Why We Need Loving Friends

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Check out this excerpt from chapter 13 of my book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter

David was the gold standard for every king of Israel who followed him. Numerous times throughout the history of Israel, we will see a note that a certain king either followed God like David, or turned from God unlike David. Yet there exists a wart on David’s portrait: an adultrous affair with the wife of a man in his inner circle, and then subsequent lies and a murder to cover up the affair. “The thing David had done displeased the Lord” (see 2 Samuel 11). 

But I’d like to turn your attention to when this affair occurred: “In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war … David remained in Jerusalem” (2 Samuel 11:1). He was without his usual comrades. The men who knew David best, who could probably sense if something was amiss, weren’t around to warn him. When David tried to find out the identity of the bathing beauty on the roof next door to his palace, an unnamed attendant tried to remind him, “Isn’t that Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah?” but David dismissed him. 

Elijah was arguably the most forceful and fearless prophet in Israel’s history. Not only did he stand up to the evil kings of Israel, but he spoke out against the kings of surrounding nations, too. In answer to Elijah’s prayer, God brought a drought on the land, and again in answer to Elijah’s prayer, God sent rain. Elijah challenged the 450 prophets of the god Baal and the 400 prophets of the goddess Asherah to a duel to the death, which ended up in a decisive victory for Yahweh. Yet, shortly after this massive victory, Elijah was depressed to the point that he wanted to die. 

What led to Elijah’s depression? Something very similar to David’s slide into adultery: He was alone. Elijah ran away from Queen Jezebel’s death threat, left his servant behind, and proceeded all by himself into the desert. It was when he was without a comrade that he prayed to God, “I’ve had enough. Take my life” (see 2 Kings 17–19). 

And what about Peter? He boldly claimed his loyalty to Jesus, even to the point of wielding a sword at the guards who came to arrest his Master. But when Peter was alone, after the other disciples fled, he denied three times that he knew Jesus (Matthew 26:33, 51, 69–75). 

God designed us to be in relationship with others. His statement to Adam in some of the earliest words of the Bible—“It is not good for you to be alone”—are words for us still today. 

In a recent episode of “The Craig And Greg Show,” Greg and I discussed one of our favorite verses in the Bible: Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses (Proverbs 27:6). 

If you want to go far, don’t try to go alone. If you want an accountability partner that can keep warts away from your leadership legacy, don’t go alone. If you want to extend your leadership influence, don’t go alone. If you want to honor God’s investment in you, don’t go alone. Get those friends around you who love you enough to speak the truth! 

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The Prayerful Heart Of Our Testimony

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.

The best way to be a first responder in prayer is to work on making prayer a habit. Prayer needs to come first. Remember: I can do more than pray, but I shouldn’t do anything until I have prayed. 

King David showed us his nearly-identical “bookend prayer” that he prayed both at the beginning of his reign as king and again just before he died. We can pray similar bookend prayers when we begin with a petitionary prayer—“God, please help me”—and finish with a thankful prayer—“God, thank You for helping me.” We can also try to expand those bookends toward the middle, allowing us to live as the apostle Paul admonished in 1 Thessalonians 5:17: 

  • Pray without ceasing 
  • Pray continually 
  • Never stop praying 

Jesus gave us a model prayer at the heart—the very middle—of His Sermon on the Mount. This sermon has 107 verses of Christ’s words, making the middle verse Matthew 6:6, which starts, “When you pray….” Notice the model Jesus gave us: 

  • Hallowing God—Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name
  • Bringing our petitions—Give us our daily bread, help us forgive, deliver us from evil
  • Worshiping God for His answers and for Who He is—Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen!

Surrounding this prayer is a Christ-centered life that is:

  • Blessed (the beatitudes) 
  • God-glorifying—so they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven
  • Perfect—be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect
  • Compassionate—when you give to the needy

—Model Prayer—

  • Disciplined—fasting, handling your treasures 
  • Anxiety-free—do not worry
  • Fruitful—every good tree bears good fruit
  • Secure—your foundation is on the rock

You see: Prayer helps us live out a God-honoring testimony, and that God-honoring testimony is empowered by prayer. Prayer is both the bookends AND at the heart of a Christ-centered life. 

The heart of a God-honoring prayer is to live out a God-honoring testimony.

David’s bookend prayer follows the same model Jesus gave us: hallowing God, making petitions, and then worshipping God. 

Christians need to be BOTH first responders in prayer AND continual responders in prayer—prayer at the beginning, prayer at the heart, and prayer at the end. This way, when God does answer, there is no doubt that He was the One who answered, and it wasn’t just because of something we did. 

Prayer fuels our testimony. Our testimony glorifies God. At the heart of this testimony, our answered prayers glorify our heavenly Father and point others to Him. 

Let me say it again: The heart of a God-honoring prayer is to live out a God-honoring testimony.

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series called Be A First Responder, you can access the full list by clicking here.

Obedience Is Success

David said, “…I had it in my heart to build a house as the place of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord. … But God said to me, ‘You are not to build a house for My name…’” (1 Chronicles 28:2-3).

David’s son Solomon would later write about how we make plans in our hearts, but God directs all our steps (Proverbs 16:9, 19:21). 

David not only had the desire to build this temple for God but he said the Holy Spirit gave him the plans (1 Chronicles 28:12, 19). As a result of this, David began amassing resources and organizing personnel. All of this David could then hand over to Solomon, the man who would build the house for the ark of the covenant of the Lord. 

I am sure David felt a twinge of disappointment when God said “no.” Still, David continued to work the plan the Spirit had given him. Who knows how Solomon would have begun his reign as king if David hadn’t done all of this for him. Many of the plans God gives me will not be for me but for the following generations who will benefit from my diligence in those plans.

A mark of a godly leader is one who knows that obedience to God IS success. 

In one of David’s psalms, he prays for success and for his heart’s desire to be fulfilled, but he also acknowledges God’s sovereignty over these things (Psalm 20). May I always keep in mind that obedience IS success. Success isn’t limited only to what I can see and measure during my lifetime.

This is part 53 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.

When To Seek Consensus

David conferred with each of his officers…. He then said to the whole assembly of Israel, “If it seems good to you and if it is the will of the Lord our God…let us bring the ark of our God back to us….” The whole assembly agreed to do this, because it seemed right to all the people. (1 Chronicles 13:1-4) 

David cast a vision, consulted with his inner circle of leaders, shared the vision with the people, and got unanimous agreement from everyone. 

And yet things went horribly wrong: a man was killed and David became terrified of God.

In the above verses, notice all of the plural pronouns: we and us. David worked hard to build a consensus among the people. 

David was quick to notice that the ark of the covenant of the Lord wasn’t used to consult God during the reign of King Saul (v. 3), but that’s exactly what David didn’t do. He built a consensus among the people without getting a “yes” from God. Even a unanimous decision of the people will fail if God isn’t in it! 

Thankfully, in chapter 15, David corrects this omission. We read phrases like: 

  • “we did not inquire of [God] about how to do it in the prescribed way” 
  • we should do this “in accordance with the word of the Lord” 

I also notice that David no longer sought consensus but merely announced to the people what was happening. In this successful attempt to move the ark, David’s only consultation was with God. After that, he made arrangements with the Levites, gathered his inner circle of leaders, and then asked the people to join in the celebration. 

God had already spoken about how the ark of the covenant was to be moved: it was written in His word. Therefore, as noble as it might sound, there was no reason for David to seek a consensus from the people.

Even if it is not an area or activity explicitly addressed in the Bible, God’s will is to be sought before others are consulted. If God says “yes,” the leader must proceed even if the people say “no.” And the leader must not listen to the people’s “yes” if God has said “no.” 

Consensus is fine in its place, but only in its proper place. 

A mark of a godly leader is one who knows when to seek consensus among the people.

This is part 53 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.

Impossible To Unstoppable

King David was a unifier. He took people that were territorial and possessive of their own tribes and unified them into the strong nation of Israel. 

The way he responded to the murders of Saul, Abner, and Ish-Boseth prompted this response: “All the people took note and were pleased; indeed, everything that the king did pleased them. So on that day all the people there and all Israel knew that the king had no part in the murder of Abner son of Ner” (2 Samuel 3:36-37). 

The leaders of Israel’s various tribes then followed the lead of Abner—“All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron” and “all the elders of Israel” joined with David (5:1, 3). 

David accepted all of this in confident humility. He knew that it wasn’t his doing but God’s. He made sure to stay reliant on God (5:19, 23), keeping in mind that he was leading to win victories for all Israel: “Then David knew that the Lord had established him as king over [all] Israel and had exalted his kingdom for the sake of His people Israel” (5:12).

Result: “[David] became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him” (v. 10). 

God delights to empower leaders who have a humble heart to unify God’s people. God will let self-made leaders struggle in their own ability, but He will unleash all His resources to help the humble, God-dependent leader.

These God-empowered leaders are the only ones who can bring lasting unity. 

Leading on my own strength: Impossible.

Leading in God’s strength: Unstoppable! 

[read all of these passage in the Bible for yourself by clicking here]

Run To The Banner

Psalm 60 may have the longest introduction of any of the psalms, and it gives us some key historical information. David has been successful against the Philistines and the Moabites, and now he is fighting in Mesopotamia. While the army was focused elsewhere, the Edomites must have seen an opportunity to attack Israel, where they won a temporary victory (see the intro to Psalm 60 and 2 Samuel 8:1-3). 

David’s reflexive response to this temporary setback was not retaliation or blaming, but remorse and repentance. In verses 1-4 he says “You have” five times, acknowledging that God allowed this temporary defeat. He also acknowledges that only God can restore. 

Then David comes to the Selah pause: But You have raised a banner for those who fear You—a rallying point in the face of attack. Selah. (NLT) 

The Selah here is David calling us to evaluate our options just as he did. We are to consider things like: 

  • God’s help vs. our own strength 
  • the benefits of righteousness vs. the consequences of sin
  • depending on God vs. depending on man 
  • rallying under God’s banner vs. rallying under our own banner 

It’s interesting to note that in the list of David’s long string of victories in 2 Samuel 8, we read this: “The Lord gave David victory wherever he went” (v. 6). But how can that be since the Israelites were temporarily defeated by the Edomites? 

I think this is the key principle—We are more vulnerable to an attack (and a temporary defeat) after a victory than after a defeat. Why is that? Because victory tends to make us self-satisfied, but defeat tends to make us God-dependent. 

When David confesses that God has allowed this temporary defeat, he is really confessing that he had attempted to navigate things on his own. Perhaps he thought his strategy would keep Israel secure, or that his men were trained and resourced enough to be victorious, or that David didn’t even have to pay attention to the Edomites any longer. 

Whatever went through David’s mind, it was clear that he had become more self-satisfied than he was God-dependent. So David correctly recognized that he needed to run to God’s banner. He recognized that was the only secure place for him to stay. 

The Bible DOESN’T say “resist the devil and he will flee from you,” but it DOES say “submit yourself to God—run to His banner and stay under His banner—and then you can resist the devil and he will flee from you.” 

Look at the keywords in the final verse of Psalm 60: “With God we will gain the victory, and He will trample down our enemies.” 

WE WILL only because HE WILL. 

Has there been a temporary setback in your life? Repent and run to the banner of God. 

Have you felt under attack? Humble yourself and run to the banner of God. 

Have you recently won a victory? Stay humble and keep on running to the banner of God! 

If you have missed any of the other posts in this Selah series, you can find the full list by clicking here.

Trespassers

Psalm 59 is the prequel to David being betrayed by the Ziphites as well as the incident in the cave between himself and King Saul. 

This psalm is also called an imprecatory psalm, which is the theological way of saying, “Get ‘em, God!” Since King Saul has sent assassins to try to kill David, you can understand why David is praying this way. But I sort of wonder why he inserts a Selah pause after two rather angry-sounding sentences in verses 5 and 13. 

When we are reading—or even praying—an imprecatory prayer, here are some important things to keep in mind: 

  • This prayer is inspired by the Holy Spirit. All of the words in the prayer, including the Selah pauses, are directed by the Holy Spirit. Getting our angry thoughts out in God’s presence is the safest place to vent. 
  • This is a prayer for justice because an injustice has been done, not just a prayer because David is upset with someone. 
  • Since this prayer says, “Get ‘em, God,” it’s a prayer that turns matters over to God as the Ultimate Judge, taking the judgment out of my hands. 

Really this is a prayer that seeks to balance something vital: The desire to see evil punished while at the same time desiring to see all evildoers come to salvation. 

Think of it this way: When I sin, do I want to meet a God of justice or a God of mercy? Since we are to treat others the way that we would want to be treated, if I want to receive God’s mercy, I have to desire that for others too. Even those evildoers who have hurt me. 

David’s first Selah pause comes after saying that he is innocent of any offense or wrongdoing. When we pray an imprecatory prayer, we would do well to ask the Holy Spirit to search our hearts to reveal any trespasses we have committed (see Psalm 19:12-13; 139:23-24). 

David’s second Selah pause comes after he says, “Then it will be known to the ends of the earth that God rules over Jacob.” Is my “Get ‘em, God” prayer a desire for me to be seen as the overcomer or for God to be seen as glorious? 

As long as my focus is on my trespassers, my focus is off my God. 

I cannot be consumed by thoughts of “them” because then I rob myself of thoughts of Him! 

So when you get angry enough at someone who has trespassed against you that you want to pray a “Get ‘em, God” prayer, Selah pause and pray, “Holy Spirit… 

  • …show me my trespasses; 
  • …help me forgive my trespassers; and
  • …help me to focus on my God, and not on my trespassers or my forgiven trespasses.” 

If you have missed any of the other messages in our Selah series, you can find links to all of them listed here. 

God’s Artistic Designs

…God devises ways so that a banished person does not remain banished from Him (2 Samuel 14:14). 

This wise woman from Tekoa captures an important principle about God in a picturesque way. She also makes a graphical contrast that was good for David to hear—and good for me too!

This wise woman uses the same Hebrew word for both David’s plans and God’s plans but shows just how different these two plans actually are. The word is translated “device” (vv. 13, 14), but the Hebrew word chashab is more graphic: It means to weave, fabricate, or plait something that has been well designed. 

Here’s the contrast: David’s “plan” is really not a plan at all; it’s simply passive procrastination, a wistful longing for things to turn out well. David is doing nothing, which means he is squandering his opportunities. This wise woman says, “It’s like you are spilling water on the ground which can never be recovered.” 

God’s device/design is incomparably better! God is both the Designer and the Artisan. He has both the plan of restoration and He is fabricating the plan. His designs are intricate and beautiful. In fact, the same Hebrew word is used for the artisans who fabricated the items that were to be used for worship in God’s tabernacle. 

Even though this woman flatteringly said David was “like an angel,” David’s devices are nothing compared to God’s device! God wants to give us His designs—He wants us to be a part of His masterful artistry!

Notice how this psalmist contrasts man’s designs with God’s designs—

The Lord foils the plans of the nations; He thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations. (Psalm 33:10-11) 

God will share with me His beautifully intricate plans and masterful device IF I will ask Him with a heart that is ready to obediently go to work. Or, I can try to work out my own devices, but they will most likely end up as merely spilled water that comes to nothing and accomplishes nothing.

I think you can see that God’s devises are always THE best option!

Sowing Seeds For The Future

Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses. … The Lord commanded through Moses that you give us [Levites] towns to live in… (Joshua 20:2; 21:2).

The Israelite leadership designated 6 cities of refuge and 48 Levitical cities. It was a big responsibility for the leadership of those towns to protect both the innocent person who was being pursued by the avenger of blood, and ensuring that the Levites were taken care of.

There is one city that particularly stands out to me: Hebron.

This city was formally called Kiriath Arba: so named after the biggest, baddest of the Anakite giants who had lived there. This is the strongly-fortified city that was inhabited by not one—but three!—giants that the 85-year-old Caleb defeated (15:13-14).

Hebron became both a city of refuge and a Levitical city. Caleb also secured Debir, which became a Levitical city too (15:15-17; 20:7; 21:11-15). Later on, Hebron would be David’s capital city for seven years until he moved his throne to Jerusalem.

A mark of a godly leader is one who sows the seeds that others will harvest.

What would have happened if Caleb hadn’t defeated those giants?

Or if he wasn’t willing to take on the added responsibilities for fugitives and priests?

Caleb conquered in his lifetime to benefit people for hundreds of years after he was gone!

God still needs these forward-looking, boldly-conquering servant leaders. I want to be a leader like that, and I hope you do too! 

This is part 46 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.

Thursdays With Spurgeon—Why Bethlehem?

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Why Bethlehem?

     There [in Bethlehem] cleaved to [Naomi] Ruth the Moabitess, whose Gentile blood should unite with the pure untainted stream of the Jew and should thus bring forth the Lord our Savior, the great King both of Jews and Gentiles. … And in the streets of Bethlehem did Boaz and Ruth receive a blessing that made them fruitful, so that Boaz became the father of Obed and Obed the father of Jesse—and Jesse the father of David. … 

     There is something in the name of the place. Bethlehem Ephrathah. The word Bethlehem has a double meeting. It signifies ‘the house of bread’ and ‘the house of war.’ …

     Bethlehem, you house of bread, rightly were you called, for there the Bread of life was first handed down for man to eat.

     And it is called ‘the house of war,’ because Christ is to a man either ‘the house of bread’ or else ‘the house of war.’ While He is food to the righteous, He causes war to the wicked, according to His own words: ‘Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword…’ (Matthew 10:34–36).

     Sinner, if you do not know Bethlehem as ‘the house of bread,’ it will be to you a ‘house of war.’ If from the lips of Jesus you never drink sweet honey—if you were not like the bee, which sips sweet luscious liquor from the Rose of Sharon, then out of the selfsame mouth there will go forth against you a two-edged sword! And that mouth from which the righteous draw their bread will be to you the mouth of destruction and the cause of your ill. … 

     Ephrathah … the meaning of it is ‘fruitfulness’ or ‘abundance.’ … 

     If we are like trees planted by the rivers of water, bringing forth our fruit in our season, it is not because we were naturally fruitful, but because of the rivers of water by which we were planted. It is Jesus who makes us fruitful. ‘If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you’ (John 15:7). Glorious Bethlehem Ephrathah! Rightly named! Fruitful house of bread—the house of abundant provision for the people of God! 

From The Incarnation And Birth Of Christ

Bethlehem wasn’t just a random place for Jesus Christ to be born. God doesn’t do anything randomly. Everything He does has a plan and a purpose. We may have difficulty seeing what the purpose is. As Martin Tupper noted in one of his poems—

We look through a glass darkly, we catch but glimpses of truth;
But, doubtless, the sailing of a cloud hath Providence to its pilot…
Man doeth one thing at once, nor can he think two thoughts together;
But God compasseth all things, mantling the globe like air…

Not only was the birthplace of Jesus purposely chosen by God, so was your birthplace. And your birth parents. And, indeed, everything about you. You are not an accident or some chance encounter. You have been created by God on purpose and for a purpose. 

Let the birthplace of Jesus—all the rich meaning of Bethlehem Ephrathah—be an encouragement to you that God knows and loves you dearly. Your life has meaning and purpose, which you can discover through a personal relationship with your Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ. 

 

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