What is faithfulness?

The story of King David always strikes me as heartbreaking.  On one side, it’s a story of absolutely inspiring faith: a shepherd boy with a slingshot who sends the opposing army running, in the name of God.  A man who is willing to wait for God to work things out rather than cooking up his own plans to unite the kingdom of Israel.  A man who accepts when God’s answer to his prayer is “no”.

But David – this great example of faith – had a hard life.  Think about that: King David is an example of what it means to have faith in God… but at the same time, no one would suggest that we should live as he lived.  After all, this great example of faith found himself burning up with lust to the point of murder, and his adultery became a public scandal.  Sure he had a palace, but this no fairy-tale, and there’s certainly no happily ever after. 

David’s life was thoroughly human.  He was kept from reaching his early potential by Saul’s jealousy.  He faced 7 years of a political smear campaign by his rival.  He knew that unspeakable pain of a parent who loses a child.  And a few years later, he knows the distress and anguish of a parent whose child rebels against them, as his son Absolom works to tear down everything his father had built.  And after all that, David’s closest friend and advisor is the one who kills his son, as David grieves as one who had never made amends for that broken relationship.

David’s story is heartbreaking.  And it breaks my heart because David’s story is like so many stories.

What is faithfulness?

David’s story should challenge us.  How can it be that one of the great examples of faithfulness lived a life that none of us should emulate?  How can that be?

This is where so many have missed the point.

So many open scripture looking for an instruction manual on how to live: do this, don’t do that, earn your way to heaven. But that’s not what it’s all about.  There’s no hope in that twisted half-gospel.

The message of scripture – and the hope that we share – is this: it is not about what we do; it’s about who we are

God is not a “what”, a thing for us to grasp or understand.  God is a who – a living being with whom we can have a relationship.  Faithfulness is not a list of what you’ve done; faithfulness is about how you answer the question “who am I?”.

That’s where David is an example to us: he honestly tried to do right, but it didn’t always work out, and sometimes it failed disastrously.  But “God doesn’t look at the measure of a man”, God looks at the heart.  God doesn’t weigh out what you’ve done, good versus bad – and that’s good news, because the truth is that none of us would make the cut if we had to earn God’s love.

No, God looks at who you are.  Are you a person who seeks to love God and neighbour but who realizes you do fall short and always need God’s mercy in Jesus Christ, or are you a person who will stand before God and say “I’ve got this: give me what I’ve earned.”

You see, that’s the big difference between King Saul and King David.  King Saul trusted in himself – he was king, he believed he won the battles: he earned this throne, and it wasn’t for God or anyone else to take away. 

But David was a man of faith.  He knew that, even in the face of incredible, heartbreaking pain, everything we have is a gift, and no matter how bad the situation, it will always be better if we return to God and beg for mercy than if we turns our backs and go our own way. 

Now, does that mean it was easy?  No – because we don’t believe in magic.  Life is messy, decisions have consequences, and at the end of the day, God’s promise is not that we will be happy and healthy and wealthy in this broken world.  God forbid.  Anyone content with this broken world has their eyes closed to the pain of those around them.

No —God doesn’t promise that life will be easy for those who have faith.

But he promises something far greater.

As David wrote: “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you are with me; your rod and your staff guide and comfort me”.

God’s Presence with us

Life is hard.  Families are hard.  Sickness is hard.  Losing friends, and watching kids walk away is hard.  Acknowledging our own brokenness is hard.

And it’s normal to wish we could go around the valley, or build a bridge over it, and sometimes people just give up and sit, stuck, afraid of the thought of moving forward.

But the path to life leads through the valley.  And as much as we might wish it was otherwise, God doesn’t say “I’ve got a shortcut”. 

But what he does say is so much more amazing: He says, “I know you have to walk through this valley… but I will go with you. 

…Will you go with me?”

That’s the incredible truth we proclaim. 

God doesn’t say “stay positive, think happy thoughts”.  God doesn’t say “do me a favour and I might show you a shortcut”. 

No, God says “I will never leave you nor forsake you”.  Will you walk with me?

And it’s not about what we do – not that actions don’t matter, but because we all fall short.  It’s about who we are.  Are you one who says “God, I need your help.  I’m mad, I’m sad, I can’t do this on my own: walk with me”.  Or, are you one who says “leave me alone, I’ll go my own way”.

God looks at the heart.  And the incredible thing is that God knows we’re going to get stuck.  He knows we’re going to get distracted as we go through the valley.  He knows we’re going to make some wrong turns; that we’re going to get upset and yell and wish there was another way.  He knows… and he’s still willing to walk with us.  No matter how far we’ve gone in the wrong direction, He doesn’t run ahead.  No, he turns back to reach out and help us.

This Advent, let’s remember that’s the story of Christmas we’re here to proclaim.  God loves us so much that he’s willing to share our mess.  He wants to show us that he knows our heartbreak; that he knows what it is to face jealousy and lies, to know the hardship of broken families, to know the pain of grief and sickness.  God even knows David’s pain as he watches his own son die because of the brokenness of this world. 

And yet God’s message is “I want to be with you.  Will you walk with me?”

And, my friends, there’s no way around the valley – I often wish there was.    But God knows that what awaits on the other side is far more glorious than we can even imagine.  He will wipe away every tear, death will be defeated, and pain will be no more. 

But we’ve got move forward to get there.  And, as we see in David, it’s not a journey that we can ever do alone.  But God himself is standing right beside you, ready to lead you and comfort you, ready to let you take off whatever weight is on your back, and carry it for you so you can look up and see the light.

God says, “I will be with you”.  Will you be the person who says “I’ll go it alone”, or will you be the person, no matter what you’ve done before, who says “Lord, I need you – walk with me.”

Almighty God, we need your presence in the darkness of this world.  We can’t face the journey alone.  Stir our hearts to cast our cares upon you, to be still and know that you are God, and to know that – whatever pain we face – it will be well, because you are alive and you go with us.  We ask this in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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