For much of our driving lives, we’ve driven old cars. For the last 10 years, that’s been a pair of first-generation Nissan Micras. Fantastically well-made, almost indestructible cars. In fact, we’ve only moved on to something marginally less old because it was getting hard to find replacement parts. Woody (as we knew our last car) was just too ancient to fit the diagnostic tool at the mechanics.
Our kids became increasingly embarrassed about these beaten-up old bangers (as they saw them). Yet the point was: these cars might not look like much from the outside – but what was inside was brilliant. The engine, the gearbox, the heart of the car was superb, and was why we stuck with them for 10 years.
In contrast, we’ve just offloaded the best looking car we’ve ever owned. When we drove it away from the seller we were congratulating ourselves on a bargain… until we took it for its MOT a few days later and discovered it needed £1,000 of repairs. Bizarrely, it passed the MOT – it could still function on the road – but underneath the pristine exterior it was severely damaged.
This contrast is a perfect illustration of the difference between King Saul and King David. Why was David feted through history as Israel’s greatest king, yet Saul was seen largely as a failure? Both were anointed by the same prophet, both received the Spirit, both were chosen by their people. Both had their failures, too. And yet, one died in disgrace, the other became the ancestor of the greatest King of them all.
The answer is not what was outside. In any beauty contest, Saul would win hands down: he was much taller and more physically imposing, and although David was ‘ruddy and handsome’, Saul was ‘as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel.’
It was what was inside that mattered. As we observed yesterday, the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. For all his gifts, his physical attributes, his calling and even his anointing by the Spirit, Saul’s heart was never right. By contrast, it was David’s heart that set him apart. Inspired by God, Samuel saw in David the character of a true king: ‘People look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.’ (v7)
So when the Spirit filled David (v13), it was working in tandem with a heart that was already in fine shape: brave and humble, merciful and generous, purposeful, rooted and secure. David knew who he was: a child of God, set apart for His purposes. God’s Spirit went deeper than surface behaviour to mould this heart yet further into one that was fully surrendered to God.
God never forces himself on us. He works with the grain of who we are, and how far we let Him in. The greatest work of the Spirit is not in the outward things: great deeds, miracles, heroic achievements. It is what goes on inside: the Spirit’s transforming work in the heart. The Spirit was the world’s greatest heart surgeon long before we invented the job.
May we too offer our hearts fully to God, to the Spirit’s transforming love and power, that it too may be said of us, like David, that we are people ‘after God’s own heart’.