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For the first decade and a half of my life, I was obsessed with animals more than ordinary children. With a fascination of creatures large and small, I was one of the first teens in the United States to advocate with the Humane Society of the United States. Preaching to State House Representatives in Washington, D.C., everything I did, lived, and breathed, inhaled, and exhaled a fascination with critters. 

During the second decade of my existence, my mind was seized and captured by unhealthy means of control. In a fuzzy spiral of addiction, self-harm, and confusion, I became a place of desolation. Though those original compulsions have been mended over the years, they have often been replaced by struggles that are a bit harder to destroy completely.

While I wish that my fight with mental health could be as easy to dispose of as last week’s garbage, the battles we face in life can be a fraction of the ones we quickly shovel off our plates into the disposal.

In 1 Samuel Chapter 15, Samuel is in a normal conversation with Saul. Crowned as King a few chapters earlier, by persuadable crowds, Israel defiantly goes against the Lord’s commands to obey Him alone, noting that they want to be like all the other governed nations (1 Samuel Chapter 11, NIV). After a short period, Samuel rebukes Saul for disobedience. By chapter fifteen, it is inherently obvious that the Lord has not only rejected Saul as King but entirely left his presence.

Commanding Saul (via the Lord) to destroy the Amalekites and all that belonged to them for what they did to Israel while coming up out of Egypt, Samuel gives Saul a simple task of obedience. But while carrying out this task, it appears that our King’s inability to fulfill his duties has less to do with his capabilities and more to do with his submission. 

“Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys…But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs– everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed” (1 Samuel 15:3,9, NIV). 

While Saul was willing to destroy that which was despised and weak, he was unwilling to kill the best of the sheep and cattle and the fat calves/lambs (good things). And not only did he take these actions, but he then convinced himself he was obeying the Lord’s command.

“I have carried out the Lord’s instructions…they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord your God, but we totally destroyed the rest…But I did obey the Lord…I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king” (1 Samuel 15:13,15, NIV). 

Today, I can’t help but think how much we do this, trusting God’s truth to support our version or interpretation of His commands. Taking matters into our hands and thinking we know best, we twist integrity until it’s a shadow of selfishness and pride. But God wants us to obey His voice for a reason. Not only does He know best, but He’s also far more significant than any way we could go without Him. 

Because the fact of the matter was, Saul knew he didn’t obey the Lord. 1 Samuel 15:24 in the NIV states, “I have sinned. I violated the Lord’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them” (1 Samuel 15:24, NIV). Yet, when it came to obedience or sacrifice, he chose sacrifice through the interpretation of his eyes. 

“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice and to heed is better than the fat of rams,” said Samuel to Saul (1 Samuel 15:22, NIV). 

The Hebrew translation for “completely destroy” in the context of this verse refers to the irrevocable giving over of things or persons to the Lord, often by totally destroying them. In taking a good look at your life, what are you unwilling to completely destroy and let go of right here, right now? Whatever it is, I promise that if you’re holding on more tightly to it and not Jesus, it doesn’t matter how much plunder, money, or sheep you have stored; you’ll still be left destitute and empty.

King Saul was too afraid to let go of “good things” for even better rewards. For the truth was not that Saul really believed he was honoring God, but that he could say he was and then attempt to go his own way. Saul’s fear of people persuaded him to do things I’m sure he wishes he never did (1 Samuel 15:24-25). Similarly, I’d also go so far as to say that he not only gave into the people but the selfish desires of his heart (1 Samuel 15:10-12). 

Because if we aren’t willing to destroy everything of ourselves, even good things, for the sake of the Gospel and Jesus Christ, then I’m afraid we’ve lost everything worth having. We’ve not only lost everyone but the One who’s the most important.

Saul wasn’t willing to irrevocably give in a way that he couldn’t get back, but let us entirely give and destroy what the Lord asks of us. God didn’t need Saul to keep the fat calves and lambs to provide Him with a sacrifice; what he wanted was the obedience of the heart in surrender to His commands.

To obey the Lord is far better than sacrifice, and all He desires is all of us.

Saul forfeited ruling a nation with God’s help because he wasn’t willing to forfeit everything else. He even lost God in the process (1 Samuel 16:14). 

Dear friend, don’t lose that chance. God wants to reign in your heart, over all of your heart, but that’s only possible when everything else taking up space is wholly destroyed, not partially dissolved, or unwilling handed over, but freely and entirely surrendered to Him. 

Agape, Amber