It’s hard to draw out meaningful wisdom from some of the Old Testament stories—wisdom that shapes how we pray. It takes time, maybe a conversation or two. And who has time for that when you are trying to read through the Bible in a year?
Recently, as I came to the story of Samson (Judges 13-16), I noticed that I had been satisfied to learn new details and make new connections, but the story didn’t reach how I prayed. So I tried to go slower but that only made things worse. Samson appears at the end of Judges, and the stories become more depraved as the book goes on. Manoah, his father, comes across as a bumbler. Samson’s first words are about what he saw and desired: he desired a Philistine woman, against the strong advice of his parents. “Get her for me,” he demanded, “for she is right in my own eyes” (14:3). Right in our own eyes, or right in God’s eyes—this is a dominant theme of the entire book, and Samson is the model of one who pursues what is right in his own eyes. This foretells the events of lust, foolishness, and vengeance that follow. Samson makes life so miserable for his own people that they turn him over to the enemy. Even his final feat of strength was an act of revenge on the Philistines for gouging out his eyes (which was an apt and ironic judgment on someone who wanted whatever he saw). And his wordplay and riddles were juvenile. Nothing heroic to be found.
What wisdom does this story hold? I’ll start with an obvious application. “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” (1 Cor 10:6). Samson is a human like myself, and, in him, God graciously reveals the tendencies of the heart. My wife could tell Samson-like stories about me, minus the strength, yet in her patience and kindness she overlooks them. Since my problems also begin with “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” (1 John 2:16), I can pray:
Father, thank you for giving me your Spirit, who opens my eyes to see my own heart a little more clearly. I confess to you that I can still be right in my own eyes. I am a mess. Please give me more of the light of your Word.
The next application takes more digging. The writer of Hebrews puts forth Samson as an example of faith (Heb 11:32). In other words, he found something that I did not. So I look for Samson’s dependence on the Lord . . . and there it is. After an unusual episode with a jawbone, he cried out to the Lord in his subsequent thirst (15:18). This might not seem like much, but no one naturally cries out to the Lord—to do so is evidence of faith. He cried out again when he was bound in the Philistine temple. “O Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once” (16:28). Samson needed his God.
Samson now becomes a beacon for me. He was needy and made his needs known to the Lord. That is the seed of faith. This is praiseworthy in the eyes of God who hears all who call on him. He is the God of “perfect patience” (1 Tim 1:16). His promises to us have been secured in Jesus, and he is faithful when we are not, so I can pray:
Father, you are so patient with me. Even today I find that, in my own neediness, I resorted to working harder and added a dash of fretting rather than speak to you. Samson seems to be way ahead of me. Thank you for showing me, again, that there is a big difference between feeling stressed and speaking to you in my neediness. Now I can say, “As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me.” Thank you.
And one more thing.
Lord God, who are you that you would be so patient? that you would love us even though sin and faith coexist within us? that you would use me and my brothers and sisters in Jesus to establish your kingdom? Your ways are higher than my ways. I worship you alone.
And you? How does Scripture settle into your heart and bring more life? I have long admired those who journal because it is not my habit. Too much work. But at least I can pray Scripture after each reading.