1 Samuel 4-7 tells a story that I believe prophetic intercessors need to seriously consider. It's the story of when the Ark of the Covenant was lost in battle. Here's the progression of what happened.
- The children of Israel lost 4,000 men in a battle against the Philistines so they came up with the idea of taking the Ark of the Covenant with them into a second round of battle.
- They lost the battle, 30,000 men, and in the process, the Ark was captured by the Philistines.
- Because they'd captured the Ark, the Philistines’ idol, Dagon, was destroyed and they endured seven months of rats and a deadly plague in all three cities where they took it.
- Finally, with fear and respect for the God of Israel, the Philistine priests and diviners came up with a way to not only get rid of the Ark, but to gain confirmation that their troubles were, indeed, caused by the God of the Israelites.
- The Philistines received their confirmation and the Jews of Beth Shemesh rejoiced, sacrificed and worshipped when the Ark ended up in their territory.
- Unfortunately, in spite of their joy and worship, they did not show as much respect for the Ark (the things of God) as the Philistines had, so God struck down 50,070 people.
- In fear and with no sign of repentance, the men of Beth Shemesh said, "Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God?" And they wanted the Ark out of their sight.
- Fortunately, the men of Kirjath Jearim personified the godly fear of the Lord and the proper respect for the things of God. They took the ark home with them where it remained for 20 years.
So, why do I think, as prophetic intercessors, we need to examine this passage for possible insights? In this current season, we've learned a lot about warfare prayer, decrees, declarations, the Courts of Heaven, and the use of physical articles or 'things' for prophetic acts. This is good and many times God has honored. But, there are also times when we don't see any positive fruit from these same efforts. One valid explanation is that God gives the results in His own timing, not ours. BUT. . . could an underlying reason have anything to do with our hearts?
- Do we 'take' God with us into battle as the children of Israel did without getting His specific direction and timing? There is no indication that the children of Israel did so. Nor is there any indication they asked the Lord why they'd lost the first battle. Did they act presumptuously?
- Do we ascribe almost “magical” powers to the things of God? That's seemingly what the children of Israel did when they took the Ark into battle. Like them, is our faith in our prophetic tools more than in God?
- Do we bless God, but, like the people of Beth Shemesh, not have the proper respect for the articles God gives us to use in our worship and warfare?
Here are modern-day examples of our sometimes skewed thinking when it comes to the things of the Lord:
- Can you pray with faith for someone to be healed even when you don't have a bottle of oil with which to anoint them?
- Are there specific words and phrases that you use when praying, because you believe that without them God won't answer your prayer?
- How do you treat the printed Word of God? Yes, it's WHO the Bible tells us about that we have faith in, but, since the Bible is inspired by God and is what tells us about Him, it is a holy book. Do you handle the physical book with the same respect you would if it were a priceless, ancient manuscript?
Some could say my point is "straining at a gnat" or legalistic. I don't agree because, being convicted by the Lord, every time I pick up my Bible now, I'm aware that owning and being able to read a Bible is an incredible privilege. While it's not something to be put in a safe or on display but never touched, when we pick it up, open its pages, write notes in it or highlight some verses, do we do so with gratitude, awe or respect? I'll never forget praying for a woman in a third world country whose only request was to be able to remember scripture when it was read to her. She didn't own a Bible, and if she had one, she couldn't read her own language. Plus, her Buddhist husband wouldn't allow her to keep it.
When Gary was in Russia in 1990 during Perestroika, he and his team gave away Bibles. When they were down to their last Bible Gary was making his way through a crowd of people when an old man got his attention and begged for a "Biblia." Gary didn't have one on him so he yelled to a lady on their bus, asking if there were any left. Yes! There was one! Because of the crowd, the lady tried to throw it to Gary. Unfortunately, it fell short and into the hands of someone else. Much to Gary's surprise, that someone knew it was meant for the old man and passed it forward. As the Bible made its way over the heads of the crowd of people to the old man, they all reached up just for the privilege of touching the word of God. Do we have that kind of respect for our Bibles?
I'm not talking about a legalistic attitude. As I often say, "We have a lot of grace with God, but satan is a legalist." Because of that, it is important that we follow biblical guidelines and protocols in our spiritual warfare. Satan is constantly looking for a mistake on our part, an opening, and when he finds it, he will use it to his advantage. Too many well-meaning people rush into spiritual warfare in a haphazard manner. The truth is that respect for the power and things of God are absolutely mission critical. Psalm 144:1 lets us know that the Lord trains our hands for war. Before soldiers are sent into battle, they are carefully trained in how to handle their warfare weapons. As a result, they have great respect for their firearms. They don't handle them carelessly or use them inappropriately. So must we with all that He gives us to use. This includes not only what scriptures we apply but also what 'tools' we use - oil, water, communion elements, flags, tambourines, etc.
One summer I was a part of a large prayer team that covered a week-long conference for college students. Divided into teams, we took turns making sure the conference was prayed for 24 hours a day, every day. One day my roommate told me that when her team began praying in the prayer tent, they realized that in their midst was a rectangular trunk with lots of stuff piled on top. Sweaters, notebooks, bags, etc. in a very hodgepodge, tacky way. "What is this?" her leader asked. When she learned that the previous team had set the trunk, covered with a throw, in the middle of the room as an altar for prophetic prayer, she immediately began to clear all the junk off. "If it's an alter, we need to treat it as such!" she exclaimed. From that point on, she made sure every team knew how the box had been used so they could show respect for how God had directed its use for every team.
The point is, the last thing any of us want to do is imitate the children of Israel when they took the Ark of the Covenant into battle as if it was a talisman or lucky rabbit's foot. Neither do we want to be like the people of Beth Shemesh who showed no respect.
With respect for the things of God, we must also guard our hearts and make sure we do what we say. Repentance is good but only if it's true repentance and not just the current spiritual trend. As Samuel told them, "If you return to the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths from among you, and prepare your hearts for the Lord, and serve Him only; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines." So the children of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and served the Lord only (1 Samuel 7:3-4).
Return. Put away. Prepare. Serve Him. Confession of sin does not equal repentance, and repentance is not the finished work. The finished work is a heart that is doing it for God only. As the old American saying goes, "The proof is in the pudding."
If you finish reading chapter seven of 1 Samuel, you'll see that God honored their sincere repentance. Samuel stayed with them for a while, so when the Philistines once again came against them, they turned to prayer (as they should have the first time). God answered with a sign and a wonder, and with restoration and blessing.
There are a lot of lessons in this story but the one for now is this: Let's handle the things of God with care and respect.