“Be careful what you ask for” could be the title for this history lesson found in the two books of Samuel. Here, the people made demands for a King to rule over them making a premature selection. The books of Samuel are a biography of its namesake with the main theme on King David.
The first book of Samuel is a transitional book between the era of Judges to the establishment of a human kingdom. It shows Samuel as a high priest, prophet, an anointer of the first two kings, and even Samuel as a ghost (1Sam 28:13-15). He personifies Jesus who possessed all in one: Prophet, Priest, and King for all time. Samuel’s name means “asked of God”. There is a harmony in the theme between these books and those of Kings and Chronicles.
The Israelite people desired a king, imitating the governments of the nations around them. While the people cried out for a king, Hannah, Samuel’s mother, cried out for a child. She was cruelly being ridiculed and accused as unworthy by other women due to her barrenness. Hannah’s life shows a trust not misplaced for a God who knows our stories from beginning to end, everything having a purpose. God answers her prayers. Samuel was a miracle child, resembling Jesus’ birth. He is only one of six births significant enough to be recorded in the Bible.
This book’s writer is usually ascribed to Samuel with possibly the prophet Nathan finishing it up after Samuel’s recorded death (1Sam 25:1). Nathan had access to King David historical information. and was also a personal advisor to King Solomon, David’s son.
We read of Samuel’s calling, then, in turn, him doing likewise with the first then the second king (Saul and David respectively). When Saul stop focusing his governing under the authority of the Lord’s kingship, David was anointed and called to be the next royal instrument of the God’s to rule over Israel. It will still be several years after the anointing though before David takes the throne.
Through Hannah’s prayers to serve the Lord, and promised Him to give her son back to Him. Hannah’s recorded song of thanksgiving to answered prayer is prophetic, as she mentions the future coming of the “anointed” Messiah for the first time in verse 2:10. After desperately wanting a child, she gives Samuel up to apprentice in ministry under the priest Eli.
It’s unimaginable what it must have been like to give away such a wanted child; to not be able to raise him and experience the rewards of motherhood. Giving a child roots in life, turns out, is the easy part. The part where wings develop and they fly away is tough. No one ever mentions the most challenging part of motherhood is when they grow up and leave. The time comes when they fill in the rest of their life story by striking out on their own. It’s a parent’s job to rear their children to be self-sufficient. Damn it, though, if my children didn’t grow up to be almost too independent of me. Rumi says “Life is a balance between holding on and letting go.”
While being mentored under Eli, 12-year-old Samuel was awakened one night hearing his name called out. Thinking it was Eli, Samuel went to him saying “Here I am, did you called me?” It wasn’t Eli calling him and Samuel was sent back to bed. It happened two more with Samuel arousing Eli from his slumber. Eli discerned it was God calling Samuel. He told Samuel that next time he heard his name called to respond, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”
Samuel obeyed his mentor. Unfortunately for Eli, what Samuel heard was God’s message about Eli’s son’s disobedience. Even though Eli now had this knowledge, he didn’t or wouldn’t restrain them. Samuel’s absolute allegiance was to God as the chief overseer. A human overseer’s authority can be intimidating, but, as Samuel proves: God is the primary overseer. This prioritization presents the world’s, or the loved ones to whom we are closest, possible cynicism about our faith. Even if there is a relationship fall out with others because of one’s faith, Samuel remains steadfast throughout his life.
One day in the chapel while attending grad school there was a commissioning, a send-off ceremony for classmates going into seminary or the mission field. The marching song usually sung during these kinds of services is “Here I am Lord” written by Dan Schutte. The refrain is:
“Here I am Lord; is it I Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night.
I will go, Lord if You lead me.
I will hold Your people in my heart.”
It was during this service when I had the nagging awareness of being an outlier from my classmates and even my family. During the chapel message, current trends were cited for the upcoming weekend for the majority of Americans as opposed to that of the commissioning. What struck so close to home for me was the predicted trends (the purchase of a gas grill and/or refinance mortgages). Both were on the agenda back home. There is nothing wrong with those plans except it, at that moment, I wanted to be detached from worldly acquisitions (and influence!); to be a part of an endeavor outside myself and personal wants. I was in the world, with the all the stuff happening in it, but my heart and hope were longing for something else more substantial (Jn. 17:14-16). I felt this chasm between the two parts of my life. I had reconciled myself that the mission field I identified to serve, that fit within my role in the family, was the mission field outside my local door (Rom. 15:2, Eph. 4:25).
Harvard School of Business defines the use of three words:“…that tend to be used interchangeably and shouldn’t be. They are vocation, career, and job. Vocation is the most profound of the three, and it should do with a calling. It’s what you’re doing in life that makes a difference for you; that builds meaning for you, that you can look back on in your later years to see the impact you’ve made in the world. A calling is heard in your heart and mind. You don’t hear it once and then immediately recognize it. You’ve got to attune yourself to the message.” The word vocation has the Latin root of “voice,” literally meaning “to call.”
A calling is so instinctive that the person would do it regardless, and often without adequate financial compensation. We, for the most part, associate the word “calling” with religious service. The positions of teaching, soldiering, working in the nonprofit sector come to mind as other examples of callings in this country. Many people pursue their passions outside of their traditional job because of the lack of adequate financial provision from their passion. There are a lot of bi-vocational pastors because of this.
Now and then, though, I wish clergy could step away from behind their pulpits, away from their ecclesiastical sanctuary or desk and experience living out their faith in a secular work environment. Many have tried their hand in the foreign mission field or in outreach which gives them a taste of the real-world experience. Admittedly, it is challenging to work in a church, trying to live a life worthy of a higher standard. Then it gets comfortable working behind those walls. I am not discounting the effort. But living out your faith in life experiences while in the “real” world should not be discounted. I have worked in the church and secular environments. Living out my faith in the world is a harder thing to do.
Active in a vocation (as opposed to a calling) can still be part of the hands and voice for God. Vocations are a “tool” to be Christ-like. And the more this theological and Biblical concept is utilized, the more spiritual holistic and congruent living can be found no matter if the work is as professional church workers and or that of the laity.
It was during my initial college pursuit, early on after high school, I studied journalism. I began to find it distasteful when exposed to the lack of integrity and scruples of those in the profession I was trying to pursue. I remember it being taught to us budding investigative reporters how to read a written document upside down. I voiced my concerns to my advisor about it, and he challenged me to try and make a difference. Later while working in public relations, I became burned out trying to represent some of the clients in a positive light for whom I had little respect. There will never be a perfect work scenario, but I began to fine tune my choices redirecting myself to ministry in Christian Outreach, being more of an advocate for Christ and in teaching; things I can believe in that hopefully have a more tangible, lasting impact on society.
Depending on the generation you are born into, the viewpoint of a person’s identity is usually wrapped up in that era’s dominant story. Canadian writer F.S. Michaels explains hypothesizes that the governing pattern of a given culture is their master story, one narrative in society that dominates others, forming a monoculture. When living in a master story of a given period in history, she says the tendency is to accept its definition of reality. The power of the monoculture; is its ability to direct and influence actions without being aware (subliminal). Life marches on and another monoculture develops replacing the old for a new generation. Reflect on the last 50 years and what the dominant themes of the decades were. For example, (and by no means a conclusive list):
In the 1960’s birth control pills were introduced, the space program launched, Martin Luther King ’s historially reverberating speech: “I have a dream speech and civil rights legislation.
The 1970’s ushered in Watergate and disengagement in the war of Vietnam, both resulting in distrust of the U.S. government.
The 1980’s saw the introduction of the worldwide web, the aids epidemic, and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall signifying the end of the cold war after World War II between the east and the west.
The Soviet Union dissolves in the 1990’s and Google and Amazon came onto the Internet scene as did the portable mobile phones.
The decade of 2000 brought attention to global terrorism after 9 11 forever changing life in the United States, the entry, after 30 years, into still long-standing war, and Facebook enters the social media scene.
I fall under the sociological group category of the Boomer Generation (those born between the approximate years of 1946 to 1964). Typically known as Baby Boomer, I drop the baby once my generation clocked passed a certain age. This generation profoundly identified themselves by what their professional occupation. Consequently, we get wrapped up in the tyrannical notion of work/life balance. Leisure is not as essential to the human spirit but considered as a self-indulgent luxury reserved for the privileged or, at its worse, the deplorable thought of idleness reserved for the lazy. We were the largest generation with my children’s generation just recently passing us in numbers but then we did birth them. I share these sociological and historical markers because it all shapes a person. The shifting sand can be hard to get a footing without a supporting firm spiritual foundation spiritually.now experience a gift of more leisure in this season of life, and slowly I appreciate the transition away from the demands of always going, going, going almost to the point of leaving myself behind. Thoughts still creep in that I am not doing enough, at worse, am lazy while I attempt to live this truism of life: nothing overmuch. The advice for creating margins, or boundaries, of unscheduled downtime into life’s calendar.
Now experiencing a gift of more time in this season of my life that previously was taken up with my role of a mother, slowly I appreciate the transition away from the demands of always going, going, going almost to the point of leaving myself behind. Thoughts still creep in that I am not doing enough, at worse, am lazy while I attempt to live this truism of life: nothing overmuch. It’s advice for advocating to create margins, or boundaries, of unscheduled downtime into life’s calendar.
An error in my thinking while pursuing my first advanced degree was that being credentialed with a degree would open doors of opportunity easier or quicker than what I was previously doing. Before my volunteering (which meant for me as building credibility or working my way up through the rank and structure) for 4 or 5 years in a given area built up my credibility in qualifications and reliability. When I mentioned this to a college colleague, she insisted a degree or position did not indicate a calling. Her mantra is that when called to do something, a person would do it. No. Matter. What. I eventually went on to finish the higher degree. She did not but continues great works in ministry. Who took the correct path? Both paths are probably correct. The confusion sets in when I judge myself against the world’s want of a known job title to identify myself not to mention help them to figure out my economic status. David Whyte said at one of his poetry readings that to name things is a way to control something. It’s gotten so skewed that having a credit card is now a form of credibility into today’s society.
It is not so much about what I do rather it is a conundrum to try to identify myself when asked the dreaded inquiry “What do you do?” I yearn for one or a few words to describe all I do and want to do. Thet kind of life endeavor I do or exhibit doesn’t fit nicely into a few words. The term used now that is close to describing it is “gig” economy, that of wearing a few different professional hats (which I have always done, once we called it freelancing). “Every human person is inevitably involved with two worlds: the world they carry within them and the world that is on the outside… no one but you knows what your inner world is actually like, and no one can force you to reveal it until you actually tell them about it. There” says Irish Poet John O’Donahue (1956-2008), “are so many people frightened by the wonder of their presence. They are dying to tie themselves into a system, a role, or to an image, or to a predetermined identity that other people have actually settled on them.”
The closest I have come to describing my calling (inclusive for both ministry and secular vocations) is as an advocate for something or someone that contributes to society. I use that as my mission statement.
Frederick Buckner captures a go-to idea of what a calling is: “The place God calls you to be is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
To know you are in that place of calling takes prayer. Samuel’s life pattern is bathed in prayer. He prayed when he had reservations about the people (1Sam. 8:6-7) and as Samuel became aware of the evil in Saul’s life he never stopped praying (12:22) for him. This trait in Samuel’s personality preceded him. The people knew him to be a great man of prayer and respected him for it (1Sam. 12:19).
How does God speak to us? He speaks from His Word (The Bible), prayer, fellowship with like-minded, through circumstances (or providence), and through the shepherding of a worship leader. God called Samuel initially through dreams and visions. Some say since Jesus left us the Holy Spirit, His advocate to help us (Jn. 14:15-31); God no longer uses dreams to communicate with us. In the book of Acts, however, we discover that both God the Father and God the Holy Spirit also still offers guidance through dreams and visions to specific people.
Second Samuel introduces King David, who Jews viewed as the ideal King. Set in the land of Israel, this book records the 40-year reign of David. Half of the book tells of David’s success as a brilliant leader through his consolidation of the kingdom’s domain and as a military commander. The other half of the book shows his humanness with his failures as a man and a father. This book begins right after Saul’s suicide and his son’s Jonathan (David’s best friend) death on the battlefield. The human spiritual counselor for David during his reign was Nathan.
One of the obvious big differences of opinion between modern day Judaism and Christianity is the promise of the future King, the Messiah. The Jewish view of the Messiah as King is one who is ruling, reigning and establishing peace on earth. Hebrew scripture speaks of the Messiah in two ways: as a Suffering Servant and as a Conquering King.
In Isaiah (11:1-10, 9:7) one of there is prophecy: “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse (King David’s father); from his roots, a Branch will bear fruit”… “from that time on and forever.” David was a conquering, warrior King. He was human and did not live forever. He prefigures Jesus. Jews do not think the future King prophesied in Isaiah is Jesus.
One of the Jewish beliefs of their coming Messiah is that he would rule from Jerusalem, bringing peace and security to Israel. To them, Jesus didn’t bring this peace to Israel, which history to current day events reveals so He cannot be the Messiah. The Jews are still waiting for the Messiah to come. It is a tale of two Kings.
Analogist to who Jesus is can be found in perennial plants. In the first year, their flowers are small. It takes some years of the plant maturing to reach another full flower bloom after the initial burst, yet the full flower is present, in embryo, in the original plant. Continuity and development of the flower are present, not a contradiction. The full flower was what the first flower was always intended to be (think of Adam in Genesis and Jesus as the second Adam). There is this indwelling peace and security Christians have in their belief in Jesus amidst the turmoil of this world. Couldn’t this be the type of peace that God intended packaged differently, then what the peace Jews seek for Israel? A parallel can be made to Jesus as a warrior king when you think about Him defeating death.
David is appealing because despite him being a man of contrasts, he continually strives as a man after God’s heart as Samuel called him (1Sam. 13:14, Acts 13:22). David started out as a lowly shepherd boy tending sheep, became an adopted member of Saul’s household, a musician, and poet, then eventually a man of great courage and military prowess. Then he became a fugitive from Saul for thirteen years before becoming Israel’s most famous King.
Initially, I was startled when a friend once said she thought I was a woman after God’s heart. The context of our conversation was about struggling with the Q&A’s surrounding faith, yet still, maintain belief in my faith. Pastor and writer Chuck Swindoll defines a person after God’s heart as a person of integrity. It’s who you are when no one is looking. Meanwhile, we live in a world that still echoes the old phrase “fake it ‘til you make it.” I get that, for the most part, we are uncertain at times on what to do in the public arena consequently put on a public persona of showing confidence. It is easy to find on MyFace and SpaceBook (a play on words on the names of prominent social media sites) gives many examples of folks presenting their ideal self to the world. Most post on social media is projected view of how they want to be seen. You can’t fake it with God though. He focuses on inward qualities that lie in the character of the heart and he knows us.
Abraham Lincoln said nearly all men can stand adversity but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power. All of us have some level of power. It comes from many things: fame, money, charisma, connections, inner strength and beauty, knowledge, wisdom, self-control, faith or hope just to name a few. Amid those things, and how you act when no one is looking, defines you. A quick soul check is living a life that is congruent in every role rather than segregated your persona to the environment you find yourself. That’s the sweet spot of finding peace. A persona shouldn’t change their personality once walking the door of home, church or office. Unfortunately using power for selfish aims can reach levels of perverted peace particularly when consistently living out power by controlling another person’s life other than your own. It’s a slippery slope when we start putting the endowment of our talents and personality we receive from God above the gift Giver. Literary stories give us an idea of the outcomes of trading our soul with the Faustian bargaining for knowledge and power or in the case of Dorian Gray’s narcissism.
We can relate to King David because he had power mixed in with human moments of weakness of selfish gain. Once it was apparent to David that God knew what he had done, he saw his wrongdoing (2Sam. 12:13). I am sure David would have turned back the hands of time to undo this wrong if he could. But that’s impossible after the fact, then and now. We can learn from mistakes; which David did and make amends the best way we can.
As believers, we don’t run up a massive debt on a sin card and expect a Divine Daddy to bail us out. It doesn’t work that way. But the consequences of our actions are enveloped in forgiveness. The healing of the wound caused by sin does not always erase the scar. David reaped what he had sown, as does everyone else reap, it seems later rather than sooner, who exercises a self-achieving will. I don’t see those consequences as punishment from a mean God. It is the direct cause and effect of a given a choice. I know I am forgiven, but it doesn’t wipe away the after effects of my offense.