Taking It for Granted

Taking-It-for-GrantedThe rubble was silent now.

Earlier in the day it had been a temple, the scene of a raucous party where the lords of a wicked nation had gathered to gloat over the defeat of their enemy and offer a sacrifice to their god.

Now those same lords were dead, crushed in an instant by the temple that had housed their revelries.

The cause of their death was buried with them as well—Samson the Danite, judge of Israel, deliverer of the oppressed, and far and away one of the most tragic characters in the Bible.

* * *

Samson’s story began just about as positively as a story can begin. He was born to parents who were eager to have a child—parents who loved him and wanted him.

He was also (and honestly this is just a tiny little footnote, not really a huge deal) prophesied by God to be destined to “begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines” (Judges 13:5), so there’s that. He was just going to be God’s chosen vessel for ending 40 years of Philistine oppression, that’s all.

The terms and conditions were established before Samson was even conceived. He was to be “a Nazirite to God from the womb” (Judges 13:5), which subjected him to a handful of important restrictions. He was to avoid grapes and everything produced with them, especially alcohol (Numbers 6:2-4). He was to keep himself away from all dead bodies (Numbers 6:6-8). Most notably, he was to let no razor ever come upon his head (Numbers 6:2).

In exchange, God gave Samson supernatural strength. He was able, at various times, to rip a lion apart with his bare hands (Judges 14:6), to snap rope in half like smoldering flax (Judges 15:14), and to kill a thousand Philistines with nothing more than the jawbone of a donkey (Judges 15:15). When the Spirit of God came upon Samson, he was unstoppable.

* * *

The tragedy of Samson’s story was self-inflicted. Despite God’s gift, Samson continually flouted the Nazirite lifestyle. When he came across the corpse of the lion he killed, he not only walked up to it, but reached in and eats some of the honey he finds inside (Judges 14:8). He takes a walk through the vineyards of Timnah (Judges 14:5), and later hosts a seven-day drinking party (Judges 14:10, Hebrew mishteh). Again and again, Samson entered into intimate relations with pagan women and harlots (Judges 14:3; 16:1, 4), disregarding not only his responsibilities as a Nazirite, but the very law of God itself (Deuteronomy 7:3-4)—a disregard that ultimately resulted in a shaven head and his own captivity (Judges 16:21).

There are a lot of lessons we can draw from Samson’s life. As gotquestions.org so succinctly puts it, “Samson’s life illustrates that giving in to temptation leads to sin, that God will use even a sinful man to enact His will, and that God will not let us escape the consequences of our sin.”

But I don’t want to talk about any of those lessons today.

As a third-generation Christian, I want to talk about a serious problem I and all my fellow nth-generation brethren have to face—the very problem that led to Samson’s tragic downfall:

Taking it for granted.

* * *

Being a Nazirite from the womb meant that Samson grew up different. He operated according to a different set of rules from day one, and his incredible strength—which looked like a superpower to most people—was just a fact of life for him. It was the way things always were. Everything that made Samson unique and special in the eyes of others was familiar and routine in his own.

And that’s exactly where you and I can run into trouble. Samson lived by a different set of rules that set him apart from the world around him, and he had access to the Spirit of God whenever he needed it. He had never known another way—to him, that was just how life worked.

Sound familiar?

If you grew up in the Church like me, it should. You’ve always been expected to live up to a set of standards the world around you rejects. From day one, the Spirit of God has been actively working in your life, and you’ve never known anything different.

Think about it—unlimited, unfettered access to the transforming power of God’s Spirit? That’s incredible. That’s a superpower. That’s too good to be true.

And yet, for a follower of God, that’s just an average day.

* * *

Samson’s downfall came from treating the extraordinary as ordinary. God had given him rules, parameters to live within, and Samson disregarded them all.

I’ve often wondered what possessed Samson to share his secret with Delilah. He knew—he knew—from the past few nights that Delilah was eager to exploit his weakness, that the Philistines would seize the first opportunity to enslave and torment him. So why did he tell her?

I think there were two things at play here, and both deserve our full attention. The Bible tells us that Delilah “pestered him daily with her words and pressed him, so that his soul was vexed to death, that he told her all his heart” (Judges 16:16-17).

Delilah wore Samson down. Samson shouldn’t have been in Philistia, he shouldn’t have been in a relationship with a pagan woman, and he certainly shouldn’t have been staying in a place full of people actively trying to kill him. He was deeply entrenched in a toxic environment with no intention of ever leaving. And why would he leave? He was in control.

He thought.

What about you? Are there places you go, people you spend time with, environments you enjoy that are slowly eating away at the foundation of your faith, vexing your soul to death? Are you getting comfortable with something that’s fundamentally toxic? Because if you are, be warned: In those situations, sin wins. It will wear you down like Delilah, and unless you get out, it will break you. None of us are strong enough to invite the world into our lives and not pay the price.

The other lesson is just as important, and something I only realized recently: I don’t think Samson believed what he was saying. Look at what happens when the Philistines set upon him after his head was shaved: “So he awoke from his sleep, and said, ‘I will go out as before, at other times, and shake myself free!’ But he did not know that the Lord had departed from him” (Judges 16:20).

Samson thought, even after giving up his secret, that God would still be with him. After all, he’d already been near the carcass of a lion and spent seven days at a drinking party—at this point, what was one more broken rule? Where was the harm in disregarding one more warning?

He didn’t even know that God had left him.

I suspect that at this point, Samson was considering God’s gift to be his own immutable possession. He may have thought that his great strength actually belonged to him, that it could not be taken away or revoked by anyone, including God.

But “the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away” (Job 1:21). Samson didn’t get that.

We must.

The Holy Spirit that’s at work in your life—you can quench it. You can abuse it to the point that God decides to take it back. You’re not entitled to it, you’re not entitled to God’s hand in your life—you’re not entitled to anything. But, like Samson, we grew up with all those things. It’s easy to forget that a relationship with our Creator (and all the blessing that come with it) is not the default. Billions and billions of people don’t have that, have never had that, can’t even conceive what that might look like—but you and I, we’ve had it for as long as we can remember.

So how do we avoid following in Samson’s footsteps?

* * *

Despite his failures, it’s worth noting that Samson made it into the faith chapter: “For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens” (Hebrews 11:32-34).

At some point, it sounds like Samson got it. He figured it out. I suspect that had a lot to do with the end of his story.

The last time we see Samson, he’s blind and in chains. He’s a captive of the very people he felt so comfortable hanging around, and ever since God took his strength away, he’s been powerless to escape.

…And then an opportunity presents itself. Brought out in fetters to entertain the lords of the Philistines during a ritual sacrifice to their god, Samson cries out a short and heartfelt prayer that must have struck fear into the hearts of his gloating captors:

“O Lord God, remember me, I pray! Strengthen me, I pray, just this once, O God, that I may with one blow take vengeance on the Philistines for my two eyes!” And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars which supported the temple, and he braced himself against them, one on his right and the other on his left. Then Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” And he pushed with all his might, and the temple fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So the dead that he killed at his death were more than he had killed in his life.

(Judges 16:28-30)

Samson—for maybe the first time in his entire life—finally acknowledged that his strength came from God, that he was powerless without Him, that he needed Him.

And then it was all over.

That’s how Samson’s story ends: buried under rubble. One last victory, and then deafening silence.

Is that what God wanted, do you think? When He raised up a deliverer to rescue Israel from the Philistines, was that His plan along—to crush Samson under the temple of a pagan god?

I have a hard time believing that. Samson was a man God worked with in spite of his choices, not because of them. How different would Samson’s story have been if he had obeyed God consistently—if he had kept himself from carcasses and strong drink, if he had not given away the secret of his strength, if he had not continually given his heart to those who did not share his faith?

What could God have done with a man who was dedicated to seeking Him instead of his own desires?

* * *

With Samson, we’ll never know. That story is over. What’s written is written. Samson followed his own rules and missed out on the better story God had in store for him.

Your story, though—your story isn’t over. Samson’s downfall was the end of a long chain of taking things for granted. His redeeming moment hinged on his realization that his strength came from God and God alone.

What if we skipped that first part? What if we make an effort to not take what God has given us for granted? What if we take the time to acknowledge those gifts as coming from our Creator? What if we go out of our way to thank God for the things we can so easily take for granted—our calling, His Spirit, the knowledge of the right way to live, and a relationship with the God of the universe?

These things don’t belong to us. They were given to us by a God who loves us, but if we treat them as commonplace, we can lose them.

Samson’s story ended in blindness and captivity. He lost sight of what mattered and unwittingly traded his blessings for things that could only hurt him.

Your story can be different. God wants it to be different—but that process has to start with us treasuring the things God has given us.

It’s easy to take it all for granted. Like Samson, our lives have always been different. We’ve always lived by a different set of standards; we’ve always had God working directly in our lives. It’s easy for all of that to start looking incredibly normal.

But it’s not. It’s the farthest thing from normal. The Creator of the Universe is transforming you to be like Him—to be His child. And so we have to do the hard thing—the thing that doesn’t come naturally. We must, from time to time, take those God-given treasures and remind ourselves, “I’m not entitled to this. I don’t deserve this. Not everyone has this. It was entrusted to me, and if I’m not careful, I can lose it. If I want to keep it, God expects me to use it—and wisely.”

Samson didn’t do that.

We must.

None of us can afford to take any of this for granted.

Until next time,
Jeremy

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