The following is audio and text from the teaching given by Leah on January 17, 2016. Feel free to listen online, download, or read. This teaching is the first in our winter series, "Find Your Calling."
I’m gonna start today with a poem by Mary Oliver, the US poet Laureat form 2001-2003.
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
I love this poem because I hear in it the poet’s desire to be attentive, to notice the gift of the day, of the season she is in, of the life she is living. And she asks a question: What will you do with your one wild and precious life? It’s a question that lingers longer than an afternoon lying in the grass on a summer’s day. It’s a question that invites reflection. It’s a question that leaves us to consider what season you find yourself in, and how you might make the most of it. It’s a question that leads us to wonder how we might spend a life doing that.
I think most of us, when we stop to recognize that we have this one wild precious life to live, we recognize that we want it to be worth something, to mean something, to be appreciated for what it is. Honestly, none of us really now how long we have, but we do have a sense that we want to use the time we have well. Perhaps we wonder if there are things we are destined for, things we are uniquely made for, things that could maximize our effectiveness in living well. If there are, how do we find those things, and if we think we’ve found them, how do we accomplish them?
Well, I’m starting off talking about calling or destiny, because that is the theme of the new teaching series we’re beginning called “Find Your Calling.” Over the next couple of months, taking us through the season of Lent, which is the season the church has often observed leading up to Easter we’re going to be pursuing this theme together in various ways, including our Sunday teachings. What does it mean to discover our calling, our destiny, the thing perhaps we seem made to do by a loving God and we might find joy and meaning and purpose by living into? And how are those things cultivated over the course of our life?
In our culture, there tends to be a cult of celebrity around folks who seem to get it young, in their 20s, say. We see actors and actresses or musicians or, here in the Bay, tech entrepreneurs whose stars seem to rise meteorically when they’re twenty-two or twenty-five and now by 30, they’re CEO of a major company and they have a billion dollars. And, while none of us that I know of are billionarires, we may have all felt that pressure. Maybe we discovered something in our 20s that felt significant, like the path that God seemed to be inviting us into, and we thought, “OK, I get it, let’s go” and we expected it to GO BIG, cause this is God’s thing, and we’re on board now, so what’s the delay. Shouldn’t we be living our calling like as soon as possible, if it’s something God really wants us to do?
Well, there are smart people: researchers, folks who study leadership development, and such, who’ve noted that it very rarely works that way. A calling or a destiny, cultivated even by someone tapped into God isn’t something people usually arrive at in their 20s. You might get the gist of the thing, you might get a sense of what it is, of where you’re going, but it’s often not until your 50s, if you hang in there, that you hit the season where you’re fully doing exactly what you were made to do, you’re firing on all cylinders, its working, its fulfilling, and so on. And those who do seem to get their in their 20s, researchers often point out that the thing that went big in their 20s isn’t usually actually their calling, it’s part of their process to getting there. I have a hunch Mark Zuckerberg, fir instance, at the end of his life, won’t say “it was all about starting Facebook, that was the most important contribution I made to the world”. I’m guessing his life as a husband, as a parent, as a philanthropist, as a voice of influence in the larger technology sector, and the things we don’t even know are coming, those are gonna be just as important info more important parts of his particular calling. Our one wild life goes beyond a particular decade, just as it does beyond one summer afternoon.
But here’s the thing: success is not guaranteed. Invitations from God to take a certain path don’t just inevitably come true. We participate in our callings. We say yes or no. We make choices, not only to whether we’re gonna pursue a given vocation or ministry, or life direction, but we choose all along the way how we’re gonna get there, what that looks like. And what a number of folks who’ve studied the development of leaders across the spectrum, in religious and secular spheres have noticed, is the whole process matters. There can be a long path between finding something we might be called into and living the thing out in fulness, a path full not just of decades of life, but of challenges, of choices, of tests that must be passed, and not everyone advances to the next round. A lot of folks get stuck along the way, or flame out altogether, and end up frustrated, cynical, and bitter about all the empty promises of life that never came to be for them. So the questions we’re left to consider are not just “What are we called to?”, but also “How do we actually get there with Jesus?” What are the steps we take all along the way to help us be the people in our 40s, 50s, 60s who are actually doing the stuff we set out to do?
Today, as kind of a preview of this theme we’re gonna look at over the next several weeks, and an illustration of what I’m talking about, we’re gonna look at the life of one character from the Bible who plays a pretty significant role in the story the Bible tells in the Old Testament: King David. Now, I want to note, we’re not looking at David because he’s a perfect person or a perfect model in every way. Jesus is the only person that fits that bill. But the story of David is instructive on this front because the Bible tells us the story of his life over multiple decades from boyhood to old age and we can see in him the seasons lived and get a sense of how God’s purposes are being developed in different seasons.
Because David is a major character in the Old Testament, many Jewish and Christian folks who study the Bible have spent time studying him in depth. Mike Bickle is a pastor in Kansas City who has spent a lot of his time in the Bible studying David, and he came up with a particular framework I think is helpful in breaking down the seasons of David’s life into five main seasons, each set around a specific place that David lived at the time. So, in a similar way, we’re gonna take some time today to explore those five cities and the season they represented, and see what’s intructive for us.
So the first city we find David in, is the small town he grew up in, Bethlehem. Bethlehem is the hometown of David. And this season of his life we’ll give the title, “Small Beginnings”. Bethlehem is where David grew up. He comes from a small humble town of modest means. He’s the youngest son in a family of eight boys and he’s by far on the lowest rung in the ladder. He’s stuck being the shepherd boy. Now we have a tendency in religious circles to kind of paint the shepherd in this kind of angelic spiritual way, the humble young man, like Jesus, with the lamb over his shoulders, but the reality of being the family shepherd was pretty rough. You had to live outside with the smelly sheep. You had to fend off wild animals. You didn’t get to hang out with the rest of the family on a regular basis. You were stuck out with the animals. It was boring, it was dangerous, it was cold sometimes, it could be lonely. It was a job for a lesser servant, or in a family of eight boys, the lowest son, apparently. In this season, David was so insignificant in his family economy, that when Samuel comes to call - Samuel, who would have been the most famous person in the country at that point, Samuel the prophet of Yahweh, Samuel who speaks on God’s behalf to the king of Israel, Saul, Samuel, who helps the people of God stay in tune with God - when this Samuel comes to see David’s dad Jesse, his family doesn’t even think to have David in the room.
Samuel tells Jesse that he is there to anoint the next King of Israel, that one of Jesse’s sons will fill that role, and nobody calls David. Even Samuel makes assumptions. He was in the room and sees tall dark and handsome Eliab, the oldest of the eight, and thinks “this has gotta be the guy. Look at him.”
But God is like, “No, no! Don’t judge by appearances, Samuel. things ain’t always what they seem” So Samuel takes a look at the next son, and God says no, and then the next one, God says uh-uh, and so on and so on until God passes on the seventh son, and Samuel is left to wonder, what the heck am I even doing here? Does this guy even have any other sons? And even Jesse, David’s dad, has to be like, “oh, right. I guess technically I do but he’s just the shepherd boy, I mean, you couldn’t want David” and then they bring him in the room and God tells Samuel, “yup. That little guy. That’s the one.” Small beginnings.
Now what is the task of small beginnings? What is the purpose of this season in David’s life? I think there are a couple of key things to notice. First off, in this season of Small beginnings, God is beginning to cultivate a childlike faith in David. This takes us back to one of our Blue Ocean Distinctives: our approach to spiritual development is childlike faith. What do I mean by that here? Well, David, in some sense may be ignored and neglected by his biological father, Jesse, but while he’s out in the fields with the sheep, he’s in creation and it speaks to him. And we know this because David was an artist. He was a songwriter; he was a worship leader. A huge chunk of the songs recorded in the book of psalms are attributed to him. Those psalms give us a glimpse into David’s character and what’s going on in him. And so we see a psalm like Psalm 19, which seems like it could very likely have come from that Small Beginnings season where David is sleeping under the stars and captivated by what he sees. Read it with me.
1 The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
The skies display his craftsmanship.
2 Day after day they continue to speak;
night after night they make him known.
3 They speak without a sound or word;
their voice is never heard.
4 Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
and their words to all the world.
God has made a home in the heavens for the sun.
5 It bursts forth like a radiant bridegroom after his wedding.
It rejoices like a great athlete eager to run the race….
7 The instructions of the Lord are perfect,
reviving the soul.
The decrees of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple….
9 Reverence for the Lord is pure,
The laws of the Lord are true;
each one is fair.
10 They are more desirable than gold,
even the finest gold.
They are sweeter than honey,
even honey dripping from the comb.
11 They are a warning to your servant,
a great reward for those who obey them.
12 How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart?
Cleanse me from these hidden faults.
13 Keep your servant from deliberate sins!
Don’t let them control me.
Then I will be free of guilt
and innocent of great sin.
14 May the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing to you,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Beautiful right? This is the song of someone who is captivated with his creator. So in this season of small beginnings, God is solidifying David’s identity, not in the thing ultimately that he is gonna be called to do, but in his ultimate identity as a child of God, first and foremost. Before he becomes a King, God needs David to have a childlike faith, to know God as a loving parent, to love him, to adore him, to look to him for guidance and direction, to trust him, just like a young child and their parent.
But the other important task of this season is faithfulness in the mundane. Samuel anoints David as probably a teenager - seventeen tops - and then what happens? Does he move to the palace? No, he goes back to tending the sheep. He’s just been given the news by the wisest sage of the age that he is going to be the most powerful person in the country, and then…he’s sent back into the fields. Feeding more animals. Cleaning up the crap. Fighting off the predators. In this early phase, there seems to be a test of obscurity that needs to be passed. Can you be faithful with whatever you’re doing, even when you are an obscure nobody to the world around you? Faithfulness to the small, to the mundane, seems to be an important task in this season.
It was when I was pregnant with Elliott that my mentor at the time looked me in the eyes, and said “Leah, I’m looking at your gifts, at the things God’s put in you, and you have the gift mix of a church planter. That’s what you’ve been made to do. You’re not ultimately only a worship leader or a musician, you could start and be the senior pastor of a whole church.” And when she said that, it was like everything made sense. It was scandalously true. I knew it in my core. Years before I had once heard Jesus whisper to me that someday we would start a church and I assumed that meant Jason would become a pastor. In that moment, Finally, I got that no, no, no, it was me. A few weeks later I was at a conference where this was confirmed over and over. Person after person that I met prayed for me and they all had words blessing my leadership and inviting God to give me the courage to step into this new thing he was calling me to. And a woman named Adey spoke and it was like I was the only one in that room. I went up for prayer along with at least fifty women, and she asked us to put our hands up if we thought God was specifically calling us to start a church someday. So I put my hand up. And Adey came and laid her hand on my head and began to pray and God’s power was so strong that my 38 week pregnant body fell to the floor under it’s weight. I couldn’t deny I was being called to something real.
But two weeks later, I was nursing a baby. I was sleepless. I was changing poopy diaper after poopy diaper. And when I went back to work it was in that season of 4:30 am shifts at Starbucks. Changing diaper after diaper, pouring coffee after coffee - these were monotonous tasks that felt so removed from what I believed God spoken to me, but though it was frustrating and mundane, I knew that’s where I needed to be in that season, trying to live that season with as much faithfulness and integrity as I could, wondering how the things God had painted on my horizon would ever come to be.
Well, a little while later in David’s life comes the famous story we all heard as kids, young David, too small to even wear armor, saying the huge enemy philistine giant Goliath with a single stone from his slingshot. David’s attitude in that story demonstrates the things God has been working on in him in his first season. We see it in 1 Sam. 17:
“I have been taking care of my father’s sheep and goats,” he said. “When a lion or a bear comes to steal a lamb from the flock, 35 I go after it with a club and rescue the lamb from its mouth. If the animal turns on me, I catch it by the jaw and club it to death. 36 I have done this to both lions and bears, and I’ll do it to this pagan Philistine, too, for he has defied the armies of the living God! 37 The Lord who rescued me from the claws of the lion and the bear will rescue me from this Philistine!”
So we see David’s belief and trust in God as his good parent evident, and we also see his confidence that in the same way that God has met him and moved in his life in the small things, in the This is a theme we see recurring throughout the Bible and throughout the lives of leaders and we’ll notice it throughout this series. You might call it the Little/Big Principle. God gives someone something relatively small to do, but if they’re faithful with it, they’re given something bigger. Jesus points this out explicitly in Luke when he says, “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.” (Luke 16:10)
Well, after a season in Bethlehem, David apparently passes the test because he moves onto the next major city: Gibeah. David has his victory over Goliath, and all of a sudden he goes from being a little obscure nobody to being a real somebody. King Saul and his son Prince Jonathan are impressed and take with the young man, and so Saul moves David from Bethlehem, to live in Saul’s palace with him in Gibeah. We call this season Early Promotion. David has been faithful through the season of small beginnings; he’s been faithful to the mundane. Now it’s beginning to pay off. He conquers the Philistine, and that’s meaningful. It gets noticed. 1 Sam 18 tells us this:
5 Whatever Saul asked David to do, David did it successfully. So Saul made him a commander over the men of war, an appointment that was welcomed by the people and Saul’s officers alike.
6 When the victorious Israelite army was returning home after David had killed the Philistine, women from all the towns of Israel came out to meet King Saul. They sang and danced for joy with tambourines and cymbals. 7 This was their song:
“Saul has killed his thousands,
and David his ten thousands!”
So here David moves from the test of obscurity to the test of praise. He’s tested by praise. These women are praising David - sure King Saul is great, but David, he’s the real deal. He’s awesome. He’s our hero. Oh David…Swoon. And the question is, how is David gonna handle all of a sudden becoming a real somebody?
Proverbs 27:21 says this:
“Fire tests the purity of silver and gold,
but a person is tested by being praised.”
Early promotion is about continuing to work in the follower of God’s heart to allow them the opportunity to experience praise, but also to keep their heart in check. Is the early promotion gonna go to David’s head? Is he going to lose his childlike connection to God because he doesn’t think he needs his heavenly Father in the same way, now that he’s the big cheese? And what if the praise goes away? Will David’s life still have meaning if the women are no longer swooning, or is his sense of self becoming tied to that prestige?
About a year and a half before Jason and I were planning on moving to Berkeley. everything seemed to look amazingly, divinely promising. I went through church planting assessments with the denomination I was in, and my scores were apparently really strong. “We think your Berkeley church plant is gonna be great, we’re so excited for you,” I was told, “and we want to follow you, to be interviewing you along the way, to partner with you so you can serve as our model for what this looks like for female church planters.” In that same denomination, I was invited to serve on a National women’s task force, to help strategize ways to promote women in leadership across the country. I was also in conversations with the music label of the denomination because they were potentially interested in putting songs of mine on albums that could be used in other churches. It was all very promising and felt like the things I had been working toward in my seasons of obscurity were finally coming to pass. And then the denomination put forward a position I disagreed with on an issue that was important to me, and overnight, everything shifted.
Well, in the same way, David’s fortunes changed quickly too. Saul promotes David, but when everyone becomes taken with him, he gets jealous. He’s threatened by David. And so he decides he needs David out of the way and he starts trying to have him killed. David gets wind of this and makes a run for it. This begins a whole season where he is on the run, hiding out trying to escape Saul and his army, and in this season, we find the next location which is one of a number he lived in in the season, but this kind of represents the whole season: the Cave of Adullam. The title of this season is: The Cave, because that’s literally where David is. David is forced to hide out in a cave. I mean, talk about a turn of events. He goes from being a military hero, adored by all, living in the palace, to a hunted man hiding out in mountain caves.
And as he’s hiding out, others start to drift to him, mostly other criminals on the run; they’re the rabble-rousers, the mobster types, throughout the land, begin to gather around him. 1 Samuel 22 tells us this:
So David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. Soon his brothers and all his other relatives joined him there. 2 Then others began coming—men who were in trouble or in debt or who were just discontented—until David was the captain of about 400 men.
In this season, David’s being tested in new ways. He’s had a taste of his destiny, and then just like that, it vanished. Where does that leave David? This is the test of disappointment. Is his heart going to stay soft towards God, is he going to turn to God and connect with in the pain of disappointment, or is he going to turn away and stew and become cynical and hard-hearted because things haven’t gone the way he’d hoped? Multiple times David has the opportunity to kill Saul and end his misery, but he absolutely refuses to do it, because David believes that Saul is God’s anointed, the person he believes that God has chosen to lead the nation in his time. Is disappointment going to change that attitude and wear down David’s respect for God and his choices? God’s anointed is actually going crazy and he’s trying to kill David, who is also God’s anointed. Can David hang with that? Will he allow God to bring him the kingship in his time, or will he go after it himself by slaying Saul?
And what about this crew around him? Can he lead the rabble? It’s not the task he thought he was gonna be given but it’s the one at hand. These are the people God seems to have given David in this season; they’re following him. Will he ignore them, try to chase them off, or will he take them along for the journey and try to help them become an actual team, a united force in some way?
Now lest you think that this season in the caves was just an unfortunate blip on the screen of David’s life, and then he was back in the palace, in short order, it might be helpful to know that we’re not talking about a few uncomfortable weeks or months. Seven years David was hanging out in the caves, living a life on the run. It reminds me actually of the central character in the current season of the uber-famous podcast Serial. This season’s podcast focuses on the story of Bo Berghdal, a US soldier stationed in Afghanistan in 2009, who walked off his post, purportedly to try to draw attention to what he thought to be unsafe conditions for himself and the other soldiers, only to be captured by the Taliban and held as a prisoner for five years. In one of the most recent episodes, we heard the story of how for the first year he was imprisoned, he was actively trying to escape and managed to do so twice before being caught and severely punished each time. But after the first year, escape not only became increasingly difficult as security was tightened around him and he was forced to spend four years basically living in a steel cage, but he was physically and mentally getting weaker. Just staying alive became the task for Bo.
Hearing his story, I can’t help but wonder what it was like for David in that season. At least he wasn’t isolated in a cage, he had some sympathetic people around him, even if they were kind of a mob, but I’d imagine some of that pattern of coming to terms with what’s happening and having to go through a process of adjustment would hold true. In the beginning, it was probably just about riding out the bad season; looking for the opportunities, scheming ways to get back in Saul’s favor. But after a couple of years of that, I’d think that would get pretty old. And when you’re into something like year four, year five, you’ve gotta feel aware, like Bo, that there’s pretty much nothing you personally can do to change these circumstances. You can’t scheme your way out of this cave. All you can do is keep living, and try to stay connected to your good parent, try to stay connected to the truth that God is good, and that he is your parent, even when nothing around you looks like it. There are a lot of laments of David, and I think a number of them in the book of Psalms came from this season, but even we here, we see David turning to God in the cave. he may be angry. He may be asking, “why? How could you do this to me?” but he keeps talking to him. He is staying connected to his God.
Well, in the same way, that eventually Bo was miraculously rescued, and his five years of torture came to an end, so too did David’s fortunes eventually turn. Saul was killed in battle, and suddenly, after seven years of David being in hiding, some of the people of Israel remember him, remember his leadership, remember his promise, and they turn to him. The same generals who were chasing David at Saul’s direction, turn to him, and say “Lead us. You are God’s anointed.” And this leads us to the next city in our journey with David: Hebron. Hebron is the fourth season for David: the Season of Partial Fulfillment.
When the leaders of Israel start to look to David, it feels like this could be the moment. Maybe he should storm Jerusalem, and take it now. Jerusalem is like the capital of the entire nation, from there he could theoretically make a play to rule the whole kingdom. But they have yet to have a king set up rule in Jerusalem, so it’s not totally clear that the nation is ready for that. And Saul has a son that’s still alive, so some might see him as the rightful heir; it’s not obvious to everyone that it should be David. So David turns to his parent Yahweh for direction on how to proceed.
We see this in 2 Samuel 2:
After this, David asked the Lord, “Should I move back to one of the towns of Judah?”
“Yes,” the Lord replied.
Then David asked, “Which town should I go to?”
“To Hebron,” the Lord answered…So David and his wives 3 and his men and their families all moved to Judah, and they settled in the villages near Hebron. 4 Then the men of Judah came to David and anointed him king over the people of Judah.
So here’s the thing you need to remember about the nation David is called to lead. It consists of what once was twelve tribes; there are twelve regional portions of the kingdom that belong to these tribes. David is asking God where to go. If he went for Jerusalem, technically in Judah, he could make a play for the whole thing, but God is telling him to go to Hebron, which is only the capital of Judah. One tribe. So David finally becomes a King, a lot later than he probably initially imagined when Jesse anointed him all those many years ago, but it’s only over one twelfth of the kingdom he was expecting. Why?
In this season God seems to be testing David’s restraint. Can he trust God’s timing? Will he try to take things for himself? Does he think ultimately this is his to do? Or will he wait for God to move in God’s time? Will he allow God to continue to set the pace and the agenda for how David’s calling will play out? Will he continue to be faithful, whatever the task at hand?
Well, David does it, he stays there in the place of restraint, ruling Judah from Hebron, until at last, God moves him into the fifth and final season: Jerusalem. The Season of Destiny. The son of Saul is eventually killed and there are some other political things that take place, over which David has no control. These are circumstances he can’t take credit for. But amidst them, this happens in 2 Samuel 5:
Then all the tribes of Israel went to David at Hebron and told him, “We are your own flesh and blood. 2 In the past, when Saul was our king, you were the one who really led the forces of Israel. And the Lord told you, ‘You will be the shepherd of my people Israel. You will be Israel’s leader.’”
3 So there at Hebron, King David made a covenant before the Lord with all the elders of Israel. And they anointed him king of Israel.
4 David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years in all. 5 He had reigned over Judah from Hebron for seven years and six months, and from Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah for thirty-three years.
The elders come to David. He doesn’t go to them. He’s not doing the political quid-pro-quo behind the scenes to win people to his side. The leaders of the nation know they want to be united, and they understand that God has chosen a person long ago, over twenty years ago, when he was just a scrawny teenager, that God told the great prophet Samuel, that this now thirty year-old man would some day be their king. And the people realize that now is the day they need him. And David finally understands that, too. This was never about him. The whole journey God has taken him on has made that clear. David’s call to lead the nation of Israel wasn’t really about David at all. It was about God’s purposes for his people.
At this point, it has become clear for David that he is King, not by his own doing, but because of what God has ben and is continuing to do. God has given David a role to play, a significant role to play, sure. But ultimately, David isn’t there because he’s so cool. God wants someone who understands his identity as God’s child, and has the heart of a servant. Someone who is willing to play the role because his God has asked him to, because he trusts this God knows what his people need, and he wants to see those purposes fulfilled, not because he is God’s gift to the world. And that’s a really important distinction. The lesson David his finally learned by the time he reaches his Destiny is the lesson of Being Something for Others.
And this is our lesson to learn, too. As we’ll be exploring in the weeks to come, each of us is called to unique things. Throughout these next couple of months, we’re going to be considering what those things might be, and how God might be moving in our own lives, like he moved through the seasons of David’s, to bring them to pass, but ultimately, whatever our specific calls are, the bigger call we are all made for is being something for others. Our calls are not for each of us. They are about uniting us to our human family. They are about uniting our human family to it’s loving parent. They are about seeing the redemption of creation come to pass bit by bit as Jesus moves in the world around us. They are about following in the footsteps of the very Jesus “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; but rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant”. Just like David who called himself God’s servant. This is the call on each of us, and this is the call on us, on Haven, as a community.
So as we end I want to invite you to stand, and I’m going to pray a blessing over you and our community as we embark on this season of allowing Jesus to speak to us more clearly about the things he is calling each of us into, and the things he is calling Haven into in the weeks and months and years, and even decades to come. (Stand and pray).