It’s a good thing I put at the end of my last post where I was intending to take this series, because as you can see my month got away from me! Now I am in the car in the middle if hilly Tennessee as my dad drives us back to Dallas, through a rainstorm at the moment.
As I stated previously, this post will cover the sermon I heard my first Sunday in the DC/Maryland area, which was June 10. The pastor was finishing a series about Samson, and his focus was on Strength and Weakness – the fact that our Failure can lead to Opportunities. Anyone who knows the story of Samson knows he messed up plenty. (Sounds familiar to my life!) As the pastor pointed out, Samson broke every part of the Nazarite vow that he was supposed to live by.
Rather than conquering the Philistines, he ended up as their slave. Rather than being a moral leader for the Israelites, he engaged in almost every type of detrimental behavior possible. I can’t imagine how disappointed and confused his parents were about all of this. Samson was a failure because he did what he wanted to do, when he wanted to do it rather than following God’s leadership.
And so as a consequence of his failures and his focus on himself, Samson found himself at the bottom, in a position of forced humility and servitude. Samson had chosen not to submit to God, and as a result he became enslaved and in a position of submission to the morally depraved Philistines.* They naturally saw their sudden victory over him as a sign that their god was more powerful than Yahweh.
BUT God was not done with Samson. Even though he had decided to depend on himself (and to some extent on his hair perhaps?), God did not write him off as useless. Yes, Samson’s actions had serious consequences, which God did not save him from. He lost his eyes – he lost the freedom he thought he had. During those long days circling around and around grinding the Philistines’ corn, Samson evidently came to a clearer understanding of how he should relate to God.
What happened next was proof that God doesn’t force us to be defined by our failures. Yes, failure impacts our relationship with God and with other people – but it doesn’t confine us to fail forever. Instead, God provides forgiveness and grace for those times when we depend on ourselves and as a result fail. As the pastor said, “We cannot undo the bad things we have done, but we can choose to be faithful from this point on” – though I would add that choice cannot be something that we drum up based only on our own strength.
The whole point of this sermon was that depending on ourselves leads only to disappointment. But at the end of the day, it is still so very easy to look at ourselves as the solution! In reality, only God’s strength and indwelling Paraclete Holy Spirit can save us from the failure into which we so easily stumble. But that does take action on our part: We must recognize our deep need of God and actively choose to submit – as contradictory as that sounds sometimes.
At the end of Samson’s story, God got the glory. As the pastor pointed out, Samson’s self-sacrificial choice to bring down the temple on himself and the Philistines was a heavy blow to that nation. The Philistines are not mentioned another single time in Judges. Through Samson, God brought an end of an era to a people who had turned their backs on Him. Out of Samson’s initial failure came an opportunity for God to be glorified. When Samson chose to give up his faith in himself, God used him to bring about His plans and purposes.
God can do the same for every one of us, and for anyone who surrenders.
*This ties in perfectly to the sermon I heard today, which is what I will talk about next!