to give up my plan for my life, in order to obey the call that Christ has given me. When we choose to live whole-heartedly committed to Christ, we will experience God’s presence in ways we didn’t know possible. It is this kind of relationship with the Lord that causes us to grow spiritually, and stand out in the midst of our corrupt culture.
Through this passage, I have been challenged to evaluate my walk. Is my life purpose counter-cultural? It is easy to say that my purpose is to glorify God, but are my choices and actions truly inline with that purpose? It is so easy to fall into the rhythm of society and not realize that you are living a life focused on your comforts and desires rather than God’s plan for you. I have also asked myself if I am growing. Am I allowing things of this world to come in between my relationship with the Lord? My savior wants to be in an intimate relationship with me, but He is holy. Praise the Lord that because of Jesus Christ I am clean and able to have an intimate relationship with my Heavenly Father. I have a relationship with my God and I can never lose it, but if I choose to feed the flesh by conforming to the ways of my culture then I will never allow the Spirit to grow. I pray that I will be like Samuel; resolved in purpose, growing continuously, experiencing the presence of God, and defined by living opposite of the culture and inline with Christ. Matthew 7:14 says that the narrow way is hard but it leads to life, while the wide gate leads to destruction. Choosing the road less traveled truly does make “all the difference.”