Before The Throne

Spring weather is finally arriving and that means the season of garage sales is upon us. I know there are some of you ladies out there who absolutely live for the garage sales. I’m not personally into all of that, but I must admit I dream about being the guy that finds an original Declaration of Independence or something behind a picture frame I bought for $0.50. And, so, I was curious on how often something like that actually happens, and I was surprised to find that some people have found some incredible deals at their local garage sales. I want you to imagine with me for a moment being any one of these people, and imagine being the person who sold these items:

  • A California woman sold a denim jacket at a yard sale for $20. Unfortunately, she also forgot she had tucked an $18,000 pair of earrings inside a pocket for safe keeping. 
  • A man from the United Kingdom picked up five paintings at a garage sale in Las Vegas in 2010 for $5. Only when he went to reframe one of the pictures years later did he find a sketch inside thought to be made by Andy Warhol—at age ten. It’s value is nearly $2 million.
  • A California man purchased a stock certificate for a business named Palmer Oil Company for $5. Turns out Palmer Oil Company was an early predecessor to a much larger company—the Coca-Cola Company—and the stock was valued at $130 million.
  • Rick Norsigian (Nor-See-Gin) paid $45 for two boxes of glass plates in 2000. Attracted to the plates because they depicted Yosemite National Park, a place he had worked as a young man, Norsigian tucked the boxes away for the next two years. After researching the plates—which turned out to be photographic negatives—Norsigian discovered they were captured by the father of American photography himself, Ansel Adams, between 1919 and 1930. They have been valued at over $200 million.

So, friends, find your local garage sales this spring, right? But, why would these owners sell these prized possessions for such cheap prices? Simply put, they didn’t appreciate what these items were worth. Now, that seems ridiculous, right? Like, how could you have these items worth hundreds of millions of dollars and not have a clue? But, friends, men and women give up things far more valuable each and every day for things that are ultimately worthless. And, they’re the intangible things—the things we can’t hold in our hands. And, today, we’re going to talk about matters of our character and integrity. Because, you see, we are often so focused on the what’s, when’s and why’s of life when God is chiefly concerned with shaping the who. Who are you? Who are you becoming? Who are you serving with your life? And, then, sometimes we get so caught up in what’s quick and easy that we overlook the beauty of the process.

In this morning’s message, we’re going to take a look at David before he was king—before he was on the throne. I believe that many of us can actually identify with the story of David because if we’re honest with ourselves, we’re all chasing after a throne. It might look like a job promotion. Or, it might be a relationship or raising a family. It might be that bigger house or that new car. It might be our 401K’s and golf appointments. I mean, our throne is whatever we are giving our energy to. It’s whatever we are chasing after in life. And, again, if we’re honest with ourselves, none of these things seem like bad things, right? But, man, we can get so locked into the pursuit of our thrones that we neglect the before-the-throne moments. We can get so locked into how we’re going to get there and when we’re going to get there that we fail to tend to who we will be when we get there—what kind of person we are becoming. And, we can get to these big moments—these throne moments—to find out quickly we’re not at all who God desired us to become.

In 1 Samuel 24, David encounters this moment where he had to decide to whom he would listen. David encounters a moment where he had to make a decision of who he would become not just as a king—but as a man. And, our story this morning begins in a very important place we’ve all experienced in our lives. It begins in the wilderness.

THE WILDERNESS

It says in 1 Samuel 24:1, “When Saul returned from following the Philistines, he was told, ‘Behold, David is in the wilderness of Engedi.’” Now, a little background that leads us up to this moment tells us that David was told he would become king nearly 15-20 years prior to where we find him in this verse. See, as a young boy, there was a prophet named Samuel who anointed David to become the king. But, in the 15-20 years between that moment and now, David was still not on the throne. David had fought a giant named Goliath and killed him with a stone and a sling. David had become King Saul’s personal armor-bearer. David was appointed the commander of a thousand soldiers. But, then something strange began to happen and King Saul began to see David as a threat to his own throne. And, over the course of the next several years, Saul became determined to kill David and anyone who assisted him in fleeing. At one point, Saul killed over 80 priests because of their assistance to David in escaping him. Did I mention that Saul was David’s father-in-law, too? (And, some of you think you have a bad relationship with your in-laws!)

You see, 1 Samuel 24 states that we find David in the wilderness, but the backstory is that David has been in the wilderness for nearly 20 years. Now, I don’t know about you, but that’s not what I would want my story to look like after being told I was destined to be the king. I’m going to be king! Why am I running? Why am I fearful for my life? Give me my throne! Right? And, yet, the chosen king is in the wilderness. In addition, we learn from this verse that while David is in the wilderness, Saul has pushed backed the invading Philistine army. David is in the wilderness; Saul is winning on the battlefields. Does that bother anyone else? David, the chosen man of God, is living in the wilderness, fearful for his life. Saul, the man who is bent on killing the chosen man of God, is having a great day, defeating his enemy! I mean, where’s God’s favor for David? How much longer does David need to remain in the wilderness while Saul wins?

This single verse teaches us a really profound principle that is difficult to stomach sometimes: human success is no proof of divine favor. Just because someone like Saul is succeeding outwardly does not mean his life is pleasing to God. And, likewise, just because someone like David is in the difficult season of the wilderness does not mean his life is displeasing to God because human success is no proof of divine favor. Now, throughout Scripture, the wilderness was a place of difficulty, persecution and rejection. The wilderness is a place between knowing the promises of God and receiving the promises of God. And, there are some of you in this room today that are in your own sort of wilderness; and, frankly, you might have been longer than David had been. You know the wilderness well. But, the wilderness is also the same place where we are shaped, formed and renewed. It’s where we learn some of life’s greatest lessons.

Human success is no proof of divine favor.

Wildernesses come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. For me, I was called into ministry when I was a teenager at Spencer Lake Bible Camp. And, when the time came, I headed off to Minneapolis to North Central University and studied Pastoral Studies and Youth Ministry. And, I worked hard, man, and eventually it really paid off. I graduated with my degree as the Valedictorian of my class and the Pastoral Department’s Graduate of the Year. I share that to say that coming out of college I honestly and seriously felt like any church would be lucky to have me; I was a catch, man. I honestly believed there would be churches seeking me out. But, I put my resume out there to various churches anyway. And, I had some interviews and some really promising opportunities, but nothing panned out for me. Some time passed, and I knew I had to do something. I had to make money. So, thankfully for this church, I was able to volunteer part of my time as the assistant youth pastor here at New Life and became a part-time shoes salesman at Sears. I hate shoes.

I did that for some time and, then, another opportunity later presented itself. This church, again thankfully, allowed me to continue as a part-time assistant youth pastor, but I didn’t have to sell shoes anymore. I could now serve as the church’s janitor. I hate cleaning. But, I was desperate to work at a church, and so my first paying church gig was as a custodian. And, I felt like the shoes and the dirty toilets and garbage bags were a wilderness moment for me. God, You called me into ministry! God, I worked hard for You! Where’s my throne? I didn’t study this hard and You did not call me into ministry to do this. That’s how a big part of me felt. But, then, I learned a valuable lesson from Proverbs 11:2, which says, “When pride comes, then comes dishonor. But with the humble is wisdom.” I realized there was nothing dishonoring about what I was doing, but my attitude and my sin of pride were completely dishonoring. I realized I actually needed this wilderness season just to see how prideful I really had become. And, I realized the ministry of being a custodian. I was so focused on the day God would put me in ministry that I was missing the fact I was already in it. So, before we move on with this morning’s message, can you give it up for our custodial staff—Rich, Gary and Melissa. I’ve been there, and you all are nasty—cleaning up after you each week!

I hated being in that wilderness moment, though. I don’t know if there is anyone who truly enjoys it. But, man, I needed the wilderness to shape me and to grow me and to reveal the sin I was holding in my heart. But, sometimes, we are way too eager to leave the wilderness. We get focused on the wrong questions like, “What in the world is going on here?,” or, “When is this all going to end?,” or, “Why do I have to go through this again?” Instead, I’ve learned in the wilderness we ask, “Who does God want to shape me into?” The answer is always Jesus. He wants to make me more like Him. David spent a great deal of time in the wilderness, but he had no idea it was preparing him for the moment he was about to encounter.

Don’t seek the exit; seek His face

But, again, there are some you who feel like you are in the wilderness. You’re exhausted. You’re just wondering when God is going to see His promises through. You feel like you’re losing when everyone else around you is winning. I want to remind you that God is with you in the wilderness. He desires to shape us and grow us. He desires that we would rely on Him and not measure our success by what we are seemingly accomplishing in our lives but by what He has already accomplished in our lives. That’s why David could write in Psalm 34:19, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous (or many are the wildernesses of the righteous), but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” God is faithful in the wilderness. That’s why if you’re in the wilderness this morning, I want to encourage you. Don’t seek the exit, but seek His face. We must remember, God won’t get you to where He wants you to go until you become who He wants you to be. But, as I said the wilderness prepared David for this next moment where he found himself among the goats.

THE CAVE

The story continues in 1 Samuel 24:2-4: “Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel and went to seek David and his men in front of the Wildgoats’ Rocks. And he came to the sheepfolds by the way, where there was a cave, and Saul went in to relieve himself. Now David and his men were sitting in the innermost parts of the cave. And the men of David said to him, ‘Here is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘Behold, I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it shall seem good to you.’’ Then David arose and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul’s robe.”

So, David moved out of the wilderness and into the shadows of a nearby cave, and Saul came into the cave to relieve himself. Now, this where my years of study come in handy. I know to ask questions like, “What does the word relieve really mean? What do the text and context suggest?” To put it bluntly, “Are we talking number one or number two?” So, today I’m cashing in my student loans to tell you that I think we’re talking about number two here. Why? David had enough time to sneak up on Saul and cut the corner off his robe. Right? Saul’s taking his time here. He’s preoccupied enough that someone can cut his wardrobe without him realizing what has happened.

I actually think this has some spiritual significance for us this morning. This tells us that David had some time. He had time to think. He had time to kill Saul if he wanted to. He had time to weigh all the options before him. And, then meanwhile, his friends with him are telling him he should kill Saul. Not just that—they’re telling him that God wants him to kill Saul. After all, David had prayed in Psalm 54:1, “O God, save me by your name, and vindicate me by your might.” This had to be a direct answer to prayer. On top of all this, the Law of Moses was strict on sanitation rituals. It required Saul to leave the camp and carry a shovel to clean up. In other words, Saul was isolated and vulnerable. God delivered David’s prayer in a handbasket, or so it seemed. Now, to me, this makes David’s integrity in the shadow of the cave all the more impressive. The wilderness prepared David to be that man of integrity in the shadow of the cave.

He had seen for 20 years that God had been faithful to him. So, why would he take matters into his own hands now? David knew that he had to ignore those around him and instead listen to the promises of God. Ultimately, David understood that an opportunity isn’t an opportunity at all if you have to compromise your integrity to get there. David came so close to placing his character and integrity at the garage sale for a measly $5; but, fortunately, he saw their value, and he chose to trust God. He knew that if he took matters in his own hands that the future wouldn’t come with God’s warranty.

An opportunity isn’t an opportunity if you have to compromise your integrity.

Much like the wilderness, I believe many of us are familiar with the cave. Our faith and trust in God is tested in the wilderness. But, our integrity and character is tested in the cave. Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching. The problem is that each and every one of us has a condition called sin. And, sin convinces us to wait to do something wrong until no one is watching and, then, to wait to do something right until someone is watching. It’s sin that convinces us the ends justify the means. Our commitment to integrity can be easily eroded by our love for progress.

In the New Testament, there is a distinction made for two different types of power. There is dunamis which is the ability to do things beyond your natural ability. We get our word dynamite from dunamis which gives you an image of that type of power. But, there is another word exousia which is the ability to not do things you have the ability to do. For a great picture of what exousia looks like just picture the cross. We know from Scripture that no one took Jesus’ life from Him, but He freely laid it down. We know that He could have called upon legions of angels to end the torture. But, He didn’t. That’s exousia. It was dunamis as Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead, but it was exousia as Jesus hung from the cross.

David’s refusal to strike down Saul in the cave is an example of exousia. Integrity refuses to take the shortcuts. Could David have killed Saul in the shadows? Yea, easily! But, could David resist the temptation to take matters into his own hands? Could David make the right call even when no one was looking? With one strike of his sword, David steps onto the throne. His life of poverty is done. His life of being the hunted is over. All of his difficulties and trials immediately would stop. But, the cost would be his faith. The cost would be thousands of moments of God’s care and God’s provision and God’s guidance and God’s tenderness. The cost was too high. The wilderness taught David better. God was beside him in all those circumstances; God saw all those moments. So, David knew that even in the shadow of the cave, God was watching him. Integrity mattered because what we do when no one else sees, God notices.

There are some of you today in a cave moment. You might be facing a difficult decision, and it is tempting to take a shortcut. It is tempting to tell yourself the ends justify the means. I want to caution you today: skipping rungs on the ladder may get you to the top faster, but you’re much more likely to fall. Don’t trade in a moment what took 20 years to build. If you’re in the cave this morning, don’t seek the shortcuts; seek His will. God is faithful to His promises. But, our story with David and Saul is not over, yet.

Don’t seek the shortcuts; seek His will.

THE THRONE

After Saul finished his business, David followed him out of the cave and said in 1 Samuel 24:10, “Behold, this day your eyes have seen how the Lord gave you today into my hand in the cave. And some told me to kill you, but I spared you. I said, ‘I will not put out my hand against him, for he is the Lord’s anointed.’” After some further dialogue between the two men, Saul responded to David in 1 Samuel 24:20, saying, “Behold, I know that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand.”

“David, I know you will be king!” See, I read this moment as David’s throne moment. Yeah, he’s not actually the king, yet. He’s not seated on the throne, yet. But, years in the wilderness had prepared him to not cheaply sell his integrity and character. And, the people around him could see this. Saul even asks David in the next verse, “Swear to me therefore by the Lord that you will not cut off my offspring after me, and that you will not destroy my name out of my father’s house.” Why is Saul asking David this? We’re talking about the guy that was just trying to kill David, and now you’re asking for favors? But, Saul knew if David promised this, then Saul could rest assured it would be fulfilled to the letter. Man, what kind of words would your enemies use to define you? David’s character and integrity preceded him. Integrity was used to define David.

Friends, that’s a throne moment. That’s a moment worth celebrating. That’s a moment worth giving our energy toward. And, that’s the funny thing about throne moments: they often don’t look the way we anticipated them to be. Proverbs 16:32 teaches us, “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” You see, before David could rule a nation, he had to rule his spirit. For David, that moment came just on the outskirts of the wilderness, among the goats, holding a piece of Saul’s garment and only slightly removed from the stench of the cave. Instead of defining our throne moments with job promotions and bigger houses and nicer cars and perfect families, sometimes the moments worth celebrating occur in dark and stinky places. That’s where we’re tested.

You see, the Bible is full of stories about people who refused to compromise their integrity in the midst of a tough environment. And it was often their unwillingness—their exousia— to compromise that set the stage for their throne moment. Think about the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, right? If they had compromised their integrity and worshiped the idol, they would never have been delivered from the fiery furnace because they would not have been thrown into it in the first place.

You see, in the world, it seems like keeping our integrity intact is the unsafe thing to do. We tell ourselves who cares if we have to lie, cheat or steal a little bit to get ahead. But, I want to tell you this morning, it’s always the opposite. It’s dangerous to compromise your integrity because then you don’t allow our Helper to intervene on your behalf. We take matters into our own hands and cut God out of the equation. Do you want to fulfill your destiny and dreams? Do you want to see life through to the Throne that actually matters—to the Throne of God? Don’t compromise your integrity. It’s worth way too much. Trust Him with your circumstances.

Friends, if this seems like an impossible task in today’s world, it’s because on our own, it is. That was the difference between David and Saul. David trusted in the Lord; he put all of his options in God’s reputation and not his own. But, listen here what Saul put his trust in. In 1 Samuel 15:12, it says, “Saul went to the town of Carmel to set up a monument to himself.” He built a monument to himself. It didn’t start that way, though. Only a few passages earlier, in 1 Samuel 14:35, it says, “Saul built an altar to the Lord; it was the first altar that he built to the Lord.” So, what happened? Saul compromised his integrity along the way. And, here’s the question we all have to answer in our lives: Am I seeking after the throne moments so I can be seated upon them, or so that I can bring worship to the One who sits upon the throne? Am I truly seeking God’s throne or just my monuments?

In closing, there’s good news this morning. You see, there is a King who sits on the throne today. Jesus is our King who reigns with perfect integrity. We know from the Gospels that Jesus also endured the wilderness, and He resisted temptation. And, the wilderness never overcame our King. We know Jesus demonstrated exousia in the darkest of moments as He hung on the cross. And, darkness never overcame our King. And, friends, we know Jesus is King yesterday, today and forever, and His throne will never end. Since we serve the King of Integrity, we know we can trust in Him. He will do what He said He will do. He is who He said He is.

That’s why Hebrews 4:16 tells us, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” So, how do we become people of character and integrity? In the wilderness, we don’t seek the exit; we seek His face. In the cave, we don’t seek the shortcuts; we seek His will. And, before the throne, receive His grace and mercy. We boldly come before the throne. He is our source of grace and help. He is our source of integrity and wisdom. He is our source. And, this morning, we each need to let go of the what’s and the when’s and the why’s and ask God, “Who?” Who are you trying to show me you are in my life today? Who are you shaping me into? Whose throne am I really chasing?

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