…[T]he elders of Israel said, “Why has the LORD defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.” (1 Samuel 4:3-4)
The Israelites had lost 4,000 men to the Philistines. So what bright idea do the elders come up with? “Let’s take the ark into battle. It worked before, so let’s use it again!” Bad idea. They are defeated again, resoundingly, and the ark is taken. (God gets it back.) This is, to me, one of the scariest passages in the Old Testament. It demonstrates what happens when we demand results from God without a relationship.
The Israelites treated the ark not as a physical reminder of God’s presence but as some kind of talisman, a lucky charm that would help them defeat their enemies. They probably remembered stories of the Exodus, when the ark went before Israel into battle, and the Lord brought great victories. They forgot, however, that the ark symbolized God’s covenant relationship with Israel. By Samuel’s time, the relationship (from Israel’s perspective) had all but disappeared. Which brings us to this story.
How often do we follow Israel’s example? We follow a formula, pray a certain way, and say that God is “obligated” to do what we ask. Nothing could be further from the truth. God is obligated only to himself, and he responds in love to people who embrace the relationship he offers. He answers because he loves us, and we give him glory for it. If we use some ritual, some formula, our success robs God of his glory, and as it says in Isaiah, “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.”
God loves us–God loves you. Results follow relationship with him.