I found a nice little protocol for this situation—turns out, God outlined a plan for the Israelites after they asked for a king (1 Samuel 12:20-25). Now, just to be clear, this wasn’t what you might call a “little” sin. This was a HUGE sin wherein they refused God’s ideal government, a theocracy, and the protection that came with it. As Samuel put it, “Today you have rejected your God” (1 Samuel 10:19, HCSB). Wow!
Still, God gave them hope. Through Samuel, He outlined a response to sin that we can use as well:
- Give up – “Don’t be afraid. Even though you have committed all this evil, don’t turn away from following the Lord with all your heart” (1 Samuel 12:20). Satan loves to overwhelm us with the gravity or frequency of our offenses—not only because he enjoys torturing us, but because he sometimes succeeds in using our embarrassment to separate us from our Redeemer. Yet as long as we’re willing to turn to Him, our God is willing to forgive (I John 1:9). No limits. No exceptions. As Samuel said, “The Lord will not abandon His people” (1 Samuel 12:22).
- Look for excuses, support, or remedy elsewhere — “Don’t turn away to follow worthless things that can’t profit or deliver you” (verse 21). Another of Satan’s tricks is to get us to minimize our faults, but all sin is bad—bad enough to put Jesus on the cross! And its only remedy is found in Christ. God may use various mentors, disciplines, or programs to aid in our reclamation, but only He can forgive sin and change us into His image. We should fill His place in our hearts with no other person or object.
- Keep sinning – “If you continue to do what is evil, both you and your king will be swept away” (verse 25). Don’t confuse God’s forgiveness with permission to keep sinning. Sin brings trouble and pain, and our Creator wants something better for us. This is why He urges, “Do not sin anymore, so that something worse doesn’t happen to you” (John 5:14).
- Seek God – “Above all, fear the Lord and worship Him faithfully with all your heart” (1 Samuel 12:24). When you mess up, turn back to God just as fast and as fully as you possibly can. Period. Never mind the rationalizations or promises to yourself. Just get down on your knobby little knees and pray.
- Remember past victories and blessings — “Consider the great things He has done for you” (verse 24). Nothing lifts us up more than praising God for the ways He’s already worked in our lives. The Israelites used to raise monuments of stones and put blue tassels on their clothes to help them remember His blessings. We should do the same. (Well, maybe not quite the same — our neighbors may not appreciate it if we pile a bunch of stones in the street.) We keep photo albums of weddings, births, vacations, etc.; why not keep a photo album of key victories, miracles, blessings, or lessons? Or maybe you’d prefer keeping a journal of such remembrances. Or maybe a wooden box for storing tokens that remind you of those special occasions. Whatever method you use, it’s still a worthwhile practice to remember.
- Find a mentor – Samuel promised the discouraged Israelites, “As for me, I vow that I will not sin by ceasing to pray for you. I will teach you the right way” (verse 23). Particularly if you’re struggling with a long-term problem, you may find it helpful to have someone, especially someone who’s overcome the same problem, to whom you can go for advice, support, and prayer.