The Gift of True Strength

A Sermon Series Based on 1 Samuel 1 to 12

What does godly leadership look like? This sermon series based on 1 Samuel 1 to 12 aims to explore Israel’s history and reflect on godly leadership. I borrowed the series title from Bruce Waltke’s book An Old Testament Theology (Zondervan, 2007, p. 624). As the people of God in the twenty-first century, we look often to the New Testament for spiritual guidance and nourishment. But as we do so, we must not forget that the Old Testament is also God’s inspired Word. Moreover, it helps us to understand the New Testament by providing the context we need to understand Jesus’ life and ministry.

In 1 Corinthians 10:6 the apostle Paul writes “these things [the story of the Israelites—including their sins and mistakes] happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did, or worship idols as some of them did” (NLT). So what can we learn from 1 Samuel about the history of Israel, but also about how to live godly lives today, especially in the context of leadership? This is what we will explore through the following texts: 1 Samuel 1:1-28; 3:1-4:1a; 7:1-17; 8:1-22; 12:1-25.

Preaching Objectives

  • To review and explore the story of Israel as recorded in 1 Samuel 1 to 12
  • To reflect on the nature of godly leadership as observed in the narrative
  • To discuss how we can become more godly leaders in our church and community

Worship Objectives

  • To review the Old Testament law as summarized in the Ten Commandments
  • To encourage and practice the use of psalms in worship
  • To refer to the Passover or the Exodus as a backdrop for any communion services that occur during this series

Sermon Notes

The following sermon planning notes are based on the pattern outlined in Paul Scott Wilson’s book The Four Pages of the Sermon (Abingdon Press, 1999). I borrowed the occasional quote from Walter Brueggemann’s First and Second Samuel (John Knox Press, 1990) and Bruce Waltke’s An Old Testament Theology (Zondervan, 2007) in developing the background information and outline for each sermon.

Week One: The Lord Remembers Hannah

Text: 1 Samuel 1:1-28

Theme: “The hopeless one (Hannah) is now the one given a future.” (Brueggemann, p. 14)

Doctrine: This story reveals a God who remembers us in our barrenness.

Need: “How is a new future possible amid the barrenness that renders us bitter, hopeless, and fruitless?” (Brueggemann, pp. 12-13)

Image: Hannah praying in the temple.

Mission: To call out to God for help, and then to respond to his faithfulness with obedience and worship.


  • Trouble in the text: Hannah’s barrenness
  • Trouble in the world: Our barrenness (whether it be literal barrenness or a figurative or spiritual emptiness or discouragement)
  • Grace in the text: The Lord remembered Hannah and answered her prayer. “Yahweh is a powerful rememberer; and when Yahweh remembers the partner and the promise, newness becomes possible.” (Brueggemann, p. 14)
  • Grace in the world: The Lord remembers us in our barrenness.

Reflections on Leadership

One of my favorite books on leadership is Leading with a Limp by Dan Allender (Waterbrook Press, 2006). Allender argues that godly leaders lead from their weakness, not their strength. In fact, the core assumption of the book is that “to the degree you face and name and deal with your failures as a leader, to that same extent you will create an environment conducive to growing and retaining productive and committed colleagues” (p. 2).

Hannah wouldn’t have been considered a great leader in her day, but she was the mother of Samuel, who became a great leader. But Hannah led the way in humbling herself before the Lord and being vulnerable before God, which led to great things. We are encouraged to do the same.

Song Suggestions

“If You But Trust in God to Guide You” LUYH 407, PH 282, PsH 446, TH 670, WR 429

“Within Our Darkest Night” LUYH 417

“Total Praise” LUYH 420, PFAS 121B

“Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior” LUYH 422

“You Are Mine” LUYH 430

“O Lord, Hear My Prayer” LUYH 903, PFAS 13E, SNC 203, WR 484

Prayer Litany Suggestions

A Prayer for Healing in Relationships (LUYH 304)

Week Two: Samuel’s Call to Ministry

Text: 1 Samuel 3:1-4:1a

Theme: The Lord reveals himself to Samuel.

Doctrine: Revelation—how does the Lord speak to us?

Need: Do our children know the Lord?

Image: Samuel sleeping near the ark of God while the lamp of God is burning.

Mission: To listen closely to the Lord and to help our children do the same; to sincerely and consistently say to the Lord, “Speak, your servant is listening.”


  • Trouble in the text: Eli failed to listen to the Lord.
  • Trouble in the world: We often fail to listen.
  • Grace in the text: God called Samuel to speak his words.
  • Grace in the world: God calls us to speak his words.

Reflections on Leadership

The discipline of listening to God’s Word is especially important for church leaders. If you’ve been called to serve as a leader in the church of Jesus Christ, regularly stop your work—even your church work!—and listen to God speak to you through his Word. Join Samuel in saying, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Samuel is an illustration of what happens when we carefully listen to God’s Word: We feel God with us. We’re shaped into godly people and effective leaders. We become equipped and empowered for ministry. We’re even given God’s words to speak!

Song Suggestions

“O God, You Are My God” (“Step by Step”) LUYH 743, SNC 17, WR 494

“Speak, O Lord” LUYH 755

“Open Your Ears, O Faithful People” LUYH 751, PFAS 78C

“Take the Saving Word of God” LUYH 752

“Listen, God Is Calling” LUYH 753, SNC 65

“Lord, Speak to Me That I May Speak” LUYH 754, PH 426, PsH 528, TH 560/561, WR 593

“Here I Am, Lord” LUYH 869, PH 525, SNC 268, WR 559

Prayer Suggestions

Make Us Hungry for Your Word (LUYH 756)

Week Three: Samuel, the Praying Leader

Text: 1 Samuel 7:1-17

Theme: “Faithful Samuel cries. Faithful Yahweh answers effectively.” (Brueggemann, p. 52)

Doctrine: Idolatry, intercessory prayer.

Need: Who is your god?; “Does God so directly answer prayer?” (Brueggemann, p. 52)

Image: Ark of God (1 Samuel 6); Ashtoreth & Baal.

Mission: To get rid of our idols and worship the Lord only.


  • Trouble in the text: The Israelites had committed idolatry.
  • Trouble in the world: We also worship idols.
  • Grace in the text: The Lord rescued the people when they turned to him.
  • Grace in the world: The Lord rescues us when we confess our sins and return to him.
Godly leaders lead from their weakness, not their strength.

Reflections on Leadership

In this story, Samuel intercedes for the people of Israel. They had committed idolatry and needed God’s forgiveness. So he calls them to repent and worship the Lord only. Then he gathers the people at Mizpah for prayer. Later, Samuel is called upon to intercede for the people as the Philistine army advances against them. And finally, he helps the people remember the rescue by setting up a large stone (“Ebenezer” or “stone of help”), so that whenever they saw the stone, they would remember how the Lord helped them. This story illustrates the various acts that church leaders are called to do: intercede for the people, call them to repent, instruct them, and help them remember the mighty acts of the Lord.

Song Suggestions

“Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” LUYH 521, PH 356, PsH 486, TH 457, WR 68

“Amazing Grace” LUYH 691/692/693, PH 280, PsH 462, TH 460, WR 422

“Jesus Calls Us, O’er the Tumult” LUYH 121, PsH 553, TH 591, WR 345

“O For a Closer Walk with God” LUYH 324

“Not Unto Us, O Lord of Heaven” LUYH 573, PFAS 115B, PH 227, PsH 115, TH 67

“Give Us Clean Hands” LUYH 628

Prayer Suggestions

Confession of Idolatry (LUYH 653)

Week Four Israel Asks for a King

Text: 1 Samuel 8:1-22 Theme: The Lord responds graciously to Israel.

Doctrine: “The nature of the faith community.” (Brueggemann, p. 66)

Need: Who is ultimately in charge of your life and the church?

Image: Throne or crown.

Mission: To acknowledge that Jesus is Lord of the church and let this guide how we lead in the church.


  • Trouble in the text: “They lack faith in [the Lord] to lead them successfully” (Waltke, p. 633). Israel wanted to be like the nations around them.
  • Trouble in the world: We lack faith in the Lord to lead us successfully. This leads us to take control ourselves or to look to others for leadership. We want to be like the nations around us.
  • Grace in the text: The Lord responds graciously to Israel by granting them a king, thereby preparing the way for David.
  • Grace in the world: Jesus Christ, the Son of David, lovingly rules over the church and world.

Reflections on Leadership

Change is hard to come by in any organization. In this story, Israel transitions from a tribal society to a monarchy. Sadly (at least from Samuel’s perspective), the theocracy in which God was the people’s King failed in Israel. Nevertheless, through the kingship the Lord allowed in Israel, the way would be prepared for David and eventually for Jesus.

Back to change for a moment. Samuel obviously finds the change of leadership policy troubling. Perhaps he feels personally rejected. But after expressing his reservations, he takes his concern to the Lord. In spite of the tension he feels inside, he knows that ultimately the Lord is the King of Israel. And interestingly, the Lord allows a king to rule Israel, even though he knows it will lead to many challenges. This story reminds us that godly leaders must constantly look to the Lord for guidance while remaining a calm presence in troubled times.

Song Suggestions

“The First Place” LUYH 15

“Joy to the World” LUYH 92, PH 40, PsH 337, TH 195, WR 179

“Hail to the Lord’s Anointed” LUYH 109, PsH 42, TH 311

“Jesus Shall Reign” LUYH 219, PH 423, PsH 412, TH 441, WR 341

“He Is King of Kings” LUYH 222

“Jesus Is Lord” LUYH 226 (See p. 18 in this issue.)

Litany Suggestions

Jesus: Image of the Invisible God (LUYH 16)

Week Five: Samuel’s Farewell Address

Text: 1 Samuel 12:1-25

Theme: God always keeps his covenant promises, even if his people do not.

Doctrine: God’s covenantal faithfulness.

Need: How can I please the Lord, today and forevermore?

Image: An old man; thunder and rain.

Mission: To fear and worship the Lord and listen to his voice, and to not rebel against his commands.


  • Trouble in the text: Israel had a history of wandering away from the Lord.
  • Trouble in the world: We have a history of leaving the Lord.
  • Grace in the text: God always keeps his covenant promises, even if his people do not.
  • Grace in the world: God continues to keep covenant with us, even when we fail.

Reflections on Leadership

How do you finish well as a leader? At this stage in the story, Samuel is old. He has faithfully served the Lord as judge of Israel since his youth. Now that Saul has been officially installed as king, Samuel’s political leadership is not needed. But being the godly leader that he is, Samuel is determined to end well, so he stands before the people and gives his retirement speech. He asks the people to point out if he has sinned against them in any way, but they declare him innocent.

Samuel has put himself on trial, and he has come out free and clear. But not Israel. They are placed on trial and are found guilty of idolatry and unfaithfulness, the latest sinful act being their request for a king. But Samuel concludes his speech with words of comfort and instruction. “Yes, you have sinned, but the Lord is faithful even when you are not. Now serve him the rest of your life.”

Is the leader’s work ever done? Evidently not, for Samuel considers it a sin if he, as a prophet, fails to pray for the people and teach them what is good and right. So once again through this story we are reminded of God’s faithfulness to us and what is required of us as leaders of his church.

Song Suggestions

“O God, We Have Heard” LUYH 47, PsH 44

“God, We Sing Your Glorious Praises” LUYH 519

“O God, Great Father, Lord and King” LUYH 801, PsH 274

“How Blest Are They Whose Trespass” LUYH 669, PsH 32, TH 551

“O Come, My Soul, Sing Praise to God” LUYH 672, PsH 297, TH 6

“O God, We Kneel Before Your Throne” LUYH 680

Litany Suggestions

Our Covenanting God (LUYH 36)

A Prayer of Confession and Assurance (LUYH 49

The Lord Is Compassionate and Gracious (LUYH 671)

Rev. Leon H. Johnston is a pastor and director of faith formation at Neerlandia Christian Reformed Church in Alberta, Canada.

Reformed Worship 111 © March 2014, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.