One of the difficult questions for me concerning God and the biblical account is the story of David, the great king of Israel. If I had been picking and choosing what to put in the Bible and what to leave out I would have left David out--or at least his days as a king. David is not only a lousy father with vagrant kids, but he is an immoral, abusive failure as a person. We have the horrible story of Amnon raping Tamar and the violence that followed because of David's inability to handle the situation. We have the earlier story of his affair with Bathsheba and ultimate murder of her husband. Why does God put up with all of that, and why was it spelled out in graphic detail in the Bible (see 2 Samuel 11-13)?

The answer seems to be that with all of his weaknesses and failures David was, in Bible words, a man after God's own heart (Acts 13:22). God seems to be very patient and tolerant if our heart is right. What does that mean and how do I get a heart like that?

Let me first of all emphasize that the picture on the cover is not portraying what we mean by heart. Our physical heart has nothing to do with being a person after God's own heart. Our language fails us in this regard. We talk about our broken heart or having heart, knowing it is not the heart beating in our chest that is involved.

Being a person after God's own heart can be defined as having a knee-jerk reaction to a situation that is identical to God's. When you look at David's moments of success, they are always rooted in conduct and attitudes that are the same as God's, or what God calls us to be. When David hears Goliath ridicule God and the army of God in 1 Samuel 17:23, David is appalled. When he faces a bear and when he faces Goliath his thought is that God will make this work (see 1 Samuel 17:37). When he returns from Philistine internment and finds the Amalekites have kidnapped his entire city, including his family and burned the city, we see his army and friends turning against him. But David runs to God for answers (see 1 Samuel 30:1-6). David makes incredible mistakes, but his knee-jerk reaction to massive trouble and challenge is to do things God's way.

How do you get a heart like that? Is it genetic? Is it a gift from God? Is it something we earn? Can we develop it? Is it the same today as it was in David's time? It is interesting to see how David developed his heart. In 1 Samuel 17:34-37 David recounts his early life. As he took care of his family's sheep he had an incident with a lion and with a bear in which he rescued a lamb each of them had taken from the flock. His experience in these events was that he realized God had rescued him (verse 37). This was a learning experience. David could have attributed his success with the lion and bear to his own abilities or to luck. Instead he looks at the evidence and concludes that God was the cause of his success. When he is confronted with Goliath he refers to this experience and expresses confidence that God will continue to be the cause of his success.

What do we do when success comes our way? Does our success become interpreted as a testimony to our personal superiority? Do we stop and consider God's blessings and concentrate on the events that have taken place that blessed us which we had no control over? This is how we develop a heart like David--we make sure we have an attitude of gratitude for all we have. Be thankful for all you have rather than focusing on what you do not have.

Another product of growing and learning in life is to learn to make a Christlike response to life's situations. Look at the picture to the right. What is your knee-jerk reaction? What do you think would be the reaction of Christ to this guy? What do you feel when you see poverty, abuse, pain, and death? Jesus shows us the compassion and the caring God wants us to develop. This is another learning activity and shapes our heart and allows us to become more as God would have us be. This involves choices and is something for us to work at, grow in, make choices about, and mature into.

There is one more element in this process. In 1 Samuel 16:13 (KJV) we are told that "the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward." When we work at, pray for, and strive for our hearts to be molded into God's pattern, God actively gets involved. God's Spirit working with David did not make him a robot or a puppet. Man's free moral choice is never taken away from him. In Saul's case he got so far from living as God would have him live that God left him.

In the New Testament Peter promised the indwelling of the Spirit to all those who put on Christ in baptism. "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and to all who are far off ... " (Acts 2:38-39, NIV).

Once again this does not make us robots or puppets. We can reject God and choose to live as the followers of Satan would have us live. In 2 Timothy 4:10 we see a follower who chose to do this. "For Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me ... ." What God's Spirit does do is give us the capacity to be more than we could ever be on our own. Romans 8:16 says, "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God: ..."

Christians should continue to grow and learn. They should be the salt of the earth, the bastions of love, kindness, and caring in a cruel and heartless world. Where is your heart?

--John N. Clayton

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