A heart after God's

The Journey  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  26:01
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What are the characteristics of David that make him (or any one of us) a person after God's heart?

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The Story so far

As you probably remember, we’ve been following the story of God and mankind as found in the Bible. Today we’re looking at the anointing, the commissioning, of the second king of Israel, King David. David is the man whose descendant is our forever king: our Lord Jesus. But what is the background to David’s appointment? Let’s quickly summarise.
Remember that God made a world without pain or conflict, a world where humanity had a purpose and a part to play. But we wanted more than a part, so we tried to take control. But we’re not God, and a human controlled world turned out to be a horrible place. So horrible that God wiped it clean with a great flood, but humanity was still a mess, and to limit the damage we could do, God scattered us across the Earth.
Of course God didn’t want to leave matters like that, so he chose a man called Abram, and promised to bring a great nation out of him. God kept his promise, working through that faltering family and the often brutal nations around them. Eventually he called that new nation, Israel, out of the land they were enslaved in, Egypt, and made them his people. He gave them a leader, Moses, a way to live that set them free from the mess of human nature--the Law of Moses—his presence in the tabernacle—a portable temple—and he gave them a land—Canaan.
But even with all this they couldn’t follow him. They made mess after mess. And the judges God chose to get them out of their messes often ended up making even bigger messes. At last, the people demanded a king, like the nations around them. God’s prophet at the time, Samuel, was annoyed that the people wanted to be like the messed up nations around them, but he listened to God and anointed the king the people wanted: Saul, an impressive, tall warrior from the tribe of Benjamin.
As Samuel had feared, though, Saul was a miserable failure. Sure, he was a good warrior, but he was a terrible leader because he obstinately refused to obey to God’s word. And so Samuel told Saul that God had chosen a new king, “a man after his own heart.”
And that’s where we pick up the story today.

Our story

1 Samuel 16:1–13 ESV
1 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” 2 And Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3 And invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do. And you shall anoint for me him whom I declare to you.” 4 Samuel did what the Lord commanded and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling and said, “Do you come peaceably?” 5 And he said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. 6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him.” 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 8 Then Jesse called Abinadab and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 And Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen these.” 11 Then Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and get him, for we will not sit down till he comes here.” 12 And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.” 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah.

How is David’s heart better?

Now the key to this story is obviously David’s heart, right? After all, God’s response to Samuel’s admiration of Eliab contrasts the human obsession with physical appearance and capability with God’s delight in our hearts. So what is it that God is looking for in a person’s heart? In 1 Samuel 13:14 Samuel explains to Saul the contrast between Saul himself and the new king God has chosen:
1 Samuel 13:14 ESV
14 But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”
So David’s heart is somehow after God’s own heart? But what does this mean? God is, well, God! How can a person have a heart after God’s?
Often we think this means a holy or sinless or perfect heart. After all, God is holy and sinless, and we see that in Jesus.
But if this is what God is looking for in David, then David is a prime exemplar, a perfect example, of what rightly annoys so many people in our culture: religious hypocrisy. After all, David is infamous for committing adultery and then murder to cover it up, but he goes wrong well before that, as we’ll see.
Is God really such a poor judge of character?
Obviously a person after God’s own heart is not a sinless person. So what are they?

My story of realisation

Let me share a personal story that helped me realise a little of what I think a man after God’s own heart looks like.
Back in the mid nineties, I think some time after I’d been to Silicon Valley and founded a company there, I was full of brash confidence. I was in demand at work, with companies like LG and Hyundai asking after me. I was in demand at church, with a small group and other leadership roles. And I had plenty of friends. I was even growing interested in an attractive Hong Kong-Australian girl.
Then one time in a church activity, there was this other guy. He was from Myanmar, and his English was quite difficult to understand. I think he worked as a labourer. And he liked to play the guitar and sing, but he wasn’t terribly good at either of them. This one time he was singing and playing. I could hardly tell him to shut up, so I had to listen. And as I listened I realised something: this guy may not have been terribly gifted, but the gifts that he did have were getting used at 110% of their capacity. I thought about myself, and realised that I was cruising, barely using the gifts God had given me.
All my contempt for my Burmese friend fell away, as I realised that his heart was totally sold out for God. He didn’t have time to judge others or worry about whether he failed or not, because he was too busy loving God and living that out. And so he became one of my role models, and I often think of him when I’m struggling with commitment.

What Saul is

Now back to David, who is supposed to have a heart after God’s own heart. Unlike Saul. It’s worth contrasting Saul with David, because that’s what God did in the verse we just read.
The question is, why was Saul rejected? Was it because he got stuff wrong? Obviously not, because David did, too.
It’s worth looking at what Samuel said to Saul. In his kingmaking speech, Samuel closes with a warning to both the people and Saul. He says:
1 Samuel 12:25 ESV
25 But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.”
The problem is not making mistakes, it is persisting in them. This is not a difficult concept to grasp. There are even sayings along the lines of:
Once is a lesson, twice is a mistake, three times is stupidity
A mere three years after Samuel’s warning speech, Saul is on a mission, and he grows impatient waiting for Samuel, and takes Samuel’s priestly role into his own hands. When Samuel confronts him over this outrageous violation of God’s law, Saul doesn’t listen and instead justifies his decision, as if God’s law is a matter of mere convenience. Samuel blasts Saul with the terrible consequences of his rebellion:
1 Samuel 13:13 ESV
13 And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever.
We don’t see Saul’s reaction to God’s rejection of his dynasty. It’s likely he simply shrugs it off, just like he shrugs of every other word from God. “Who does God think he is, anyway?” I can imagine him muttering.

What David is not

David is supposed to be a contrast to Saul. And yet, like everyone in history—remember what we heard in the story so far—David fails, more than once.
After Samuel’s death and well before Saul’s, David is helped by a clever woman called Abigail. Her foolish husband doesn’t last long, and at the end of this story we find David getting married to her, and then this:
1 Samuel 25:43 ESV
43 David also took Ahinoam of Jezreel, and both of them became his wives.
Now you may be thinking, “So what?” Men back then had multiple wives. Indeed they did. However the King of God’s people Israel was held to a higher standard than any ordinary man. In Deuteronomy Moses spends some time talking about how a future king should behave. And, amongst other things, he says this:
Deuteronomy 17:15–17 ESV
15 you may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. 16 Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’ 17 And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.
The point of these restrictions on a king is that he is intended to rely completely on God, not on armies (represented by horses), treaties (sealed by marriage), or money. Commentaries note that these two wives likely helped David become king in Hebron after Saul’s death, so David is using marriage as a political gain here, contrary to God’s law. He disobeys this section of the Mosaic law again when he takes a census of Israel to build up his army, and God punishes the whole nation for that sin.
If you’re still thinking David wasn’t too bad, remember his sin with Bathsheeba, including his murder of Uriah. But Tim will talk more about that in a couple of weeks.
The point is, David is not Mr Perfect!

What David is

But there must be something in David to give him a heart after God’s own heart! What is it?
Well, let’s think about David’s triumphs.
He responds to Goliath’s pagan goading by trusting in God and using the skills he has learnt to defeat him.
He refuses to kill Saul when he has the opportunity, several times, trusting in God to give him the kingdom.
Time after time David asks God how he should fight his battles, for example, in chapter 23:
1 Samuel 23:2 ESV
2 Therefore David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?” And the Lord said to David, “Go and attack the Philistines and save Keilah.”
And, of course, David listens to Nathan when he rebukes him for his despicable behaviour against Uriah and Bathsheba.
What are the common elements here?
First, David constantly places himself in God’s hands. He is humble enough to recognise that, no matter what, he needs God. David is a powerful warrior, but he approaches Goliath, Saul, and the Philistines relying not on his own strength, but on God.
And that points to the second common element: David trusts God. It is one thing to recognise your own limitations, but to recognise the strength and love of another is a different thing. David trusts in both God’s power and his compassion. We see this in David’s confrontations with Goliath, Saul and the Philistines. But we see it most strongly in David’s response to God’s rebuke through Nathan: David trusts God’s power to redeem him, and his compassion to want to redeem him.
David’s reliance on God, and his willing return to that posture when he has been tempted by arrogance, is what makes him a man after God’s own heart.
Proverbs explains this reality in a potent image:
Proverbs 21:1 ESV
1 The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.

How we have a heart like David’s

How do we let our hearts be like streams of water in God’s hand? How do we relax into his power and love in a way that transforms both us and those around us?
The way I would put it is that we must have:
Humility in relation to ourselves and confidence in relation to God.
Or, as the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality course puts it, we need to know our own limits and we need to know God.
David was a great warrior, but he recognised that anything can happen in a battlefield. Later in the book of Kings, King Ahab of Israel is killed by a randomly shot arrow! In the same way, we need to recognise that every time we get in our car, our lives are at risk. Every day at work, we are not really in control. We can do our best to raise our children, but we don’t dictate their souls! And we can be the most skilled preachers or evangelists, but it is God who changes people’s hearts. When we know our limits we know that whatever we do, we can only do it in partnership with God. And God is the senior partner.
And so we need to spend time getting to know God. If all our work must be done in partnership with Him, then we had better know how He works. It can seem so pointless sitting still and listening to God. Or spending time in prayer when there’s so much to do. Or reading God’s Word when there are people to talk to. But if we are not in proper relationship with the one who brings all good things into our lives, then we can work ourselves to death and achieve nothing but destruction and heartbreak.
For fallen human beings to be "after God's own heart" then, we must have sufficient humility to hear God's direction and rebuke and sufficient confidence in God’s power to restore and equip us, so that we immediately turn from our sins and trust ourselves into God's hands, always and forever.

Time to think

I think it’s important to think about this, and I don’t know the situation you’re in, so how about we divide up into groups of two or three and talk about how we can express this in our lives?
Think about how you can express these two attitudes:
Humility - know our limits
Confidence - know God
Let’s do that for five minutes, and then Sasha will share the notices.
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