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We love the “How To” articles and books, don’t we? I’m a big fan when I need to know what I don’t know, and I’m a sucker for a shortcut. Show me an easy way, and I’m in. 

The ancient people of Israel weren’t any different, as 1 Samuel 4 recounts. After a defeat to the Philistines and the loss of 4,000 soldiers, the elders decided to bring in the Ark of the Covenant to give them a victory. (The Ark was where the presence of God rested.) The Ark’s arrival in the Israelite camp initially caused the Philistines great fear, but in the end they soundly Israel, this time killing 30,000 men, and even capturing the Ark.

Perhaps the elders of Israel should have read the Scriptures and copied a previous model of battle success instead—Moses holding up the staff of God; Joshua marching around Jericho; Gideon weeding out soldiers by their technique of drinking water—methods that were tried and true. 

Why doesn’t adopting a method necessarily bring success? God doesn’t want us to accept physical methods as the key. There’s no indication anyone involved in the Philistine battle sought God in contrast to previous victories which did. Instead, the elders had an idea and went with it—and failed. Seeking and obeying God alone brings real success.

Why do we (and I’m guilty) seek what works for others instead of simply following God and humbly seeking him? Maybe it’s easier to follow someone else’s plan than wait and listen. And we observe that certain methods often do bring numbers and fame.

But let’s think about a fundamental question. What is the measure of success anyway? Jesus said, “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws” (Matt. 7:21-23, NLT). Success comes from knowing and serving God alone, not in results.

It makes me wonder how much real success the church in the U.S. is having right now with our emphasis on numbers and platforms. How much of our work is wood, hay, and stubble that will burn at the judgment seat of Christ (1 Cor. 3:10-15)?

It’s so easy to get caught up in numbers and fame. Let’s repent of our search for success and simply seek God, following him day by day. 

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