A recent change for me in ministry has turned out to be a source of blessing and fulfillment. When New Bridge Church merged with the Atlanta International House of Prayer, we added a Sunday evening service to accommodate the increased numbers of weekly attendees. On those Sundays when I preach, the Lord guided me to do an entirely different message in the evening service than the one I preach in the morning service. Though this increased my weekly workload in preparing the messages, I so welcomed the additional opportunity to share some of what the Father is speaking to me in these days. As I studied for this week’s sermons, I found a common thread in my Wednesday message and my Sunday evening message. These two messages tell the stories of two different people who lived nearly 1,000 years apart from each other. What was the common thread between Samson and Abraham? They both made some incredibly critical errors in judgment which God actually harnessed in order to fulfill large-scale destiny.
Samson is a bewildering man in the bible. He had prophetic destiny on his life before he was conceived. He was blessed by God at a young age and empowered by the Holy Spirit for his life’s assignment (Judges 13:24). Samson was ordained by God to break a four-decades-old oppression of Israel from the hand of the Philistines. He was God’s appointed judge and deliverer for Israel, but Samson had some serious character flaws. Chief among those flaws was his roving eye and his unregulated sexual appetite. The story of Samson repeatedly reveals that his desire for women cost him much. As a young man, he became attracted to a forbidden Philistine woman. He rebelled against his parents’ counsel to pick a Hebrew woman instead. He declared that this other woman pleased him visually (Judges 14:2-3), so he demanded for his parents to arrange the marriage with her. This was clearly sin on Samson’s part: he was being led by lust and rebelled against his parents’ authority. Remarkably, the bible says that God used this mini-rebellion of Samson in order to accomplish His big-picture destiny that Samson would begin to deliver Israel from the Philistines power. This failure by Samson which resulted in his initial connection to the Philistines would initiate a series of falling dominos that culminated years later in Samson destroying the Philistines pagan temple and killing thousands of the enemies of God. God took His servant’s failure and turned into a conduit for a display of power. The Philistines would begin to be defeated and, ultimately, King David would finish what God began through Samson.
Abraham lived around 1,000 years before Samson. Abraham was promised a son for him and his wife, Sarah. They were well beyond child-producing years, but the promise came as a decree from God. Waiting for this promise to be fulfilled, the two elderly saints became impatient. Sarah led Abraham to have sexual relations with her servant, so they could speed up the process of Abraham’s promised son to be born. The plan was devoid of faith and Spirit, but it accomplished the natural goal, and a son was born and named Ishmael. About thirteen years later, the promised son, Isaac, was born from Abraham and Sarah’s marital intimacy. Now there was a dilemma: two sons, two mothers, one father, one wife and one mistress. Abraham’s impatience and carnal approach to the promises of god had created a major issue. The home was immediately thrown into dysfunction and God would have to clean up their mess. Sarah ultimately demanded that her servant-woman, Hagar, be evicted from the household along with Ishmael, the son born to her by Abraham. Imagine the heartbreak of Abraham! His son whom he loved and the lad’s mother were to be dismissed so that there was no possibility of rivalry for the inheritance to Isaac. The next day, Abraham rejected Hagar and Ishmael and sent them packing after God spoke to him and told him to obey the counsel of Sarah. Why would God do such a thing? Because Isaac wasn’t the only son of Abraham who was granted a meaningful destiny. Ishmael would become, by the designs of God, the forefather of a massive group of people with power. God sovereignly used the failure of Abraham to accomplish his purposes for both Isaac and Ishmael.
So, what should you and I learn from these two highlighted failures by Samson and Abraham? First, allow me to say that we are accountable for our failures and must always seek to honor and obey God in our day to day living. We must never become flippant about obedience in the Kingdom. God never endorses our failures and disobedience, but He also is not surprised nor intimidated by them. You and I both have failed. I have many miserable failures in my life that I regret deeply. You may have some in your history too. We are often tempted to believe the lie that God has defined us by those failures. Perhaps we have believed that our destiny is wrecked because of our poor historical choices and actions. Yet, for the one who is surrendered to God in the present, there should always be the confidence that our Father is working all things together for our good. Far from throwing up His omnipotent hands in despair when we have failed, God is sovereignly utilizing even our failures in order to accomplish His will for our lives. His destiny for us is greater than the deficiencies within us. We are to remain people of all hope because He remains the God of all grace! Abraham, Sarah and Samson are all memorialized in Hebrews 11 as great examples of faith. I only highlighted two of Abraham and Samson’s mistakes – they made many more and some of them were huge. Yet, in the end, God records them as people we can admire because they overcame their failures by their faith. They finished their lives in ways that brought honor to the God who hovered over their lives in love and grace. Truly, they proved themselves to be more than conquerors, even in the rubble and regrets of their own colossal failures.
Look around you. Everyone we see has a blemished track record. Let’s not give up on them. Let’s believe that God’s grace to them is larger than their failures. By the way, will you be courageous enough to believe this for your own life? You are not defined by your worst moments. You, as a follower of Jesus, are defined by His greatest moment – the moment in Kingdom history where He laid Himself down for you and then took His life back up three days after. Your identity is found in what Jesus did right, not what you have done wrong. God will be using even your failures if you will surrender them to Him today.
He’s really that awesome.