What a strange, and even anticlimactic, statement! Samuel says to the people that they must not turn aside from God. That certainly makes sense, but his reason is rather startling. He says that if they deviate from following the Lord they will end up going “after empty things.” Okay, I get it. They would fall for the frivolous, but is that the worst thing that could happen? Is it really all that bad that those who detour from following after God would go after those things that are “nothing”?
Why does Samuel have such a great fear of emptiness? Certainly it is always a terrible thing to stop following after God. But, if the worst thing that a man could do is give himself to shallow, frivolous and empty-headed pursuits, is that really so terrible? Wouldn’t it be better to go after the simple, harmless, innocent things of this world – things that would be considered “silly” – than it would to give yourself to those things that are indeed “sinful”? Samuel says, “No.”
Who is the farthest away from God? Which one would it take longer to come back to Him? Is it the one who was lured by lust? The one who slipped into open sin? The one who hurt his own heart with acts of debauchery? No, all of these have come quickly to Christ. Mary Magdalene’s passion was transformed for Jesus. Saul’s fiery hatred of Christ was turned into a fiery love for Him. Peter’s guilt was changed to glory. Each of these had no doubt been far from the Lord. It appears far more difficult for those who have simply become caught up with the common cares of this world to come to Christ than it does for those who were deep in sin. Simon the Pharisee is “farther away” than Mary Magdalene because he’s “empty.”
What is the opposite of a calm sea? Is it a sea stirred by a great storm? No, because in a minute it can go from stormy to settled, from raging to peaceful, from windy to complete and utter calm. No, the opposite of a calm sea isn’t a stormy sea. It is a stale, stagnant pool. Why? Because it is missing the very thing that is found in both the stormy and the settled sea. It is missing life.
There is nothing so detrimental to fellowship with God as the worship of trifling things, because such worship is idolatry without any sense of sin. Trifles don’t trouble the human heart, and like Bethesda, where there is no troubling of the pool there can never be any healing.
May the Lord deliver me from lifting up my heart to vain, empty, trifling things. There is a pride that lifts itself only to bring about its own fall. It’s when I set my sights on those things that are surely impossible that I see my own presumption. However, when I take aim at those things which are beneath me, it is then that I fail to realize my great need. I am lulled into a false sense of achievement by the simplicity of my aim.
If I were to set out to scale the Tower of Babel, my failure would immediately be evident and would likely cause me to see my failure and need of forgiveness. But, when I build my house on the sand, and it stands, I see no sin and therefore realize no need for God. So, when Jesus comes walking on the stormy seas I don’t even see that I’m sinking and that I must reach up and cry out to Him.
Great sinners such as Zacchaeus and Mary have come – but not me. Why? Because there are times that my amazing selfishness is held in such a small vessel. “My sin isn’t as great as Zacchaeus. It isn’t as notorious as Mary’s. Surely it is a small thing that I haven’t helped my neighbor or shared a kind word.” I have hidden my treasure in a trifle and it is the trifling thing that now hides Him from me.
Oh, that He would rend the veil and show me the tragedy of the trifle! How I pray to see the great poison that is contained in such a tiny box. May Christ break the box and trample on the trifling things of my life. May He teach me to know just how much I desperately need Him. May I then follow only after Him and not be turned aside by “empty things.”