Sunday, November 5, 2017

From Shepherd to King (The Story)

From Shepherd to King          Nov. 4/5, 2017
Scripture:  1 Samuel 16: 1-13

            Well once again we find ourselves in the middle of this journey known as the Story. And I don’t know about you, but hearing these ancient stories all over again has been good for my soul. It’s reminded me a lot of the nature of faith- the good stuff and the not so good stuff. And lately we’ve been talking a lot, as least it seems to me, about the not so good stuff. But today it’s going to get better. Not because we’re introduced to a flawless character, but because we’re given a glimpses into the heart of that God. And that’s always a good thing. So let’s get started.

It’s been a rough go of things for nation of Israel. You would think that once you have God’s promise, that once you experienced the blessing of God, you would be satisfied. But that’s not necessarily the case. As we learned last week, it’s far too easy for us to have wandering eyes and compromise our values and our particular way of doing life. Even though they had what God wanted to give, the Israelites wanted more, so they asked for a king. But that first choice, a man named Saul, didn’t quite work out. He brought more chaos than community; more trouble than hope. And God decided to rip the Kingdom from his hands and give it another candidate named David.

King David has become one of the most recognizable names in all of Scripture, for reasons both positive and not-so-positive.  When David’s name is brought up in conversation, there are usually three stories that come to mind: his triumphant battle over the mighty Goliath, his treacherous affair with the beauty Bathsheba and the wonderfully-affirming designation given to him by God (a man after my own heart).  For these reasons (and the fact that he was a great poet and musician, think Psalms), King David has become for us a man with great qualities worth emulating, but also a man with great failures through which we learn more about living in relationship with God.  And that’s why today in The Story we turn to David’s story.

            Interestingly enough, David’s story begins in an unassuming fashion. He’s a shepherd boy who comes into play only when God rejects his predecessor, King Saul, and God says “no” to his seven older brothers.  And to understand the significance of David’s role in this story, we must first understand the ways of King Saul and the decisions that led to his demise. From the outset, Saul was the obvious choice for such an important leadership position.  He had all the right skills and all the right looks.  When he stood in a group of people, he was head and shoulders taller than the rest.  What better man to be king than one who was an imposing figure to the rest?  He was a handsome man and came from a rich family line.  Good looks.  Good height.  Good wealth. Everything about Saul had “king” written all over.  But for several reasons, King Saul eventually fell out of favor with God.  Though he had all the tangible qualities you would want in a leader, he lacked something far more important- he lacked a heart that was fully open to God. You can never overestimate the importance of the heart.

            Late Wednesday evening, the Houston Astros won the biggest prize in all of baseball- The World Series. That must feel good for the citizens of Houston right now. After Hurricane Harvey, they needed a good pick-me-up. And now they’re champions. We’re accustomed to hearing about the Yankees or the Red Sox claiming the title of best in baseball, but this year, it was the Astros- The first championship in their organization’s history. And leading the way to their success was a small-statured second-baseman by the name of Jose Altuve, all 5’6’’ of him. Altuve doesn’t look like a ballplayer, and if you Google his name, you’ll find him described in the following ways: unlikely, anomaly, indistinguishable, long shot, “not supposed to exist.” In fact, he was cut by the very same Astros team during a trying because they said he was simply too short. The little guy who was once thought to be too short is now a world champion and be might be named the MVP of the entire league in just a few weeks. Good thing the Astros gave him that second chance. Had they not, they would’ve overlooked someone with the heart of a champion.[1]

            Time and time again, Scripture bears witness to the fact that God’s best work isn’t always through the people with the best skill set, but instead through people who have the right type of heart. What does that heart look like? Quite simply, it looks like hearts that are full of obedience.  And obedience begins with the recognition that God is good and so are God’s ways. It’s about the understanding that God really does have our best interest in mind, and that following God leads to good and abundant life. And that’s what Saul lacked. He had all the right skills, yet Saul never could get his heart in just the right position. He had a difficult time letting God be God, and that became his downfall. 

            Saul’s heart problems are well documented in Scripture.  He grew impatient with God’s timing and moved ahead before God was ready.  He built a monument to himself instead of God.  He would fulfill God’s orders but then tack on something else to those orders, thinking he was simply doing God a favor.  All of these issues and more led to Saul’s royal ouster, but the one flaw that sticks out the most is Samuel’s terse word to King Saul in chapter 15, a word that speaks volume about Saul’s condition and a word that we need to hear:  Though you are little in your own eyes…” 

            We worry so much about the issue of pride (and rightfully so) because pride is a negative trait that separates us from God. But sometimes we worry so much about becoming prideful that our reaction swings the pendulum too far and we end up with this false sense of humility. We start saying things like, “I’m not called to do that; I’m not gifted in those areas; I don’t think I could ever go there. I can’t.”  And we become so convinced that we are the wrong person for the job that even if God wanted to make us the right person for the job (which he usually does), we probably wouldn’t let him. This was Saul’s biggest heart issue. He had a false sense of humility. And his low view of himself affected his view of God.

When it comes to gauging our usefulness for God, we should never throw skill out the window. Skill is important. That’s why God has uniquely gifted you and me to carry out his purposes and fulfill our particular callings in this world. Psalm 139 says that YOU are fearfully and wonderfully made. You’ve been called by God. You have a purpose, and God has a plan for you, and God will equip you to get the job done, even if it means fighting a giant with a sling instead of a sword. God will give you the skills you need. God will give you the ability to be who he was created you to be. But here’s what God wants from you: the type of heart that is willing to give God permission to do whatever it is that God wants to do. 

We’re not told why God bypassed the first seven sons of Jesse to be Saul’s successor. The only information we’re given is that Samuel has apparently paid too much attention to outward appearances, whereas God has been paying attention to what cannot be visibly measured: the heart. And David’s heart caught the attention of God.  Maybe his heart was cultivated out in those quiet fields while tending sheep.  Maybe it was during those years of waiting- because it wasn’t until he was 37 that this young, anointed boy from Bethlehem would take the throne. Whatever the case, God saw a young boy with a heart willing to be constructed and reconstructed over time. David won’t be a perfect king- far from it.  He won’t be a sinless king or a king who avoids precarious situations, as we’re going to learn next week. But David will be a king who responds to God by the continuous yielding of his heart.  And when God grabs hold of a heart that is fully yielded to him, you better hold on tight, because God has a way of making MVP’s out of nobodies.

Your heart is of vital importance to God. It’s that sacred space where all the important decisions of your life are made- decisions that have the capacity to draw you deeper into God’s presence or the capacity to drive you further away.  That’s why God pays so much attention to what’s happening on your inside.  And that’s why it’s so important that you and I also pay attention to what is happening inside of here.  (point to heart) 

John Wesley had a question that helped the early Methodists pay attention to the intangibles of faith: How is it with your soul?  I’ll reframe the question just a bit.  How is it with your heart? Your heart can either point in the direction of God, a direction where giants are conquered and giant sins are forgiven, or your heart can point right back to yourself, where self-limitation and self-understanding bear more influence than even the voice of God. I’m not sure what you need to do today to turn your heart in the direction of God, but I guarantee you it will be the best decision you will ever make. Your name might not go down in history like David’s, but you will be someone whom God uses to build His kingdom- and that’s a great legacy.  Amen.