Michael Hsu—Edinburgh, UK

Editor's note: The sixteenth Africa Ministry Training Course (AMTC) was held in London, UK, in January 2019. The annual AMTC is organized by the Western Hemisphere Department of World Mission of the International Assembly, with the help of the UK General Assembly and the Africa Ministry Committee. Though the gospel has reached many countries in Africa, much assistance is still needed in training local church workers, establishing the religious education system, and constructing church buildings. The objective of the AMTC is to provide opportunities for members with a calling in evangelism to participate in this missionary work. This article is based on a lecture delivered during this event.

In 1 Samuel 29, we read of the Philistines and the Israelites preparing to do battle. To escape from King Saul, David had earlier defected to the side of Achish, king of Gath (a Philistine city). But, worried about David's potential betrayal, the Philistine military leaders refused to let David and his followers join them in the battle against the Israelites. David had no choice but to leave the Philistine forces and return to his city of Ziklag. On arrival, David and his men found to their horror that the Amalekites had burned and plundered the city, taking the women and the city's inhabitants captive (1 Sam 30). Furious and grieved, David's men blamed him for this attack, and even considered stoning him

David's response to this shocking event has many valuable lessons for our faith and ministry.

Principle 1: Neither Blame Others nor Exalt Ourselves

Now David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and his daughters. But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God. (1 Sam 30:6)

There is a natural human tendency to look for a scapegoat when things go wrong. The Book of Genesis describes how—after their disobedience and sin had been exposed—Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent. All three parties were eventually punished for their actions (Gen 3:12–24). Generations later, when the prophet Samuel highlighted Saul's error of sparing his enemies and their livestock, Saul was unwilling to face facts. Instead, he defended his actions by blaming the people, claiming that they were the ones who had wanted to keep the booty (1 Sam 15:1–21). God was displeased with such disobedience and refusal to accept responsibility, and rejected the first king of Israel (1 Sam 15:23).

David—the second king of Israel—was a stark contrast to his predecessor. He came back to a destroyed city and was being blamed for this state of affairs. He did not justify himself by blaming others or the circumstances. Instead, he "strengthened himself in the LORD his God" (1 Sam 30:6b).

As we journey through life, we will encounter problems and troubles along the way. Ministry life will also have its fair share of difficulties and hardships. It is tempting, and often easy, to find someone or something to blame for our misfortunes. But David has shown us an important principle. Do not assign blame when things go wrong. Start by reflecting on whether we have done our best. Honestly examine whether we were at fault in any way. And most importantly, turn to God.

On the other hand, when things turn out very well, there is typically a rush to claim credit. This is a pitfall to avoid in our service to the Lord. Never think that our ministry was a success because we are so gifted; or that God has worked with us because we are so exemplary. In Haggai 2:4, God encouraged the people to be strong and work, because He was with them. This qualifying phrase is crucial. When we do the work of God, our strength and ability come from Him. Whatever has been accomplished is due to God and God alone (see 1 Cor 3:6–9).

Principle 2: Inquire of God, Trust and Obey

Then David said to Abiathar the priest, Ahimelech's son, "Please bring the ephod here to me." And Abiathar brought the ephod to David. So David inquired of the LORD, saying, "Shall I pursue this troop? Shall I overtake them?" And He answered him, "Pursue, for you shall surely overtake them and without fail recover all."(1 Sam 30:7–8)

Another common reaction to crisis or calamity is to rush into action. The initial shock may paralyze us. But when we come to our senses, we itch to do something to assuage our anxiety and grief. In David's situation, we would not want to lose any time in rescuing our kidnapped loved ones, as well as redeeming ourselves in the eyes of our followers.

But David did not succumb to a kneejerk reaction. He waited. And importantly, he inquired of God (1 Sam 30:7–8). His humble inquiry ensured that he knew what to do next. His supplication also enabled him to find strength from the Lord, not just to defeat his enemies but, more importantly, the inner strength to trust the Lord's directions.

In the Ziklag incident, God permitted David to pursue the Amalekites. But, in David's shoes, if the Lord had told us to sit, wait, and do nothing, would we have been able to obey? Would we have insisted to God that we must take action lest the enemy flee?

When we encounter challenges in our service, be they personal, to do with our relationships, or church-wide, we have to soldier on. Soldiering on requires both strength and wisdom from the Lord. To gain these, we first and consistently inquire of the Lord. But after consulting the Lord in our ministry, it is equally vital for us to completely trust and obey.

Principle 3: Let God Lead

So David went, he and the six hundred men who were with him, and came to the Brook Besor, where those stayed who were left behind. But David pursued, he and four hundred men; for two hundred stayed behind, who were so weary that they could not cross the Brook Besor. Then they found an Egyptian in the field, and brought him to David; and they gave him bread and he ate, and they let him drink water. (1 Sam 30:9–11)

Responding to David's inquiry, God had assured him of victory over the Amalekites. But during the chase, two things happened that seemed to suggest otherwise. First, a third of David's troops dropped out because of exhaustion. Second, their pursuit was delayed by an ill and starving Egyptian man, an ex-slave of the Amalekites (1 Sam 30:13). Put in a similar situation, many of us may find some doubt arising in us regarding God's assurance.

David's absolute willingness to trust God's leadership is an essential reminder not to rely on our understanding and experiences when making decisions. In the world, intuition and experience are valuable assets that ensure work or business success. We are naturally inclined to rely on these same things when we serve God. We assume that doing things the way we have done before will yield the same results. But David's experience was that, in identical situations, God could give different strategies! Therefore, even when we find ourselves confronted with a problem similar to what we have faced before, we still need to trust God to lead. Otherwise, we may not succeed in resolving our problem.

The Battle of Ai is an enduring lesson of the fallibility of human understanding. After the amazing victory of Jericho, the Israelites thought they could easily conquer the small city of Ai (Josh 7:2–5). But they were routed. Decades later, the prophet Samuel made a similar mistake. He relied on his judgment of their outward appearance to opine which of Jesse's sons would be the new king (1 Sam 16:6). He was wrong.

While it is important to plan, we would do well to remember that God is the One who directs our path (Prov 16:9). To serve the Lord effectively, we must devote much time to prayer, in the mornings and evenings. Our daily wait for the Lord is an essential part of serving Him. We need to trust Him and allow Him to work. When we rush into something, we often end up hurting ourselves. In every circumstance, we must allow God to lead us, as this is the way to success.

Principle 4: God Uses the Ordinary to Achieve the Extraordinary

Then David said to him, "To whom do you belong, and where are you from?" And he said, "I am a young man from Egypt, servant of an Amalekite; and my master left me behind, because three days ago I fell sick. We made an invasion of the southern area of the Cherethites, in the territory which belongs to Judah, and of the southern area of Caleb; and we burned Ziklag with fire." And David said to him, "Can you take me down to this troop?" So he said, "Swear to me by God that you will neither kill me nor deliver me into the hands of my master, and I will take you down to this troop." (1 Sam 30:13–15)

David and his men had no idea where the Amalekites were, even though they were desperate to hunt them down. When they came across the half-dead man, David could easily have left him so as not to waste any precious time. But, out of compassion, David provided the young Egyptian with food and water. The grateful man became the key informant regarding the whereabouts of the Amalekites' camp. David and his men were thus able to attack and defeat the Amalekites successfully.

In our lives, we often encounter seemingly irrelevant and insignificant things which we are tempted to leave aside; since we are already so busy, someone else can deal with these trivialities. But the Bible shows us time and again that God uses insignificant characters and events to accomplish His will. Elijah was sustained by a widow in Zarephath (1 Kgs 17:9). Naaman came to know the true God of Israel through the slave girl belonging to his wife (2 Kgs 5). Jesus used a young lad’s meal of barley loaves and fish to feed five thousand (Jn 6:9). Hence, we should not dismiss the "small stuff"—God uses these to change our circumstances. Similarly, in our ministry life, defined priorities are required. But in order not to erroneously overlook the small things that God values, we must seek to understand God's will, and ensure that our priorities are the same as His.

This mindset should extend to ourselves—though we think we are inadequate and have minimal talent, God can defy human logic and use us to accomplish great things. When we entrust everything to Him, He can perform miracles. Let us always be vigilant to His calling (Isa 6:8) and, by remaining humble, we can become noble vessels ready for His use.

Principle 5: Faithfulness, the Most Precious Quality

After David and his men managed to recover everything they had lost, the men wanted to divide the spoil among themselves and give nothing to those who did not go into battle. But David told the men, "My brethren, you shall not do so with what the LORD has given us" (1 Sam 30:23). He recognized that both those on the battlefield and those who remained to protect the supplies deserved the spoil.

Frontline work may seem more glamorous and more deserving of recognition, but everyone who serves God faithfully deserves a reward, regardless of the kind of work they do. Today, some dedicate themselves to be preachers, while others devote themselves as part-time workers, having to also care and earn money for their families. Neither is superior to the other. What the Lord demands of us is that we are faithful in executing our work; the Bible tells us that faithfulness is the most important quality in God's household (Lk 16:10).

Acts 8:4 records the persecution of the church and how "those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word." We may think it was the apostles' job to uphold the faith and preach the gospel. Yet this episode tells us that ordinary members, the unnamed ones, recognized their responsibility. They had a mission in mind. They were forced to leave their homes, but they remained faithful to the word and the preaching of the word.

Today, every single believer is called to evangelize to the world (Mt 28:19–20; Mk 16:15). We must be faithful in executing this great commission. This is why we have to spend time studying the doctrines, equipping ourselves with and upholding the word. At the same time, our behavior must show that we are disciples of Jesus. And we have to pray for power from above, so we can serve faithfully in God's kingdom, wherever we are sent.

Conclusion

The road ahead will be difficult, particularly as we live in the end time. However, we have to trust in the Lord and always follow His lead. As long as we are faithful, God will accept our offering to Him; and in the end, though we are unprofitable servants, we will be richly rewarded when He comes again.

May we remain faithful in the work. Amen.

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