Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Clear the Old

I want to encourage you to take a look at 1 Samuel 12 for a moment. If you need the story so far, Samuel has been leading the people. He has anointed Saul as the first king, and is now fading away into semi-retirement. Well, he’ll pop up and anoint David in a few chapters, but at this point he’s backing away.

Samuel stands in front of the assembled people of Israel and asks few basic questions. They summarize in this manner: “Anybody got any issues with me? Bring it up now.”

Really. Read 1 Samuel 12:3 and think about it. His questions are about whether or not he has personally misused his position for his own gain or to the discredit of the office itself.

Historically, this is the transition from the period of the Judges of Israel into the United Monarchy. Imagine America shifting from the government of the Articles of Confederation into the Constitutional Era or Rome becoming the Republic through the Twelve Tables of the Law from despotism. It’s a critical juncture for the people

But Samuel has a personal concern at this point. He wants to know if he has done what he should. A few things of note for this personally:

1. Samuel knows whether or not he has been right before God. That is a personal matter and one that he should have sought out before God first and foremost. He was the instrument of announcing God’s judgment on the previous priest, Eli, and so he would have expected a rebuke from God had he been wrong before God.

2. Samuel knows whether or not he thinks he has done right before the people. He does not stand before them hoping they won’t remember what he has done wrong or hoping they will give him a pass for the wrongs he knows he committed. He stands there in full belief that he has done what was right in all cases.

These two ideas are crucial foundations. We cannot blunder through life knowing that God does not approve of our actions, nor that our own conscience does not approve, and ask others to validate us. Validation of that sort is disastrous—it is akin to the passengers of the Titanic thinking a hurried pace through the North Atlantic was a great idea. They neither knew the danger nor were in a position to fix any problems that arose. Yet right up until the iceberg, the information shows the crowd was fully in favor of the pace and cared not a whit for the lack of binoculars.

However, knowing his conscience is clear before God and himself, Samuel does not rest on this. He knows that he could just be blinded to errors or ignorant of sins.

So he submits himself to the people.

The same people who have told him that his sons were lousy. The same people who rejected his advice not to ask God for a king. The same people that he has rebuked, corrected, taught, and judged for years.

He asks these people if he has done any of them wrong, and then waits for the answer. He wants to know, before he departs, whether or not anyone holds a marker against him.

Is there a lesson here? I should say so.

First is this: It is not weakness to seek feedback from the people you lead. Seriously, those who lead but are afraid to ask “Have I done any wrong?” harm themselves and those they lead. Samuel is not weak for asking.

Second is this: I see an overall value in making sure all the old baggage is clear before something new starts. It’s the beginning of a year, a time for new beginnings. So consider what needs to clear out from last year. What wrongs need to be made right?

Mind you, stay focused on what you can do. You may have been the one wronged, but you will get no traction on the year waiting on someone else to come make it right. Try and determine if you can move forward—do what must be done for healing. Seek justice as appropriately guided by the Word of God, but do not be paralyzed by victimhood.

However, if you were the one who did the wronging—which is more often more of us, anyway, see what you can do about making it right. Perhaps you can restore those whom you have harmed. Perhaps you cannot, but you can work to right similar wrongs.

Whatever it may be, let the new year be one of clearing out old wrongs. Most of us are not Samuel: were we to stand before the people among whom we live our life and ask “Anybody got a problem?” we would have plenty of responses. Try to clear those out this year.

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