Don’t repeat Samson’s mistakes — watch your steps
Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Rick D’Elia
GCU News Bureau
The Senior Pastor of Christ’s Church of the Valley began his talk by taking seven small paces forward, then actually stepping off the stage to the floor a few feet below to mimic someone falling into life-destroying sin.
He then asked the GCU Arena audience which step was his downfall. The knee-jerk reaction is to say it was the last one because it’s the scariest, he said, but the truth is, you can’t name just one.
“People don’t ruin their life in a moment,” he said. “It never happens in a moment. How does it happen? It happens one … little … tiny step at a time.”
Wooldridge looked to the story of Samson, portrayed in chapters 13-16 of Judges, as the perfect example of this idea. People tend to think that Delilah was his downfall because she betrayed him by getting him to reveal the secret to his superhuman strength – his hair – and enabling his enemies, the Philistines, to cut it off. Not so.
“Did you know Delilah was actually just the last step in a string of really bad decisions with women that Samson had made his whole entire life?” Wooldridge asked. “Why don’t we hear about that? Because we sometimes just focus on just the last step.”
Wooldridge pointed out that Samson set his demise in motion by walking 45 miles toward his enemies in Gaza – roughly 90,000 steps, or the distance from Phoenix to Casa Grande. He then compounded his mistake by spending the night with a prostitute.
Wooldridge had another question, coupled with how we might justify doing something similar:
“Did you ever wonder what was going through his mind as he took those 90,000 steps? It’s probably what goes through our mind all the time, too. ‘I’m strong enough to handle this. I’m just going to look. I’m not going to touch. … I mean, I deserve a little fun, right? I mean, it’s been a tough semester, had a bunch of tests going on, you know. I’ve just got to relax a little bit.’ …
“Ninety thousand steps in the wrong direction, which means Samson had 90,000 opportunities to say, ‘This is stupid,’ and to turn around and to go in the right direction. And yet he didn’t.”
Wooldridge added that it’s easy for college students, many of them on their own for the first time, to make mistakes with temptations that might seem trivial but can turn into something monumental.
He has done a lot of counseling as a pastor and said he has never met someone who said, “A little bit of something is going to ruin my life.” Instead, they point to a series of missteps.
Wooldridge sees four steps that led to Samson’s demise, four steps that should be a lesson to us:
First, he underestimated his enemies. He even mocked them. It is not unlike people who have a problem with, say, alcohol or drugs but don’t eliminate those temptations from their lives.
There’s a reminder in 1 Peter 5:8, Wooldridge noted:
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
Second, Samson rationalized the same old sin. Delilah, whose name means “to tempt” or “to flirt” in Hebrew, was the third woman in Samson’s string of mistakes, Wooldridge said, and he had another question for the students:
“How many times do you fall to the same old sin over and over and over again? I know I do oftentimes. … Satan is out there tempting and flirting with us, and we just sit there and let it happen and we rationalize it.”
An example of rationalizing: “I’m not hurting anybody.”
“Secret sin hurts you, and a ‘hurt you’ will eventually hurt everyone around you,” he said, drawing applause. “… Hurt people hurt people. So don’t ever tell yourself the lie that what you’re doing in secret only affects you. That’s a rationalization at its worst point.”
The third step: Samson ignored the obvious warning signs when Delilah kept trying to trick him into revealing his weakness. But she wasn’t subtle about it. She kept saying:
“Tell me the secret of your great strength and how you can be tied up and subdued.”
Wooldridge spoke directly to the men in the audience. What if they were out on a date with someone and she asked how she could kill him?
“Would that be a warning sign for you? Would that be like a ‘Run!’ … And yet Delilah says this to him four times, and Samson just ignores the warning signs.”
Same goes for women who rationalize and overlook the obvious warning signs in a guy, Wooldridge added. And that leads to the fourth step that ruined Samson: He ignored the costs.
Once he revealed to Delilah the secret of his hair, he learned that God’s strength in him had disappeared. He was captured and maimed by the Philistines.
“There are some of us here today that are operating under our own strength and in direct disobedience to God, and we don’t realize that God’s strength has left us,” Wooldridge said. “Listen, God has not left you. God will never leave you. But God’s strength in your life has left you because you are ignoring the obvious costs.”
Three thousand years after Samson, the story still resonates. But Wooldridge used a modern game – Jenga – to show how a life gets ruined. One by one, he took out the Jenga pieces until they all fell.
“That’s a picture of how you ruin your life,” Wooldridge said. “And what I believe is God brought me here today to simply rattle someone’s cage to get you out of your complacency because nobody says, ‘Oh, it’s the little things.’ And yet when you honestly look at your life, it’s the little things that lead to the big messes.”
He urged listeners to make a U-turn back to God no matter how far they have gone in the wrong direction and concluded with this:
“Take the time today to turn back to a loving God who wants to welcome you back with loving arms.”
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].
To hear the music of the Worship team and Ashley Wooldridge’s talk in its entirety, click here.
The Gathering speaker (7 p.m. Tuesday, Antelope Gymnasium): Cory Tubbs, GCU Spiritual Life
Next Chapel speaker (11 a.m. Monday): Jodi Hickerson; Mission Church; Ventura, California