Right now in our Old Testament Bible reading, we’re reading through the story of David and his leadership of the nation of Israel. Today’s reading was about bringing back the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.
No doubt, David is one of the greatest leaders of God’s people in the Old Testament era. Despite his human frailty, he was used as a model for all other kings to follow. The New Testament writers hold him up as someone worth imitating (see quote from one of Paul’s sermons below).
Acts 13:22, 36. After removing Saul, he made David their king. He testified concerning him: 'I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.' … "For when David had served God's purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his fathers and his body decayed. NIV
Let’s glean a few lessons from the life of David for our lives as leaders today …
Remember, it’s not about you!
- Understand that Life is a Journey
As you look at an overview of David’s life, you can see that it was a journey through various seasons and phases. Some were incredible joyful and victorious, while others were very dark and discouraging.
• 17 years old – anointed and prophesied over (great future). David’s destiny was revealed at a young age when he was anointed by the prophet Samuel in front of his brothers. This was the sovereign choosing of God based on David’s heart condition.
• Defeat of Goliath, service in Saul’s court, then a fugitive (13 yrs)
• 30 years old – anointed king in Hebron over Judah (7.5 yrs)
• 37.5 years old – anointed king in Jerusalem over Israel (33 yrs)
• 70 years old – died (40 yrs as king)
At no time did David have the full picture, other than a few glimpses along the way. His life had to be a walk of faith, trusting in God each step of the way, sometimes in very contradictory circumstances. Yet through it all God was at work in and through David’s life.
In the cave of Adullam, David was unsure of how God was going to work things out but he was committed to find out. During this time, David is a pursued man living in caves and strongholds in the wilderness. Though called and anointed by God, he is running from his life from the jealousy and animosity of the current leadership over Israel. He has a word from God but all the current circumstances are contrary to it. He must trust in God and believe that his times are in God’s hand.
1 Sam 22:3. From there David went to Mizpah in Moab and said to the king of Moab, "Would you let my father and mother come and stay with you until I learn what God will do for me?" NIV
A few insights from this lesson:
• God raises up a leader progressively over time, gradually increasing their influence. He makes the person along the way, building character and perseverance. Over time his circle of influence spreads, as does his favour.
• It took many years for God’s will to come to pass. David was attacked and tried in various ways. At times it didn’t seem like God’s word would come to pass.
• David’s promotion to prominence was gradual. First he fought in the army under Saul, then he was made king over Judah, then Israel and eventually he had international influence. David was patient along the way and allowed God to promote him.
• If we are faithful in little things, we will be entrusted with greater responsibilities. David proved faithful in caring for his father's sheep before being called to shepherd God's flock (1 Sam 16:11; 17:34-35; Ps 78:70-72).
• Spiritual growth takes time. David was anointed as king by Samuel when he was about 17 years old (1 Sam 16:12-13). He would not actually rule over all Israel, however, until many years later (5:4-5). A toadstool can spring up overnight, but mighty trees don't grow quite that fast.
• David began and ended his ministry by acknowledging the absolute sovereignty of God in the lives of his people (1 Sam 17:46-47; 1 Chron 29:10-15). David recognised God’s hand and call on his life. He gave God credit for his leadership influence. He realised that his destiny was for the nation, not for his own ego.
What about you? Is it a high season or a low one? Are you in a fulfilment phase or a frustration one? In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus talks about being ‘yoked’ to him. Are you running ahead, lagging behind, or keeping ‘in step’ with him in your journey?
- Have Courage in the Face of Challenges
David faced many challenges in his life. Along the way, he faced a lion, a bear, a giant, and many other challenges and problems. How David chose to face his challenges were the key to his success and impact as a leader.
The confrontation with Goliath is a great example of David’s courage in the face of adversity (1 Samuel 17).
Israel and the Philistines were at war, each on a hill with a valley between them. Goliath from Gath was the Philistines champion. He was over nine feet tall with bronze armour and a bronze spear. He had a shield bearer who went ahead of him. Goliath defiantly challenged Israel to come and fight with him. Saul and the Israelites were dismayed and terrified. For forty days, he came forward every morning and evening and took his stand. The enemy is passionate, intense and unrelenting in his attack. He is determined to intimidate and destroy God’s people.
Here we have a challenge that in the natural seems impossible. Saul, the leader of the nation, is afraid and does not know what to do. As a result, the people are afraid and discouraged. They ran from Goliath in great fear (vs.24).
David now enters the scene. He is the youngest son (of eight) of Jesse and he has the responsibility of tending his father’s sheep at Bethlehem (vs.12-15). He three older brothers were in Saul’s army (vs.13). Jesse sent David to check out how things were going at the battlefield (vs.17-20).
David has a warrior spirit of faith. His first words were, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God (vs.26)? When he spoke with Saul, his first words were, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.” David refused to be intimidated by what he saw with his eyes or the natural circumstances. He looked at things with the eyes of faith and with a confidence in God’s ability to do the impossible.
Intimidation came from (1) his older brother Eliab who seemed jealous and envious of David (vs.28), from (2) King Saul who looked down on him because of his youthfulness (vs.33), and from (3) Goliath himself who ridiculed him (vs.42f).
In the face of all of this, David has amazing confidence and courage! His faith was in the power of his God. He saw victory was a certainty. There was no doubt in his mind. He saw it as the Lord’s battle! David’s personal faith in God was enough to carry the nation forward into victory. His faith was strong in the midst of the intimidation, doubt and unbelief of everyone who was around him (brothers, Saul and Goliath).
The faith of one person led to victory and then the entire nation’s confidence rose. One young man stepped forward and God brought a great victory through him. David won the battle through his faith in God, his boldness to step out and his courage to believe that God would use him. There was no doubt or fear in his heart or mind. He believed that God would give him the victory that day and it happened.
What about us? Let’s face it, ministry is both fulfilling AND challenging. All of us have challenges, no matter who we are or how things look on the outside.
• Ministry stretches you to the maximum – constantly pulls you out of your comfort zone
• Ministry can be very draining – physically, emotionally and spiritually
• There is a tremendous amount of responsibility and pressure there is being a leader
• There are many problems and challenges to work through, often with no easy answers.
• Challenges: people with problems, looking for intern, lack of volunteers, etc.
Of course, life itself can be challenge at times.
• Some are facing sickness that won’t go away (either yours or a family member’s)
• Some are facing a marriage that’s not going well or family conflict
• Others are facing singleness issues, time pressures (balancing a busy career, family and a ministry), fatigue (you’re tired and run down), financial pressures that are beyond your ability to solve in the short term or personal internal issues that you grapple with every day (habits of life that you’re trying to change).
A few things we need to understand about our challenges …
• Believe that they have the potential to make you strong.
The very process of facing and dealing with life’s challenges is how we become strong people. You can’t develop ‘strength’ without pressure and without a degree of stress (and sometimes even pain). The hard times can make us strong. Smooth seas do not make skilful sailors. ~ African Proverb
How we think about our challenges is vital. The quality of ‘resilience’ is the ability to successfully meet and surmount challenges, obstacles, and problems. This quality is not hereditary and it has nothing to do with your talent or even your anointing. It has to do with your way of thinking – how you look at and interpret life’s challenges.
I know God will not give me anything I can't handle. I just wish that He didn't trust me so much. ~Mother Teresa
• Do what you can to overcome them.
Don’t give in or just come under the challenge. Give your best efforts to face it head on and believe for a solution. Give it your best prayers, your best thinking and your best energy. There’s always something you can do to either completely conquer the challenge or at least minimise its impact. Sometimes there are tough choices to be made, changes to be embraced and maybe even compromises where we have to choose less than the ideal. Sometimes you need to try a different approach – a different tack. Look at it a different way or do something different about it. Don’t ignore your challenges and try not to be overwhelmed by them. Refuse to just give up and become a ‘victim’. Determine to be a ‘victor’ no matter how long it takes.
• Draw on God’s strength.
Notice I said, “Draw on” not “Ask for”. Why? Because God always makes his grace available for us when facing challenges. In fact, he always sends ‘more than enough’ for what we are going through. Sometimes in the moment we may not ‘feel’ it, but when looking back, you’ll see it – amazing sustaining grace. Grace – it’s not just about salvation; it’s about life. Grace is his goodness but also his ability and his strength to cope (2 Cor.12:7-10). Challenges do many things but one thing is for sure - they make you dependent. You are acutely aware of your desperate need for God. You pray more and you trust and rely far less in your self (not a bad place to be).
•Choose to be optimistic about the future.
Expect things to work out well and in the mean time embrace a high tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty (Jer.29:11. 2 Cor.4:15-18). If we are not careful, challenges have a way of subtly draining away our sense of ‘hope’. It’s like the pressures of realities of today blind us from any respite tomorrow. We can slowly begin to believe that things will never change or that the challenges may never go away. Let’s be real clear – just choosing to be optimistic doesn’t guarantee that the challenges will go away but we can believe that even if they don’t God’s grace will carry us through.
What challenge are you facing right now?
- Learn to Handle Criticism
Guess what? If you’re going to lead, you’re going to be criticised. If you haven’t been criticised yet, then you haven’t been leading very long … OR you haven’t heard about it yet!
There is an interesting story in the latter part of David’s life, after his son Absalom had usurped the throne in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 16:5-14). Shimei, one of Saul’s household, cursed David and threw stones at him and his men. He said that God was repaying David for all the blood he had shed and that the Lord had handed over the kingdom to his son Absalom. He had come to ruin because he was a “man of blood” – a murderer. Abishai, one of David’s men, wanted to retaliate but David restrained him, thinking that the Lord may have instructed him to curse David. He also saw that the Lord might see his distress and repay David with good for the cursing he was receiving. So David and his men continued along the road under the cursing and stone throwing of Shimei. They arrived exhausted and so then refreshed themselves.
Our ability to take criticism can make or break us. No one is indifferent to criticism – it causes us to respond either positively (growth and maturity) or negatively (bitter and resentful).
Leaders are more subject to criticism than any other people. Aristotle said it well, “Criticism is something you can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing and being nothing.” One of the costs of leadership is criticism. If you’re willing to stand out from the crowd, you’re putting yourself in a vulnerable position, so count on some degree of criticism.
The question is not, “Will I be criticised?” but “How will I handle and learn from criticism?”
Some Tips for Taking Criticism (gleaned from John Maxwell):
• Ask if there is any truth in the criticism. Is God saying something to you? Understand the difference between constructive and destructive criticism. Look beyond the words and determine the motives. Some key questions in determining whether criticism is constructive (to build) or destructive (to destroy):
• Is it positive to build you up or negative to tear you down?
• In what spirit is it given? Is there a gentle or judgmental attitude?
• When is the criticism given – privately or publically?
• Why is the criticism given? Is it for personal benefit and growth or from personal hurt? Hurt people hurt people.
• Don’t take yourself too seriously. Learn to laugh at yourself and admit your mistakes. We all do silly and stupid things.
• Look beyond the criticism and see the critic. Who said it is as important as what was said.
- Is it from a wise person you respect?
- Is this person frequently critical?
- Is this person usually positive or negative?
- Does the critic sincerely want to help me?
• Watch your own attitude toward the critic. A negative attitude toward a critic can be more destructive than the criticism itself.
• Realise that good people get criticised. Jesus, whose motives were pure and character was spotless, was called a glutton (Mt.11:19), a drunkard (Lk.7:34) and a “friend of sinners” (Mt.11:19. Mk.2:16).
• Keep physically and spiritually in shape. When were exhausted or feeling low emotionally, we are more vulnerable to criticism.
• Don’t just see the critic, see if there’s a crowd. If you’re hearing the same comment from a number of people, maybe you have something to work on.
• Wait for time to prove them wrong. Time will prove most things. People criticised today may be applauded tomorrow (e.g. Abraham Lincoln – America’s most loved and yet most criticised president).
• Surround yourself with positive people. Rise above the critics.
• Concentrate on your mission – change your mistakes. Learn from your mistakes but don’t dwell on them or be deterred from your mission. Make mistakes “building blocks”, not “road blocks”.
Are you experiencing criticism? How are you responding to it?
- Depend on God for Direction
One thing you’ll notice about David is that his relationship with God is central to his life. He loves God with all of his heart and this relationship with God is his priority above all other things. He loves to worship God as well as to pour out his heart to God, no matter what is happening in his life (just read the Psalms). We need to do the same.
David made his relationship with God central to his life. He valued the presence of God, hence his efforts to get the Ark of the Covenant back into Jerusalem (2 Sam.6:1-23). He valued God’s presence and was a passionate worshipper of God. He recognised the great value of the ark as the earthly throne of the God of Israel. He wanted to acknowledge the Lord’s kingship and rule over both himself and the people by restoring the ark to a place of prominence in the nation.
As you read the story of David, you will frequently see phrases such as “David enquired of the Lord.” 1 Sam 23:1-4. When David was told, "Look, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah and are looting the threshing-floors," he enquired of the Lord, saying, "Shall I go and attack these Philistines?" The Lord answered him, "Go, attack the Philistines and save Keilah." But David's men said to him, "Here in Judah we are afraid. How much more, then, if we go to Keilah against the Philistine forces!" Once again David enquired of the Lord, and the Lord answered him, "Go down to Keilah, for I am going to give the Philistines into your hand." NIV
David was committed to hearing from God and knowing his will. He listened to messages through other people (whether prophets or priests). He also prayed and sought God personally. David’s whole life was about listening to God and then obeying. That’s why he was a man after God’s own heart, some who would do all God’s will.
In contrast, Saul did his own thing and did not take time to listen to the Lord’s instructions. Even when he did receive them, he did not carry them out fully.
Example (from Steve Fry): Married couples often have children out of the intimacy of their relationship. Babies are a gift from God but often they can take up so much time and attention that married couples neglect their own intimacy of relationship. The same can happen in our relationship with God. Out of our intimacy with him he births vision and ministry ideas into our spirit. If we are not careful, we can become so busy looking after our ministries and pursuing our vision, that we forget our intimacy of relationship with God.
It’s the Mary - Martha tension. We can get so busy working for God that we don’t spend enough time just getting to know his heart and mind. How are you and God doing right now?
- Be Kind to People
When we think of David, we think of a strong person – a strong leader who was a warrior and a king over an entire nation. This guy is got to be tough, resilient, unflinching, and made of steel. Yes, David is all of that but we also see a kindness in the way he treats people. This is especially seen in the story of (2 Sam.9:1-13), one of the most moving stories in the Bible.
David was a kind leader who wanted to honour his friends and their families. He wanted to “show God’s kindness”. He had not forgotten his promise to Jonathan (1 Sam.20:15, 42)
Mephibosheth, though crippled in his feet, had his family’s land restored to him and always ate at David’s table, simple because of his father, Jonathan’s, friendship with David. He became like one of the king’s sons. David had experienced God’s kindness, undeserved favour, and he often acknowledged this. 2 Sam 22:51. “He gives his king great victories; he shows unfailing kindness to his anointed, to David and his descendants forever." NIV
Ps 18:35. You have also given me the shield of your salvation; your right hand has held me up, your gentleness (you stoop down – NIV) has made me great. NKJV
As leaders, God has given us a degree of authority. That authority is to be used for ‘building people up’ not tearing them down. Yes, there are times where we need to confront, but even then we are called to ‘speak the truth in love’.
When we use our authority to encourage people and to show kindness to them, it can have a powerful impact. How do you treat the ‘little people’? Small acts of kindness go a long way! It could be as simple as – a smile, a hello, an apology, a ‘thank you’ (Bill Hybels story), an expression of interest, or a small gift. Be Aware of Your Vulnerability to Temptation
Story of David committing adultery with Bathsheba is well known, as are the ongoing negative consequences of his actions (see 2 Sam.11:1-27). David sends Joab off to battle and decides to stay home in Jerusalem (vs.1). Maybe David is getting tired of fighting the battles himself and thinks that he can take a back seat now. It is now about 10 years since he became king. Has complacency set in? The ark of God is out in the field of battle, not at home with David (vs.11). As a result, he places himself in a vulnerable position. There is no urgent cause or purpose to which he is directing his energies. This puts him in a situation where he is distracted, tempted and then drawn away into sin.
David breaks four of the Ten Commandments (Ex.20:13-17). This sin brought the death penalty (Lev.20:10. Deut.22:22). One sin leads to another and to further deceit. David commits adultery then tries to get Uriah to sleep with his wife so he’ll think that the baby is his. However, Uriah responds nobly and in so doing puts David’s actions to shame. David then plots Uriah’s death.
David had shamelessly violated God’s laws and he had abused his royal power, which the Lord had entrusted to him to shepherd the Lord’s people (5:2; 7:7-8).
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Here is a man after God’s own heart who has been lifted from the sheepfold and into a place of prominence and influence. God has been good to him and he loves the Lord with all his heart. But, oh the depth of sinfulness in the heart of every man! David lets down his guard and then makes some decisions with awful consequences. He forgot or shunned God’s law in his heart and deceived himself into thinking it would be okay. He got caught up in a wed of temptation set by the enemy.
Thankfully, when confronted (2 Sam.12) David’s response was “I have sinned against the Lord”. No excuses, no “back-peddling”, no rationalisation or self-justification. He was forgiven, though the consequences of his sin continued to haunt him the rest of his life.
What a lesson for us today. How vulnerable are we! We are made of the same stuff and have the same potential for such senseless sin. God preserve us from this kind of evil. Lead us not into temptation!
Many years ago, I heard some training by Ken Williams (Wycliffe) on The Battle for Sexual Purity and I found it very insightful.
• Sexual sin is rarely the result of a blow-out. Almost always, it's the result of a slow leak. It's a slide, not a sudden fall. Every person caught in adultery said, “I never thought it would happen to me!”
• Understand the process of sexual sin. See the wisdom of God's ways and the consequences of disobedience.
• There are 5 stages in an inappropriate relationship – (1) appropriate interaction, (2) inappropriate levels of openness, (3) unwise amounts of time together, (4) inappropriate physical touch, (5) over the line.
• #2 and 3 create an ‘emotional connection’ or attachment.
• Establish some ‘early warning’ signs. Don’t wait until you’re near the edge of the rapids!
Some reflection questions:
• How are you going in the area of sexual temptation?
• Married people – any inappropriate emotional connections? Do you have appropriate boundaries (time, location, actions, etc)?
• Single people - any inappropriate physical touch?
- Leave a Legacy through Other People
In 2 Samuel 23 we have the last words of David. Yes, David was a great leader who did some amazing things for God and his people. However, one of the great things about David is that he left a legacy through inspiring other people to greatness.
David trained up other mighty warriors who did exploits beyond him (2Sam.23:8-39). Thirty-seven men are mentioned (2 groups of three, Abishai, Benaiah and 29 others). Josheb-Basshebeth (vs.8). He raised his spear against 800 men and killed them all.
Eleazar (vs.9-10). He stood his ground against the Philistines when all the men of Israel retreated. He kept fighting even until his hand grew tired and froze to the sword. God won a great victory through him and then the troops returned to strip the dead. Shammah (vs.11-12). He took his stand in the middle of a field of lentils, even when Israel’s troops fled. He defended it and struck down the Philistines, God helping him bring about a great victory. Three other mighty men broke through the Philistine camp and brought water to David from the well of Bethlehem (vs.13-17).
Abishai (vs.18-19). He raised his spear against 300 men and killed them. He became as famous as the Three. Benaiah (vs.20-23). He was a valiant fighter who struck down two of Moab’s best men. He killed a lion in a pit on a snowy day. He struck down a huge Egyptian. He killed him with his own spear, which he snatched from his hand. He too was as famous as the Three and held in greater honour than the Thirty (listed in vs.24-39).
See also 1 Chron.11:11-47 for a parallel list of might men, including 16 others.
They were “mighty” because of their courage in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds and in their ability to persevere (not give up) even under intense attack. It mentions nothing about their size of physical strength, only about the intense tenacity and great courage.
One of the greatest joys of leadership is seeing others rise up and do great things for God.
Who’s looking at you?
Who are you inspiring?
Who are you influencing and what kind of an influence are you?