God is always at work. He is at work this minute. He is at work in your lives as individuals. Some of you are being prepared to become professional service providers. Some of you are being prepared to handle big responsibilities. Some of you are being prepared to develop and implement new strategies and create new products and processes. Some of you are being prepared to oversee people and workplaces and to help people through conflict and crisis. Some of you are being prepared to be married and to become parents. Some of you are being prepared to become caregivers for others whether aging parents or grandchildren. That West Test you take now prepares you for the ACT later. That first car you are purchasing prepares you for the house you will one day own. One thing I know about life, it is the stage for constant preparation.
There is no doubt in my mind that God very strategically prepared me to become the pastor of this church. I was 35 years old and was on a trip with the senior adults from our church in Cincinnati when my call came. We had just witnessed a powerful Christian play in a theater in PA. A man who was playing Jesus came to center stage and said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Luke 10:2)
God had my attention, but what was He trying to say? I was already in full-time ministry as a worship pastor. I was already “working” in the harvest field. But then I heard another statement that wasn’t spoken by the character on stage. No, this voice came from the Holy Spirit inside my soul. He said, “Preach my Word.” It was a definite, direct call to become a preaching pastor. Though I was completely caught off guard, I didn’t hesitate or argue. I stood up in the theater, turned around, got on my knees and made an altar out of my seat. I said, “Yes” to the call to preach.
When we returned to Cincinnati, I told the senior pastor I was working with that God had called me to preach. He affirmed that call. Let me just stop and say, you don’t always get a confirmation from others when God calls you to do something. Rather than confirm your call, some will just call you crazy. Some will try to talk you out of moving forward. Some will respond with criticism or skepticism, but he didn’t. He generously started creating opportunities for me to start preaching some. In addition to that, my title was changed from “Worship Pastor” to “Associate Pastor,” and I was given lots more responsibility. And I started sending my resume’ to churches because I just knew there was an open door and a church just looking for me to become their pastor. J
Time passed. A few calls came, but they never led anywhere. Though the Church of God has always ordained and affirmed the call of women to ministry, making room for them to serve in senior leadership hasn’t always matched the belief they have that God does ordain women to lead churches. I was getting antsy. So, Thom and I decided to try to resume’ together as co-pastors. When we did we got a lot more calls, but when people found out I would be the preaching pastor, the conversations stopped.
I kept wondering why God would call me to preach and then there would be no place for me to serve. It was frustrating to be in what I perceived was a holding pattern, a waiting period. However, what I learned in hindsight was I wasn’t waiting for Teays Valley Church of God to call. I was being prepared so that when Teays Valley Church of God called I would be ready. (And perhaps y’all were being prepared for the likes of me. J)
As I thought about that time of preparation that felt like waiting and dead ends, I thought about King David, the greatest King of Israel. Did you realize that after Samuel, the prophet, anointed him as King, he waited 15 years before assuming the throne? He was told he would be King, was anointed King, and then 15 years went by before he actually became King. However, during those 15 years of waiting he was “becoming” King or should I say, he was becoming the kind of person God wanted in a King. Remember, the first King of Israel, Saul, wasn’t God’s choice. He was the people’s choice. Oh how different things are when God let’s people have their way rather than when people choose God’s way.
David is living proof that a calling, a gifting, an anointing can be experienced early in life, but the actual date of moving into that place of leadership can be years down the road. What happens between the anointing and the calling, however, is the preparation which will determine how successful a person will be when they step into that prepared place down the road. Preparation for anything great has never happened in a hurry.
The Apostle Paul who was arguably one of the greatest evangelists and theologians of all time didn’t even become a Christ-follower until much later in his adult life. When he was converted, he did start preaching immediately. That seems to blow my theory about preparation never happening in a hurry right out of the water . . . or does it? Everything Paul went through as a child and in the process of becoming a Pharisee, how he rose to the top of his class and his zeal in persecuting Christians and even murdering them was applauded by those who believed like he did. Even all of that was preparation as the passion and knowledge he possessed and gained was added to his personal experience with Christ to make him a force to be reckoned with. What I am trying to say is that all of life is preparation. Even those of you who haven’t surrendered to Christ yet, regardless of your age, you are being prepared to accomplish something special when you do!
The addiction you are being freed from, the grief you are walking through, the financial mistakes you have made and are learning from, even those difficult life lessons are preparing you to be used of God for Kingdom purposes somewhere down the road. This morning, can we learn to look at our lives that way? Can we learn to value challenges and obstacles as preparation for something greater? Can we learn to value what looks to the earthly eye like waiting as preparation instead?
Let’s get back to David. He was a shepherd boy, the youngest of Jesse of Bethlehem’s sons. He wasn’t seen as anything special. He wasn’t known for any unique skills. He hadn’t made a name for himself through his efforts. He was just a shepherd boy. When the prophet Samuel was directed to Jesse’s home to anoint one of his boys as the next King, no one even thought to call David in from the sheep pen. Jesse called his seven oldest sons to meet the prophet. As he looked at all of them, God told him none of them was to become the next King.
In I Samuel 16 Samuel looked at Jesse and said, “Are these all of the sons you have?” Jesse remembered the youngest who was hanging with the sheep. That’s when David was finally called to the party. God confirmed he was the one to become Israel’s next King. I’m sure Jesse and the other brothers were astonished. “David, the baby of the family? Really?” I’m sure it didn’t make sense to them why this young, unproven, under developed leader would be chosen King. They weren’t thinking about the preparation phase. They weren’t thinking about what God could do with a person who would surrender their potential to Him. As David heard the prophet’s words he was probably as shocked as everyone else. I’m sure he had far more questions than answers, and one of those questions had to be, “When will this all take place?” He didn’t get that answer for fifteen years! What was needed to prepare him to be a King Israel? Over the course of the next 15 years he would find out.
First, David was taught humility and faithfulness in his work with the sheep. Leading
sheep was preparation for leading people. There is something to be said about being
faithful to a daily routine. Leading sheep wasn’t super adventurous or exciting. I’m sure
it got to be monotonous at times. I’m sure at times it was boring. I can only imagine
how lonely a person could get when the only conversation you have all day is with
Maybe your schedule is getting a bit old. Maybe the routine is starting to feel less like
preparation and more like a rut. Don’t underestimate the value of faithfulness and
sticking to the program. What you are doing now, if God is directing your life, is going to
serve to open a door, create an opportunity or take you to something bigger. It’s not
always what you are learning that is important, but it is critical who you are becoming.
Perhaps the monotony, the sameness, the routine, is to help you become a more
humble and faithful person.
Next, David had to learn to trust God to protect him as he dealt with dangerous threats.
When you read the OT you will read a lot about invasions, fighting and wars. You will read about securing borders, fortifying cities, and watchmen placed on the walls. Defending your territory would be really important if you were going to be a King. David was far from being a warrior. He was a shepherd. He herded sheep. Oh, but in the process of doing so, he faced challenges and threats to the herd that he would have to deal with which would prepare him for bigger threats.
In I Samuel 17 David disclosed he had learned to face some threats in the form of a lion and a bear. He killed both by himself, and he gave God the credit for helping him do so. You know, people who become Kings and Presidents face a lot of life and death moments and a lot of death threats. They cannot live life in fear. God was teaching David early to trust Him to keep him safe.
David also received on the job training for his one-day role as King. He was anointed king in I Samuel 16:13 and listen to what happened next:
1 Samuel 16:14-23 (NIV) 14 Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him. 15 Saul’s attendants said to him, “See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. 16 Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the harp. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes upon you, and you will feel better.” 17 So Saul said to his attendants, “Find someone who plays well and bring him to me.” 18 One of the servants answered, “I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the harp. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the LORD is with him.” 19 Then Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me your son David, who is with the sheep.” 20 So Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them with his son David to Saul. 21 David came to Saul and entered his service. Saul liked him very much, and David became one of his armor-bearers. 22 Then Saul sent word to Jesse, saying, “Allow David to remain in my service, for I am pleased with him.” 23 Whenever the spirit from God came upon Saul, David would take his harp and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.
So, in addition to his sheep herding responsibilities where he was learning to face danger and trust God to protect him, David became one of the King’s servants. He was playing music for the King to soothe him. Getting into the palace was a strategic and critical step for David. He got to see first-hand the inner workings of the palace. He would watch Saul lead and figure out how decisions were made and carried out. He would get a behind the scenes look at the inner workings of running a Kingdom. What invaluable preparation. Step by step, God was laying out a leadership development track for David that was helping him develop into the leader he had been anointed to become.
And because the King liked David, (at least at this stage) he got to become one of the King’s armor-bearers. What is an armor bearer? A caddy is to a golfer what an armor-bearer is to a fighter. David was going to carry extra weapons for Saul when he went out to battle. He was going to be in the heat of battle with him. Saul had no idea he was providing David with on-the-job training, but he totally was.
Listen, whatever you are going through, whoever you are shadowing, whatever you are studying in school, whatever people you are meeting and new skills you are learning stop and thank God for it all because you are going to need this experience somewhere down the road. And don’t discount that some of the learning you will do as you watch and shadow people is that you will learn how NOT to do something! That can also be invaluable information!
By the time David heard about the giant, Goliath, a Philistine who was a threat to Israel, he had already received immense fighting knowledge. When everyone else ran from the battle line, David ran toward it! (I Samuel 17:48) Because he had learned to trust God to protect him, because he had taken out a lion and a bear, because he had received on-the-job training about fighting, his confidence was up. His courage was intact. He wasn’t slow to act! He was decisive like a King should be.
Interesting to me is the difference between the young David and the seasoned King Saul. Saul was a seasoned warrior, but instead of taking on Goliath himself or developing a military strategy to take him out, he put out a reward which included his daughter’s hand in marriage and exemption from taxes if someone else would kill Goliath. (I Sam. 17:25) What King Saul should have led the way to tackle, he instead tried bribe someone else to do. And who responded to the challenge but young David. We know the rest of the story. David took Goliath out with one stone and a sling shot. What Saul was afraid to do or slow to do or apathetic to do with an entire army at his disposal, David did with a child’s toy.
By this time David knew who he was as God’s anointed one. He knew God could be trusted to protect him. His confidence was secure, and he had obtained the knowledge and skill that he would need as King. All of those experiences set the stage for a test of his character which would be the last part of his preparation and would reveal his readiness to take the throne.
Once David killed Goliath and people started to sing his praises, Saul was less and less fond of David. He made plans to kill David and tried to do so on more than one occasion. Each time, God helped David escape. Two times David and Saul were in positions where David had the upper hand and could have killed Saul. Both times he mercifully spared his life. He wasn’t going to be the one to remove Saul from the throne in order to assume the position. He was going to trust God’s leading and timing. What a class act. What deep character had formed in his life, the kind of character God wanted in a King. It wasn’t long before David assumed the throne, and when he did, he was ready!
God is all about preparation. The prophets prepared the way for the coming of Jesus. Even John the Baptist was sent to “prepare the way” for people to recognize the Messiah. Jesus Himself was sent into the desert of testing for a time of preparation before beginning His earthly ministry.
You see, God exists in the future as well as in the present. He is all about preparation because He sees where we are headed. He has a prepared place for us in Heaven. He has works that He has prepared in advance for us to do (Eph. 2:10). We are heading toward that which will bring Him glory. Can we get excited about that? Can we participate with Him in it? Can we cooperate with the preparation efforts of God in our lives?
What if David would have said, “Now that I have been anointed King by Samuel, I think I will hang up my shepherd’s crook?” What if during his teenage years he told his dad he didn’t need to listen to him anymore . . . that he was King and could call the shots? What preparation would he have missed? What if he got into the service of Saul in the palace as a harpist and when he was asked to become an armor-bearing he said, “Um, I don’t do war?” “Music, that’s fine. I’ll play my harp, but I’m not carrying weapons, and I’m not going to the battlefield.” What preparation would he have missed out on?
The facing of Goliath wasn’t just a challenge. It was a huge opportunity. What David had been doing mainly in private, the killing of a lion and bear, the faithful watch he kept over the sheep, all of that was pretty unknown to others. But when he stepped out on faith to do something big in the sights of such a public audience, there was an opportunity for his skill, his know-how and his bravery to be recognized! That recognition would lead to submission and support as people would turn their hearts from Saul to follow David as King. It would be crucial for the subjects of the Kingdom to trust and follow King David! It wouldn’t matter how confident and prepared David himself felt to take the throne if the people wouldn’t support him as their leader. You see, God was not only at work preparing David, but He was also preparing opportunities for people to see David’s progress which helped them put their trust in him as well.
Ephesians 5:16 tells us to make the most of every opportunity. Some opportunities come with challenge. Some come with pain. Some come with ease, but if we trust God, all come with purpose.
I remember one of the first times I was asked to put together a whole musical program for an organization that was having a special gathering. It was a civic kind of club, and they asked me to do a Patriotic program, a whole 30-minute program. 30 minutes is a long time to perform by yourself, and I was only 12. They told me they would give me something for providing their entertainment. This was it! My big break! I was going to become a professional singer. I would be paid for entertaining this group. I gladly accepted.
Well, I only knew the “Star Spangled Banner” and “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” by that point, so I had a lot to do to prepare. I worked to memorize the Gettysburg Address. I found and learned new poems about freedom. I worked to learn enough other patriotic music to fill the time including “God Bless the USA,” “God Bless America,” “The Statue of Liberty” and “This Land is Your Land”. I went shopping for a red, white, and blue ensemble so that I would be ready for my big moment. I was set!
Everything went so well! I was proud. They were pleased. After the program they handed me a card. I couldn’t wait to open it. I got into the car with my parents and inside was a “thank you” note and a piece of Kleenex. Inside was a toy-like silver cross. All that effort, all of the preparation for a piece of Kleenex and a toy silver cross. We were out all of the money for the outfit and music we had purchased. Besides that no one ever asked me to do another Patriotic program. I couldn’t even use the outfit, the songs or poems again. I remember thinking, “What a big waste of my time!”
I couldn’t have been more wrong. I learned how to put a thematic program together. I can’t count the number of times I have used that skill in my worship pastoring as well as senior pastoring. I learned to memorize large amounts of material in a hurry. That has also been an invaluable skill. I learned that even as a very young person I could keep the attention of adults. I learned that I could stretch to sing music outside of my comfort zone and experience. And although I never got asked to do another Patriotic program, people who heard me that night did contact me, more than one, and had me be a guest vocalist at some other events for which I really did get paid and earn the right to say I was a “professional musician.” You see, I learned that it’s not about what we get short-term for doing something, but about who I could become in the process and how being faithful to do “little things” well can open the door for increasingly “bigger things” later.
When David penned the words to the famous Twenty-Third Psalm which begins, “The Lord is My Shepherd” he was saying a mouthful. He was saying that God was in control of his preparation and forward progress. God was the Protector of his life. God was the one controlling the time table, the Divine appointments and Divine opportunities in his life. Not many people would look at sheep herding as a Divine Opportunity, but it was. Not many would look at supplying harp music for a political figure as a stepping stone to the throne, but it was. Not many people would think it was a huge honor to be the grunt man, carrying weapons into battle for the trained fighters. Few would say that it is a huge God-thing to get to be the one to face Goliath after he has scared everyone else to death, but David did because he could see how God was using it all to work together for his good to prepare him to become the kind of person God could call King.