The acronym COVID has been part of our vocabulary for a little more than one year. And we are just a couple of weeks short of when this virus began to impact our economy, our churches, and our psyche. During that time, much has changed. And one of the biggest changes has been making decisions on whether or not to do anything.
Before 2020, during each flu season, some people may have thought twice about going to a restaurant or going to church or even going to the store. But since last March, most everyone has had that thought and many make every decision with that thought in mind. That is not meant to be a statement of derision; it is simply a fact.
Perhaps that time is beginning to wane. If we look back at history, we remember the effects of an even more deadly virus – the Spanish Flu, which occurred right at one century ago. After that pandemic was under control, parts of the world entered into a period known as the Roaring Twenties. Granted, that economic boom mainly affected Western culture (much of Europe and the US, for instance), but it showed that people did move into a new comfort-level with their surroundings. But that was only possible because people made a decision to move forward with their lives. That is, people came to a decision to do more than they had been doing, at least during the pandemic.
The idea of MORE is something I discussed during the daily videos in May of 2020. It seems hard to believe that we have been doing videos almost daily for eleven months now, having only done a handful of videos in the nine years prior. But to keep people connected, trying to convey a sense of normalcy regarding being able to hear a message about faith from local sources, and to encourage people to stay strong, and even grow in their faith during this time, churches all over the country (and world) moved to broadcasting digitally. Our church was no exception, but we added (and continue) providing daily instruction as well.
Upon beginning those videos, I described this time as a period where we have to think more like a record player rather than our modern technology (with modern including cassettes or cds/dvds, let alone digital streaming like we have today. My point was that in our world today, we can simply hit the pause button, walk away to get a snack, use the restroom, do the laundry, or even go away for several hours, only to return, hit the play button and pick up exactly where we left off. That is what most people thought might happen when this country (and world) shut down for COVID.
I certainly did not know we would still be impacted as we are by COVID nearly a year later. You might recall, I said I suspected we would be moving forward by Labor Day. And, in some ways, society was moving ahead, but then the second major surge hit, and well, here we are six months later and we are once again making progress, but I think we have learned that the pause button does not work here. This is a reset. This is like lifting the needle off of the old 33 or 45 or 78 records (if you are not familiar with those terms, they are speeds for different size vinyl records). If you wanted to stop the record from playing, you lifted the needle off the record. When you were ready to start again, you put the needle back, but the chances of putting the needle back in the exact same spot was virtually impossible.
Well, that is where we are as a society. And that is where we are as a church. We cannot go back to what was. But we must decide if we want to move forward. And if we are to move forward, then we must all – ALL – be M.O.R.E. I use the verb BE rather than DO, because as we saw in Romans 8 last week, how we live reflects who we are. So, we must be, or learn to be, even as we do. During the daily videos this week, I will break down each letter a little further from the perspective of human needs. But for today, I want to focus on what it means to do and to be more from an example in Scripture about someone who was willing to both be M.O.R.E. and do M.O.R.E. That story is about Jonathan, and it is found in 1 Samuel 14.
Let me quickly set this passage for us. The great prophet Samuel had said his goodbye to the nation, but he is still around. In fact, we see him rebuke King Saul in the previous chapter (13) and he will anoint David as future king in chapter 16. Chapter 14, however, is mostly about one battle. And that battle is not just against an army, it is a battle against complacency.
King Saul won many victories as Israel’s first king. But like modern warfare, we see his army waiting a lot. The phrase (that may date back to the end of WWI), “War is boredom, punctuated by sheer moments of terror,” was true then, as well. For instance, the most famous battle in the Bible begins with the scene of two armies staring at one another until David takes action to spar with Goliath. Once that happens, the rest of the Israelites army engages and routs the Philistines. But three chapters earlier (in 1 Samuel 14) Jonathan does something similar taking just his armor bearer against a full company of Philistine soldiers. In both cases, victory came because someone was willing to do M.O.R.E.
In verses 1-7, Jonathan called to his armor bearer to join him in battle. Now, this young man may not have had much choice, but you have to wonder what he was thinking when Jonathan began to go without the rest of the army. Jonathan did not gather the troops. He did not even tell his father. Jonathan was ready and knew that the Lord could do a mighty thing (v. 6). We do not see any hesitation on the part of the armor-bearer, but if he had any doubts originally, they did not last as we see recorded in verse 7. He was all in.
We don’t know Jonathan’s exact motivation. The Bible does not give us that information. But we do know he was ready to do M.O.R.E. in part because he already was M.O.R.E. And that motivation led him to venture out and lead his people to victory when his father was seemingly unwilling to do anything. Jonathan did not have to go, but something compelled Him. Maybe it was knowing that his father had been rebuked by Samuel and it may be about time for him to become king (the Lord formally rejected Saul in the next chapter and David had not yet been anointed). Maybe he was overly bored. Maybe he needed to prove himself. Maybe he had tried to convince his father to go to battle, but Saul was unwilling. We don’t know, so we can only guess what caused him to do it (verse 4 says he “sought to go over”). But he was willing. He was motivated. And that motivation made all the difference.
Also, we must notice the response of the armor-bearer. He witnessed the motivation of his leader and the response was “Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. Behold, I am with you heart and soul.” What a great response showing not only his allegiance to Jonathan, but his absolute devotion to the cause.
You and I need motivation as well. Maybe the motivation is internal (mostly true for adults). Maybe it is external (mostly true for children). And we may question people’s motivation, but if someone is serving the Lord, then is it our place to question it? What the world needs is more people like Jonathan who are determined to serve the Lord and His people. That is, this world needs more people who are motivated to do more because they recognize the power of the Lord.
The O in M.O.R.E. is for Observant. It is not enough to be motivated to serve God. We need to know what needs to be done. We can be motivated and do the wrong thing. Sometimes that is ok. As I have said countless times over the past year, we need to move from having intentions to being intentional. What we do is not always right; but if we never do anything, we can never do what is right.
But if we observe our surroundings, we can learn to be right more often than not. The story of Jonathan here does not represent his first time on the field of battle. We first see Jonathan’s name in 1 Samuel 13 where he led a group of Israelites to victory. If he led the troops, it is likely that battle was not his first battle either. But 1 Samuel 13 is the first time we learn he exists. So, he has at least one victory under his belt.
Now, because of that victory, he may be a little over-confident. He may be a little reckless. He is certainly ambitious. And again, we do not know his motivation. But we see in 1 Samuel 14.9-10 that he had a plan, and that plan required them to not only know their surroundings, but to pay attention to the response when they appear before the enemy.
Now in truth, Jonathan’s approach is not good strategy. He is outnumbered – it is two against a full garrison. And he is going to reveal his position removing any element of surprise. But he will rely on what happens in that moment to know whether or not God will give them victory. Depending upon the response of the Philistines, Jonathan and the armor-bearer will attack or simply stand their ground. They must carefully observe the “sign” (v. 10) if they are to discern the will of God in the moment. By the way, we see a hint of motivation here – Jonathan is doing this for God, not himself.
You and I must be observant as well. The circumstances may not be (or seem) quite as critical in some ways, but the people around us need hope. If we are not preparing ourselves to be ready, we will miss the moment. But if we are not observant of the possibilities, we will miss the opportunities to help those around us and bring hope to those in need.
We must be motivated. And we must be observant. But we must also be responsive.
Once we have observed the possibilities, we need to respond. Choosing to respond is the difference between having good intentions and being intentional. When we realize that others have needs, we have observed the situation. That may give us a reason to respond. We may want to respond. But oftentimes we don’t. And thus, the good intentions get buried with us six feet under when our time on earth is done. But if we respond, even if we do not do so perfectly, we can make a difference.
When Jonathan observed the sign that called them to come forward, he responded. His response was not normal. When the Philistines saw Jonathan they taunted him (and Israel) because apparently the Israelite army was known more for hiding in caves than for fighting (v. 11). So, the Philistines are confident and promise to show Jonathan a “thing” (v. 12) – that is, “we will show you a thing or two.”
But Jonathan saw the sign he needed and went forward. He responded. Did he have any fear? It does not appear so. Notice his response in v. 12 – his confidence was not in himself, it was in the Lord. Jonathan and his armor-bearer went forward and killed twenty men almost instantly. Then confusion broke out in the camp like we saw in other battles such as with Gideon (cf. Judges 7.21). Because Jonathan was responsive to what he observed, he was able to win a victory for the Lord.
Like Jonathan, you and I need to be responsive. The world around us is hurting. More than that, you are hurting in certain ways. I am hurting in certain ways. We may not see it at first glance, but that is why we must be observant. But if we notice a need, what are we doing about that need? Again, I repeat, it is not enough to have good intentions, we have to be intentional. And being intentional leads us to the last element of the acronym M.O.R.E. – and that is to be engaged.
I believe two primary reasons explain why people do not engage. One is that they do not know what to do. The second is that they do not have the courage to do what they know needs to be done.
In 1 Samuel 14, it is possible that the people did not know what to do because the king had not told them. But that is the problem, if the king didn’t know, then he can’t tell others, and nothing gets done. But Jonathan did not know what to do. And he had the courage to do it. And thus, this story is about what the Lord did through him.
But here is the other part of the story. Verses 16-23 reveal that once the army (and Saul) realized that Jonathan was gone and caused the panic in the camp they were watching from afar, they joined the battle. See, sometimes all it takes is one person to do their part – one person to be motivated, and observant, and responsive, and engaged – and then others will join the cause. Sometimes we do not need to wait for the leader. If we know what we are to do, then we are to do it!
For the Israelites that meant victory over the rival Philistines. But for us, the story has yet to be told. We have an opportunity to engage the culture around us. We have an opportunity to bring hope to the people of Fairfax, the people of Atchison County, the people of Missouri, the people of America, the people of this world. And hope is what is needed now as much as ever.
See faith is not just some theoretical construct that we have. Faith is something that we do. Faith is obedience. To have faith is to be engaged. To have faith is to seek God to know what He would have you do, and us do, for the glory of His kingdom.
That is what Jonathan and the armor-bearer did. They engaged the mission and defeated the enemy because the Lord was on their side. The Lord is on our side as well. He has promised never to leave us or forsake us. So, even when we make a mistake, He is with us. Even when we aren’t as motivated as we could be, or as observant as He would like us to be, or as responsive as we need to be, Jesus is with us. But He is with us so that we can engage, and that we will engage – for His sake, not ours.
Jesus wants M.O.R.E. of us. He wants us to be Motivated and Observant and Responsive and Engaged. He wants M.O.R.E. from us because He gave M.O.R.E. for us. Jesus was motivated by His love for us. He observed that, no matter how hard we tried, our efforts were not going to satisfy the demands of God. But more than watching us struggle, Jesus responded. He had a plan and executed that plan on our behalf. Indeed, the sacrifice Jesus made shows just how engaged He was for us. And He invited us to be engaged for Him.
The reality is that most people want more for themselves. But the question is do you want more from yourself? I suspect many people listening probably do. You want to be more. You want to do more. You want to live more. You want to give more. You want to love more.
All of that may be true as you consider yourself, but I assure you that God wants all of that – and even more – from you.
To accomplish that, ultimately we have to be M.O.R.E. And as we become more, we will begin to do M.O.R.E. But sometimes it doesn’t take much. Remember, the difference between ordinary and extraordinary is simply adding the word extra. And that word is a little word. So add a little extra and see what more you can be and what more God may have you do.
Remember, to be M.O.R.E., we must be Motivated, Observant, Responsive, and Engaged.