Is the Lord richly blessing what you are doing for him at the moment? Are you aware of other people who are not currently as blessed and mightily used as you are? Have you ever thought that, in spite of your being blessed, you could become yesterday’s man or woman? I write this article out of my concern for the drift of British evangelical Christianity I perceive at the present time. I thank God for bright spots in various places, but parallel with these are some ominous signs that, if not dealt with, could do terrible harm. My fear is that many good people either don’t see the danger or don’t take it very seriously. As the Church we are in danger of blindly following yesterday’s men and women.
Learning biblical lessons
King Saul is probably the clearest example of a ‘yesterday’s man’ in the Bible. He had such a brilliant beginning. He governed over a united Israel. He had such power and authority that ‘…the terror of the Lord fell on the people, and they came out together as one’ (1 Samuel 11:7). But in a short period of time, and without the people realising it, he became yesterday’s man.
None of us wants to be a ‘has been’, especially while we are still alive and well. And yet what stands out with King Saul is that, although he was rejected by God (1 Samuel 16:1, 18:12), he continued to function quite successfully as king for another 20 years.
Apart from Samuel, it seems no one would have recognised Saul as yesterday’s man while he was still king. Strange as it may seem, the Spirit of God came upon Saul as he was on his way to kill young David. He prophesied and people asked: ‘Is Saul also among the prophets?’ (1 Samuel 19:24). Except for Samuel (and possibly Saul’s son Jonathan), no one at the time perceived Saul as ‘finished’.
How could Saul prophesy when God had ‘left’ Saul? It is because the gifts are not connected to repentance. They are in fact ‘irrevocable’ (Romans 11:29). As AW Tozer once said: ‘If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference.’ Any layman or church leader can be at the height of their popularity and usefulness, and yet be yesterday’s man or woman. What makes a person yesterday’s man or woman is not necessarily lack of usefulness, lack of success, retirement, being made redundant, or even death. Furthermore, today’s man or woman can be dead and still ‘speak’ (Hebrews 11:4), like Charles Spurgeon, Martyn Lloyd-Jones or John Stott.
Becoming yesterday’s man
King Saul’s example is a sobering demonstration of how to become yesterday’s man or woman. Although Samuel was the only one who knew it at the time, Saul’s definitive moment occurred when he became impatient with the prophet. Samuel did not arrive on time to offer the burnt offerings at Gilgal. Rather than wait for his authorisation, Saul offered the sacrifices himself. If you want to know how serious Saul’s mistake was, look at what happened to King Uzziah who did the same thing and was immediately afflicted with leprosy (2 Chronicles 26:16-22).
Apart from becoming yesterday’s men while still alive, King Uzziah and King Saul had at least three things in common: offering burnt offerings when they were not authorised to do so, assuming God’s word did not mean what it said and not believing there were awful consequences for flagrantly disobeying the word of the Lord.
Saul justified his fatal decision by blaming Samuel for being late and then claiming he had felt ‘compelled’ to offer the sacrifice (1 Samuel 13:12). Imagine that! Being ‘compelled’ to go right against God’s order!
How, then, did Saul become yesterday’s man? First, he took himself too seriously while simultaneously feeling very insecure. We take ourselves too seriously any time we place ourselves above God’s word, thinking we are exceptional. What follows is that we become unteachable. You can always tell a successful man but you can’t tell him much. And yet there is the lurking fear that we will not get sufficient credit for what we do. Second, Saul was not accountable to Samuel when he should have been.
It is painful to be tomorrow’s man or woman, but the reward is worth the wait
He owed everything to Samuel but stopped listening to him. Saul may well have said: ‘I’m king, aren’t I? Therefore I can do what I feel like doing.’
Third, Saul put himself above holy scripture rather than submitting to it. He thought he knew better than God what to do in a crisis moment. He even felt right in going against divine commands. The guaranteed way to become yesterday’s man or woman is to regard ourselves as the exception to holy precepts. The consequence was that Saul lost all integrity, whether in his dealings with his own son Jonathan, or David.
Saul acted ‘foolishly’, said Samuel. The consequence of this epoch-making miscalculation was that the kingdom would be taken from Saul – and his family – and given to David (1 Samuel 13:13–14). This was Saul’s greatest fear. He became so paranoid about the threat of David’s popularity that he feared David more than he did Israel’s enemy, the Philistines. He became yesterday’s man at only 40 years of age and yet the people did not suspect this. That is, for the next 20 years.
And that’s the scary part. Saul ruled for another 20 years and then came the abrupt awareness how bad things were. But it was too late.
Whereas King Uzziah was afflicted immediately and everybody knew about it, Saul was only privately reprimanded. That is when he became yesterday’s man. But there was no immediate outward hint of God’s displeasure: no lightning, no thunder, no leprosy or sudden death. Saul remained healthy. He simply believed that his wisdom was greater than the wisdom of the Lord.
But Samuel instantly knew the seriousness of Saul’s error and was told to find tomorrow’s man.
Today’s man or woman can be dead and still ‘speak’
Samuel anointed young David to be the king. David received a powerful anointing but it came without the crown. Saul wore the crown but forfeited God’s approval. And yet David unceasingly demonstrated the utmost respect for the king, always referring to Saul as God’s ‘anointed’ (1 Samuel 24:6).
Becoming tomorrow’s man or woman
Knowing his time would come, David waited patiently for 20 years. The worst thing that can happen to any man or woman is to succeed before they are ready. Saul succeeded too soon. God would make sure David did not succeed until his anointing was refined. Victor Hugo said: ‘Like the trampling of a mighty army, so is the force of an idea whose time has come.’ We could also say: ‘Like the trampling of a mighty army, so is the force of one’s anointing whose time has come.’
Could it be that you are tomorrow’s man or woman? Are you having to endure a most uncomfortable time in a hopeless situation? Has it occurred to you that this is God’s preparation for you as you wait for your time to come? David waited and became Israel’s greatest king ever. God can also do this for you. It is painful to be tomorrow’s man or woman, but the reward down the road is worth the wait.
As I wrote at the outset, I am concerned at the current drift in UK evangelicalism. The present trend is gravely serious. I have spent more than half of my adult life in Britain. My heart is still here. Since I retired in 2002 I have visited London more than 50 times and have lived here for nearly six months annually for the past three years. I have been saddened to see how some people I love and admire have crossed over a line I never dreamed they would cross. I realise I am not the only person who is concerned, but I have felt an urgency to write as I am doing now.
David – a type of tomorrow’s man – developed a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit during his time of waiting. He was conscience-stricken for cutting off a piece of Saul’s robe (1 Samuel 24:5). If you feel you are in danger of crossing over a line and becoming yesterday’s man or woman, be thankful for this. It suggests you are reachable and teachable.
Finally, if you have bordered on questioning the infallible wisdom of the word of God because it doesn’t make sense to you, I urge you to learn from the example of Saul. What happened to him does not need to happen to you.
RT Kendall is an author, speaker and pastor who led Westminster Chapel, London, for 25 years.