King Saul

The Problem With Emotionally Unhealthy Spirituality, 1 January 2012

Big Idea: The life of King Saul provides us with a portrait of an emotionally unhealthy man. His example can be a warning for us all, driving us to our knees and dependence upon God as we strip away the illusions in our lives and get real with ourselves, God, and others.

Happy New Year! Did you make New Year’s Resolutions? Perhaps the most common one is to get in shape. Our culture loves to focus on the physical, and why not? It’s the most obvious and visible to others. Years ago Billy Crystal’s character “Nando” used to say, “It’s not how you feel, but how you look...and darling, you look maaavelous!”

Our physical bodies are important. They are the temple in which the Spirit of God dwells.
Jesus was asked how to inherit eternal life.

He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27)

We are holistic beings. God created each of us with a heart, soul, body and mind and they impact one another. When your body is sick, you’re more likely to be crabby. When your mind is stimulated, you may be motivated toward physical action. When your soul is uplifted, there’s a good chance that your mood will become more positive.

Contrary to some western thinking, we are not compartmentalized creatures but multi-dimensional.

We begin the new year with a series entitled
Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.

The purpose of this series is ultimately to draw you closer to God and, ultimately, to others. It has been said that some Christians are so heavenly minded that they’re no earthly good, and I’ve witnessed that. Perhaps you’ve met someone that is “spiritual” but miserable to be around.

Last month...last year!...I had a pastor friend say that he had a group of elderly people at his church that attended church every Sunday, had studied the Bible, and gave generously, but they were mean and grumpy!

Then I had a friend tell me about a family member who always talks about God but is filled with insecurity and envy.

Then I had a personal encounter with a family member who is a life-long Christian but was guilty of gossip and judging others.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could all be healthy and me? Ha!!!

Several years ago I was introduced to a book called
The Emotionally Healthy Church by Peter Scazzero. The subtitle is “a strategy for discipleship that actually changes lives.” I was so impacted by the book that I gave it to all of the leaders at the church I was leading. Weeks after becoming the pastor here at Scio, I was informed of a monthly pastor’s gathering with the Alliance and began attending. This was the book we studied together. Later in the year, I was asked to attend a special seminar on the subject.

It’s a great book that I highly recommend, but when I read it for the first time, I remember being delighted by the “what” but asking “how?” Then I read the sequel!
Scazzero’s book
Emotionally Healthy Spirituality is easily one of the top five books I have ever read. As he states on the cover, “It’s impossible to be spiritually mature, while remaining emotionally immature.” Although I rarely use a book other than the Bible for ideas (Radical was an exception), I taught much of the material I’ll be sharing with you when I was at Frontline Church and it was probably the most talked-about, transformation series I have ever done. I can’t think of a better way to start the new year than to get emotionally healthy.

In life, things are not always as they appear. An iceberg is a remarkable formation that appears large on the surface, but actually is much larger under the surface. In fact, only ten percent of an iceberg is visible about the water.

In a similar way, we can attend church gatherings on Sunday, put on a happy face, and mask our true self from others who we fear will judge or shame or shun us. It’s easy to be a Christ-follower for an hour on Sunday, but what really goes on in your life during the rest of the week? What really goes on in your heart the rest of the week?

How are you doing? No, really!

Christians can be the biggest fakers. There are written and unwritten expectations of how Christians are supposed to act. Can a Christian drink alcohol, attend an R-rated movie, swear, smoke, wear makeup, dance, or listen to rock music? These are just a few of the external behaviors that have been prohibited in many so-called Christian circles that never address the core heart issues and motivations that affect not just what we do but who we are.

The problem of Emotionally Unhealthy Spirituality is huge. Too many so-called Christians look great on the outside, but inside they are a wreck...and afraid to admit it. We’re afraid that if people know who we really are that they’d reject us.

We crave intimacy but are terrified by it, not only on Sundays, but for many of us in our own homes.

Can you think of anyone who has appeared on the outside to be have their act together, only to find out later that they were a mess inside?

The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart. (1Samuel 16:7b)

What you and I need is not a list of dos and don’ts to follow in this new year. Following Jesus is not about a checklist. A WWJD bracelet that reminds us to “act” (as in actor) like Jesus is a far cry from becoming like Jesus. We need to be transformed from the inside out. This is not something that just happens overnight. It will require changing unhealthy habits that you and I have embraced our entire lives. Reading, prayer, Sunday messages, and especially midweek interactions will all be powerful in the process of becoming whole and healthy. Jesus said that “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34).

When our kids were younger, we had conversations about swearing and why the pronunciation of certain words was deemed in appropriate. We explained that the sounds are not bad in and of themselves, but it is the heart behind the words that makes the difference.

The true test of who you are is not how you behave on Sunday or at some public gathering, but who you are when nobody is watching. Another test is how you respond to stress and unexpected challenges. When the going gets tough… One definition of integrity is “the state of being whole and undivided.” That’s a beautiful image. We live in a culture that is obsessed with the external. What we need is a spiritual revolution that begins inside.

We’re going to look at a very emotionally unhealthy man who looked great on the outside. He had power, fame, money, and friends. He was very spiritual, too. He made a great mistake, though. He never dealt with the core of his being and his emotions sabotaged his success.

King Saul started out great, but went awry. He was commanded by God to wipe out the Amalekites. He partially obeys, but does not complete the mission. On the surface of Saul’s life, he looked great, but his life was out of order underneath the surface.

Let me set up the scene for you. Saul was appointed king of Israel by God after the people begged for a king like all of the surrounding nations despite God’s warning that it would be better to just serve God.

Saul is told to “attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’” (1 Samuel 15:3)

Saul kills his enemies, but keeps some animals.

But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?” Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the LORD your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.”

“Stop!” Samuel said to Saul. “Let me tell you what the LORD said to me last night.”

“Tell me,” Saul replied.
(1 Samuel 15:14-16)

Samuel said, “Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The LORD anointed you king over Israel. And he sent you on a mission, saying, ‘Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; make war on them until you have wiped them out.’ Why did you not obey the LORD? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the LORD?” (1 Samuel 15:17-19)

“But I did obey the LORD,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the LORD assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the LORD your God at Gilgal.” (1 Samuel 15:20-21)
But Samuel replied: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king.” (1 Samuel 15:22-23)

Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the LORD’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them. (1 Samuel 15:24)

There are three signs of emotionally unhealthy spirituality in Saul.

1. He refuses reflection and self-awareness

He is doing some of God’s will, but he is more concerned about the opinion of people. He is out of touch with his own fear.

A few verses later Saul says to Samuel

“I have sinned. But please honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel; come back with me, so that I may worship the LORD your God.” (1 Samuel 15:30)

There is jealousy in his life. He doesn’t want others to look better than he does, especially David. Here tries six times to murder David, so threatened by him. He believes he is doing God’s will but he is unaware of how shallow his spirituality is and his own sins. He was unaware of why he did the things that he was doing.

Why do you do what you do? So much of our lives are lived out of the layers beneath the surface. Reflection can be painful because we see our sin and feel guilty. It’s easier to deny our stuff and pretend.

Silence and solitude are required in order to examine our motives and feelings and thoughts on the inside. You can’t be in touch with God if you are not in touch with yourself.

Saul lived an illusion, presenting a false self to God, as if God could be tricked!

Many of us keep ourselves so busy and noisy that we cannot reflect.

Unlike David, Saul never spends time in silence and solitude. He never writes poems and songs, pouring out himself to God. David was aware of his own heart and expresses it to God.

2. He refuses to cultivate his own personal relationship with God

He began humble and blessed by God but never develops his relationship with God. He does not have a hidden life in God. He has a public one, but no personal relationship with God.

But Samuel replied: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king.” (1 Samuel 15:22-23)

The words “obey” and “listen” are the same in Hebrew.

Saul though he was a pretty good guy but instead Samuel exposed the wickedness in his heart, calling him out on witchcraft and idolatry. He never asks, “What is God saying to me?”

Do you ever ask God what He is saying to you? Christianity is not meant to be merely intellectual, but experiential. What is God saying to you? He is speaking. Are you listening?

Dallas Willard told John Ortberg. Ruthlessly eliminate hurry. Ortberg said, “Okay, what’s next?”!

Contemplation is about getting God from your head to your heart. Sermons are a good start, but they are not the end. You must digest this food through Journey Groups and time alone with God.

The Pharisees knew all about God, but they never cultivated their relationship with God.

You must take responsibility for your relationship with God. Nobody else can do that for you. We can challenge you, provide you with tools and resources and opportunities for growth, but only you can cultivate your relationship with God.

It’s like marriage. People can give me books on marriage, I can attend marriage seminars, talk to people about marriage, and even decide in my head that I want a great marriage but if I don’t invest time and energy into my relationship with my bride, I will never have a good marriage.

3. He refuses to be broken by setbacks and difficulties

Trials can draw us to God. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). This does not mean the financially poor, but those that are desperate for God, broken by life and in need of God. The Father longs to be with us, know us, and spend time with us. He will often allow things to occur in our lives to get our attention because He wants nothing more than us and our hearts.

You cannot have God without poverty of spirit. You can have yourself, but not God.

The writer of Hebrews said of Jesus...

Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered. (Hebrews 5:8)

Jesus learned obedience through suffering. There are no shortcuts.

God is trying to humble Saul to make him great and Saul just wants to be great.

God wants to take the Saul out of us. There is a Saul in each of us. Our self-will and stubbornness must be removed.

There is nothing like testing and trials to destroy our illusions about ourselves, others, life. There is nothing like testing and trials to build our character. They bring about an authentic life.

This series is about emotional health and contemplative spirituality. Over the next several weeks we will be discussing these two subjects and how they can help us love God and love others.

Top Ten Symptoms of Emotionally Unhealthy Spirituality

1. Using God to run from God
2. Ignoring the emotions of anger, sadness and fear
3. Dying to the wrong things
4. Denying the past’s impact on the present
5. Dividing life into “secular” and “sacred” compartments
6. Doing for God instead of being with God
7. Spiritualizing away conflict
8. Covering over brokenness, weakness and failure
9. Living without limits
10. Judging the spiritual journeys of others

Which one item is God bringing to your attention? Listen to Him. He delights when you listen to Him.

You are messed up, but Jesus offers forgiveness, grace, and mercy. Don’t run away from God but run to Him. The Gospel means “good news.”

That’s what we celebrated with communion. That’s why Jesus died. That’s why we have peace and hope and joy. That’s why 2012 can be different.

My prayer for you...and for me in 2012 is to know Jesus and look like Jesus. My desire is that one year from now we will reflect upon 2012 and see how God has led us and shaped us and helped us grow. This series will give you several tools to help in the process. The Radical Experiment is a huge part of it.

You can listen to the podcast here.

Note: many ideas derived from Peter Scazzero’s book Emotionally Healthy Spirituailty