By Pastor Tracey Leslie
Scripture: 1 Samuel 16:1-13
When I was about seven years old, I thought I wanted to be a nurse in the Air Force. At that time, there was a commercial showing an Air Force nurse on a plane providing medical treatment to a badly wounded soldier. It seemed so exciting and exotic and wonderful. Several months later I had an accident in the bathtub and tore my big toenail loose from my toe. Looking down at the blood flowing from my own foot, I vomited and then I fainted. Don’t worry; my mom took care of everything. And I decided a nurse in the Air Force wasn’t the thing for me.
I want to invite to take just moment and think back to a time early in your life when you wanted to be or do something that now makes you chuckle because it is so “not” who you are.
Finding our purpose in life is important. Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life was on the New York Times best sellers list for 90 weeks. Clearly a lot of people, at the time the book was released and I assume still today, are struggling to find purpose for their lives. No one wants to wander aimlessly through life; we want our lives to have purpose and significance. We want to know we’re making a difference. But what is it that gives our lives meaning? What is the source or origin of that meaning? And what are the prerequisites for finding purpose and meaning in our lives?
As people of God, we know there is a difference between ambition and purpose. I would say that ambition is generally about ego; whereas purpose is about something beyond just ourselves. As people of God, our purpose is about pleasing God. This morning’s story about David and Samuel has a great deal to teach us about discerning our life’s purpose.
We see within this story that God has a call, a purpose for our lives, whether we are old or young. Sometimes we chuckle at the dreams of children because they sound naïve. Frequently, I have had older adults tell me that they are “too old” to have, or pursue, any deep longings within their lives. But the prophet Samuel is no spring chicken. At the opening of the narrative, he’d probably just as soon be retired. But when you work for God, God always reserves the right to call and put you to work. Only God gets to decide when we retire.
Now Samuel’s discouragement and apprehension is understandable; he’s grieving what he likely viewed as an enormous failure in his life’s work; perhaps questioning his life’s purpose. Samuel was called as a child to be God’s prophet (which makes it interesting that his final prophetic act will be to anoint David king while David is still a child). Samuel’s been on the job a long time. Throughout his career, he sought to draw the hearts of God’s people closer to God; yet Israel still wanted an earthly king and so God had instructed Samuel to anoint Saul as Israel’s first king. Saul turns out to be power hungry and “full of himself” and Samuel must inform Saul that God has fired him in essence. No doubt, Samuel must be worn out and discouraged. But it’s not the end of Samuel’s career and, in fact, what we might view as the most significant single act of his life – the action that has the most long-term significance for Israel – occurs in this morning’s story. God sends Samuel to anoint David as Israel’s new king… a young, rosy-cheeked shepherd boy whose resume was a blank page. But again, although this story is about David, it begins with Samuel… and his vision check.
A couple years back at my annual vision exam, I was informed by my optometrist that I have cataracts. I couldn’t believe it. Already? It was hard to accept; even harder when I was reminded that it wasn’t unusual for a person my age. Ouch.
Samuel had problems seeing too; but it wasn’t about cataracts. He had tunnel vision (in the figurative sense of the word). All he could see was outward appearance; what matched cultural norms and stereotypes. God, however, saw differently. God had a clear view of David’s heart. So God has to tell Samuel, “Do not look on appearance… for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord sees the heart.”[i] God can see what is within David’s heart and that is the qualification for this job of leading God’s people: a heart beating in sync with God’s heart.
In our modern Western culture, we associate the heart with our emotions. But ancient easterners viewed the heart more broadly. The heart was kind of the center of a person; it revealed who they were. The heart wasn’t confined to feelings; it was also associated with thinking and reasoning; it influenced human conduct and action. The nature of one’s heart revealed one’s true character. What lies within the heart is revealed by how one lives. The heart, for the Israelites, was considered the seat of wisdom and understanding. So in Psalm 51 we read this prayer to God: “You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.” It is David’s heart that qualifies him to be king.
Friends, the world is happy to attach labels to all of us and we are often judged by appearance or age, by race or gender, by place of origin or any number of categories or criteria that may be used against us. But God sees within us; God sees who we truly are and God sees who we may yet become. We are more than the sum of our past or our reputation; we are more than our current set of skills or abilities. God has a purpose for our lives; God gives our lives meaning, when we seek him with our hearts.
Certainly personality inventories can improve our self-awareness; certainly we should acknowledge and celebrate natural skills or talents; certainly education is important to our growth and development. But we can have all of those things and still not find purpose and meaning for our lives... unless our hearts are focused on honoring God, on drawing near to God, on listening to God, on learning from God, God will lend our lives purpose. God’s Spirit will come upon us and guide us and direct us to do things we might have never believed or imagined for ourselves.
I want to conclude this morning by returning again to the character of Samuel. Although David was seeking God’s heart, it was Samuel who, following the leading of God, sought out David and pronounced God’s purpose over his life. And often, even in our lives, it takes others to speak on God’s behalf… which is really all prophets did; they spoke on behalf of God. Now we have to be careful about how we do that and it likely won’t be as dramatic or clear as God’s conversation with Samuel. But I want to remind us that Church is a family. When we join the church, we make promises not only to God, but to one another. When children are baptized, we promise – together – to raise them in the faith. When we join the church, we promise to pray for the church which is the people. So we need, regularly, to be praying for one another – not just when someone is sick or has a problem. But we need to regularly pray and build relationships with one another because the Church is how God continues to speak his purpose over our lives as God continues to raise up Samuels who bless and speak God’s call over the lives of others. But that can’t happen if we’re not connecting to one another and praying for one another.
Friends, the source or origin of meaning for our lives is God. The God who made us, who knit us together in our mother’s wombs, knows us and loves us better than anyone. God is the one in whom we find purpose and seeking God’s heart with all our heart is the only requirement. To discover God’s purpose for our lives, we need to deepen our relationship with God and our relationships with one another (which is the vision statement of our church). Spiritual practices that help us grow closer to God will help us better understand God’s purpose for our lives. And deepening relationships with those who are prayerful and thoughtful and take seriously their responsibility to speak God’s purpose over our lives of others is also critical to discerning God’s purpose.
Right now, I want to turn your attention to the questions printed in your bulletin just under the sermon. As the newsletter mentioned, throughout this month of August, we’re going to have a chance to experience a little bit of the shape our fall Fusion Gatherings will take. Fusion will be a space to connect, discover, and grow. So this morning, using the two questions in your bulletin, I invite you to form groups of 4 or 5 – huddle up with the people around you – and take just a few minutes to connect, discover and grow using the questions in your bulletin:
[i] 1 Samuel 16:7
On a lifelong journey of seeking to live out God's call on my life and to reflect His grace.
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