The landscape of history is scattered with the remnants of those who were a “flash in the pan.” They were there for a minute, but gone for a lifetime. They were filled with potential but failed to see it through.
For some, it was the proverbial “second time through the lineup.” It’s that new pitcher just called up from Triple A ball to fill in a start. No one has seen his pitches and so he looks pretty good the first time around. But when the lineup resets to the top of the order, the Major League hitters have figured out his stuff and he gets rocked.
For others, it was laziness. I once talked with a man who had played basketball with some very high level players back in the day. Through summer leagues and college, it was clear that they had big time potential. But by the time of this conversation, they were walking the streets, sleeping on benches, and looking for their next fix. I asked him, “Why?” He said, “They didn’t want to work at it.”
For still others, it was distraction. Shiny coins glistened on the pavement. Colorful flowers sprang up in the garden. Cheerful sounds rang out from the playground. And decades later, all the potential lay in an undeveloped pile in the distant past.
O, what could have been.
King Saul is an interesting guy for a lot of reasons and one of those reasons is what could have been. Filled with potential, he ended a disaster.
He was a loyal son, a farmer, a good-looking guy, tall and impressive. He was simply living his life, doing his job.
Then he went looking for donkeys and along the way he found a kingdom, picked by God and anointed by Samuel.
At first, he was fearful and shy. He lacked ambition. In fact, he didn’t even tell his own family. But he was the new king, the first king of Israel.
Then, almost overnight he was transformed from this shy, unambitious farmer to a leader who quickly roused an army of 330,000 men by use of a dismembered ox.
To much acclaim, he delivered a city and was greeted with some ancient equivalent of “Long live the king.”
What a great start.
But the beginning is not the end.
Somewhere along the way, Saul turned into a paranoid maniac. He became fearful, controlling, and obsessive. And he lost everything that he had been given to him. He squandered a kingdom and died by suicide surrounded by the enemy.
Every Israelite knew the story of Saul’s failure. But 1 Samuel 11 reminds us that it didn’t start that way. The handpicked king, handpicked by God himself, had the whole world on a platter in front of him and he unceremoniously dumped it on the ground. He blew up his life and turned into a sad caricature.
In the beginning he summoned 330,000 soldiers to kill for the dignity of all Israel (1 Samuel 11). In the end, he couldn’t persuade one servant to kill to save his own dignity (1 Samuel 31).
In the beginning he was unwilling to kill those who resisted his kingship (1 Samuel 10-22). In the end, he was determined to kill the one who refused to resist his kingship (1 Samuel 18-30).
Saul’s sad life reminds us that the beginning is not the end. Today is no guarantee of tomorrow.
The bad news of life is that what you did yesterday is no guarantee of what you will do tomorrow. Just because you start well doesn’t mean you will finish well.
But the good news of life is that what you did yesterday is no guarantee of what you will do tomorrow. Just because you start bad doesn’t mean you will finish bad.
The grace of God is at work. There is a King who didn’t fail. He, like Saul, went looking for something that was lost and by so doing found a church and a kingdom. Perhaps there was something donkey-like in the ones for whom the Greater King came. But there was something Lamb-like and Lion-like in the deliverer of souls.
And because of our Greater King and his gospel of grace, your past does not have to be your master. And it will not be your guarantee.
The transforming power of God’s Spirit will not come for a moment as it did with Saul, but will come forever.
So number your days so that you may present to the Lord a heart of wisdom.