Over the summer, we looked at the lives of the first kings of Israel: Saul and David. There were many differences between them. Saul was large and looked like a massive warrior. David was smaller, younger, and taught himself to fight as a shepherd in the country. Ultimately, they were both warriors and both kings. And in one way or another, they both believed in the God of Israel. But though they both believed in God, it would be wrong to say that they both put their faith in him.
In fact, the most fundamental difference between the two was a difference of the heart. This is what God explicitly says to Saul in 1 Samuel 13:14:
But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.
God made clear that David would be different in two ways. First, his heart would be for God rather than for himself, his own power, and his own survival. Second, David would obey the Lord, and if he ever failed, his repentance would be real.
The difference between Saul and David was not that David never sinned and Saul did; the greatest difference between the two was their repentance. Saul repented for himself. If he admitted he was wrong, it was to save his own face or admit to something that wouldn’t last. Even when David spared his life, Saul never followed through with his repentance. His repentance never led to restoration. It never led to restitution. Saul never really wanted to make it right. He wasn’t trying to please God.
David was different. He was young and sometimes impetuous. But there was something simple about his heart—a purity to trust God and see his will done. His life was messy with strange allies and many enemies. His dynasty was not normal. His rise to power was long and protracted. Many people followed him when he had nothing to give them. And yet, they followed him.
People of substance attract people of substance
For example, one of the greatest differences between the dynasty of Saul and the dynasty of David was the presence and absence of heroes. Saul had three heroes: his son Jonathan, David, and his general Abner. All were great men and great warriors. But ultimately, Saul drove David away even though David was incredibly loyal. Jonathan was much closer to David than his own father, and Abner ultimately left the household of Saul to make an alliance with David. Saul had the palace, the power, the money, and the stature. He had the ability to conscript from the people of Israel anyone he wanted, and still he had so few heroes. So few that wanted to stand with him were themselves mighty.
This wasn’t true of David. Even in his time in the desert, he was surrounded by heroes. Jonathan was one of his closest friends. 2 Samuel 23 and 1 Chronicles 11 describe the men who fought with David. He had five of the greatest warriors Israel had ever known with him. They commanded another 30 great heroes. These chapters go on to describe other great heroes that fought with David that were not among the three most famous ones.
Why was this the case? Why is it that Saul, who had the palace and the power, had no heroes by his side, and yet David’s straggling band was crawling with great men? It’s hard to know exactly. Perhaps Saul was threatened by great men. More likely, great men seek great leaders. But even more, great men seek great leaders that are seeking something greater than themselves. In the end, it was not David’s sword that drew them; it was probably his heart. There was something about his faith and his purity—a kind of humility that he wore. It was the thing completely absent in Saul, because it is absent in almost all of us.
There’s no shortcut to humility
I’ve read more pages than I care to count about leadership. In the end, there is no shortcut, no trick, no hack to attracting heroes. There is no game to be played, no vision to be cast; there’s nothing that can cheat the fundamental law of truth. Humility, the subjugation of the ego to real faith in the God who rules, is worn like a garment to adorn a repentant and faithful heart. It comes off of you like an odor or a fragrance, and you can’t cover the scent, at least from a discerning spiritual nose. David just smelled right. He had the fragrance of self-forgetful devotion to God on him, and Saul, the odor of self-absorption. I believe it was to this that men were drawn or repelled. I believe it is to hearts like this that people are still drawn or repelled today.
This is one of the reasons I sometimes say that at High Point Church the culture is the vision. At a recent Explore (our class for people who have just come to HPC), I talked with a couple who seemed like seasoned and substantive disciples. They said to me, “You’ll see more of us. The place just smells right. We can already tell something good is happening here.” That’s it. It is the thing you can’t buy, and it isn’t the result of managing an environment. It’s just there or it isn’t. It’s like a field that has bees or a pond that has frogs; there are just these little signs that point to a holistic health that is hard to measure but that you can sense. Some say movements grow on vision, and it’s true that they need a clear message. But it is even more true that they flourish or flop on culture. That’s why as a pastor, one of my core leadership convictions is that the culture is the vision.