By Melissa McLaughlin

Have you ever worked for someone who was an excellent leader? Have you worked for someone who was not? Those serving in leadership positions have a great impact on us. Though we may not consider ourselves leaders, even in our personal spheres of influence, we impact one another more than we know.

Whether you are a stay-at-home parent, a student at school, an employee in the workplace, the coach of a community sports team, the pastor of a church, a blogger or the manager of business, God has placed each one of us in positions of influence and leadership in our families, homes, schools, neighborhoods, work environments, church ministries and in the world.

How can we reflect the truth, grace and beauty of Christ wherever God has placed us?

How can we be a man or woman after God’s own heart?

I have often wondered at the vast differences between the first two leaders who served as kings of Israel: King Saul and King David. They started off in much the same way. Both with humble beginnings. Both unlikely candidates. Both appointed to positions of leadership by God’s anointing. Yet despite the similar beginnings, their response to these opportunities brought about completely different endings.

When Saul was first called to leadership, he answered with humility. “But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?” 1 Samuel 9:21. Shortly after, when Saul was officially appointed King, he was found hiding in the baggage and supply area. 1 Samuel 10:21  How’s that for a show of humility?

Fast forward to Saul, now king, discussing with young David the possibility of marrying his daughter. David’s response was, “Do you think it is a small matter to become the king’s son-in-law? I’m only a poor man and little known.” 1 Samuel 18:23

Clearly both Saul and David had a humble view of themselves when first called into leadership. However, the likeness ends there.

The prophet Samuel gave this advice and warning to Israel’s first and newly anointed King Saul and to the people, But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you. Yet if you persist in doing evil, both you and your king will perish.” 1 Samuel 12:24-25

For his first task as king, Samuel explicitly gave this one directive to King Saul, “I will surely come down to you to sacrifice burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, but you must wait seven days until I come to you and tell you what you are to do.” 1 Samuel 10:8b

Sadly, King Saul chose to go his own way. When Samuel did not come as quickly as King Saul wanted, King Saul proceeded to make the sacrifice himself. Offering a sacrifice to God was a sacred duty carried out by a priest, in this case, Samuel. For King Saul to be so impetuous and presumptuous was staggering. When Samuel confronted King Saul about this poor decision, rather than admitting his pride and self-imposed timeline, King Saul gushed forth with hollow excuses.

Samuel rebuked Saul with these words, “You have done a foolish thing,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time.  But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.” 1 Samuel 13:13-14

King Saul’s prideful and foolish decisions continued one right after another. He insensitively commanded his soldiers not to eat until they defeated the enemy, denying them the nourishment they needed for physical combat. King Saul displayed partial obedience regarding God’s command to destroy the enemy, by keeping back the best of the spoils for his own purposes. Worst of all, when King Saul was confronted by the prophet Samuel about his sinful choices, he lied, made excuses and blamed his own people. To top it all off, King Saul then asked Samuel to make a show of honoring him in front of the people.

King Saul left a trail of pride, disobedience, partial obedience, foolishness, lies, excuses and desire for fake honor. Such leadership is doomed.

Soon David was privately anointed king by God’s hand, though King Saul remained in the official position. Although David was the youngest in his family, God made it clear to the prophet Samuel that David, not the oldest son, had been chosen. Why? Because God looks upon the heart.  But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him (the older son). For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

King Saul’s poor leadership went from bad to worse, as he was flooded with jealousy over David’s accomplishments. King Saul went back on his word regarding the marriage of his daughter to David. On numerous occasions, King Saul attempted to kill David and in the process ordered a large group of priests and their families to be killed, out of his overgrown pride and self-aggrandizing. 1 Samuel 22 Unfortunately, we can add to King Saul’s list of character flaws jealousy, attempted murder and murder. Eventually, King Saul died in battle and the kingship was passed to David.

Now we watch David, another man who came from humble beginnings. Though King David also committed terrible sins during the course of his leadership, including lust, adultery, marrying multiple wives (denounced in Deuteronomy 17:17) and murder, he remained a man after God’s own heart.

How can this be? How can David, who committed such detestable sins, be considered a man after God’s own heart?

These are questions that swirled in my own my mind for years. Here are three critical qualities that set David apart from Saul.

1. David demonstrated great faith in his battle against Goliath. His courageous words and actions proved that his faith was not in his own strength or power, but in the Lord God alone. 1 Samuel 17

2. David’s love for God and His Word was evident in his worship and in his words. David worshiped before the Lord in a linen ephod, which was a sleeveless priestly garment. His wife was embarrassed because she thought he should worship in his royal robes before the people, but David said he would humble himself before anyone in order to worship the Lord. His eyes were on God, not on his own power, not on his own riches or elegant robes, not on the other people, but on God alone. 2 Samuel 6:14-23

David wrote many of the Psalms declaring the goodness and righteousness of God and His laws. Though David endured many hardships and personal attacks, he loved the Lord and he loved God’s Word. This love rang out through his writing. In composing the Psalms, despite the emotional, spiritual and physical battles all around, David praised God and thanked God over and over again. A wonderful example of this is Psalm 18. Here are two of my favorite excerpts:

This except captures David’s love for the Lord, as he recounts who God is and the great deeds God has done.

Psalm 18:1-3 – I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I have been saved from my enemies.

This verse shows how David had a heart for God’s heart. He loved God’s law.

Psalm 18:30 – As for God, his way is perfect:  The Lord’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him.

3. Repentance. Perhaps most importantly of all, when David was confronted by the prophet Nathan with the sins he had committed, his response was repentance. Unlike King Saul who lied, rattled off half-truths, made excuses and blamed his own people, King David responded with repentance. Repentance. Deep, honest, humble repentance. In 2 Samuel 12:13 David says, “I have sinned against the Lord.”  The depths of his humility before the Lord echoes throughout Psalm 51. Though David’s pride led him into sin, when confronted with his sinful actions, his humility allowed him to be restored to the Lord.

This except illustrates David’s profound humility and repentance before the Lord.

Psalm 51:1-3 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.

Though David was a glaring sinner, he also exhibited several pivotal character traits:

1. Faith in God

2. Love for God and His law

3. Heartfelt repentance for his sins

We know that God looks upon the heart. He sees it all. God sees the secret sins and hidden faults that no one else can. But God also sees when we come with a humble heart and repentant spirit. God sees when we have faith in Him. God see when we pour out our love for Him. God sees things that go unnoticed by others.

With all of David’s sins, yet he is counted as a man after God’s own heart. How can this be?

How can a sinner like David, and a sinner like me, be a person after God’s own heart?

1. Faith in God

2. Love for God and His law

3. True repentance for our sins

Faith, Love, Repentance. These are heart qualities. Though we stand sinful and broken before our pure and perfect God, when we come to Him with these heart qualities – faith, love and repentance, we can be a man or woman after God’s own heart. These inner qualities affect not only our relationship with the Lord, but they create ripples of Christ’s truth, grace and love that move outwardly to touch the people and world around us.

Take heart, dear ones! God looks upon the heart! 

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. Psalm 103:13-14

For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. 2 Chronicles 16:9a

Additional Resources:

How to Repent – 7 Elements of Repentance By Melissa McLaughlin

Becoming a Man or Woman After God’s Own Heart by Charles Swindoll

It’s All About God Part 1 By Alistair Begg