Overcoming Saul Syndrome

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It seems that many (myself included) in our modern world suffer from Saul syndrome. We want to please God, but we want to do it on our own terms.

In 1 Samuel 13, Saul breaks the law of God by offering a sacrifice himself, instead of waiting for Samuel to do it. When Samuel asked Saul why he had done such an unholy thing, Saul responds in this way: “I said, ‘The Philistines will now come down on me at Gilgal, and I have not made supplication to the LORD.’ Therefore I felt compelled, and offered a burnt offering.” (emphasis added)

Samuel didn’t respond by praising Saul for his good intentions; instead, he said, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which He commanded of you.”

It’s easy to see the black and white lines in this Biblical account, but applying it to our lives is never as easy. Instead, we try to justify our actions, even if they are completely against God’s commands. When someone wrongs us (or worse – our spouse or our children), we feel compelled to give them a piece of our mind. When someone disagrees with us on the internet, we feel compelled to lash out against them in a tirade of comments. When we are called out for sin, we feel compelled to say we’re sorry, but not compelled to repent and rid our lives of that sin. When we worship, we feel compelled to entertain so that we can draw more people in, instead of actually just abiding by what the commandment of the Lord is. When someone does things differently (and maybe better) than we do, we feel compelled to assume (and say) the worst about them instead of pursuing peace and acting out of love. 

There are a host of other examples we could give; each of us has our own temptation that we struggle with on a regular basis. But ask yourself this question: are you more compelled to do what you feel is right or what God says is right?

Saul had some pretty big consequences for his actions. God took his kingdom from him and gave it to David, a man after His own heart. While the Lord would have established Saul, breaking the commands of God brings consequence and his kingdom would not last.

Just like Saul had consequences, there will be consequences for us if we feel compelled to go against God’s commands. Even if we feel like we’re doing what’s best—what’s right, even— breaking God’s commands brings consequence. Ultimately, if we do not repent of these actions, the heavenly kingdom will be stripped from us. But, there may be earthly consequences as well. Relationships may be irreparably damaged. Your influence over some people may be gone for good. You may forever struggle with your temper or tongue because you’ve given in for so long. But we can change! God wants us to. We probably over-complicate the process, when really, it’s simple: only do what God says and leave our feelings at the door.

You’ve heard the pithy saying, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it!” Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what I believe or feel. If God said it, that settles it. No need for my opinion on the matter.

Saul didn’t learn his lesson, and just a few chapters later we read of another blatant disregard for God’s commands. Instead of utterly destroying the Amalekites, he spared the choicest animals and their king. His justification was that they were going to offer these animals to God. No amount of rationalization could make his actions acceptable, though, and Samuel tells him plainly, “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the LORD?” (1 Samuel 15:22).

Too often, we are tempted to do what we feel God would be most pleased with. We are tempted to live how we feel God would be most pleased or continue in a sin because God will understand or accept our heart. But that’s simply not true. God desires that we obey His voice. He desires that we bend our will to His. He desires that we sacrifice self and let Him lead our lives. He doesn’t desire that we do what seems right or what we feel compelled to do for His service. He desires that we follow Him.

Don’t give in to the Saul syndrome. Even if you feel compelled to do something good and for the Lord, check yourself. Make sure that your feelings are in line with God’s commands. Only then is what you are doing acceptable to Him.