Teach Us to Pray (1 Samuel 8)

(7 minute read)

Read 1 Samuel 8:

When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders. The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.
So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”
But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”
Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”
When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord. The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”
Then Samuel said to the Israelites, “Everyone go back to your own town.”

For centuries, Israel lived in a cycle of rebellion and redemption. A generation would abandon God’s way, and they ended up under the rule of a foreign power. They cried out to God, and he would deliver them. After years of this, Israel finally told God’s prophet Samuel, “Give us a king like the other nations.” They put a political leader in the place of God because they wanted something simpler—tangible security, practical solutions, and political guarantees. They thought they were taking control, but God warned them it was actually going to enslave them. The best way to read Israel’s story is not to laugh and scoff at their foolishness and faithlessness. This is our family, to whom we bear an uncanny resemblance. If we refuse to see ourselves in the mirror of their story, we become twice as foolish and faithless.

Just like Israel, we tend to think our politics give us control of our lives and world, but—more often than not—they end up enslaving us. When we trust anything other than God to set the world to rights, the end result is idolatry and oppression (whether spiritual or societal). Indeed, for some of us it might not be so hard to imagine a world in which our sons and daughters are sacrificed to an economy of war, the fruit of our labor is taken from us, and our lands are plundered to benefit a rich and powerful elite. Maybe we have even come to concede that this is simply the way things work.

We “put our trust in princes” (Psalm 146:3) without even realizing there is another way. Conformity is natural. Being set apart is difficult; it takes constant maintenance and recalibration. But whenever we call Jesus the “Christ,” (the Anointed, the King) we already declare that we serve and seek his Kingdom first. This should radically shape our hopes and expectations, our methods and ethics. We serve a King like no other political leader in world history. We follow the Crucified Christ. The way of our King is the cross, where he actually shoulders and suffers the whole weight of oppressive power. Following King Jesus does not guarantee security, liberty, or even life—in the sense that political systems and policies promise them. But we also serve the Risen Christ who promises and provides peace, “not as the world gives” (John 14:27). As Christians, we believe death and resurrection is actually the way the world works. The Christ is not elected, and his Gospel cannot be legislated. True joy cannot be bought, and true justice cannot be regulated.

Pray for God to search your heart for the subtle ways you ask for a king like other nations.
- When was the last time you honestly challenged your basic assumptions about "the way the world works?"
- In what specific ways do you uncritically follow the way the world does things?
- Do you seek simple and certain answers in the face of ambiguous and confusing realities?
- How much weight (whether in the form of hope or fear) do you put on political, social, and economic solutions?
- Do you see your presence, service, and giving in the church as an exchange, expecting some kind of return on investment?
- Which do you value more: common sense or divine wisdom

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Tomorrow on the Daily Connection: Deeper Dive Podcast (1 Samuel 8)

About the Author

Nick Chambers is the Director of Spiritual Formation at Calvary UMC