The greatest temptation you’ll have this year is to pursue some good purpose—some good thing you believe God wants you to have (and you may be right)—in your own way.
You might say, “I feel like God wants me to be prosperous and bless me with money, but it’s not happening fast enough, so I’ll just hedge a little bit here and there, or overwork myself to make it happen.”
Or, “I feel like God wants me to be married, but it’s not happening on the timeline I like, so I’ll take matters into my own hands and compromise my standards.”
Or, “I feel like God wants me to be happy in my marriage, but I’m not sure that’s possible with this spouse, so I’ll leave this one and pursue another.”
Or, “I need to pass this class, but I don’t have time for this paper, so I’ll plagiarize. ChatGPT makes it easier than ever, after all. It’s not that big of a deal anyway, and it will get me the grade.”
Whatever it is for you, the life of David shows that this isn’t the way. David’s posture, when he was obedient toward God, was one of waiting on God, trusting him to fulfill his purposes in his time, in his way. On multiple occasions he effectively said, “I will not break the commands of God in order to achieve the purposes of God.” (And when he did break those commands, the results were horrific.)
A lot of people, you see, go through life backward. They assume that God has brought them into the world to figure stuff out and fix everything. They know they can’t do it alone, so they enlist God to help from time to time. Their general attitude is, “God, this is what I think needs to be done. Help me with it.”
But David’s posture, at his best, was one of listening to God first, then acting. He didn’t figure out what he wanted to do and then ask God to bless it. He asked God what God wanted to do and sought to follow him.
In every epoch of Scripture, God is the primary actor. God is the one bringing salvation and blessing to the earth. Your job is to discern where he is at work and join him, asking, “God, where do you want to go? I want to join you.”
A person after God’s own heart seeks to join God in what he is doing.
Sometimes, that looks like a divine call that comes through an opportunity the Spirit invites you into, like Paul with the vision of the man from Macedonia. You might not see a vision, but God might let you sense an opportunity where you’re positioned and gifted to help.
Sometimes, it’s a conversation where you sense God has been at work in someone’s heart and he’s put you in a place to participate, like Jesus and the woman at the well.
Sometimes, you discern where God is at work by experiencing unusual success in something, like Joseph and the favor he experienced with Potiphar.
Sometimes, you sense God’s activity as you work among those Jesus tended to hang out with—the poor, the marginalized, people from other ethnic groups, etc.
There isn’t one model here—unless that model is sensitivity to the Spirit of God. One of the most amazing pictures of this principle is when David is facing his first battle as king, recorded in 2 Samuel 5:
And the Philistines came up yet again and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim. And when David inquired of the LORD, he said, “You shall not go up; go around to their rear, and come against them opposite the balsam trees. And when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, then rouse yourself, for then the LORD has gone out before you to strike down the army of the Philistines.” And David did as the LORD commanded him, and struck down the Philistines from Geba to Gezer. (vv. 22–25 ESV, emphasis added)
Few of us are going to hear God marching through balsam trees. But the principle stands: When you hear and see evidence of God on the move, don’t just sit there. Rouse yourself and join him!
One of my recurring prayers for myself is that God would open up my ears to hear the sound of his marching so that I can join him. For most of my life, I’ve done the opposite. I’ve gone out marching and asked God to join me. I’ve assumed it’s my responsibility to fix everything and seek his help.
But that’s his job.
My job is to join him in what he’s doing. At the end of the day, your greatest strategy for success is simply this: Listen to God, follow God, submit to God.