1 Samuel 8

1 Samuel 8

SERIES: Leadership in Hard Times

How to Handle Rejection

SPEAKER: Michael P. Andrus

Introduction:  Rejection.  Is there anything in all of life that is harder to handle than rejection?  I don’t know about you, but I have experienced a profound sense of rejection several times in my life.  Once was in Little League.  I remember it well, because my dad was there–a rare treat because he had two full-time jobs–one as a pastor and another as a Bible College administrator.  I was playing right field (you know, that’s where they always put the best players!) and praying that a ball wouldn’t come to me, but sure enough, here came a fly ball with the bases loaded.  I dropped it and the coach immediately yanked me out of the game.  I wanted to die.  

Another time I vividly recall feeling rejected was after graduating at the top of my class from both seminary and graduate school with two advanced degrees.  For over a year I was unable to find a teaching job, receiving one rejection letter after another.

I want to talk to you today about how to handle rejection, not because I have always handled it well, but because there’s an event in Samuel’s life that gives us some valuable resources each of us can use when we face rejection.  The book of 1 Samuel skips over most of Samuel’s life, going from his childhood to old age in the space of a few chapters.  Last Sunday we examined his first recorded exercise of leadership as an adult, and in today’s text, chapter 8, he is already an old man.  

It is obvious, however, that Samuel has been very faithful in ministry during the intervening years and God has used him mightily in the leadership of his people.  But now he finds himself in a very unexpected situation, facing rejection by the very people he has led for decades.  Please pay special attention as we read this story in 1 Samuel 8:

When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as judges for Israel.  The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba.  But his sons did not walk in his ways.  They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.

So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah.  They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.  As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.  Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.”

Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king.  He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots.  Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots.  He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.  He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants.  He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants.  Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use.  He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves.  When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the LORD will not answer you in that day.”

But the people refused to listen to Samuel.  “No!” they said.  “We want a king over us.  Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the LORD.  The LORD answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”

Then Samuel said to the men of Israel, “Everyone go back to his town.” 

Samuel has been the judge and leader of Israel for many decades.  For the first time we learn that he is married and has two sons.  Sadly, we are also told that Samuel’s sons do not walk in the way of the Lord but rather have become corrupt.  One would have thought Samuel had learned from Eli’s poor example, but once again we see parenting as a vulnerable spot in the life of an otherwise godly leader. 

Samuel has his headquarters at Ramah, and the elders of Israel gather there to speak with him.  I wonder if Samuel has any forebodings about this meeting.  Sometimes we can tell when trouble is afoot, can’t we?  When the chairman of the Elders calls and says, “Pastor, a few of us want to come over and talk with you tonight,” he can be pretty sure it’s not to see if he’d like a raise.  When the boss puts a memo on your desk, “Please see me in my office promptly at 5:00,” you’re pretty sure it’s not to ask about how your kids are doing in school.  

Many a pastor has been approached by his board with complaints similar to what Samuel heard here from the elders of Israel:  “You’re getting old, you can’t cut it anymore, we need some fresh ideas and new leadership.”  Many laymen have faced or will face rejection at work (and though it’s illegal to say, “You’re getting old,” the term “downsizing” is often a euphemism for the same thing).  Some of you have faced rejection at school, or by a family member.  This text can give us invaluable insight into the dynamics of rejection and spare us all a lot of pain in our relationships if we will hear what the Spirit has to say to us. 

I have divided our text into three parts:  Reasons for rejection, responses to rejection, and rebounding from rejection. 

Reasons for rejection (1‑5)

Samuel’s experience reveals at least three possible bases for rejection:  illegitimate reasons, legitimate reasons, and hidden agendas.

Illegitimate reasons.  The first thing the elders of Israel say to Samuel is, “You’re getting old.”  Now I call ageism an illegitimate reason because it wasn’t true.  Sure, Samuel was getting older (aren’t we all?), but he still had a lot of valuable years of service left in him, as can be seen from the succeeding chapters.  I think the elders are using his age as an excuse to move him aside.  

Sometimes people will offer illegitimate reasons for rejecting us because they don’t have the courage to express the real reason.  You may be told when you are fired from your job, “You really don’t fit here anymore,” when the fact of the matter is that you fit too well–you’re becoming a threat to someone over you.

However, the leaders of Israel also have a legitimate reason for rejecting Samuel’s leadership.

Legitimate reasons.  “Your sons do not walk in your ways,” they say.  That was true, and the elders had an understandable fear that when Samuel died, his sons would be unable to perpetuate the godly leadership he had modeled.  The last thing they want is a dynasty in which the next generation has shown no sign of being ready for leadership.  Samuel didn’t address this complaint, but he should have.  At the very least he should have told the people, “I am grieved over my sons’ behavior, and I will remove them from their ministry posts at Beersheba.”  We are obligated to address legitimate issues when facing conflict and rejection.  If we do so, we may even be able to change the minds of our detractors, but even if we can’t, we still need to take seriously any legitimate complaints about our leadership.  

Hidden agendas.  Notice in verse 5, “Now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”  If Samuel were not discerning, he may have missed the fact that the real issue is found in that last phrase.  It comes out more clearly later in verses 19 and 20 after Samuel has warned them:  “But the people refused to listen to Samuel.  ‘No!’ they said. ‘We want a king over us.  Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”  I see here two principal issues behind the rejection of Samuel: one is peer pressure on a national scale and the other is insecurity.  By the way, susceptibility to peer pressure and personal insecurity almost always go together! Show me a conformer and I’ll show you an insecure person. The Israelites want to be like everybody else and they want greater military security.  But since that doesn’t sound very spiritual, they find it easier to justify their rejection of Samuel by blaming it on his age or his sons.

I want to stop here and comment on something I see in the evangelical church on a massive scale today.  I think there is a tremendous amount of peer pressure to be like other churches.  As I think back thirty years ago, I do not remember hearing people here at First Free compare this church to other churches.  They came for spiritual food and good fellowship, and they had a desire to become all God wanted them to be, to reach the lost, and to expand God’s kingdom overseas, but I didn’t hear them lusting for what other churches offered–whether programs or facilities or preaching or leadership. 

But today there is a huge tendency for evangelicals to look at the mega-churches that have sprung up across our country and wonder, “What’s wrong with us that we aren’t growing at double-digit rates?  Why don’t we have a pastor who is writing books, preaching on TV, and drawing huge crowds?  Why don’t we have a world-class drama ministry or cutting-edge contemporary music?”  In part this situation has been created by those mega-churches, in that they regularly put on massive conferences–some involving 50,000 or more attendees in multiple sites–to help other churches learn how to do church “the right way.”  

These churches have some amazing ministries, and I can rejoice in their success.  But I have a very uneasy feeling about their desire to export their style and methods to churches all over the country and even all over the world.  Oh, I know the conference speakers often say, “Don’t try to clone our ministries,” but I wonder if that isn’t a bit disingenuous.  The effect, whether they like it or not, is often to promote blind imitation. 

I only wish people could gain from these conferences a new vision for evangelism, for leadership, for intentional ministry without feeling that they had to mimic the style and culture and methodology of the mega-church, and thus lose their own precious niche within the church universal!  By staying true to their individual character and offering their unique translation of faith lived out in ministry, much greater value would come to the cause of Christ.  

But what I see instead is a strong tendency for conference junkies and those who read the plethora of books coming out of the church growth movement to become discontent with their own local churches, even Spirit-led and God-blessed churches.  They expect pastors who have served God with all their hearts–praying, studying, teaching, shepherding–to now do less of that and more vision casting, strategic planning, team building, and culture-pleasing. 

I believe our model for ministry in the church today should not be Willow Creek or Saddleback or Ginghamsburg, but Thessalonica and Philippi and Ephesus.  These NT churches were not perfect, but they reflected the heart and soul of the apostles.  The questions we should be asking are, “What was the NT church like?  Where did they put their emphasis?  How did they do worship?”  I don’t mean that we must imitate the NT church in every way.  As a matter of fact, we don’t even knowhow they did a lot of things.  God seems to have given us significant freedom in how we organize ourselves and carry out our mission.  But I have more faith in the original architects, the apostles and prophets, than I do in the modern-day architects and prophets of the mega-church.  

Furthermore, I strongly reject the notion that bigger is better.  Merger mania has taken over the corporate world, the entertainment industry, agribusiness, and it is fast taking over the church.  One might call it the WalMartization of the church–everything you need in one place.  Well, I like WalMart, but there are times when I sure miss the old neighborhood hardware store.  I have pastored a small church and I have pastored a mega-church, and I want you to know that there are advantages and disadvantages to each.  God is using both, but if I had my druthers, I would rather have five churches of 500 than one of 2500.  

Now the point I was making is that when we experience rejection, we must discern whether the reasons are legitimate, illegitimate, or hidden agendas, because different reasons call for different responses.  There will be times when we are rejected for reasons we cannot control, just as Samuel couldn’t control his age.  Some of us may have experienced rejection because of our height, looks, personality, gender, social status, or race.  These are things we can’t do anything about, and we simply must not waste precious emotional energy worrying about them.  If someone rejects us for such things it still hurts, but we must say to ourselves, “Self, I can’t do anything about that; that’s how God made me.  If someone refuses to accept me because of that, he’s got a bigger problem than I have.”  

Sometimes, however, we are rejected for reasons we can control or should control.  We may dominate conversations or gossip or have bad breath or act selfishly or exhibit any number of other behavior patterns that invite rejection.  If we experience rejection for such reasons, it should serve as a motivation for change, and perhaps even for repentance and confession. 

But the most difficult kind of rejection to deal with is when the reasons given are smokescreens and the real agenda remains hidden.  In such situations it takes divine wisdom to discern why someone is turning against us and to determine what action to take in response.   

To help us, let’s examine how Samuel reacted to the rejection of his leadership.  

Responses to Rejection (6-22)

I see two kinds of responses on his part–one emotional and the other spiritual.

Emotional responses.  Verse 6 reads, “But when they said, ‘Give us a king to lead us,’ this displeased Samuel.”  He became discouraged.  Anger welled up in his heart and he probably said to himself, “Well, of all the ungrateful people!  I’ve worked my tail off for umpteen years at a salary less than I was worth, and this is the thanks I get?!?”  Have you ever felt like that or said something like that? 

Some people even get angry with God when they experience rejection.  Samuel could have said, “Look, God, why did I have to grow up separated from my parents and reared by Eli if this is the result of all my preparation for leadership?  Didn’t I respond to your call when I was a little boy, saying ‘Speak, for your servant is listening?’  Haven’t I done everything you’ve asked of me?  Now look how you’re treating me.” 

And such emotions are understandable because rejection hits at the heart of our self‑worth.  Defense mechanisms like anger and resentment are almost automatic as we strive to protect our fragile self‑images.  And probably such reactions are relatively harmless unless we allow them to linger and to control our behavior.  And it’s exactly here that we can learn so much from Samuel because he refused to wallow in it.  He allowed spiritual responses to overcome his initial emotional response to rejection.  In fact, I see four different spiritual responses that carried him to higher ground:

Spiritual responses:

Prayer.  Look at verse 6 again:  “But when they said, ‘Give us a king to lead us,’ this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord.”  Wouldn’t you like to see a copy of that prayer?  I imagine Samuel poured out his hurt to the Lord, telling him many of the things we imagined a few moments ago.  But there’s a big difference between being angry at God and praying about our anger to God.  I would imagine he also prayed for wisdom and understanding in his time of loneliness.  Friends, there is no time we need to pray more than when we feel rejection.  We need to bare our soul before God; tell Him what we’re feeling; ask Him for wisdom to discern the difference between legitimate and illegitimate reasons for the rejection; ask Him to reveal the hidden agendas; be open to Him using the experience for growth in our lives; and allow Him to help us cope.  

Patience.  Verse 7 continues, “And the Lord told him: ‘Listen to all that the people are saying to you.'”  It’s another way of saying, “Count to ten, Samuel, before you blast off!”  Not bad advice for all of us.  We must be careful not to react until we’ve heard everything the other person has to say. Sometimes people have important criticisms to offer us, but they aren’t very good at saying them (or maybe we’re not very good at listening).  A third party may even be needed to interpret their words to us.  

Perspective.  The reason patience is so important is that one’s perspective often changes as one thinks about the issue and hears more of the facts.  God tells Samuel in verse 7 that he needs the proper perspective:  “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected as their king, but me.  As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.”  This is crucial because we have a great tendency to take rejection personally even when the problem may be a spiritual problem between the other person and the Lord.  

What the Lord says to Samuel here must have been a great encouragement to him:  “Samuel, you just happen to be in the one in the middle.  It really wouldn’t make any difference if their leader was Moses himself—they’d still be rejecting his leadership in favor of a king.  They’re tired of the theocracy I have set up for them.  They no longer want Me to rule them through godly leaders.  They want a man to rule them.  When you see it in that perspective, Samuel, you will not take it so personally.”

This principal of perspective has been very helpful to me as a pastor.  I suppose every pastor feels personal rejection when someone leaves the church to attend another fellowship.  The pastor’s life is so wrapped up in the church that he can hardly help feeling like he has failed when someone leaves. But I have learned over the years that there are many different reasons why people leave a church, and while some are spiritual, others are carnal.  Some people are just out of sorts with God, but since they have a hard time expressing their anger toward Him, they express it to the pastor, who is viewed as God’s representative.  There may, of course, be other times when someone leaves because I’ve been a jerk, and if that happens, I must take it seriously and do my best to correct the problem.  Seeking perspective is a most important response to rejection.

About a week ago I had lunch with a businessman in this church who has been through some major disappointments in the corporate world, including several periods of unemployment.  He shared with me a poem he wrote during one of these periods, an effort to seek perspective in the middle of rejection.  It’s called, “What the Matter With Me?, An interpretation of Psalm 42, 43″:

What’s the matter with me?

I say I’m trying to follow God’s plan

To be an example, a godly man

To offer my family a spiritual head

(In fact I’m a fearful skeptic, instead),

Afraid that God can’t possibly care

Who I am, or why, or where.

Why would He notice what I do?

Are any of those biblical promises true?

What’s the matter with me?

Why aren’t I calm, able to rest?

Is my everyday life really a test?

A test I’m failing, my strength is gone.

What value is there in things I’ve done?

I have no ideas, what can I say?

I’m afraid to be silent, unable to pray.

God doesn’t hear me, why should I try?

For me His mercy just doesn’t apply.

What’s the matter with me?

I’m troubled, alone, overcome by fear,

Even my erstwhile friends disappear.

Would anyone care if I dropped out of sight?

In this the long day’s journey to night?

Is life a vapor, a meaningless hoax?

Are all of my values just so many jokes?

God, if you’re out there, why don’t you speak?

My faith and my soul are desperately weak.

What’s the matter with me?

Will I let earthly cares hide what is true

That before Time began, my Father God knew

All there was, is now, or ever will be

Of the details that shape the man that is me.

He knew, even then, the pain that I feel,

He sent His Son to relieve it … and to reveal

His plan of salvation, it’s simple and free,

And resolves for all time what’s the matter with me.  

Thank you, Dave Franson, for expressing your own journey of prayer, patience, and perspective.  

Protest.  It is not the case that every rejection should be met with gentle acquiescence.  We are not called to be “wimps for Jesus.”  If through prayer and evaluation we perceive that the rejection we are experiencing is undeserved and perhaps even harmful to others, it may be that God will call upon us to protest.  That’s the case with Samuel.  In verse 9 God says to Samuel, “Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.”  In other words, God asks Samuel to inform his rejecters of the consequences of their actions.  The new leader they so desperately want in place of Samuel will turn out to be more than they bargained for. 

The result of seeking the wrong kind of leader can be tragic.  Now I think we must understand that Israel’s desire for a king was not a bad thing in itself; it was their motive that was bad.  They wanted a king so that they wouldn’t have to be different from the other nations.  But God wanted them to be different.  That’s why he gave them circumcision and the moral law and the ceremonial law.  Their very essence as a people of God was wrapped up in the fact that they were different from the other nations.

Samuel tells them that their demand for a king, wrongly motivated as it was, will result in tragedy.  The king will institute a draft of their sons into military service.  He will confiscate the best of their land and tax them heavily.  In short, he will enslave the people for his own benefit.  

You know something?  Leadership is a two-edged sword.  It’s great to have a dynamic, charismatic leader to follow, but what happens when he is bent on taking you somewhere you don’t want to go, or where you don’t think God wants you to go?  Powerful, charismatic leaders can accomplish great things, but sometimes that kind of a leader leaves a lot of wounded people in his wake.  I would challenge us to look for a gifted leader for our church but to put integrity and humble love above everything else on our wish list.  

Another truth that comes through loud and clear is that repentance can come too late.  God tells the people through Samuel in verse 18, “When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day.”  Willful sin is very dangerous.  When a person has been warned clearly that a certain path of action is displeasing to the Lord and persists in spiritual stubbornness anyway, he may find a deaf ear from Heaven when the chickens come home to roost.  

Does this warning of Samuel get their attention?  Unfortunately, no, for the people refuse to listen to him.  “No!” they say, “We want a king over us.”  So, Samuel returns to the Lord and repeats to Him everything the people have said.  That’s good.  He began with prayer, and he ends with prayer.  As we said before, never is prayer needed more than when we are experiencing personal rejection. 

Now there’s a final point I want to make, and that has to do with …

Rebounding from Rejection

Is there life after rejection?  Yes, friends.  

Rejection is always painful, but recovery is possible.  The single most important fact I see about Samuel is that he didn’t quit.  He didn’t say to these carnal people, “I’ve got better things to do with my time than wipe your noses.  I can make twice as much money going into business for myself.  If this is the thanks I get, I’ll just go and find some new friends.”  

I’m sure all those thoughts crossed his mind, but the fact is that Samuel persevered in ministry to these stubborn people.  You look in the next chapter and there’s Samuel leading the people.  Chapter 10, same thing, and chapters 11, 12, 13, 14, 15.  He continues to serve as a priest and a prophet even after Saul is inaugurated the first king.  It’s not until chapter 25 that Samuel finally dies, and he dies with his boots on.  

Recovery may not lead to full restoration, but it will help us persevere.  There will be times when rejection is so thorough that we cannot continue to do business as usual.  When one is fired from a job, whether for legitimate reasons or illegitimate, or even for hidden agendas, one cannot continue to go to work.  When a person is rejected by a spouse and divorce results, and the rejecting spouse marries someone else, the jig is up; further relationship may be inappropriate and impossible.  The principle still stands, “Don’t give up on life.  Don’t have a pity party and withdraw from your family or your friends or the church.”  If there’s ever a time when you need them, it’s when you’re experiencing rejection!  So persevere!

Points to ponder:

1.  When we experience personal rejection, we need to remember we’re in good company.  We stand in a great and noble train.  Joseph experienced rejection.  Moses experienced it, as did David, nearly all the prophets, the Twelve, the Apostle Paul, and of course, our Lord Jesus Christ.  In Luke 19 in the parable of the talents the people say of the nobleman, who represents Jesus, “We don’t want this man to be our King.”  And you remember John 1:11, “Jesus came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him (i.e., they rejected Him).”  Of course, recognizing that we are not the first to be rejected doesn’t necessarily make rejection easy to handle, but it does help us gain strength and courage from these examples of godly perseverance.

2.  When we experience personal rejection, we need to remember that God has not rejected us.  We may go through hard times and lonely places, but our God loves us and stands by us.  We are important and valuable because we were created in His image and gifted for His service.  As the Psalmist says in Psalm 56:  “Be merciful to me, O God, for men hotly pursue me; all day long they press their attack.  My slanderers pursue me all day long; many are attacking me in their pride.  (Do you ever feel that way?)  When I am afraid, I will trust in you.  In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid.  What can mortal man do to me?”   

Well, mortal man can hurt me, and he can hurt me badly.  But he can’t destroy me.  His wounds are not fatal.  The Psalmist provides incredible comfort and solid theology to help us through such experiences.  Meditate on Psalm 37 or Psalm 73.  

You know something?  Jesus suffered the most painful rejection ever so that when we stand before God’s judgment, we won’t have to experience rejection there.  “There is no condemnation(rejection) to those who are in Christ Jesus.”  Jesus paid for your sin, and He agrees to exchange your sin for His righteousness.  God will accept all those who have accepted His Son.  

DATE: May 30, 2004



Hidden agendas