How To Be A Success

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

If you are going to be a success before God, most importantly, and man, what will be the key to success? Simply this: an attitude that is deeply and organically humble, a heart that is quickly and fully responsive, and a will that is entirely and lovingly submitted to God’s purposes.

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Samuel 5:10 & 12

David became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him…And David knew that the Lord had established him as king over Israel and had exalted his kingdom for the sake of his people Israel.

After some twenty years since he was first anointed by the prophet Samuel to be Israel’s king, David is finally sitting firmly on the throne with the entire nation united under his leadership. And the nation is about to enter its golden era. Interesting, and quite instructively, if you were to compare this chapter to the ascension of Saul as King over Israel in 1 Samuel, you would notice quite a different approach these two kings took—and with drastically different outcomes. Here are several significant contrasts between David and Saul:

  1. David covenanted before the Lord to be a shepherd of his people. 2 Samuel 5:3 says, “When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a compact with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.” This stands in stark contrast to Saul, who often gave in to the pressures of the people, and at times, was led by them rather than the Lord. 1 Samuel 15:24 points out, “Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the LORD’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them.”
  2. David inquired of the Lord for direction. 2 Samuel 5:19 says, “so David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go and attack the Philistines? Will you hand them over to me?” On the other hand, Saul would sometimes go his own way first then ask the Lord what he thought after the fact, as is painfully pictured in 1 Samuel 13 and 15.
  3. David obeyed God’s direction. 2 Samuel 5: 25 tells us, “So David did as the Lord commanded him, and he struck down the Philistines all the way from Gibeon to Gezer.” Saul’s leadership, on the other hand, was unfortunately characterized by disobedience: “You acted foolishly,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time.” (1 Samuel 13:13)
  4. David gave God credit for his victories: “So David went to Baal Perazim, and there he defeated them. He said, “As waters break out, the Lord has broken out against my enemies before me.” So that place was called Baal Perazim.” (2 Samuel 5:20) Sadly, Saul was addicted to his own glory: “Saul has gone to Carmel. There he has set up a monument in his own honor.” (1 Samuel 15:12)

Not only were the leadership styles of these two kings diametrically different, so were the results of their respective reigns. David became greater because God was with him but Saul’s kingdom was taken away because God had left him. Both men started out their careers with a promise from God that he would be with them and bless their efforts. But one ended in success while the other ended in failure.

What was the difference? David approached his role as king with an attitude that was deeply humble, a heart that was fully responsive, and a will that was entirely submitted to God’s purposes. Saul, well he was sitting on his own throne, if you know what I mean.

That was the difference between success and failure—and what a difference that was.

Going Deeper With God: How are you doing in those vital areas: Humility of the spirit, responsiveness of the heart and submissiveness of the will? Maybe it’s time for a spiritual check up in those areas.

The Principle Driven Life

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

If you desire to be a man or a woman after God’s own heart, then like David, you too must embrace godly principles for living, putting them in the driver’s seat of your actions and reactions, even if where they take you means personal inconvenience. Whatever it takes, whatever it means, follow your principles.

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Samuel 4:9-12

But David said to Recab and Baanah, “The Lord, who saves me from all my enemies, is my witness. Someone once told me, ‘Saul is dead,’ thinking he was bringing me good news. But I seized him and killed him at Ziklag. That’s the reward I gave him for his news! How much more should I reward evil men who have killed an innocent man in his own house and on his own bed? Shouldn’t I hold you responsible for his blood and rid the earth of you?” So David ordered his young men to kill them, and they did.

Much of the ancient Old Testament world is raw and brutal to our modern sensibilities. This chapter is no exception. Intrigue and murder along with swift and brutal justice are at every turn as we learn how the kingdom of Israel transitions from Saul to David. As the household of Saul is growing weaker after his death while the popularity of David is soaring, a couple of opportunistic fellows pull a hit job to incur David’s favor and hopefully secure a place in his future administration.

What did they do? They murdered Saul’s son, Ishbosheth, the logical heir to the kingship. Their names were Baanah and Recab, and we are told they were captains of Ishbosheth’s raiding parties. (2 Samuel 4:2) They weren’t enemies of the man they killed; supposedly, there were friends—which makes what they did even more despicable. They snuck into Ishbosheth’s bedroom while he was napping, killed him, cut off his head as proof, and took it to David, thinking they would get a big thank you from the guy who appeared to be headed to a landslide election as the next king.

Now David had every excuse to appreciate what they had done. After all, Ishbosheth stood in David’s way to the throne. Moreover, David had already been anointed by Samuel as God’s choice to be the next king. Not only that, Saul’s administration had been rejected by God, and roundly condemned. And if that weren’t enough, Saul had tried to murder David, and now Ishbosheth was likewise trying to carry out Saul’s desire to eliminate David with the use of military force. (2 Samuel 2:8-32, 3:1)

But instead of accepting the murder of his rival as a blessing, David called it out. It was murder, no matter what the justification, and it was morally wrong. And as such, those who were thinking they were doing David a favor deserved what murderers deserved—swift execution, and in the same way they had killed Saul’s son. Just as David had executed another man who thought he was doing David a favor by finishing off the wounded Saul, these two were now summarily executed.

Brutal, yes, but David was simply living by his principles. Taking the life of another outside of war and the laws that governed society was wrong, even if it was a convenience to the man who would be king. Right is always right and wrong is always wrong, and David stuck to this principle.

Now fast-forward to your life and mine. Obviously, and thankfully, we don’t live in the kind of brutal environment David did, but we are faced with the opportunity to compromise our principles in favor of convenience on a regular basis. We mustn’t! Not ever!

If you desire to be a man or a woman after God’s own heart, then like David, you too must embrace godly principles, putting them in the driver’s seat of your actions and reactions, even if where they take you means personal inconvenience.

Whatever it takes, whatever it means, follow your principles.

Going Deeper With God: What are your principles? Have you thought them through? If not, I would encourage you to record the values, beliefs and principles that you would want to dive your life. Make sure they line up with God’s Word, then write them down. You will need them, likely before the day is out, to help you decide between what is convenient and what is right.

How To Get Promoted—God’s Way

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

In your desire to advance professionally, just remember that God’s promotions come in God’s time and in God’s way—you don’t need to help him out by trying to hurry them along. Furthermore, it is never wise to build yourself up by putting others down—to showcase your strengths by exposing the weaknesses of others is not God’s way. Likewise, remember that when God destines you to be a leader, be a patient and genuine follower under present leadership—even if it is flawed. If God has put a desire for leadership in your heart, you can be sure that he has also planted the right moves inside you that will take you all the way to the top.

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Samuel 3:36

All the people took note [of the way David transitioned royal power from King Saul] and they were pleased; indeed, everything the king did pleased them.

In the ways and means of God’s kingdom, there is a right way and a wrong way to assume power. David’s rise to kingship is a textbook case of the right way—he was a man who made all the right moves on his way to the top.

The old king, Saul, was dead, and now nothing stood in the way of David’s ascendency to the throne of Israel. He was the rightful king of God’s people since the Lord, through the prophet Samuel, has called and anointed David as leader. Furthermore, in all of those difficult years in which King Saul had tried to eliminate the upstart shepherd boy, God had been training David how to “king it”, and now, at long last, he was throne-ready.

You will notice in these opening chapters of 2 Samuel, however, that even though King Saul, the last obstacle standing in the way of David’s prophetic rise to power, was now dead, still David did not seize the opportunity to thrust himself upon Israel as its new leader. Rather, he waited for a Divine opening of those doors critical to his assumption of the throne. Likewise, David demonstrated an uncanny leadership savvy in this delicate political situation by refusing to be opportunistic. You will see particularly in 2 Samuel 1 how David’s response to the news of the deaths of Saul and Jonathon distinguished the king-in-waiting as a different kind of leader than King Saul had been:

In reading this account, one can’t help but be moved by David’s authentic grief at the news of Saul’s death. (2 Samuel 1:11-12) Rather than rejoicing that their tormentor was dead, David and his men tore their clothes, mourned and fasted until evening. David empathized with a grieving nation at this time of loss—the loss of a king, a prince and an army. At this moment, David was not the king-to-be; he was first and foremost an Israelite who personally felt this national tragedy. He had lost a king and a father-in-law, and he had lost a brother-in-law in Prince Jonathan who happened also to be the closest friend he had ever known—and it hurt deeply. Furthermore, regardless of Saul’s ungodly and ineffective leadership, David still viewed Saul as the Lord’s anointed, and since “the anointed” had been killed in battle, that alone was reason for grief.

Furthermore, David distanced himself from a power-grabbing promotion to kingship. (2 Samuel 1:13-16) Instead of proclaiming himself to be the new king, he pulled away from the suggestion proffered in the presentation of the dead King Saul’s crown that it was now rightfully his. Indeed, in passing a death sentence on the Amalekite who had delivered the news and offered the crown to him, David still spoke of Saul as “the Lord’s anointed.” (2 Samuel 1:14,16)

Chapter one ends with a classy move on David’s part: He immortalized King Saul in song. (2 Samuel 1:17-27) In a heartfelt outpouring of David’s heart, this lament paid tribute to Saul and Jonathan as a source of pride, strength and inspiration to Israel.

Now we can learn a great deal from David’s approach to promotion in these chapters that would serve us well in our own journey toward advancement in life. For one thing, David shows us that God’s promotions come in God’s time and in God’s way—and we don’t need to help God out by trying to hurry them along. Furthermore, we learn from David that it is never wise to build ourselves up by putting others down—to showcase our strengths by exposing the weaknesses of others is not God’s way. And finally, when God destines you to be a leader, be a patient and genuine follower under present leadership—even if it is flawed.

If God has put a desire for leadership in your heart, you can be sure that he has also planted the right moves inside you that will take you all the way to the top. So as God brings the opportunities and opens the doors before you, be sure you are making all the right moves!

Going Deeper With God: There are three indispensable requirements if God is calling you to a leadership role: One, patience, two, patience, and three, more patience. Your assignment today is to practice patience. The good news is, since it is a fruit of the Spirit, the Holy Spirit will be there to help you.

Decisions Determine Destiny

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

You are facing decisions today. Most of them will be small and seemingly insignificant ones. A few will be big decisions. You might even face a decision that will change the trajectory of your life. Regardless of their size, develop a lifestyle approach to decision-making and the will of God: learn to wait for his timing, ask for him to show you what to do, listen and give him a chance to speak, then quickly and unconditionally obey. Decisions determine destiny.

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Samuel 2:1

After this, David asked the Lord, “Should I move back to one of the towns of Judah?” The Lord replied. “Yes,” Then David asked, “Which town should I go to?” The Lord answered. “To Hebron.”

Decisions. Decisions. Decisions. Throughout life, we are faced with decisions. Every day, we make decisions, mostly small, but some big. At the end of the day, it will have been our decision-making ability that determined our destiny. Hopefully, our decision making was such that we were able to make wise choices. Only time will tell.

Of course, we will make a few bad ones along the way. We are flawed human beings, after all. Other than Jesus, no one has ever made it through life without making some head-scratching choices. Abraham made a wrong turn to Egypt; Moses hit the rock to add some special effects to his authority when God only told him to speak to it; Joshua made a deal with a foreign group, then asked the Lord to approve it; and David moved to Ziklag, hoping to find safety among the Philistines when Saul was chasing him.

Each of these leaders—flawed human beings one and all—paid for their bad decisions. But each of them learned from their mistakes and went on to have a stellar record in wise and godly decision making. David, in 2 Samuel 2, is a case in point. King Saul has been killed in battle and there was now a leadership void in Israel. Years earlier, Samuel had anointed David to be the next king, although at this point he needed the formality of a national coronation. But that coronation was not to come for years as the nation went through a mad scramble to decide who would sit as ruler over the twelve unified tribes.

As the nation worked about the process, which was ugly for a season, David played it cool. The text gives us some insights as to how David processed the “when, where and how” to assert himself as king:

  1. David gave it time: The first thing we read in 2 Samuel 2:1 is, “after this”. He waited. The act of waiting is an essential part of exercising trust in God.
  2. David prayed: After waiting and before acting, he asked, “Should I move” here or there. As simple as it sounds, we often skip this essential part of decision making.
  3. David listened: After inquiring of the Lord, he waited for him to speak, and “the Lord replied.” God wants to speak to us, that is why he has ordained prayer as the conduit of conversation with his children. But we have to listen.
  4. David obeyed: “So David and his wives and his men and their families all moved to Judah, and they settled in the villages near Hebron.” (2 Samuel 2:3) David moved to the city God chose. It is a simple formula to good decision making: pray, then obey.

And it was there at Hebron the nation began to coalesce around his leadership, starting with the tribe of Judah. Through David’s patient, prayerful and obedient processing, God began to work things out for David to become Israel’s most powerful and prophetically important king.

You are facing decisions today. Most of them will be small and seemingly insignificant ones. A few will be big decisions. You might even face a decision that will change the trajectory of your life. Regardless of their size, develop a lifestyle approach to decision-making and the will of God: learn to wait for his timing, ask for him to show you what to do, listen and give him a chance to speak, then quickly and unconditionally obey.

Decisions determine destiny. Follow David’s lead and you will be just fine.

Going Deeper With God: If you are making only small decisions today, should you still follow David’s process? I mean, if you are deciding what to order from the menu or whether you should wear black or brown shoes, do you still have to wait on God for direction? Obviously, God gave you a brain and expects you to use your best judgment in a number of matters, but still, if you practice a lifestyle of seeking the Lord, the Holy Spirit will be out ahead of you in helping you to decide well in these matters, even the small ones. And who knows, maybe choosing brown over black will open a spiritual conversation with someone who stops to admire your wardrobe tastes.

The Heart God Treasures

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

To get a heart that God treasures will require you to see things through his eyes; to see things as a father watching over his children. And at times that means you will have to rejoice with those who rejoice, even if you don’t particularly appreciate them, while at other times it will require you to mourn for those who deservedly suffer for their sin. To get that kind of heart, you will need to often pray, “Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.”

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Samuel 1:11-12

David and his men tore their clothes in sorrow when they heard the news of Saul’s death. They mourned and wept and fasted all day for Saul and his son Jonathan, and for the Lord’s army and the nation of Israel, because they had died by the sword that day.

David was a deeply flawed man, but he was organically good. His heart was right—it overflowed with uncontainable praise at appropriate times, it humbly repented at appropriate times, it expressed outrage at appropriate times, and it expressed unmitigated grief at appropriate times. David’s heart, though imperfect, was never inauthentic. That is why God loved and favored David so highly; that is why God himself said, “In David, I have found a man after my own heart.” (Acts 13:22)

As we come to 2 Samuel, King Saul and his son Jonathan, along with the Israelite army, have suffered a devastating defeat. The king has been killed, along with his loyal son Jonathan. The godless Philistines, enemies of Israel and enemies of God, have heartlessly taken the bodies of the king and prince (along with two other of Saul’s sons), decapitated them, nailed their bodies to the walls of the city of Beth-Shan, and placed Saul’s armor in the temple of their god, Ashtoreth as the ultimate insult to Israel and to God. (I Samuel 31:10)

But remember, David had been Public Enemy #1 in Israel by King Saul’s decree. On numerous occasions, Saul had tried to kill him, in spite of David’s loyalty and effective service as a captain in the king’s army. David had lost his reputation, had been separated from his family, surrendered his wife, and sought refuge among the horrible Philistines—all because of Saul’s maniacal jealousy and unwarranted hatred. Saul had abandoned God, and God had abandoned Saul, and as a result, the king was dead and the Israelites were under Philistine occupation.

So why would David mourn so deeply for Saul? Why memorialize the king and his son in a song that will forever be remembered as “How The Mighty Have Fallen?” Why? David had a heart after God, that is why. He cared deeply for the things God cared for, and God cared for Israel and Saul, even though Saul had long ago left the Lord. As the prophet Samuel had grieved for the backslidden Saul (1 Samuel 16:1) so the Lord surely grieved for the man he had chosen as the first king of his people, a man whom he had promised a never-ending dynasty (1 Samuel 13:13). As God’s heart was touched, so was David’s.

And David mourned. He and his men mourned the death of Saul and Jonathan because Jonathan was David’s closest friend. They mourned because Saul, although corrupt, was nonetheless their king. They respected his anointing and the office he represented. They mourned because the death of even a corrupt king meant that even the innocent in the nation of Israel would suffer—which they did under the brutal occupation of the Philistines. They mourned because the routing of the Israelite army and the loss of the king and his sons meant a humiliating defeat for God and his people at the hands of the godless. David mourned because David cared for the things God cared about.

So here are the questions: Do you? Do the things that break God’s heart break yours? Or do you gloat when the other teams loses, when people get what they deserve, when someone’s misfortune means advantage to that which you are loyal? It is certainly natural to take pleasure in the defeat of those who had abandoned God and opposed his way.

Yet there is a higher way—one that God treasures. It is to see things through his eyes; to see things as a father watching over his children. And at times that means to rejoice with those who rejoice, even if we don’t particularly appreciate them, while at other times it means to mourn for those who are utterly broken, even when they deservedly suffer for their sin.

David has a heart after God. So can you. But one of the things that will require is to allow the things that break the heart of God to break yours. Willing to do that? If you are, you will get a heart that God treasures.

Going Deeper With God: You cannot fake your way into a heart after God. Nor can you manufacture tenderness toward your enemies. You will need God’s help with that. Take some time throughout the day to pray, “God, break my heart for the things that break yours.”

Courage!

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

It is precisely out of the darkest of times when someone steps forward to attempt the heroic that the courage of one lifts the hearts of the many. Courage! Every age, including this one, needs men and women of courage who will be sold out to certain convictions that drive them to act, not because they believe they will walk away with their lives, but because it is the right thing to do. That is courage, and in itself, it is victory.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Samuel 11:11-13

But when the people of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, all their mighty warriors traveled through the night to Beth-shan and took the bodies of Saul and his sons down from the wall. They brought them to Jabesh, where they burned the bodies. Then they took their bones and buried them beneath the tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and they fasted for seven days.

Courage! Nelson Mandela, a man of remarkable courage himself, wrote, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Perhaps Mandela was describing the brave warriors of Jabesh-gilead.

We don’t know their names. We don’t know anything about them really. But the one thing we do know is what will cause them to admired as men for the ages: they were courageous. Risking all that they possessed—their homes, their families, their very lives—to invade the much larger and more powerful Philistine territory, they put their sacred honor on the line to honor God. They mustered the courage to rescue the abused bodies of King Saul and his sons, marching through the night straight into the enemy-occupied city of Beth-shan and through whatever resistance the Philistine guard may have mounted. Once they had retrieved them, they gave King Saul, Jonathan and the other brothers a proper burial. Moreover, they secured a moral victory in an otherwise dark time for the nation of Israel.

There is not much to cheer in 1 Samuel 31, just this courageous act. Israel is at a low ebb, and the prospects for brighter days is exceedingly dim. There has been no coronation of David as Israel’s new king yet—in fact, that is several years off. Furthermore, at this point, as far as anyone might know, David has sided with the Philistines. This is a dark time indeed for God’s people. But that is what makes what the warriors of Jabesh-gilead did so much more spectacular. It is precisely out of the darkest of times when someone steps forward to attempt the heroic that the courage of one lifts the hearts of the many.

Courage! Every age, including this one, needs men and women of courage. I want to be one, how about you? But where does it come from? Like the men of Jabesh-Gilead, it arise from three intertwined sources:

  1. Principle: They were sold out to certain convictions that drove them to act. N.D. Wilson wrote, “Sometimes standing against evil is more important than defeating it. The greatest heroes stand because it is right to do so, not because they believe they will walk away with their lives. Such selfless courage is a victory in itself.” It was the right thing to do, so they did it.
  2. Compassion: They cared deeply for what had been done to the people of Israel; they cared out of deep loyalty the royal family, and they cared deeply about the reputation of God. As Lao Tzu said, “From caring comes courage.”
  3. Anger: They were mad. They were morally offended. Their sense of godly pride had been challenged, and they had to respond. Much of the sacrifice to achieve a worthy cause comes from righteous indignation, and the men of Jabesh-gilead were that, fighting mad. Eric Hoffer rightly observed, “Anger is the prelude to courage.”

Courage! To paraphrase from Cicero, people of faith must be people of courage—unassailable principle, deep concern, and righteous indignation. May that be true of you and me.

Going Deeper With God: What is causing you to shrink back in fear? In the face of fear, step forth and do what is right. That is called courage, and not many people exhibit it.

Find Strength in the Lord

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

If you are in a jam and no one is around to encourage you, strengthen yourself in the Lord. Assess your situation, ask God for wisdom and strength, be obedient in the ordinary requirements of the day, and express gratitude. That is called trust, and it catalyzes the strength of the Lord.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Samuel 30:3-6

When David and his men reached Ziklag, they found it destroyed by fire and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive. So David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep. David’s two wives had been captured—Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail, the widow of Nabal of Carmel. David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. But David found strength in the Lord his God.

David found out something about human nature, if he didn’t know it before this: the very men who flocked to his leadership now were ready to stone him when the tide was turned against them. Not everyone who loves you and follows your leadership will love you and follow your leadership when times get tough and sacrifice is required. Not everyone will stand loyally by your side when you make a mistake, especially if the mistake personally affects them.

When David’s small army went off on a raid, their camp was attacked and destroyed, and worse, their families had been carried off as captives. The men would have expected that their wives and children would be treated in the most brutal fashion. Understandably, David’s men were emotional.

What was David’s response to this desperate situation? He went to God. What did he do with God to get his strength? Who knows. For sure, he would have poured out his heart to God. Probably he recounted God’s call and His promises to David that he would rule over the people of Israel. Perhaps he recounted the many times God had delivered him, thus reminding himself of God’s unfailing love. Whatever David did with God, he was able to find strength in the Lord his God.

What a contrast to David’s response when he first moved to Ziklag (the scene of the Amalekite raid and the sources of David’s men’s misery). We are told in the text that he moved there because “David kept thinking to himself…” that Saul would eventually find him and kill him. (I Samuel 27:1). Once again he is in a tight squeeze, but this time he goes to God.

Even godly leaders can fall into the trap of humanistic thinking, or they can strengthen themselves in the Lord. In life and in leadership, that is a skill we need to develop. When the chips are down, and others are not there to lift us up, we must find ways to strengthen ourselves in the Lord. In his book, Keep in Step with the Spirit, theologian J.I. Packer gives a step-by-step guide for this very thing:

First, as one who wants to do all the good you can, you observe what tasks, opportunities, and responsibilities face you. Second, you pray for help in these, acknowledging that without Christ you can do nothing—nothing fruitful, that is (John 15:5). Third, you go to work with a good will and a high heart, expecting to be helped as you asked to be. Fourth, you thank God for help given, ask pardon for your own failures en route, and request more help for the next task. . . . holiness is hard working holiness, based on endless repetitions of this sequence.

Assess, pray, obey, thank—then trust that God is at work in your difficult circumstances, because he is. John Newton said,

Faith upholds a Christian under all trials, by assuring him that every painful dispensation is under the direction of his Lord; that chastisements are a token of His love; that the season, measure, and continuance of his sufferings, are appointed by Infinite Wisdom, and designed to work for his everlasting good; and that grace and strength shall be afforded him, according to his need.

How do you strengthen yourself in the Lord? The bottom line is that you offer old fashioned trust in the One who works things out for his glory and your good.

Going Deeper With God: If you are in a jam and no one is around to encourage you, strengthen yourself in the Lord. Assess your situation, ask God for wisdom and strength, be obedient in the ordinary requirements of the day, and express gratitude. That is called trust, and it catalyzes the strength of the Lord.