responding to god's favor

MARCH 2003

The Responsibilities and Pitfalls of God's Anointing

When I was seventeen years old, God began to reveal himself to me. My life was turned upside down. I had never dreamed that God wanted to personally speak to me, but it was happening. The Bible became a personal letter to me, bursting with insights and wisdom for my circumstances. Not only that, but the Lord began to give some glimpses into my future – hints of his plans for me to be involved in public ministry. It was all very hazy – but it was real and it was powerful.

I was a typical middle class kid, in my first year of university, trying to find my way when God invaded my life. I had a Christian background but no personal experience of knowing God. And then God turned the lights on and I could see him clearly for the first time.

This was the beginning of God’s favor being poured out in my life. Undeserved, uninvited favor. Before long, I was involved in leading worship, teaching Sunday school and leading a youth group. As the years went by, I gained increasing responsibility in worship and pastoral ministry. Twelve years after I came to the Lord, Vineyard Music began recording my songs, which began a new chapter of increased visibility and responsibility as a leader.

Along the way, I’ve slowly gained wisdom about how to respond to God’s favor. I’ve been humbled, refined, and enlightened by God’s favor in my life.

In exploring this topic, I’d like to look at the life of King David. He was a man greatly favored by God, who went to great heights of success and fell to great depths failure and despair. We can learn a lot from his life. With David as an example, let’s take a look at these aspects of responding to God’s favor:

Anointing from God and what it is for…
The necessity of godly character – avoiding the pitfalls of God’s favor through servant leadership and gratitude
Life’s challenging circumstances – a safeguard against misusing God’s favor

King David is a classic example of a man chosen and appointed by God. He was the youngest of eight brothers, the last person his family expected to be anointed by God. The Lord saw David’s heart and was pleased – he found a man who sincerely wanted to please Him.

From the moment Samuel anointed David with oil, “the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power.” Shortly after this momentous occasion, David slayed Goliath in a great show of courage and zeal for the Lord almighty. This was David’s “coming out”, and from then on he was in the public eye, a favorite of the masses. They made up songs about him, praising his military conquests.

But it didn’t take long for the trials and responsibilities of anointing to weigh heavy on David. Saul, who was king at the time, became deeply jealous of this young lad who had won the hearts of the people. Though Saul offered his daughter to David for a wife, he quickly became obsessed with getting rid of David altogether. Because he felt threatened by David’s gifts and popularity, he went on a campaign to murder this young man.

This was only the beginning of David’s woes. Enemy armies were constantly threatening Israel. As the general of Israel’s armies, David was under pressure to lead his people into life-threatening battle. Later there was in-fighting among family members who were vying for power as David was growing old.

This is a snapshot view of some of the difficulties experienced by “the man at the top”. Though most of us don’t personally relate to a position of such high stature, there are many parallels between David and those who are gifted, anointed and called into all kinds of church leadership positions.

Following in the footsteps of the Servant King

God anointed David for a variety of purposes – he was “the shepherd of Israel”, their military leader, the chief psalmist, and a prophet of sorts. His gifts were used by God to bless the whole nation of Israel.

God anoints us for a purpose – to give what we have received. Paul tells us that we’ve all received gifts of the Holy Spirit for the purpose of building up the church. Pastors, teachers and evangelists have been given by God to the church to prepare God’s people for works of service. God endows us with gifts for the benefit of others. I often pray “how do you want me to serve?” “How can I be a blessing?”

When I was young I dreamed of being a successful leader of many people. I thought that if I could become the pastor of a church I would have attained success. When I did become the pastor of a local church, it didn’t take long to figure out that while God’s favor may bring high visibility, it also brings great responsibility. In plain terms – lots of hard work. The more people I lead, the more people I get to serve! Ha! The joke was on me!

Picture an inverted pyramid – the point of the pyramid is at the bottom. You, the leader are at that point. You serve everyone above you. That’s a picture of servant leadership.

It doesn’t matter how many people know my name or have heard my songs. I’m still like my Master, the servant of all. The picture of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet is a powerful image. I will never out-grow that role. In the economy of God’s kingdom, this is anointed and powerful leadership. Choosing to serve rather than being the big boss man who orders around his underlings.

In my home church, I’m just ‘one of the guys’. I help set up and take down sound equipment. In my home I help clean the kitchen and I do all kinds of menial chores. Neither my family or the people in my church treat me like a famous person. If I travel to another city and have a mountain-top ministry experience, I return home to my normal life of taking out the garbage and changing diapers. And that’s a good thing! It keeps me from thinking too highly of myself.

Sometimes we’re anointed and sometimes...

What a rush it must have been for David, a lowly teenager, to kill the Philistine giant with the armies of Israel looking on! Imagine the stir and excitement it must have caused. Pretty girls coming up to him saying “way to go, David! You rock!” Brawny soldiers clapping him on the back, calling out “David, you da man!” Young men surrounding him just to get a glimpse of him: “Dude! Show me that sling you used to take down the big ugly Philistine!”

I’ve never killed anything bigger than a cockroach, but I have experienced the exhilaration of God’s empowering. Leading with God’s favor is heady wine. When I’m leading worship and the Holy Spirit comes in like a flood, I’m on cloud nine. Sometimes it’s like “riding a magic carpet” - God gives us a ‘ride’ in the spirit of worship. The band rises above the natural realm, uniting as one person to sing and play of God’s glory.

Other times, leading worship is like paddling upstream. The musicians forget their parts, the people stare vacantly and the heavens are as brass. I’m not sure which songs will work. The presence of God seems very far away.

Such are the ups and downs of leading a ministry that is absolutely dependent on God’s intervention in order to be successful. Whether it’s leading worship or leading someone to Christ, we need God’s favor to get the job done. Living “between the times” keeps us on our knees because God’s Spirit hasn’t been fully poured out and won’t be until Jesus’ return.

The anointed leader is kept on their knees, asking for anointing, favor and protection! In God’s great wisdom, he doesn’t give us the formula for unstoppable success. So in a sense, God’s favor is self-limiting – he doesn’t give us enough rope to hang ourselves.

Gratitude and humility

David knew he hadn’t earned God’s favor When Saul offered his daughter to David to be his wife, he responded “who am I and what is my family or my father’s clan in Israel, that I should become the king’s son-in-law?” (1 Sam. 18:18).

After a large offering was taken for the building of Solomon’s temple, David’s prayer was: “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand?” (1 Chron. 29:14).

The “who am I?” prayer will keep us from getting too full of ourselves. “Who am I to be able to write worship songs?” “Who am I to be able to teach God’s word?” “Who am I…?” Just chosen by God, that’s who I am. Hand picked by God, not because I was noble or righteous, but because it pleased the Lord to lavish his love on me. If I meditate on that for awhile, I’m full of thanks and emptied of vain pride. Gratitude and haughtiness can’t co-exist. If I reflect on God’s mercy in my life, it doesn’t take long for selfishness and complaining to disappear.

Everything we have is a gift from God. Every glimpse of God’s greatness, every familial blessing, even the desire to ask for God’s help is a gift. Remembering these things gives me a healthy perspective on God’s favor

Life’s difficulties keep us from losing perspective on God’s favor

There are many built-in deterrents to misusing God’s favor. One of them is our ongoing battle with sin. David was painfully well-acquainted with his own weakness. In his exalted position as king, he stumbled into adultery with Bathsheba and tumbled even further into sin by murdering Bathsheba’s husband. After this failure, he prays to God “surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5).

The amazing grace was always there for David, and it’ always there for us. Sometimes we feel like Paul, who described himself as “the worst of sinners”. Yet God picks us up, again and again. He is the prodigal Father, waiting for us with open arms and a smile every time we approach him with humility.

The Bible is full of “leaders with a limp”. Outstanding figures such as David and Abraham sinned blatantly and repeatedly, yet continued leading, by God’s grace. Sin is always crouching at my door. I struggle to control my tongue in my own home. Always being humble, gentle and patient with my eight kids is a huge challenge all in itself! This is yet another way that God grants humility to his gifted servants! He gives them children. A huge blessing and a huge opportunity to grow in godly character. As a dad, I say a lot of short prayers like “help me God!” and “Lord have mercy on me!”

Perhaps a few months after David’s great triumph over Goliath, he was dodging spears flying from the hand of Saul and his minions. David had his share of failures – times his troops were defeated in battle, times his family was suffering, times his enemies were close to taking his life. In the Psalms, we see a man who is constantly asking for help.

One of David’s best known prayers is from Psalm 27: “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple”. That’s the part we know by heart.

The part we often overlook is the very next verse: “For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle…then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me”.
Here’s the point: he had a bunch of guys surrounding him, trying to kill him!

I don’t know any anointed leaders who have a really easy life. David is certainly no exception. I spend very little time thinking about being “favored by God” – I’m too busy dealing with the challenges of everyday life – like loving people one at a time and trying to “do justice, show mercy and walk humbly with my God.”

The task of leadership is a very humbling thing. A pastor’s job is never done, because in the church, somebody will always be struggling with something. There is always a tragedy or a chronic illness to look after. Even in the best of times, God’s people need constant encouragement to keep going for the kingdom. The ‘anointed’ leader has to lead “in season and out of season” – whether or not we feel like it.

I have to fight to keep a right heart in the midst of working hard in the church to serve all kinds of people. Sometimes I think to myself “why am I doing this? I could be living in Maui, enjoying the easy life!” It doesn’t take to long to come up with the answer to that question: my life is about following God, and enjoying his abundant life; it’s not about pursuing selfish pleasure.

As favored servants of God, we are empowered to run a marathon, to run for a lifetime. Running for the long haul builds humility and godly character. That’s how we invite the continued anointing of God. That’s what it looks like to live a life as God’s favored leader.