“And Samuel said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart.'” (ESV – Read the chapter)
There are two ways to understand this verse, both of them are important. One of them is contextually anchored, and one takes what Israel would have understood and applies it forward to something that is an encouragement to us.
First, Samuel was fairly well letting the people have it. He was calling them out for their sins generally and specifically for asking for a king to rule over them. He called it what it was: It was a sin for them to ask for that. It was a sin because they were rejecting both the man whom the Lord had already appointed to lead them and also the Lord Himself in their desire to be like the nations surrounding them instead of the unique people God had created them to be.
He did not simply offer them condemnation, however. He called them to turn back and serve the Lord with faithful gladness and things would be right again. Later he promises to pray for them and assures them of the Lord’s care and future blessing. They may have blown it, but He wasn’t going to abandon them.
This points us to the second thing. Our situation is not a mirror of Israel’s. It is different in many and significant ways. But, we have sinned as they had. We have rejected the Lord as ruler over our lives in a manifold of ways. Sometimes we do it daily. Sometimes several times per day. Sin tends to reproduce and compound itself rather quickly in our lives.
Sometimes in such a place we feel like we can’t go back. We feel we’ve fallen too far or done something too wrong. In these times and places we need to hear Samuel’s words for ourselves.
Do not fear. We never need fear that we have somehow offended the Lord too far; that we have drifted beyond His ability to reach us; that we have finally exhausted His patience. As long as we are still even processing that thought, we are a long ways from that mark.
You have done this evil. We need to be honest about our sin. When we’ve blown it, we’ve blown it. There’s no use trying to hide it or cover it up or pretend it’s anything other than it is. When we are honest about our sin we can do something constructive about it. Because, the honest truth about our sin that Samuel and the people of Israel could not have known on that side of the cross is that it has already been paid for by what happened on that cross. The price for our sin has already been paid and does not need to be paid again. We can’t pay it ourselves anyway. We might as well quit it and move forward again.
Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. So you’ve blown it. Yes, that was a big deal. Yes, people are hurt. Yes, you disappointed the Lord Himself. That was in the past. Don’t live there. If you have sought to receive the forgiveness that has already been won and is waiting for you, your sin is gone. Don’t dwell on what is no more. Serve the Lord now and follow Him faithfully. He is ready to move forward again. Go with Him. He has plans that involve you and He would like few things more than to see you experience the wonder of the good things He has planned for you.
You may have sin in your past: strike that: You have sin in your past. That is no reason you can’t still serve the Lord and follow Him with all your heart. Receive the grace Jesus is waiting to give you, let the Spirit fill you and begin cleaning your soul, and walk confidently into the great future He has waiting for you.