When my daughter was in her preteens, she wanted to go to a camp, one that she had attended before. I’d never had any problem with this camp, but in the time since she had last attended, I had made some new friends who were much stricter with their children than I had ever been. My new friends were warm, loving people who were full of faith, willing to make sacrifices of obedience, and I admired them. So, when my daughter asked about attending camp again, I prayed about it, and I thought about how my new friends would handle it, and I said “no.” My heart was set to follow God, and I felt sure about this decision. However, as time has passed, I recognize that the influence of my friends weighed heavily on me, and this decision wasn’t as God-led as I thought at the time.
This week, I was reading through 1 Samuel and noticed that Saul had this same problem in 1 Samuel 15. God spoke through Samuel to Saul and said that because the Amalekites had hindered the Israelites in their journey out of Egypt, He wanted Israel to destroy Amalek and everything in it. Saul and his soldiers attacked the city of Amalek, and they were victorious! In their victory over this foe, they decided that the way to honor God would be to bring the king of Amalek and all the best sheep and oxen back with them to create a wonderful victory celebration to honor Yahweh. Saul proudly met Samuel and said, “I’ve obeyed the commandment of the Lord!” Samuel responded with words like, “Well, if you obeyed so thoroughly, why do I hear sheep bleating and oxen lowing? And who is this Amalekite guy over here in a cage?”
Saul responded to Samuel, “I have obeyed the word of the Lord. I have gone on the mission on which the LORD sent me. I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction.” It seems that Saul truly believed he had obeyed God’s instructions, and he was willing to justify himself about it. What happened here?
When we rely on our own reasoning, even our reasoning to determine what God would want from us, we are on a slippery slope toward disobedience. Saul was relying on his sark (Greek word sarx, usually translated as “flesh”) rather than trusting God’s viewpoint on what was the right thing to do. It appears that Saul reasoned something like this: “SURELY the LORD would like more sacrifices to Him, more ceremony honoring Him, rather than leaving all that victorious spoil back in Amalek. This just makes sense; it’s so much more religious, so much more God-honoring.” But this was not God’s desire at all. Saul missed God’s heart by using his own religious reasoning.
Samuel told Saul, “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” (1 Sam. 15:22) Relationship with God is greater than religion.
Perhaps this is what is meant by Proverbs 3:5-7a:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes…”
My religious reasoning about my daughter’s desire to attend camp was a bit like Saul’s thinking about Amalek: “Surely it is better to make a bigger sacrifice; surely God will be pleased with this decision.” Rather than laying the decision before God and seeking only His thoughts, I leaned on my own understanding of faith, and I was wise in my own eyes. Rather than trusting God with all my heart, I mixed my religious reasoning with my faith.
Stop the Sark is Skill 14 of the 19 Relational Skills, and we see the active Sark in many Scripture passages and our own lives. When we recognize that our sark is rearing its head, we want to exercise Skill 13, which is to See What God Sees. If Saul and I had truly listened to God, we would have seen our situations from His perspective.
Learn more about this relational skill in this new resource, Relational Skills in the Bible.
Amy Brown is the Journey Groups Director for Deeper Walk International and Trainer for the True Identity Track of THRIVEtoday’s relational skill training. She recently co-authored Relational Skills in the Bible with Chris Coursey.