Serve the Lord with All Your Heart
21st Sunday after Pentecost
Serve the Lord with All Your Heart
Text: 1 Samuel 12:20-24
For the third time in the history of Israel, a legend stood before the people to deliver his farewell speech. When the Israelites had come out of Egypt and were finally about to enter the Promised Land of Canaan, Moses addressed the people of Israel just before he died. Moses’ message? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and obey his commands.”
Moses was succeeded by Joshua who led the people in conquering and capturing that Promised Land. Then, just before Joshua died he also addressed the people of Israel. Joshua’s message? “Serve the Lord your God and obey him.”
Now several generations later one more legend stood before the people of Israel. His name was Samuel. Samuel the prophet had been leading Israel since he was just a teen. But now as he was retiring he had one final, important message to deliver to the people of Israel. Samuel’s message? You can find the theme at the end of verse 20 of the first lesson today: “Serve the Lord with all your heart.”
Three giants of faith and leadership. All three giving one final message of encouragement. All three urging the same thing before they died: Serve the Lord with All Your Heart.
How did Israel do with their encouragements in the past? Not well. God performed incredible displays of power for them as he brought them out of slavery in Egypt. He heard their cries for mercy and answered them in miraculous ways. But not long after they got out of Egypt and on with their journey, they started grumbling and complaining. They wanted food. They wanted water. Then they wanted different food. They went so far as to say that they would rather be slaves in Egypt than with God in the desert. They were a very selfish people. That’s why Moses encouraged them to serve the Lord with all their heart.
Then God showed his incredible power to Israel again. They marched into the land of Canaan and quickly overtook the whole land. God made the walls of Jericho fall down simply at the sound of their shouts and blasts of their trumpets. God made the sun stand still for an entire day. But Israel never fully got rid of their enemies. They started intermarrying. They started worshiping some of the local false gods. That’s why Joshua encouraged them to serve the Lord with all their heart.
So what did they do? They turned even further from the Lord. What followed Moses and Joshua was a period of time known as the “Period of the Judges.” Read the book of Judges some time. It is jaw-dropping. It is unbelievable to read about the depths of depravity they sank to. Violence. Bloodshed. Filthy living and relations. False god worship. These were completely normal. The Bible describes this as a time when “everyone did as he saw fit.” I like to describe it as a time when Israelites acted like Americans.
Then, finally, the last of those judges was another terrific leader the Lord gifted to his people. His name was Samuel. But what did the Israelites do under the leadership of Samuel? Selfishly, they demanded a king like every other country had because they were sick and tired of God being their king.
It was quite the repetitious pattern. God gave Israel commands, but Israel would disobey. Instead of doing what God wanted, they did what they wanted. Then they would be warned by a great leader to follow the Lord. For a while they listened. But soon enough they would fall back into the trap of serving themselves instead of serving the Lord.
Over all these years of history, human beings have not changed very much. Satan still tempts us today as he did people in the past, and our sinful natures still crave the same things as those who have gone before us.
What do you think it would look like if we always served the Lord with all our heart—every time, every day? We would probably have needed more chairs here in church a while ago, because rarely would anyone miss church, except for the occasional vacation or rare death-bed sickness. We probably would have another pastor right now, because so many people were clamoring for more Bible study opportunities that I couldn’t even come close to offering enough classes. We would have more money than we would know what to do with because every single one of us would have a family budget that had “give to the Lord” on the top of the list.
I like to think that Christians who always put God first would look like the early Christians who for a few years after Jesus ascended to heaven lived incredible lives of faith. They went to the temple every day. They couldn’t help but share their faith with others. They dedicated themselves to preaching and teaching God’s Word. They shared everything they had, giving generously to God and to their fellow believers.
That’s what God wants from us. But that’s not what my sinful nature down deep inside wants. I would rather make sure I have everything I need and want before I give anything back to God. I would rather work first or do something for my kids or family first before I give time to the Lord.
It goes deeper than that though. The sinful nature wants to put “me” first in every choice of life. I want to serve my own wants rather than the wants or needs of my spouse like God wants me to do. I want to let my tongue fly get the last sharp word in rather than using kind words like God wants me to do. I want to react in anger and frustration and complaints rather than speaking to someone in patience and love like God wants me to.
It doesn’t matter what situation or aspect of life you are talking about, our sinful human reaction is always the same. “I” come first. Like Israel serving other gods or even choosing to have a king lead them instead of the Lord, we today would also rather serve ourselves before we serve the Lord.
A dangerous path for God’s people to walk down! The further I walk down my path, the further I am from God’s path. And if I walk down my own path far enough, at some point I might be lost forever.
This is why God sends great people like Samuel to call us to turn from our sinful selves, to turn to the Lord, and to serve him with all our heart. That’s exactly what the people of Israel did. They realized they had sinned and they asked Samuel to pray to the Lord God that he would have mercy on them.
The first lesson this morning is Samuel’s response to them during his retirement speech: “’Do not be afraid,’ Samuel replied. ‘You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart.’” Then verse 22: “For the sake of his great name the Lord will not reject his people, because the Lord was pleased to make you his own.”
For the sake of his great name—the Lord, Yahweh, the God of love—the Lord would not reject his people. Though they did not deserve it, the Lord was pleased in his mercy to make them his own people.
Just as the selfish sins of the Israelite people continue in us today, so also the gracious love and mercy of our God continues toward us today. There is certainly nothing within us that would make us desirable to God. What would a holy God want with selfish sinners? Rather, it is simply for the sake of his great name—the Lord, Yahweh, the God of love—that the Lord would not reject us. Though we do not deserve it, the Lord is pleased in his mercy to make us his people.
This story with Samuel is truly an example of God’s love and grace. Coming out of one of the most evil times in Israelite history, God decided to continue his mercy to his people. Though they had foolishly asked for an earthly king, God knew that he had promised to send an eternal King to save them from their sin. Samuel assured the people that God would make good on that promise.
God did send that King. His name is Jesus. Our King Jesus never showed the self-centered and selfish attitudes that we do in our lives. He put us first. He humbled himself. He sacrificed himself. He gave up his holy life to pay for our sinful lives. His selfless life and death paid for our selfish living. For the sake of his great name the Lord did not reject us and was pleased to forgive all our sins and make us his people.
With such good news of our God’s love and forgiveness, Samuel has one more important encouragement for us in verse 24: “But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you.” Once again we are encouraged with Israel to serve the Lord with all our heart. But there is one important key to doing so—“Consider what great things he has done for you.”
The Israelites could look back generation after generation. The Lord had been so good to them. He had blessed them in countless ways. Most importantly, he had been merciful to them with incredible forgiveness and love.
Consider what great things God has done for you. Look at all the blessings in your life. Your house. Your vehicles. Your clothing and food. Your family. Your children. Your health. Your safety. God has given to all of us so much!
Then when you consider his countless earthly blessings, look next to the cross. See the love of God given to us in his own Son. See all your sins washed away in his holy blood. See God making good on his promises for the sake of his great name. See how pleased God was to make you his own.
When we follow Samuel’s encouragement and consider what great things the Lord has done, it is natural that we will joyfully follow his encouragement then to Serve the Lord with All Our Heart.
Moses. Joshua. Samuel. All three great men of faith and great leaders. All three offered great words of wisdom before God called them home.
It reminds me of another man of faith I heard about last month. Pastor Doug Scherschel was a pastor for a long time in our church body in the northwest part of the United States. Most recently he served at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Spokane, WA. In May Pastor Scherschel was diagnosed with lung cancer. As it rapidly progressed, a tumor pressing on his voice box took his ability to speak. On September 7th last month, God finally called him home. It was reported by the attending nurse that since he was unable to speak, Pastor Scherschel took his two fingers, made the sign of the cross, put it over his heart, and then took his last breath and died.
Like Moses, Joshua, and Samuel, Pastor Scherschel was a faithful servant of the Lord with an important parting message to share. He couldn’t speak it, but he still could communicate it: Consider what great things God has done, and then serve him with all your heart. Then, after we live such a life of faithful service, for the sake of his great name and because it pleases him, God will take us to be with Moses, Joshua, Samuel, Pastor Scherschel and many more in our heavenly home.