The Inside Story
1 Samuel 16:1-13
Skip was a friend. He was unassuming, liked to laugh, was friendly, well-liked by all who met him, and height challenged. He was not powerful or rich – he owned a pizza place. just an ordinary guy. Skip wasn’t the type of person most of us would think would make much of an impact on the world.
He died of cancer at age 45. His memorial service made a lasting impression on me. The church was overflowing with more than 500 people. His son shared about the incredible impact his father had upon his life. Then followed person after person who shared how Skip had touched his or her life, brought them to Christ, given them their first job, or cared for them in their time of need. Others talked about the time he took to listen, how he and his wife opened their home up for the youth to meet (and even provided the pizza!), and how he financially and personally helped a family after they lost everything in a house fire – something most people didn’t even know.
Skip was an ordinary man called by God to an extraordinary ministry.
Those who knew David as a young boy – brothers, neighbors, towns people, even his own father, Jesse, didn’t think he would amount to much, so he was relegated to the fields to tend the sheep. He was the youngest of eight sons and the smallest in stature. David was quiet, unassuming, and teased by his brothers for making up songs to sing to the sheep.
When Samuel, the great prophet, came to town it was an event. Prophets rarely visited and when they did, it wasn’t always a good thing. A prophet was just as likely to bring a word of rebuke from the Lord as a message of hope. The town’s elders were surprised when Samuel told them he had come to offer a sacrifice to the Lord. Samuel invited the elders and Jesse’s family to come with him as he offered the sacrifice.
Jesse and his sons didn’t even think about calling David in from the fields to attend. He was that pesky baby brother who just might create a scene. David was an ordinary boy with nothing to distinguish him, at least from a human perspective.
But God saw something in David that no one else saw. When others saw a shepherd boy, God saw a king.
Even Samuel, the great prophet, didn’t see what God saw, at least at first. He was ready to anoint Eliab because he looked like a king. Kings, after all, had to have the right appearance and credentials for the job – tall, handsome, able to attract a crowd, responsible, and have a proven track record. Much like the current monarch, Saul. Certainly, Eliab, the oldest son who was being groomed to take over for his father in running the family business would fit the bill. But God said no. God had other plans. God had made a different choice based on different criteria.
God looked at David’s inward appearance, his heart attitude, and saw a man who could be the type of king the people really needed. A king who would follow the Lord and be God’s representative. One who would serve the people. One who would help the people to keep their promises to God.
God chose an ordinary man to become the greatest king in Israel’s history. God chose an ordinary man to be the forefather of Jesus Christ, Savior of the world.
God chooses ordinary people to serve the Lord, to touch people’s lives. People like David and Skip. People like you and me if we are willing and available to serve God.
We don’t want to forget Samuel. He may not have been what many would consider to be an ordinary man. He grew up in the temple under the tutelage of Eli, the priest. Samuel learned early in his life that God had called him to be God’s servant. He didn’t know what that would entail. Maybe he expected to take over for Eli as the head priest in the temple. Undoubtably he never thought he would be asked to anoint not one but two men as King of Israel. Yet, God saw Samuel’s heart and his faithfulness and called him to follow an unexpected path. A path that led to the fulfillment of God’s ultimate purpose.
Centuries later, Jesus, the Son of David, takes center stage. Jesus, the offspring of King David, is the one who fulfills God’s purpose, the redemption of the world.
In today’s text from Mark, we encounter Jesus as he tells two parables. Two parables about God’s kingdom. Two parables that are head scratchers that defy simplistic interpretation.
In the first, we are left to ponder the meaning of how the seed sprouts and grows without human intervention. In the second, Jesus tells how a tiny, insignificant mustard seed planted in the ground grows up and becomes the biggest of all plants with branches large enough for birds to nest in.
We may think we understand how things grow, maybe even believing that we need to have a hand in the process. Then we read that Jesus teaches the crowd as much as he thinks they can understand, and that only his closest followers get the full explanation.
We wonder if we are in the “you can only understand so much” group or the group that gets the full story. Jesus reminds us that, no matter how much we think we understand, we don’t really know how God works.
Despite our uncertainties and questions God asks us to trust him. To listen and to follow even if we don’t have the whole story. Even when the world seems to be spinning out of control. Even when our life feels like it has been upended. God asks us to trust. To trust that God is working behind the scenes during the chaos, and in small, seemingly unnoticeable things and people, and inside our own hearts. God sees what we can’t – a small seed as it grows into a great tree. A few milliliters of a vaccine injected into arms that will end a pandemic. A seemingly ordinary person with a heart full of potential as he or she grows into a faithful servant who God uses to change lives.
The beauty of all this is that we don’t know what God is doing or will do. And we don’t have to know either. This may come as a shock to those of us who like to be “in the know” or who think we understand God’s ways or who feel like we need to know the end game before we step on the field. God’s plan and purpose eclipse any plans or desired outcomes we may have. Imagine the freedom we have when we can live the life God has for us without having to orchestrate every move. Imagine what God can do with us when we are able to get out of our own way.
The first volunteer activity George and I did after joining the church was to lead the junior high (as it was called back in the days before middle school) group. We learned quickly that we were totally out of our league working with youth. We were newly married with no kids. George was an only child. My experience with youth was with my brothers and sisters and my own less than happy experience as an adolescent. Not much to go on!
We did the best we could, wondering if we were even connecting with the kids. It sure didn’t feel like we were doing anything significant. Until it turned out that we did.
Many years later, one of those kids, Susan, who was then a college student, was home on break. She visited the church one Sunday and sought us out. Susan told us how much we had helped her when she felt like a lonely unattractive outcast in 7th grade. We had connected with her, encouraged her, and created a welcoming place where she felt she belonged. This confident and out-going young woman stood before us telling us that we had touched her life. That whatever we did had made a difference. We realized that God had made a difference through us.
We are all ordinary people. Ordinary people with extraordinary potential.
David was an ordinary pesky little brother who tended sheep. He wasn’t even considered important enough to be called in from the fields when his family was invited to meet the prophet, Samuel. Only God saw who David could be, would be. God looked at David’s heart, at who he was on the inside where it counted. God saw a king when others only saw a shepherd boy.
God looks at us – who we are inside, in our hearts, where it truly matters. What a sobering thought. When we think about it, we might not be too sure our heart is always up to snuff. There are times when we really don’t want anyone to see who we are inside, especially God. Times when we are self-absorbed, or when anger seems to have taken over. Times when we are wallowing in self-pity or when jealousy seems to have invaded our thoughts and feelings. When we want to say, “don’t go there, God!”
If God is going to be looking at our hearts, at who we are inside, maybe we ought to be more concerned about what things look like in there. Think about how much time you spend each week, even each day to maintain your outward appearance. Doesn’t it make sense that you should spend at least that much time, if not more, maintaining your inward appearance?
Improving your heart attitude, your inward appearance takes time. Time with the One who created you and your heart in the first place – God. God who knows you inside and out and understands what makes you tick. God who sees the dark corners and hiding places inside longing to make them clean.
Time is a valuable commodity. Spending some of it with God is a choice we ought to make if we want to see our heart attitude grow. Let me share some ideas on how to spend your time currency:
· Put the Lord first on your priority list, scheduling appointments with God before you schedule them with anyone else
· Spend time learning more about God by reading and studying the Bible
· Make prayer a key part of your daily routine
· Take an inventory of what you do, the books you read, the movies and television you watch, the music you listen to and see how these fit into a heart that you want God to see
· Practice seeing others with God’s eyes – beyond the ordinary exterior to the heart inside
None of us can do all these things regularly and perfectly. We rarely come close. We can’t, especially on our own. Thankfully, God doesn’t expect us to keep up our inward appearance alone. God sent Jesus, His own Son, the Son of David, to do the work with us and, when needed, for us.
Just as God asked Samuel to look again, from God’s perspective so that he could see a king in a small shepherd boy, God asks us to take another look so we can see the possibilities in others and in ourselves.