Christianity is not primarily about externals such as behaviour and ministry. It is not primarilyabout title, office, role and position. It is not primarily about arriving at and in the purpose or destiny God has appointed you unto. If those statements surprise you let me balance them with this: Christianity involves all of the above but none of the above defines the primary core of Christianity.
You have often heard me say that the heart of Christianity is the heart. I believe it was Augustine who said: ‘Love God with all your heart and do anything you want.’ Some people will never understand that. But with a little maturity we do understand that when the heart truly loves God ultimately it produces behaviour that pleases God. As the heart is progressively transformed in sanctification so also is the behaviour that issues from that heart. And yet behaviour in itself does not constitute transformation of heart. A person can exercise good, moral and ethical behaviour without the heart ever being regenerated or transformed.
The stories I just read to you are stories about the heart but in a very particular sense; they’re about the heart in relation to the obvious. Based on these stories the theme of this message is: ‘My Heart & the Obvious’. The point I hope to establish is that nothing reveals our heart like our reaction to and how we handle the obvious.
In the first two kings of Israel (Saul & David) God has left us with an incredible picture of the human heart. It’s a picture of contrast between the heart dominated by the carnal, natural, fleshly man and the heart truly transformed – the heart after the heart of God. The story of these two kings is not finally a story of two differing behaviours but a story of two differing hearts. And the revelation of each heart took place in a crisis – something I am calling ‘a crisis of the obvious’.
In the 13th.chapter of First Samuel we find Saul in his ‘crisis of the obvious.’ He is on the brink of war – a war in which he is greatly outnumbered in manpower and unmatched in weaponry. His troops were riddled with fear, and the Bible says – ‘…the people were scattering from him.’ If there is a situation that reveals the heart of a leader this is surely it: ‘…the people were scattering from him.’ It is amazing what some leaders will compromise to gain just one more member.
The prophet Samuel left the command of God with Saul that he was not to go into battle until he returned and offered a burnt offering unto the Lord. During the seven days that Saul waited his entire world was unravelling. Added to this was a slight delay (and it was a very slight delay) regarding Samuel’s arrival.
Look at the picture: Saul’s army is riddled with fear, they are physically trembling, they are hiding anywhere they can find a place to hide, they are scattering in all directions and the prophet is late. All of this begs a simple question: What was this whole situation really about?What we discover is that none of it was about winning or losing a war; none of it was about where the people were, nor yet about where the prophet was. It was entirely a Devine setup designed to reveal where the king’s heart was.
That revelation unfolded in his response to the obvious. He assessed the situation, and what was obvious to him was that the Philistines were going to come down upon him any minute, his own army was in shambles, the people were scattering from him and that crazy prophet was on vacation. In response to his definition of the obvious he made a decision and in that decision the exact core of his heart was exposed.
The choice that exposed his heart is expressed in four words according to ‘The Message’translation: ‘So Saul took charge.’ He took the offering into his own hands and offered it up to God. To most he would be applauded as a great leader. We call it, ‘stepping up, doing what has to be done, taking the bull by the horns, filling the vacancy left by the absent prophet.’ And if our definition of leadership is that – ‘doing anything at all is better than doing nothing’ – then Saul was a great leader. After all he was only doing what the obvious demanded.
Why, then, did God pull the kingdom from Saul right there on the spot? Although Saul would fill the office for forty two years, he lost the kingdom in that single reaction to the obvious.
At the heart of that loss was a twofold issue. The first was his disobedience to a known command from God. The second was that in disobeying that command he usurped the authority and the office of another – the prophet Samuel. He assumed an office – a gifting, a calling, a role, a function, an authority to which he was never assigned.
But what was the heart issue behind what he did? And on the face of this it is going to sound simple and unimportant, but believe me, it is fundamental and vital. The heart issue wastrust and control. Would he trust the Almighty God with the obvious and remain obedient to the known command of God; or would he trust ‘the arm of flesh’ and reach out to take control of the obvious? He chose the latter – a choice by the way – that was fear based and fear driven. In making this choice he set himself above the commandment of the Lord as well as God’s set order and structure. And the lesson remains on the page of Holy Scripture that whenever, in the name of leadership, we find ourselves in a place of disobedience or in a place of usurped authority or office it is not Godly leadership no matter how good it looks.
But issues of trust and control are tied to an even deeper heart issue: that issue is pride. It is because of pride that the heart cannot trust and relinquish control even to the Sovereign God. And so much of this business of “taking charge” is really little more than taking control, with trust in no one except ourselves and our abilities.
Contrast this with David’s response to the obvious. When Samuel told Saul that the kingdom was taken from him, he also said this: “The Lord has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has appointed him as ruler over His people…” In all likelihood, David was not even born when that prophecy was made concerning him.
As a preteen lad David was anointed by the prophet Samuel and his prophetic destiny was set in place – he would be king. He quickly rose through the rank and file and was honoured in the eyes of the people. Growingly he became the target of Saul’s jealous rage and the majority of Saul’s administration as king was spent trying to kill David. During that time there were two occasions when David faced a prime opportunity to dispose of the “obstacle” between where he was and his prophetic destiny.
David and his men were in the back chamber of a cave and Saul with his soldiers came into the front of the same cave. They were seeking escape from the heat, and while in the cave they fell into a deep sleep. Here’s the question: What appears to be obvious in this setup?
I can tell you what was obvious to David’s men: “Behold, this is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘Behold; I am about to give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it seems good to you.’ ” We need to appreciate the intensity of this moment and the pressure David was under. These men had followed and believed in him when no one else would. They had been loyal and fought with and for him. They had protected him and supported him. Don’t forget, if Saul had taken David out he would also take out every one of David’s followers. When those nearest and most loyal to you begin to push and insist upon a particular direction – there is no pressure like that pressure; and especially when they are quoting the prophecies spoken over your life.
Had David given in to that pressure and taken advantage of the obvious he would have been doing exactly what Saul had done all those years before. He would have taken it upon himself to establish his prophesied destiny and in doing so usurped the office and authority of Saul. That would have opened the door to the same spirit that dominated Saul.
I think in part because of that pressure David cut off a piece of Saul’s robe. Right here we see the difference between the heart of Saul and the heart of David: the Bible tells us that ‘his conscience smote him.’ When I see what the church does to its broken and vulnerable leaders – and does so without a twinge of conscience – it’s no mystery why in many places she has become just another political institution.
In the third story I read to you, Saul was asleep at the exact centre of a camp of sleeping soldiers. David and Abishai (whom I believe was his nephew) tiptoed into the camp right to where Saul was. Abishai, taking note of the obvious, whispered to David: “Today God has delivered your enemy into your hand; now therefore, let me strike him with the spear to the ground with one stroke, and I will not strike him the second time.”
Notice David’s response to the obvious: “Do not destroy him, for who can stretch out his hand against the Lord’s anointed and be without guilt?”… “As the Lord lives, surely the Lord will strike him, or his day will come that he dies, or he will go down into battle and perish. The Lord forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the Lord’s anointed.”
Both of these events in the life of David were nothing more than God-arranged tests in which his heart was revealed. David never denied the reality of Saul’s brokenness, woundedness, weakness and vulnerability. But here is what I call the “David difference”:He refused to manipulate the vulnerability of a leader in the interest of fulfilling his own prophetic destiny – even when the obvious seemed to indicate that such opportunities were God ordained and justified.
There are some things that are never right – can never be right, and manipulation of another’s vulnerability or weakness is one of those things. That’s why the Bible has so much to say about the widow and the orphan – they represent the vulnerable in society, and as such they can easily be manipulated and victimised. Whatever short-term gain there may be in such manipulation there is a long-term judgement that will eventually overtake all who practice it.
I do not wish to be negative, but honesty demands that I remind you that the church is filled with this spirit – this attitude of manipulation (especially of a vulnerable leader) in the name of gaining one’s place in ministry and function.
Back to the beginning: Christianity is all about the heart, and nothing reveals the heart like our reaction to the obvious especially when the obvious appears to justify the manipulation of the weak and vulnerable in order to arrive at our prophetic destiny. In that sense the issue for David was not becoming king; rather, it was what he was becoming in the journey to his prophetic destiny of kingship. And the same is true for each of us.
The culture of the church has taught its young people entering ministry that it’s all about arriving – all about getting there; getting that title, that position, that office, that role, etc.. But the truth remains that the only real issue is the state of your heart upon arrival. That fact will ultimately determine how you perform as “king”.