This blog focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Failed Heroes: Peter

Why does it matter that these heroes failed? See introduction to series.
How was Peter a hero? Peter was one of the twelve apostles chosen by Jesus to participate in His ministry. He was part of what is commonly referred to as "the inner circle," the three apostles who were with Jesus on certain occasions when the others were not present. He became one of the great leaders of the early church, with God giving him great power and even miraculous deliverance. Both in the gospels and in his epistles, Peter revealed wonderful statements of truth. Peter is by far the apostle mentioned most often in Scripture. If I calculated correctly, Peter is mentioned by name 209 times in the New Testament. The next closest are James and John, who are mentioned 31 times each. In fact, all of the other eleven apostles combined are mentioned only 130 times.

How did Peter fail? While Peter's best-known failure is his denial of Jesus, it is not his only failure. Several times he was guilty of speaking unadvisedly, without thinking through what he was saying. These utterances often led to difficult situations or stern rebukes. Peter wanted to walk on the water, but his initial success turned to failure when he looked at the waves instead of at Jesus (Matthew 14:28). On one occasion, Peter actually rebuked Jesus, declaring that He must not be killed (Matt. 16:22). At the transfiguration of Jesus, Peter's unthinking response placed Moses and Elijah on the same level with Jesus (Matt. 17:4). He asked Jesus what his reward would be for having served Him (Matt. 19:27). When Jesus wanted to wash Peter's feet, Peter forbade Him; when corrected by Jesus, his response swung to the other extreme (John 13:8-9). Jesus was deeply grieving in the Garden of Gethsemane; when He took Peter to watch with Him, Peter repeatedly fell asleep (Matt. 26:36-45). Of course, the most prominent failure followed his adamant assertion that he would never deny Jesus - in fact, he declared that he would die first. Within a few hours Peter had denied Jesus three times, even cursing in the process (John 18:15-27).

What was Peter's heart response? The beautiful thing about Peter is his passion for God. Even when he spoke or acted rashly, his heart was often in the right place. His intent was to show his trust in Jesus, to express his love for Jesus, to relate the overwhelming impact of a situation, or to verbalize his humility and devotion. Because his heart was so passionate toward God, his intentions were good. He wanted to do the right thing. He just didn't always think about what that right thing would be, or he lacked the human strength to follow through on his resolve.

Peter repeatedly displayed his passion for God and his desire to learn from God. When Jesus called him, he responded immediately (Matt. 4:17). Peter was the one to ask for explanation or clarification when he did not understand what Jesus had taught (Matt. 15:15; 18:21; Mark 13:3; Luke 8:45). Peter openly declared his loyalty to Jesus (John 13:36), as he realized there was no one else worthy of following (John 6:68). Peter declared great statements of truth about Jesus when none of the other disciples had much of a response (Matt. 16:16). Peter showed humility and respect before Jesus (Luke 5:8; John 21:7). Peter was the one to remember what Jesus had said and to take note of the results (Mark 11:21). Peter was the only apostle bold enough to attempt to defend Jesus (John 18:10), and was one of only two who was loyal enough to follow Jesus after His capture (Matt. 26:58).

Because of his earnest passion for God, Peter was willing to accept correction and to learn from his mistakes. While sinking into the waters, Peter relied on Jesus for deliverance. When he was confronted after his errant suggestion at the transfiguration, Peter fell to the ground. When corrected or rebuked by Jesus on other occasions, Peter silenced himself and continued to learn. He continued to receive Jesus' instructions. After his grave failure of denying Jesus, Peter displayed his most poignant response. Three of the gospels reveal that his response was immediate, and that it was to weep bitterly. While John's gospel does not repeat this information, it gives the beautiful passage of Peter's restoration in chapter 21. Peter's failure in denying Jesus led to displays of deep grief, shown immediately in his bitter weeping. Peter never intended to deny Jesus; he loved Jesus deeply, and he was grieved over his failure. Peter was devoted to Jesus, and his failure to remain true to that love sent piercing arrows deep into his heart. The incident in John 21 reinforces this concept. Jesus repeatedly questioned Peter's love for Him, and these repeated questions grieved Peter (v. 17). Peter was painfully aware that his love had failed at the most critical time. With his genuine passion for God, Peter had never wanted that to happen, and he was broken over his failure. His tender heart prepared him to receive Jesus' call to renewed service.

How did Peter's story end? A thorough answer to this question would require an examination of much of the book of Acts, in which Peter is a prominent character. Peter became an influential and pivotal leader in the history of the early church. He stood up and spoke to the other followers of Jesus after Jesus' ascension. He preached powerful sermons through which thousands of people were saved. He was empowered by God to perform miracles. He stood boldly and resolutely in the face of intense persecution. He was involved in discipline, decision-making, and discipleship within the church. He was used for the dispersion of the gospel to the Gentiles. He was miraculously delivered from prison and went on to continue preaching after that threat of death. Jesus' words allude to a martyr's death, and church tradition suggests crucifixion. As part of his life of ministry, Peter wrote two books of the Bible.

Application: Peter's story should be a great encouragement to Christians of today, because many believers would describe themselves in terms similar to an evaluation of Peter. They might say, "I really do love God, and the sincere desire of my heart is to serve Him, but I just keep messing up." They might even add the sad words, "I've failed so badly that I'm sure God can never use me again." These words so closely mimic Peter's story. It is not hard for many Christians to imagine this scenario - a series of repeated failures in spite of the best intentions, and the failures do not always progress from more to less serious. After years of growth and increasing maturity, the next failure might be more serious than any that has come before, seeming to indicate a hopeless quest for stability and service. That's just where Peter was. Due to Peter's passion for God, his sorrow over failures, and his continued teach-ability, God went on to use Peter in a dramatic fashion. His later service far exceeded anything he had done in the past, and probably anything that Peter had ever imagined. As long as the heart is humble and sincerely dedicated to God, there need not be an end to the story of service for God.

"You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." I Peter 2:5 (NASB)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Failed Heroes: Elijah and Jeremiah

Why does it matter that these heroes failed? See introduction to series.

How was Elijah a hero? Elijah was the prophet who ministered during the reign of wicked King Ahab. He experienced miraculous provision from God (I Kings 17:2-16). He raised a little boy from the dead (17:17-24). He faced Ahab on Mt. Carmel, where God sent down fire from heaven (ch. 18). He boldly faced both Ahab (21:20-24) and bands of soldiers who were sent after him (II Kings 1:3-12). He went to heaven in a fiery chariot (II K. 2:11). Elijah was feared by the wicked and respected by the righteous.

How did Elijah fail? After the great victory on Mt. Carmel, Elijah forgot to trust God when Jezebel threatened him. Elijah "was afraid and rose and ran for his life" (I K. 19:3). Elijah was so discouraged that he prayed for death (I K. 19:4). Even after God gave him amazing provision, he still hid in the wilderness; in his discouragement, he believed he was the only one left who was faithful to God, and he feared those who desired to kill him (I K. 19:9-10,14).

What was Elijah's heart response? When God confronted Elijah, Elijah hid his face in humility (I K. 19:13). God then gave him commandments to follow for future service. Elijah obeyed, leaving the desolated spot where he had hid in despondency. He went back to ministry and followed the commands that God had given him (I K. 19:19).

How did Elijah's story end? Elijah's ministry continued after his time of failure. He continued interacting with kings and others before he passed his role on to Elisha and was taken to heaven.

How was Jeremiah a hero? Jeremiah was a prophet during Judah's final years. He had a very long ministry in which he continued serving God in spite of opposition to his ministry and rejection of his message. He authored one of the longest books of the Bible.

How did Jeremiah fail? Jeremiah's failure is also noted most poignantly in his discouragement. Out of his troubled spirit, Jeremiah cried, "O LORD, You have deceived me and I was deceived; You have overcome me and prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; Everyone mocks me. . . . For me the word of the LORD has resulted in reproach and derision all the day long. . . . Cursed be the day when I was born; Let not the day be blessed when my mother bore me! Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father. . . . Let that man be like the cities which the LORD overthrew . . . because he did not kill me before birth. . . . Why did I ever come forth from the womb to look on trouble and sorrow . . .? (Jeremiah 20:7-18).

What was Jeremiah's heart response? Jeremiah's job was never easy. God had never made it a secret that Jeremiah and his message would be rejected. In times of physical threat, Jeremiah depended on God and His character: "O LORD of hosts, who judges righteously, who tries the feelings and the heart, let me see Your vengeance on them, for to You have I committed my cause" (11:20). Jeremiah consistently obeyed God in carrying out object lessons (even when they were strange), in declaring God's message (even when it was spurned), and in remaining with the people (even when they were blatantly disobedient). There were numerous occasions on which Jeremiah faced physical danger or death, but he continued trusting in God. In all that Jeremiah faced, he remained faithful. Even in the moments of struggle like the one recorded in chapter 20, Jeremiah did not completely lose hope. He remembered to keep his eyes fixed on God. In the midst of his complaint, Jeremiah also spoke these words: "The LORD is with me like a dread champion; Therefore my persecutors will stumble and not prevail. . . . Sing to the LORD, praise the LORD! For He has delivered the soul of the needy one from the hand of evildoers" (20:11-13). He was at times tempted to forget God and cease sharing His message, but he could not and did not stop (20:9).

How did Jeremiah's story end? Jeremiah's life itself was not charming, as Jeremiah went into captivity along with the rest of Judah. This captivity was brought about by years of disobedience to God, and although Jeremiah preached faithfully, his message was not heeded. To some extent, Jeremiah's life could be viewed as a failure. He devoted many long years to preaching a message with no apparent result, and he was included in the conquest and deportation of God's people. From a ministry aspect and a spiritual perspective, however, Jeremiah was successful. He persevered for many years in preaching God's message and in faithfully obeying, even without seeing positive results.

Application: Both Elijah and Jeremiah faced intense discouragement. This is not uncommon for those who are endeavoring to follow God, nor is it rare for those who are specifically serving in ministry. Life for God and ministry for Him are not without trials, and those trials can be very discouraging. The message from these two prophets is that one cannot quit in the discouraging times. He must keep serving as long as God still has something for him to do - whether that be a few years or many decades. He must put his confidence in God and keep on keeping on. In the midst of discouragement, he must remember who God is and what His character is like. It is this hope and trust in God that will allow a Christian to continue faithfully in the most discouraging of circumstances (or to renew his heart and recover when he has fallen). He can then continue following and obeying God even when everything seems hopeless.

"Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who hope in the LORD." Psalm 31:23 (NASB)

"That they should put their confidence in God and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments." Psalm 78:7 (NASB)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

There's Always Hope

Life includes heartaches, losses, and hurt. Sometimes these components come in rapid succession or in simultaneous onslaught. These attacks can cause great sorrow and burdens on the soul. When the burdens are especially weighty or particularly numerous, the soul can head toward discouragement and despair. A sense of hopelessness can emerge if the believer is not careful.

These heavy feelings of overwhelming discouragement and despair emerge when the believer sees no hope in his situation. There is, however, always hope. The situations of hurt and sorrow in a Christian's life always have purpose. They may be for the purpose of correction, to remove a sinful habit or temptation from the believer's life. Often, however, they are designed by God to accomplish His purpose of sanctification within the heart of His children.

The trials can be for the purpose of developing greater maturity. "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 1:2-4).

The trials can be for the purpose of purifying the believer's faith so that he can give greater honor to God. "In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (I Peter 1:6-7).

The trials can be for the purpose of producing more fruit in the believer's life. "Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit" (John 15:2).

Each of these truths gives purpose to the loss, provides hope in the midst of the loss, and serves as a cause for joy in spite of the loss. When such wonderful and noble purposes are recognized, the believer can have hope in the midst of sorrow.

In order to properly deal with the sorrow (which is, by the way, very real and very human), the believer must then direct his thoughts to encouraging truth. The right words have the power to bring peace and joy. "Anxiety in a man's heart weighs it down, but a good word makes it glad" (Proverbs 12:25). There is hope in knowing God and in believing His Word. He is the God of hope, and He can give hope abundantly. "Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:13). There is always reason to hope in God and to wait for His salvation - for His goodness, which will always shine on His children again. "I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the LORD" (Psalm 27:13-14).

In difficult times like these, God wants to hear from His hurting children. He invites them to come to Him. "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7).

The deliverance may not be the specific answer that the believer is seeking, but God can always give His children the help to come through the difficult time with a heart that honors Him. Sometimes the believer just needs to wait for that answer from God. "Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised" (Hebrews 10:35-36). Jesus Himself shows the example of enduring through difficulty. "Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart" (Hebrews 12:1-3).

The believer needs much grace from God in order to get through such troubling stages of life. The good news is that God has more than enough grace to meet every need, and He is more than willing to give it freely to all who need it and humbly seek it. "For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:15-16). "And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed" (II Corinthians 9:8).

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Failed Heroes: Hezekiah and Josiah

Why does it matter that these heroes failed? See introduction to series.
How was Hezekiah a hero? Hezekiah "did right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father David had done. He removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan" (II Kings 18:3-4). Instead of surrendering to Assyria, "he rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him" (II K. 18:7).There is the wonderful story of his seeking God during the Assyrian attack; he took the threatening letter to God, and God gave an incredible deliverance. Hezekiah also had great military success against the Philistines, prospered in general under the blessing of God, and was instrumental in great revival in the land.

How did Hezekiah fail? After fourteen years of blessing and victory as king, Hezekiah showed some wavering when he agreed to pay tribute in response to the Assyrian siege (II K. 8:13-14). Shortly after this incident, Hezekiah became very ill. God sent Isaiah to inform Hezekiah that he was going to die. Hezekiah responded with bitter crying, implying that he didn't deserve to die, because he had lived for God. God chose to heal Hezekiah and give him fifteen more years of life, "but Hezekiah gave no return for the benefit he received, because his heart was proud" (II Chronicles 32:25). In these added years, Hezekiah made the mistake of showing the riches of the kingdom to the Babylonians who would later conquer and seize them all (II K. 20).

What was Hezekiah's heart response? Hezekiah "trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel; so that after him there was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor among those who were before him. For he clung to the LORD; he did not depart from following Him, but kept His commandments" (II K. 18:5-6). He initiated a great spiritual revival in Judah; immediately upon becoming king, he repaired and re-opened the temple, consecrated the priests, reinstituted the offerings, and invited the people to cleanse themselves and come in worship (II C. 29-30). "Every work which he began in the service of the house of God in law and in commandment, seeking his God, he did with all his heart and prospered" (II C. 31:21). He sought God sincerely, and even in his times of weakness and failure, he remembered to turn to God. It was after surrendering tribute money to the Assyrians that he humbly and earnestly sought God, who Himself defeated and scattered the Assyrian army. After his later failure of his foolish pride which caused him to show off all the kingdom's wealth to Babylon, "Hezekiah humbled the pride of his heart, . . . so that the wrath of the LORD did not come on them in the days of Hezekiah" (II C. 32:26).

How did Hezekiah's story end? Hezekiah is a king who is remembered as probably the best king other than David. God prospered him greatly, and his humility in times of trouble and even following times of failure caused God to hold back His wrath and judgment during Hezekiah's lifetime.

Application: Hezekiah ended up doing the right thing, but his moments of wavering, when he thought too much about himself and not enough about God, unfortunately led to decline for his kingdom. As the result of these two incidents, some wealth went to Assyria, and the rest ultimately went to Babylon. Hezekiah made the mistake of assuming God's blessing was deserved based on his own heart and actions. He did serve God faithfully for many years, but he later displayed damaging pride over the blessings he received and the answers to prayer he enjoyed.

How was Josiah a hero? Josiah was the great-grandson of Hezekiah. Between them was a long reign by Manasseh, who was evil but turned to God in his later years, and then a brief reign by the wicked Amon. In the intervening years between Hezekiah and Josiah, much spiritual damage was done in Judah. Josiah, as an eight-year old boy king, worked to again bring revival in the kingdom. He personally sought God, he removed the idols from the land, and he repaired the house of God (II C. 34). In the process of the repairs, the book of the law was found, which led to greater steps of revival.

How did Josiah fail? Josiah's failure may seem minor, perhaps even born out of good motives. When the king of Egypt was waging war nearby, Josiah went out to engage him in battle. King Neco had no quarrel with Josiah and urged him not to delay Neco in the battle to which God had sent him. In spite of the fact that Neco's words were "from the mouth of God," and he warned that Josiah was "interfering with God" by inhibiting Neco's progress, Josiah disguised himself and still pursued the battle (II C. 35:21-22).

What was Josiah's heart response? Josiah started out right. From a young age, "he did right in the sight of the LORD, and walked in the ways of his father David and did not turn aside to the right or to the left" (II C. 34:2). When the book of the law was found and read, Josiah's response caused God to say, "Because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before God when you heard His words against this place and against its inhabitants, and because you humbled yourself before Me, tore your clothes and wept before Me, I truly have heard you" (II C. 34:27). Josiah covenanted to obey God, and he held a Passover celebration that had not been rivaled since the days of Samuel (II C. 34:31; 35:18).

How did Josiah's story end? Sadly, this young king who loved God never had the opportunity to repent after his failure. He was killed in the battle in which he never should have been involved. The years of his influence were cut short, and the last godly king of Judah passed off the scene. The nation of Judah was not far behind in facing its demise.

Application: Both Hezekiah and Josiah were men with great hearts for God. They strongly desired to serve Him, and both men had tremendous impact on those around them. They were both influential in removing false worship and in leading revivals in their kingdom. The danger for both men seems to be that after a time, they stopped (at least in certain instances) seeking God's guidance. With their years of godliness, success, and prosperity, they felt comfortable in their ability to know the right thing to do, and they acted apart from God's direction. It is easy to see how someone who so sincerely strives to serve God and who has depended on Him for many years would have the tendency to rely on the godly wisdom he has learned. Having walked faithfully with God, a believer could assume that he has so effectively learned to do so that he no longer needs to seek God in every situation. In the lives of these two great kings, the failure to seek and obey God resulted in decline and even death. There is no believer so mature, so spiritual, so dedicated, or so wise that he no longer needs to seek God. Past success was dependent not on one's own wisdom, but on obedience to God, and that is the only way to have continued success in the future.

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." Proverbs 3:5-6 (NASB)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Come to Me

"Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." Matthew 11:28-30 (NASB)

These verses are an invitation to those who are beaten down and weighed down in their souls. In this oppressed condition, a Christian might consider himself to be so miserable that no one wants anything to do with him, including God, but this is not at all the case. Believers in this burdened and overwhelmed condition are precisely those to whom the invitation is given. God says, "Come to Me."

This sincere and open invitation presents a precious picture. I think of a small child who is crying. Perhaps he has bumped his head or had his feelings hurt or has been scared by a near accident. As a loving adult sees the child, he opens his arms and says, "Come here." What follows is a time of gently holding that child on one's lap, allowing him to rest his head against one's chest, kissing him, caressing his face, speaking soothing words, and letting one's shirt be soaked with his tears until he is calm.

This is a picture of our Savior and our God. He invites us to come like that and to rest in His arms. His response is gentle and loving because He is "gentle and humble in heart." In place of the weariness and heavy burden, God provides rest - not just physical rest, but "rest for your souls."

His gentle and humble nature makes Him a wonderful consoler and an easy teacher. It isn't an oppressive burden to learn from such a One. His nature also makes Him a good teacher and mentor - One whom it is very profitable to imitate. The process of imitation of our Savior helps us to learn His character. We become gentle and humble as well, and through that transformation, the burdens are lifted from our souls, and we have rest.

Troubled souls? Heavy burdens? Heed the invitation. Come to Him. Rest in His loving arms. Lose the burden, and take His peace instead. "Come to Me."

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Failed Heroes: Saul and David

Why does it matter that these heroes failed? See introduction to series.
How was Saul a hero? Saul was the man God chose out of all Israel to be the first king. He was "a choice and handsome man, and there was not a more handsome person than he among the sons of Israel; from his shoulders and up he was taller than any of the people" (I Samuel 9:1). From all outward appearances, he had the potential to be a great leader. Added to this positive start, Samuel informed Saul that God was with him and that God would change him "into another man" (10:6-7). In fact, "God changed his heart" (10:9), and "the Spirit of God came upon him mightily" (10:10). Saul started out humbly, valiantly, and obediently (ch. 11; 13:1-7).

How did Saul fail? Saul's obedient walk with God was short-lived. When facing a frightening battle, Saul "acted foolishly" when he failed to wait for Samuel and offered a sacrifice on his own (13:9-14). He gave a rash command that led his starving army to disobey God and nearly cost the life of his son (14:24-46). He disobeyed God's battle orders (15:3-26). His sins were so great that God "rejected [him] from being king over Israel" (15:26) and "regretted that He had made Saul king" (15:35). Later failures included fear and inaction against Goliath's threats (ch. 17), jealousy and hatred against David, persistent pursuit and numerous attempts to kill David, and seeking out a medium (or witch) for guidance. This man who had started with such potential for God made a disastrous mess of things and finally ended his own life (31:5).

What was Saul's heart response? Saul's changed heart response is precisely the reason for his decline from hero to failure. In the beginning he humbly accepted and followed God. When he began disobeying God and was confronted, his response was not that of repentance. Rather, he attempted to excuse his wrong behavior (13:11-12; 15:15-24). When he did express some indication of repentance (after it was already too late), his words seem tainted with insincerity; his expressed objectives are to be allowed to worship and to have respect before his people (15:25,30). In speaking to Samuel, he referred to God as "your God" (15:30). God had become to him a sort of good luck charm or guarantee of victory, the same benefits that he later sought from a medium.

How did Saul's story end? Saul was rejected by God, abandoned by Samuel, replaced by David, defeated in battle, and driven to suicide.

Application: As long as Saul was humble and willing to follow God's instructions, he was blessed and successful. His problems started when he thought he knew better answers. He started making his own decisions based on human reasoning, even though they violated direct instructions of God. Ironically, he excused his disobedience by pretending it promoted worship of God. Christians cannot blatantly choose which of God's directives they want to obey and still hope to receive God's blessing. I think of situations like marrying an unsaved spouse, pursuing a career that necessitates a compromised lifestyle, or utilizing worldly methods for promoting the church, although the potential dangers are much more numerous than those few situations. The third situation may be the most appropriate for today, as churches and individuals define their own preferred methods for worship just as Saul did. Like Saul, Christians tend to rationalize these decisions and provide excuses for why they should be made. God's wisdom knows the best plans; it surpasses man's own wisdom.

How was David a hero? David is one of the favorite heroes of the Bible, perhaps most often remembered for his slaying of Goliath. In addition, he also killed a lion and a bear, and throughout his lifetime he was a mighty warrior. He is a man noted more than once in Scripture as greatly pleasing God. He was chosen to be Israel's second king and was given a prominent place of honor in the line of Christ. He was also the author of many of the Psalms.

How did David fail? David failed more than once, and his very prominent failures brought serious consequences for himself and the nation of Israel. For one, he took multiple wives, which ended up causing extended strife within his family (II Sam. 5:13). David was involved in attempting to return the ark of the God to Jerusalem, but the improper method of transport used resulted in the death of Uzzah (II S. 6:7). There is the famous story of David's adultery with Bathsheba and his subsequent murder of her husband, which cost him the life of his baby (II S. 11). Near the end of his life, David performed a census of the nation, something God had forbidden, and the result was a deadly pestilence on the nation (II S. 24).

What was David's heart response? I see four prominent godly characteristics of David's heart. First, the things of God mattered to him. He was disturbed when Goliath mocked God (I S. 17). He strengthened himself in God during a discouraging time (I S. 30:6). He rejoiced when the ark of God was returned (II S. 6:12-17). He "administered justice and righteousness for all his people" (II S. 8:15). He gave a godly charge to Solomon (I Kings 2:1-4). He included wonderful truths and expressed his passion for God in the psalms he wrote. Second, David consistently consulted God for decisions he had to make and then obeyed what God directed. Many of these instances were in military situations (I S. 22:5; 23:2-5; 23:11-13; 30:7-8; II S. 5:23). He refrained from killing Nabal at God's intervention (I S. 25:32-33). He sought God about his desire to build the temple and obeyed when God prevented him (II S. 7:2-5). He sought from God a reason for the famine and made things right (II S. 21:1-3). Third, when confronted by his failures, David humbly repented. This was true both after his sin with Bathsheba (II S. 12:13) and after his numbering of the people (II S. 24:10,17). His penitent heart is poignantly revealed in Psalms 32 and 51. Fourth, David reflected God's loving heart through his kindness to others, including his enemies: Saul (I S. 18; 24:6; 26:9; II S. 1:11-15; 2:5-7); Jonathan; those in distress (I S. 22:2); exhausted soldiers (I S. 30:23); deceitful Abner (II S. 3:31); Mephibosheth (II S. 9:3-13); the king of Ammon and David's mistreated servants (II S. 10:1-5); and traitorous Absalom (II S. 18:33). This kind and gentle heart is especially exceptional considering David's role as a warrior.

How did David's story end? David had a successful reign as king in which he exercised great military power over his enemies. He lived to an old age and was honored by his people.

Application: David and Saul offer great contrasts, and these contrasts provide areas of evaluation for Christians. Does the believer follow God's plans for worship or does he make up his own? Is the believer serious about obeying God's instructions whether or not they are convenient? Does the believer pray for God's guidance before undertaking a course of action? Does he seek his guidance from God or from some other source? Does the believer take violations of God's commands seriously? Does he excuse his sin, or does he humbly repent? How does the believer treat those around him, including those who oppose him? In each case, Saul shows a negative response, while David shows the proper example. Most importantly, David's responses were not out of a desire for reputation or self-promotion, but out of a heart that strove to reflect the heart of God.

"After He had removed [Saul], He raised up David to be their king, concerning whom He also testified and said, 'I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after my heart, who will do all My will.' " Act. 13:22 (NASB)