A Head Above
This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be.
He had fulfilled his promise though they quailed with fear and faithlessness.
God had rescued his people from slavery in Egypt. He had parted the sea and destroyed the pursuing Egyptian army. He had endured their idol-making and their incessant complaining, though he had provided for their needs at every step of the way. He had fulfilled his promise though they quailed with fear and faithlessness.
He had done all of this because they were his people, displaying his glory to the entire world.
And yet after all of this they were begging for a king. “All of the other nations have a king,” they whined like petulant teenagers. “We need a king to protect us.”
How quickly they had forgotten who their Protector was.
“Don’t be upset,” God told his prophet Samuel. “It’s not you they have rejected. My people have rejected me.”
So God gave them what they wanted. “Don’t be upset,” God told his prophet Samuel. “It’s not you they have rejected. My people have rejected me.”
Saul looked the part. He was a head taller than all the other men of Israel. He was a mighty warrior. And the people rejoiced: “Look how tall he is, how strong, how kingly.”
But as Samuel anointed Saul he reminded everyone that God wasn’t interested in how tall or strong or kingly Saul might appear. He was interested in the hearts of his people. “I will teach you the way that is good and right,” Samuel told the people, “But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you. Yet if you persist in doing evil, both you and your king will perish” (1 Sam. 12:23-25).
A Heart for God
The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people.
Even if you don’t know the story you can probably guess what happened next. Saul did not obey God. Over and over he flaunted God’s commands. Finally, Samuel told Saul that his kingdom would not endure: “The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command” (1 Sam. 13:14).
And so Samuel was tasked with anointing a new king, a king who would listen to God’s voice, a king whose heart was faithful. God led Samuel to Bethlehem to the family of Jesse, a descendant of Boaz and Ruth. When Samuel saw Jesse’s oldest son Eliab, he thought to himself, “That must be the new king!”
People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.
But God reminded Samuel what was truly important: “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).
And so it was that David, Jesse’s youngest son, a descendant of foreigners (Ruth was a Moabite), a simple shepherd boy, became the greatest king in Israel’s history.
No Small Thing
At Christmastime we like to say, “Good things come in small packages.” Any woman who has received a wedding ring can attest to the truth of that axiom. And when the prophet Micah spoke of the birth of the Messiah, he seemed to say the same thing: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel” (Mic. 5:2).
And yet there is something about that “Good things, small packages” phrase that seems to miss the point. It’s still too wrapped up in our way of measuring and categorizing. After all, when you think about something good that came in a small package, it’s probably something like that wedding ring – small, but expensive.
If we’re not careful, we can turn this thought into our own personal prosperity gospel.
If we’re not careful, we can turn this thought into our own personal prosperity gospel. It is, after all, an appealing narrative to those of us who feel small, ordinary, and insignificant. You may be small, ordinary and insignificant now, but God wants to turn you into something great! (And by “great” we typically mean wealthy or powerful or famous or important.)
But this is still operating in the wrong economy. “People look at the outward appearance,” God told Samuel. People see tall or short, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, strong or weak, powerful or powerless, intelligent or unintelligent. It is appealing to think that God might be able to move us from the latter to the former, but buying into this narrative is missing the point of Advent altogether – the same message God has been preaching to his people for thousands of years.
He sent his Son to save us not by making us rich or strong or powerful, but by changing our hearts.
God looks upon our hearts. They are the only thing that interests him. He sent his Son to save us not by making us rich or strong or powerful, but by changing our hearts. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you,” God said through the prophet Ezekiel. “I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ez. 36:26).
In fact, look through the story of Jesus and you will find that he directly addressed all of our favorite categories for measuring and valuing people:
- Isaiah 53:2 tells us that Jesus “had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him.”
- He told the rich young ruler to sell his possessions and give to the poor (Matt. 19:21) and cautioned that our hearts would follow our treasure (Luke 12:34).
- He rejected strength of arms as a pathway to power (John 18:11).
- He was constantly associating with the weak, powerless, sinners and outcasts (John 4:9, Matt. 9:10-11, John 8:1-11, Luke 7:36-38, and too many other examples to cite).
- He took as his disciples men that were “ordinary” and “unschooled” (Acts 4:13).
The beauty of Advent is that, in God’s eyes, there are no small, ordinary, and insignificant things.
The beauty of Advent is not that God can take things that are small, ordinary and insignificant and make them strong or extraordinary or important. The beauty of Advent is that, in God’s eyes, there are no small, ordinary, and insignificant things.
God looks upon our hearts. All he desires is a heart that is eager to hear his voice, a heart that is ready to follow him, and heart that desires to obey him and be used by him. Tall or short, strong or weak, rich or poor, it’s all just window dressing. God looks on our hearts.
So how’s your heart?
Is your heart calloused and cold, hardened and immovable? Or do you have a heart of flesh that beats faster when it hears the voice of its Creator? Because in God’s eyes, that’s the only thing that matters.
David Ray is a worship leader, artist and songwriter from Houston, Texas. He and his wife, Jess, are the creators of Doorpost Songs Family Worship, a series of songs and resources designed to help parents take up the mantle of spiritual leadership in their homes. He is father to three rambunctious kids and he loves getting to serve churches and families across the nation.