To obey is better than to sacrifice.
It’s a common phrase with a less common backstory and context.
Saul – King of Israel – has been tasked by God to strike the Amalekites and destroy everything in sight.
They’re celebrating their victory when Samuel shows up and rebukes Saul. Saul’s initial response is one of self defence – but we did do what God told us – only we have saved the best of the animals with the aim of sacrificing them to God.
And this is the point at which Samuel gives the rejoinder that finally hits home:
Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great a delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
As in obedience to the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed [is better] than the fat of rams.
– 1 Samuel 15:22 AMPC
Saul finally realizes the gravity of his error but at this point it’s too late. God has rejected him as king and regrets ever making him one. Samuel deeply grieves over Saul and never sees him again; he is eventually sent out to anoint David – who is little more than a shepherd boy at that point.
Being a leader means having to make a countless number of decisions on a daily basis. Decisions that don’t just affect you but those you lead. A significant percentage of the weight of leadership stems from this fact.
There are a dime a dozen theories and guides given on how to make the best decisions in the best manner. They involve all manner of things from going with your gut to trusting your instinct to philosophical scales of right and wrong.
While these may all be acceptable and even effective practices in the eyes of the world, we are of a different kingdom that holds us to different standards.
We are called to be leaders who follow the LEADER; the Head of the Body we are a part of.
We are called to be leaders who submit to the Lordship of Christ.
This means that even where our human knowledge, wisdom and understanding may seem sufficient we must always fall back on that which God requires of us.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
– Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV
Easier said than done. Especially in a world that props up the ability of self every chance it gets.
Our struggle with obedience to God’s instructions is not new. We first see it in Eden when the serpent convinces Eve that God is withholding something good from them by telling them not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Adam buys into Eve’s acceptance and here we are.
Still struggling to believe in the goodness of God.
Still struggling to grasp His heart and mind for us.
Still struggling to figure out what He’s keeping from us and how we can get it for ourselves.
But we must remember who God is.
We must remember who we are in Him.
We must honour His position and ours too.
Obedience to God is predicated on an inherent belief that He has your best intentions at heart. If that isn’t ingrained as truth to the very depths of your spirit, obedience will be a struggle.
Actually a great way to find out the gaps in your trust in God is to review the areas where you struggle to obey Him.
The stakes that come with obedience or lack thereof are that much greater when you’re a leader. David learned this the hard way as king when he insisted on having a census done and Israel ended up stricken with a plague.
This is the folly of good intentions outside the divine will of God.
This is the folly of believing the lie that we want more for ourselves than our Father does for us.
This is the folly of thinking that we can outdo the good of the Lord, the same God who:
“by (in consequence of) the [action of His] power that is at work within us, is able to [carry out His purpose and] do superabundantly, far over and above all that we [dare] ask or think [infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes, or dreams]” – Ephesians 3:20 AMPC
Something happens with age – not biological age but maturity of life. You begin to realize that you actually don’t know as much as you thought you did. You have less figured out than you’d like to admit. You come to terms with the mystery that is life and accept that you need all the help you can get to navigate through it.
Submitting to God as a leader means that He will continually give you guidance on how to lead. It’s not just in your personal best interest to heed those instructions but it matters all the more for those you lead that you do.
Your obedience to God will always be better than your sacrifice.
The sacrifice that is the good idea that you esteem above the counsel of the One who’s been around since before time began. And you’ve been around how long? What could you possibly know that He doesn’t? What could you possibly factor in with your awareness of current circumstances that He hasn’t already considered in light of eternity – the past, present and future in all its fullness?
Human history has proven time and again that we are a train wreck of seemingly-good-but-ultimately- terrible ideas waiting to happen.
Don’t fall for Satan’s bait.
Trust God to lead you as you lead others.
And when He does, obey Him.