One of the great problems that many people have with living the spiritual life is that they want it on their own terms. So often, we think we know what God wants, or even worse, we want God to want what we want. And so we act according to our own desires instead of God’s, and then we’re surprised when it doesn’t work out. If we’re honest, we all struggle with this on some level from time to time in our lives.
Certainly Saul struggled with it. Anointed as king over Israel, he was given very clear instructions as to what God wanted. God wanted Saul and his army to overtake the Amalekites and destroy them from the face of the earth. This sounds harsh, but we need to read it spiritually. The Amalekites represented the worldly, sinful influences that the Israelites – and we! – struggle with, so they have to go. But Saul allowed his soldiers to do what they wanted: they kept the livestock and justified it by sacrificing the best of them to God. But God didn’t ask for sacrifice, he asked for obedience, and that disobedience will prove to be their undoing.
Similarly, the Pharisees expected the disciples of Jesus to fast. But Jesus hadn’t asked for fasting, he asked his disciples to follow. The Pharisees couldn’t see that, and so they too acted in disobedience.
We are all asked by God to do something all the time. It’s not up to us to decide what God wants or how he wants us to do it. Our task as disciples is to follow, to obey the Lord. Because that’s the only way we’re ever going to triumph over sin and death, the only way that we will ever be truly happy.