Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways.
Judges 2:18-19 (ESV)
My Bible study group at church has just started studying the book of Judges together, a book which I loved as a child (especially as I am named after one of God's appointed judges). I loved reading of the amazing feats God carried out through his judges and was often enthralled by the exciting "action stories" of Judges.
But as a teenager and adult, I finally realised that, exciting as some of those stories in Judges may have been, it is a book which has an overall tone of sadness and despair. Why? Because the book of Judges outlines Israel's repeated sin and rebellion against God in spite of all that God did for them, including repeatedly showing the Israelites mercy by sending them saviors (the judges).
God's people repeatedly chased after the temporary attractions of the world, only turning back to Him in times of affliction and quickly turning away again once their problems were gone. And while we, as 21st century people, are in a different situation from the Israelite people of that time, I think it can be tempting for us to have the same attitude as the Israelites.
It is so easy for us to be allured by what the world has to offer. It can be so easy to enjoy the gifts and various activities God has blessed us with to the extent that they begin to take over God's number one place in our lives. So let me ask you: is there something in your life which you have turned into an idol that replaces God? If not, are there things in your life which you could be tempted to put first before God? How do we avoid following in Israel's fallen footsteps?
There are many ways we can do this, some of which will require us to ask others for help. Most obviously, we can pray to God, repenting of our wayward actions and asking for help in our walk with Him. We should also thank Him for the mercy he shows to us because we know we don't deserve it! We should make the effort to read and know God's word better, perhaps asking a friend to meet with us to read the Bible regularly.
Painful as this may sound, we might also need to take a step back from the things which tempt us to forget about God. This could mean mindfully limiting the amount of time we spend doing an activity (say, watching TV or surfing the web) or perhaps even avoiding whatever it is which tempts us. For one woman I heard about, this meant banning herself from buying home improvement magazines and from shopping in the most expensive furniture stores and using the money she saved to fund more ministry workers at her local university.
I am sure that you have lots of suggestions yourself. I know that I certainly need to work hard sometimes to ensure that I put God first in my life! Maybe this week we can pray for each other, that God would give us the strength to serve Him faithfully and always put Him first, no matter what.