Don’t Quit Too Quickly
I Samuel 31:1-10
Two stories, both of them true…
Story number one: Back during the Second World War, a young man names Butch O’Hare was a fighter pilot assigned to an aircraft carrier in the south Pacific. One day his entire squadron was sent on a mission. After he was airborne, he realized that the deck crew had failed to top off his fuel tanks. He would not have enough fuel to complete the mission and get back to the ship. His flight commander ordered him to return to the carrier. Reluctantly, he dropped out of the formation and turned back. It was then that he saw something that turned his blood cold. A squadron of Japanese zeroes were speeding toward the American fleet. He couldn’t reach his squadron and bring them back in time to save the fleet, nor could he warn the fleet of approaching danger. With not enough fuel and not enough time, it seemed hopeless. However, he wouldn’t give up. He wouldn’t quit. He decided that he had to try to divert the attacking planes with no thought for personal safety. He dove into the formation of Japanese planes with guns blazing, weaving in and out of the surprised enemy aircraft, breaking up their attack formation, until all his ammunition was gone. Even then he wouldn’t quit. He flew straight at the zeroes, trying to clip off a wing or a tail in hopes of damaging as many enemy planes as possible. Finally, the exasperated Japanese squadron turned away in defeat. Butch O’Hare and his tattered fighter limped back to the carrier. The camera mounted on his plane had recorded what had happened. He was celebrated as a hero and given the highest military honors. In fact, they even named an airport for him. It’s called O’Hare Field in Chicago.
Story number two: Back in the 1920’s when the gangster Al Capone virtually owned the city of Chicago, Capone’s chief lawyer was a man called “Easy Eddie”. It was Easy Eddie’s legal maneuvering that kept Al Capone out of jail for a long time. To show his appreciation, Capone paid Easy Eddie very well, provided him with a guarded mansion that covered an entire city block, thus making it possible for Easy Eddie to live the high life without much consideration for the atrocities he was making possible. Easy Eddie had a son he dearly loved. He gave the boy everything; price was no object. Yet with all the wealth and influence his sordid life gave him, there were two things Easy Eddie couldn’t give to his son: a good name and a good example. When he realized the damage his own style of life was doing to his son, Easy Eddie decided to try to put things right. He would go to the authorities and blow the whistle on Scarface Al Capone. He knew that he would pay a terrible price for testifying against the mob, but he wanted to offer his son some semblance of integrity and something of a good name. He wouldn’t give up that hope and so he testified. Within the year, Easy Eddie’s life ended in a blaze of gunfire on a lonely Chicago street. But he had given his son the greatest gift he could offer at the greatest price he would ever pay.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering what those two stories have to do with each other. Well, Easy Eddie’s last name was O’Hare. He had a son and his son’s name was Butch O’Hare. The theme of both stories is the theme of today’s sermon: “Don’t quit too quickly!” Yes, don’t quit too quickly. I believe that’s God’s Word to us today and to prove the point, I want us to look at an incident from the Word of God, the Bible. I Samuel 31.
The incident takes place on Mt. Gilboa. King Saul’s armies were being defeated in battle. Saul’s three sons had been killed and Saul himself had been wounded. Saul decided to quit. He decided to die. He asked his armor-bearer to kill him but the man wouldn’t do it. So Saul stuck his sword into the ground by the handle and threw himself down upon the blade. That’s a very sad scene, I won’t deny that. But shining through the sadness is a ray of hope. Saul quit, yes, but he didn’t have to quit. And in that fact there is hope for us. I’ll show you what I mean…
You see. Saul didn’t have to quit because the gifts which he carried were still there.
Every gift, every talent, every skill, every ability Saul possessed still belonged to him on Mt. Gilboa. He had lost not a single one of them. Now I do not belittle the circumstances Saul faced at that point in his life. They were deeply painful and fearsome. However, when he chose to quit, he quit in the face of all of the good gifts God had given him. In other words, he quit, but he didn’t have to quit.
Now if I were to ask all who are seated in this room who know hardship and heartbreak and heartache in life—if I were to ask you to stand and share your story and tell us what you’re going through, there would be two reactions from the rest of us. On the one hand, we would be overwhelmed with sympathy at knowing how much our sisters and brothers in Christ are being called upon to endure in their lives. And on the other hand, we would be moved to profound admiration at the heroism of people who carry impossible burdens, but never show it—people who march through lives tear-stained by tragedy but all the while radiate strength, confidence and inspiration to those who meet them. And how are they able to do that? They know that God has given them gifts and grace—and God is not going to take back the gifts He has given to us. The gifts are still there—and knowing that, they will not quit.
I learned something the other day about Fritz Kreisler, the great violinist. His parents started him on the violin early in life. They paid for his lessons, but he was never very good. He couldn’t even get into the local orchestra. He gave it up and joined the army. He was a failure as a soldier. He tried a few other things and didn’t succeed at those either. Finally, he came to believe that God had given him some gift with regards to the violin, but it was going to take a tremendous effort to develop that gift. So he went to a noted violin teacher and said: “I want you to teach me everything, right from the very beginning as if I had never had a violin lesson. And I will make you one promise: whatever you require of me, I will not quit.” And he went on to become the greatest violinist of his day and perhaps of any day.
Friends, here is what I want you to note down: we cannot lose our gifts; we can only fail to use our gifts. God has given us gifts. No matter the circumstances around us, the gifts are still there. And as long as they are there, we don’t have to quit.
Also, Saul didn’t have to quit because the people who cared about him were still there.
When you read the whole story of Saul in the Bible, you discover that he had a great capacity for self-pity. For example, in I Samuel 22 Saul rails against those around him saying: “All of you have conspired against me. No one is sorry for me.” He was always feeling sorry for himself. Believing that no one cared, he quit.
But he was wrong. People did care. In the first place the whole nation cared. It is recorded that when Saul died, all of Israel went into mourning. His armor-bearer so highly regarded him that he would not lay a hand on Saul even when ordered to do so. When David and his men learned of Saul’s death, they sang a song of mourning so heartbreaking that it still runs wet with tears on the pages of Scripture. And after Saul had taken his life, his body was hung on the walls of the city of Beitshan in mockery, until some valiant men from Jabesh-Gilead, out of love for Saul, risked their own lives to retrieve the body for proper burial. Saul was wrong when he thought that no one cared. There were many who cared, and cared a great deal. But you see, Saul wasn’t thinking about anyone else. He was focused completely on himself and that’s what led him to extinguish the flame of his own life.
I read about a man who was a paraplegic. He had a very successful telephone marketing business which he ran out of his home. In fact, he became so successful that he and his wife had to buy a larger house. They moved into a new neighborhood. It was the week before Halloween. The people on the block had a Halloween costume party every year and this year they decided to make it a welcoming party for this new couple on the block. The man told his wife that he didn’t want to go to the party because he preferred the security and privacy of his own home. “Besides”, he said, “what costume could I wear that would conceal who I am? I’ll be in a wheelchair, for heaven’s sake.” His wife said: “But they’ve been kind enough to invite us so we must go.” And they went. The party was held in the backyard of one of the homes. So they both put on costumes and she wheeled him down the block to the party. As she pushed him around the corner of the house into the backyard where the costumed partiers had already assembled, the man was stunned to see that every other man at the party was in costume and sitting in a wheelchair. And to think he almost bailed out on the party.
When we’re tempted to quit, we need to look around because there are those around us who care about us. When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on. There are people who need you, who love you, who care about you. They’re enough to keep us living on.
And of course, Saul didn’t have to quit because the God who created him was still there.
Have you ever looked through the Bible and noted down the names of people who have wanted to quit, people who wanted to give up in life? Moses got so down that he actually asked God to take his name out of the Book of Life—he wanted to die. Job cursed the day he was born and damned the man who carried his birth announcement. Jeremiah prayed more than once that he might somehow escape this life. Elijah crawled up under a juniper bush and begged God to take his life. You see, the Bible faces life as it really is. It doesn’t gloss over the hurt and the hardship of it all. All of these people faced the tough circumstances of life. But they didn’t do what Saul did. They didn’t quit. Why? Because they knew that God would not quit on them.
I suppose that the saddest night in the life of President Woodrow Wilson was March 19, 1920, for on that day the Senate of the United States refused to vote our nation into the League of Nations, a goal toward which President Wilson had been working tirelessly for two years. With both his spirit and his health broken, Wilson was in bed in the Lincoln bedroom at the Whitehouse. His doctor, Dr. Terry Grayson, was at his bedside. Wilson was unable to sleep. Finally, at 3:00 in the morning, Woodrow Wilson—this man who had said that the greatest honor of his life was not being elected President of Princeton University, not being elected governor of New Jersey, not even being elected President of the United States, but being elected an elder in his Presbyterian church—Woodrow Wilson said to Dr. Grayson: “Take my Bible from the desk and read to me 2 Corinthians 4:8-9.” The doctor got the Bible and read these words: “We are troubled on every side but we are not distressed. We are perplexed but we are not in despair. We are persecuted but we are not forsaken. We are cast down but we are not destroyed.” After those words were read, Wilson said: “I will not quit, because God does not quit.”
If only Saul had understood that. Perhaps it would have made a difference in the end of his story. Perhaps he would have turned to God and gained a great victory. I don’t know. But this much I do know. Saul’s story, unfortunately, is the story of many. But it doesn’t have to be the story of any. For this is our story. This is our song. Jesus is mine. Jesus is yours. And Jesus, my friends, is enough—he is enough to keep us living on…