Responding to Disappointing Circumstances
Copyright © 2016, Dr. John W. (Jack) Carter.
All rights reserved.
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If there is one dependable constant in life, it is that it is characterized by constant change. It is certainly normal, if not axiomatic, that we are most often comfortable with somewhat consistent surroundings and circumstances, particularly when those circumstances are in agreement with our personal desires. Consequently, we make decisions and attempt to influence the circumstances of our lives in order to maintain consistency and predictability. We expect some necessary deviation from our intended direction, but may be resistant or even fearful when our intentions are significantly compromised.
Sometimes the circumstances that bring about change bring with them both excitement and joy as we find profit and fulfillment from a new direction. However, sometimes those circumstances can bring about change that is contrary to our intentions, bringing about great disappointment.
How do you respond to disappointing circumstances? I spent several years in college and six years in a career location that was intentionally chosen to enable me to take a specific job in a specific location near to our large upstate New York farm family. Upon arrival in this job my wife and I enjoyed another six years as we were close to family. In the seventh year, following an economic downturn, my position was cut and I found myself looking for another job. Certainly, disappointment ran deep. My career specialty enabled me to find employment in very few, and widely spaced locations. We ended up moving 750 miles from home. As we went through that experience that included losing our home and our church fellowship, moving our junior- and senior-high school children, and all of the other changes that come with such a move, we came to find ourselves searching for Godís purpose and direction. Certainly, our faith played an important part in our survival, though our disappointment was intense, and served as the catalyst for a grief of loss that lasted several years.
We have all experienced disappointing circumstances. We have probably experienced a variety of ways of reacting to those circumstances: anger, fear, confusion. Often we may be reminded that God has promised that all circumstances work for Godís purpose for those that love Him. We may question Godís promise that we will be subject to no stressor that is greater than we can bear.
The manner in which we respond to disappointment is one of our own choosing. We can choose to resist the change, sulk about our inability to control the change, complain about our circumstances, blame others and God for our displeasure, or any number of other self-destructive and relationship-damaging actions. None of these are edifying to us, nor do they serve to honor Godís hand in our lives. There is a better way to handle disappointment, one that includes God in our choices rather than one that only shakes our fist at Him in disobedience.
1. Embrace a renewed future.
1 Samuel 16:1a. And the LORD said unto Samuel, How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel?
When we come to the 16th chapter of 1 Samuel, we find the prophet Samuel quite despondent over the circumstances surrounding the office of the king of Israel. Samuel had anointed Saul to serve as the king with the full knowledge that this was not Godís intention for the nation, but rather made possible through Godís permissive will as He allowed Israel to follow through on their foolish choice to honor a king rather than the LORD. The tenure of the king has transpired as Samuel had prophesied. Saul, though exhibiting the characteristics of a king: tall, powerful, and handsome, lacked what would be necessary to lead the nation of Israel: a commitment to God. Saul took upon himself the ordinances and authority similar to that of a pagan king, resulting in his rejection of Godís leadership in his life. In a nation that equated righteousness with a life that is consistent with the Torah, Saul ignored the Toray, set its guidelines aside and demonstrated unrighteousness before the people and before God. God would not be able to lead the nation through Saul, and informed Samuel of his choice to reject Saulís authority over the people.
Samuel is lamenting his choice of Saul, blaming himself for the disaster. However, God reminded Samuel that it is He alone who is in charge. Samuel did not choose Saul: God did, and it was He who instructed Samuel to anoint Saul. Samuel anointed in obedience to the LORD Saul, so the responsibility for the anointing belongs to God, and Saulís responsibility for obedience belongs to Saul. God reminded Samuel that it is His authority and Saulís disobedience that brought this circumstance upon them, so there is no reason for Samuel to feel that he is responsible.
Sometimes we may blame others or blame ourselves for circumstances that are out of our control. The Holy Spirit is not the author of fear, anger, and despair. We can be reminded that God is sovereign, He has a purpose, and His purpose is not thwarted by man. Rather than focus on the circumstances surrounding the events in our lives, we can focus on Godís purpose in these circumstances and when we do so, we will find a purpose greater than ourselves, a purpose that could only come from the hand of God.
1 Samuel 16:1b. Ö fill thine horn with oil, and go, I will send thee to Jesse the Bethlehemite: for I have provided me a king among his sons.
Up to the point that the LORD spoke this message to Samuel, the prophet was visibly dejected. However, Godís purpose for Samuel has not changed. God would call on Samuel again as the nationís kingmaker. Samuel is given a reminder to return to the purpose that God has for him and put the disappointing event behind him. God does not want us to wallow in the despair over circumstances that have transpired. Godís purpose is that we would seek Him in all of our circumstances so that He can continue to bless us.
2. Embark on a new journey.
1 Samuel 16:2. And Samuel said, How can I go? if Saul hear it, he will kill me. And the LORD said, Take an heifer with thee, and say, I am come to sacrifice to the LORD.
Understanding Godís purpose, Samuel is instructed to move forward. However, such a move is not without the potential of significant personal peril. Saul has already proven to be quite self-centered and jealous. Saul would immediately be suspicious of Samuelís traveling to Bethlehem, a village that is not in Samuelís normal visitation routine. Saul already knew that the LORD was displeased with his behavior, and would be suspicious that another king might rise in the place of Jonathan, his son. So, the LORD revealed to Samuel a plan that would normalize his behavior. The sacrifice of a heifer was traditionally done to atone for an unsolved murder, and Samuel was authorized to conduct the ceremony.
1 Samuel 16:3-5. And call Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show thee what thou shalt do: and thou shalt anoint unto me him whom I name unto thee. 4And Samuel did that which the LORD spake, and came to Bethlehem. And the elders of the town trembled at his coming, and said, Comest thou peaceably? 5And he said, Peaceably: I am come to sacrifice unto the LORD: sanctify yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice. And he sanctified Jesse and his sons, and called them to the sacrifice.
Leaving his self-abasement and depression behind, Samuel embarked on the new journey that God had for him. This was not the journey that Samuel had intended, as Samuel had fully desired that Saul would serve Israel as a Godly king in what would have been a long and honorable tenure. Now, Samuel finds himself heading in a new direction, entering the ďlittleĒ town of Bethlehem with a heifer drawn behind. The elders of Bethlehem were troubled at Samuelís arrival since he was not visiting during any recognized ritual celebration. The presence of the heifer might be causing them to think that there has been a murder in their community. The preceding execution of Agag might remind them of their failure to follow Godís command, and some of the people interpreted Samuelís arrival as one of judgment.
3. Entreat the Spiritís wisdom.
Announcing his peaceful intentions, Samuel told the community in Bethlehem of his intent on preparing a sacrifice, and assuring the presence of Jesse (son of Ruth and Boaz, grandson of Salmon and Rahab, the Ďharlotí) and Jesseís sons. When we observe the family lineage that included two foreign women, we might not consider this to be the lineage of a king. We would prefer a rich, righteous, blueblood. It is obvious from the selection of Saul that when the people are left to their own devices and do not consider Godís purpose, they will select for a leader one who is attractive and powerful in appearance without considering the true state of the individualís heart before God. We see this tendency in our democratic elections. The godliness of the individual or of the individualís policies is rarely considered, and in todayís secular political climate that permeates western culture such character is predominantly denigrated.
1 Samuel 16:6. And it came to pass, when they were come, that he looked on Eliab, and said, Surely the LORDíS anointed is before him.
Though Samuel made no reference to the actual intention of his presence, he had made it very clear that he had come to bring a blessing to the house of Jesse. Still, it is evident that even Samuel succumbed to the tendency to think the way the world thinks when it considered the patriarchal system of blessing. Pagan and ritual tradition held that the blessing of the father would be placed upon the first-born son who would receive the greater share of the family inheritance. It was the first born son who would ascend to a fatherís place of authority over the family and the familyís possessions. Consequently, Jesse first brought Eliab, his first born son, to Samuel.
Samuel found himself in a bit of a quandary. As a prophet of God, he was used to knowing Godís intended word. However, when Eliab was brought to him, he found himself without Godís direct guidance, so he relied on his own deduction. He told the people that this son was surely Godís choice. We can visualize Samuel reaching for his vial of oil when the LORD intervened.
1 Samuel 16:7. But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.
In what may not have been a frequent occurrence for Samuel, he found himself being rebuked by the LORD. There is a vast difference between the methodologies that God uses to make a decision from that of humans. We tend to judge others based upon outward appearance, particularly when our perception of others is limited to that which we perceive through our eyes and ears. We are not given a window into the heart of others as God has. When we seek our own solutions to lifeís issues we are relying on an inconsistent and unwise source. However, we have a relationship with a God who sees through the issues and knows our heart. Until we seek Godís solution to our circumstances, we will be focused on those circumstances and can be overwhelmed by them. When we seek Godís solution, we can be carried outside of the limitations of our own understanding, and find a purpose and direction greater than ourselves.
1 Samuel 16:8-10. Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, Neither hath the LORD chosen this. 9Then Jesse made Shammah to pass by. And he said, Neither hath the LORD chosen this. 10Again, Jesse made seven of his sons to pass before Samuel. And Samuel said unto Jesse, The LORD hath not chosen these.
Finding Godís purpose in our circumstances may oftentimes require us to ďthink outside the box,Ē particularly when that box is shaped by the limits of our understanding and perception. As the elder seven of Jesseís sons were brought before Samuel, he found himself rejecting each one through the last. Had he assumed that these were all of Jesseís sons, Samuel might have gone back and observed each of them again, possibly engaging a different methodology for selection, and choosing the wrong son. Jesse thought so little of his youngest son that he did not even bring him to the sacrifice, but appointed him to continue his regular task of keeping the sheep, one of the more demeaning of the tasks that his sons would be assigned.
Likewise, we may tend to jump to the wrong conclusions when we rely only on what we perceive. Rather than jump, it is best to pause and listen to the Holy Spirit. Samuel, knowing the peace that comes from understanding Godís word, was able to discern that the LORD had not selected any of Jesseís sons. There must be another solution to this problem.
4. Engage in Godís purpose.
1 Samuel 16:11. And Samuel said unto Jesse, Are here all thy children? And he said, There remaineth yet the youngest, and, behold, he keepeth the sheep. And Samuel said unto Jesse, Send and fetch him: for we will not sit down till he come hither.
The word for ďyoungestĒ has a broad range of meaning that can also be understood as ďinsignificantĒ or ďsmallest.Ē This is quite a contrast to Eliab who was like Saul in his apparent potential greatness. Could this diminutive, insignificant shepherd be the anointed of the LORD? Jesseís youngest son, David, would not have been elected by the people, nor would he even have been selected by his father. However, God knew the heart of David and how his faithfulness, his loyalty, his skills and his compassion for the sheep would translate to his serving as a shepherd to His people.
Samuel placed the ceremony on hold until David could be brought to him. Where we often seek quick and easy solutions, it may sometimes be wiser to wait upon the LORDís timing before we storm the barriers in front of us.
1 Samuel 16:12-13. And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to. And the LORD said, Arise, anoint him: for this is he. 13Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward. So Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah.
Though David may have been small in stature, it is evident that he did not lack in comeliness. When the word ruddy is used in the Old Testament it may refer to a redness of hair or redness of skin that has been worn by weather. In each occurrence it is considered a positive and attractive trait. Apparently David shared one trait with Saul: he was handsome. Obviously, this trait did not qualify David to serve as the king of Israel. However, David had another trait that Saul did not: ďThe Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward.Ē Unlike Saul, who rejected the Spirit of the LORD, David had a heart for the LORD that was sincere. It was this sincerity of faith that qualified David.
The anointing with oil was a practice that served as a testimony that the individual was being set apart for Godly service. The anointing of David is probably the best-known and seminal act of Samuelís career. Samuelís seeming disappointment over his anointing of the fallen King Saul was followed by his anointing of the one who would become the model for all Israelite kings to follow. As a ďman after Godís own heart,Ē David would become known as the most godly king that Israel would ever know, short of the King of Kings who would follow in Davidís line.
When we find ourselves steeped in disappointment, as Samuel found himself,
∑ It is best to take our focus off of the circumstances and place it upon the LORD and seek to understand how His purpose may be fulfilled through those circumstances.
∑ Sometimes the LORD may be taking us in a new direction, one that is more consistent with His purpose in our lives. We can seek that direction.
∑ The LORD would have us to grow in our wisdom and in our relationship with Him.
∑ As we seek a new direction, we can find one that is consistent with Godís plan and purpose, rather than our own.
The Holy Spirit is not the power behind our discouragement, but rather our tendency to over-focus on our points of pain. The Holy Spirit will empower us to take our focus off of the circumstances and focus on the things in life that are important spiritual priorities. Then, with the Spiritís power we can move away from the grief towards the joy that He has promised us.