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Wholehearted Devotion: Hard Lessons from King Asa

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This article first appeared in Kindred Spirit, the magazine of Dallas Theological Seminary
Fall 2003 Vol. 27, No. 3

Often we start this journey called Christianity with zeal, like medal-hungry sprinters. Fueled by our passion for God, we abandon our hearts to Jesus, longing only for His glory. Our hearts beat with wholehearted devotion to God, much like that of King Asa of Judah.

King Asa started his kingly rule well (1 Kings 15:14), succeeding King Abijah, a man with fourteen wives. Asa deposed even his own grandmother who worshiped Asherah, a false goddess. He tore down pagan altars and sacred pillars, and he removed the high places. He fortified his cities and developed a shield-bearing army of three hundred thousand men. More importantly, "He commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, and to obey his law and commandments" (2 Chron. 14:4).

Asa began well.

Even when Zerah the Ethiopian threatened Judah with a vast army (v. 9), Asa sought the Lord. "Lord, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this vast army. O Lord, you are our God; do not let man prevail against you" (v. 11). The result? "There was no more war until the thirty-fifth year of Asa's reign" (15:19).

Asa even continued well.

Yet something happened in year thirty-five that negatively impacted how Asa finished his life. Baasha, the king of Israel, essentially barricaded Judah, which prevented trade-a sure sign of impending invasion. And instead of seeking the Lord's strength, Asa took the silver and gold from the treasuries of the temple and bribed a pagan to protect him from Baasha.

The Lord sent Hanani the seer to rebuke Asa. He recounted the works God had performed on Asa's behalf and reprimanded him for relying on a human king instead of the strong arm of Almighty God. Then Hanani uttered his famous line, "For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war" (2 Chron. 16:9).

The Hebrew phrase for a committed heart here is lebab shalem, a covenantal term that means "wholeheartedly devoted." The term appears several times in Kings and Chronicles. When Solomon prayed for the people at the temple dedication, he prayed for the people to have wholehearted devotion (1 Kings 8:61). Not much later we see a different picture-one of shifted allegiance:

"As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been" (11:4). Literally his wives bent his heart away from God.

Asa, possessing a "bent" heart, did not listen to Hanani and instead imprisoned him. Asa even began oppressing his own people. Eventually he contracted a severe foot disease (many scholars suggest it was gout), but he still did not seek God. Instead he relied only on physicians.

Asa did not finish well.

What can we learn from Asa? Regardless of age, ministry position, or status, we will leave this earth either as one who finishes well or as one who stumbles. How can we finish well, with wholehearted devotion to God?

Don't forget God after a victory. God delivered Asa from the powerful Ethiopian army-an astonishing victory. Perhaps Asa took some of the credit himself, thinking he somehow had a hand in the victory. Perhaps he exchanged his longing for God's fame for a delight in his own. Perhaps in his pride, he forgot God. Whatever contributed to his decision, when it came time to face another powerful foe, Asa forgot God's past deliverance and acted out of fear.

Seek God when pain comes. Unlike Asa, Hezekiah after him would seek God in his illness. Stricken with a terminal disease, Hezekiah begged God for reprieve. He reminded God that he'd had a devoted heart (2 Kings 20:3). God heard Hezekiah's prayer and in His sovereignty He chose to heal him, giving him another fifteen years of life. Sadly, in contrast, Asa did not seek God in his disease; instead he turned away from God's strong support.

Train for the long journey. Oswald Chambers, remarking on Hanani's warning to Asa, wrote, "God wants you to be entirely His, and this means that you have to watch to keep yourself fit. It takes a tremendous amount of time."

Asa walked with God many years. It wasn't until year thirty-five that he stopped seeking God, instead relying on a man-centered shortcut. Walking with God is a tedious marathon full of sweat and grit and a rugged determination. Running a marathon means enduring all the way to the finish line.

Even so, remember grace. The people gave Asa a fitting burial and remembered him as a man with wholehearted devotion. When we forget God in our successes, when we cease to seek God in our trials, when we fail to train for the long race, there is still grace. Yet with God's strong support all the way to the end we can have a lebab shalem-a heart completely devoted to Him.

Related Topics: Spiritual Life, Spiritual Formation

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