A Heart of Rebellion: The Struggle to Be a David when You’re Surrounded by Sauls

October 6th, 2009

Receiving tickets to the premier of The Lion King stage production was something beyond my wildest dreams. Not only was it a musical I was dying to see, but I was elated to be watching this amazing stage production just a few rows behind Robin Williams and Barry Bonds. Needless to say, I was a little extravagant with my kids at the souvenir stand. (Hey, I didn't pay the $500.00 ticket fee; I could afford a couple of over-priced trinkets.) My son and his best friend Hanna, one of my youth group kids, each chose a stuffed animal (making sure not to pick the same one), while I selected a t-shirt. I fought every urge within me to buy my first choice: an excellent likeness of the show's villain with the phrase “I am surrounded by idiots” splashed across the front (youth pastors should be examples, after all). Instead, I opted for one that was a little too feminine for my normal tastes, but most likely much more acceptable. As we sat down, Hanna looked fairly upset. I asked her if anything was wrong, and she immediately informed me that I'd purchased the wrong T-shirt. She persisted in letting me know, in very explicit detail, that I should've bought the “idiots” t-shirt because everyone knows that I'm absolutely frustrated by the stupidity that surrounds me.

I was floored. What could I say? If my rebellious heart was perfectly evident to an 11-year-old, what kind of example was I setting for the rest of the kids in my church? When had I started allowing the “idiots” in power to frustrate me so much that I'd become so clearly rebellious? When had I become less like David and more like Saul?

Are There Sauls in the Church?

Saul often gets a bad rap. Yeah, he put his own desires before God and he was a power hungry fool, but seriously was he all that bad? I mean, come on, how many Sauls do you have in your church right now?

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe you have the one church in America that doesn't have a constant battle over which decorations will be used at the monthly potluck or incessant skirmishes (sometimes even bloody) about whether the youth group should go bowling or go-carting for fellowship night. But my church does.

Not my current congregation, of course; my congregation is perfect. However in the past throughout my denomination as a whole I've encountered old ladies who are convinced that their casserole dish is God's heavenly manna, and fathers who know beyond a shadow of a doubt that their kid should be starting pitcher on the church softball team, and even (heaven forbid) the pastor whose may have started out with a well-intentioned ministry but ended up just like Saul.

Idiots are everywhere in the church. They don't mean to be idiots and most are completely oblivious to their idiotic tendencies. However, we have them in our church; and thanks to human nature, they're here to stay.

When I study Saul, it occurs to me that he was a fairly good leader in the beginning of his reign. In fact, Saul first met Samuel because Saul was willing to listen to the advice of a lowly servant. He was humble in his response to Samuel wanting him to be king and even tried to leave thinking that Samuel had made a mistake, but God changed Saul's heart and he obeyed everything Samuel asked of him. So where did he go wrong? How did a sweet humble kid who listened to servants become the maniac king who tried to kill his son's best friend?

Our Own Saul-Like Tendencies

I believe there are three fundamental sins in our world. The Bible breaks them down a little more, but essentially there are three sins that can destroy a ministry: sex, money, and power. Now we've all seen the starting salaries of religious leaders, and I'm pretty sure that no one goes into ministry for the paycheck. And although sexual temptation has waylaid many of our brothers and sisters in the past, a majority of us actually suffer in that area because of the nature of our jobs. However, if you think about it, ministry in itself has a natural tie in with power issues.

We enter the ministry to help people. What's the first thing that happens when we start ministry? We receive responsibility for 10, 20, 50, or even 300 people. Yes, we all know that they're God's people. We know that it's an honor and privilege to serve them, but the reality is that being in charge, no matter how humble you are, has a way of boosting your ego. And sometimes desire for getting his or her own way corrupts even the most humble person. Ego is corrupted into desire for power and, unfortunately, power-hungry people often end up taking over the church.

Don't get me wrong; I have a lot of Saul-like tendencies. I'm a natural born warrior (see my 4th grade essay; “How I Will One Day Conquer the World Like the Warrior Goddess Athena” still on display in Mrs. Burton's classroom at Maple Elementary), I often let my temper get the best of me, and I love getting my own way. And once or twice I've been accused of abusing my powers for my own desires.

I don't think a rebellious heart is necessarily a bad thing. In fact, when used in the right way, a rebellious heart can be a good thing. John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ, God used Corrie ten Boom's rebellious heart in occupied Holland, and then there's David.

David had to wait to be king, but he didn't just sit around doing nothing. He fought like one of history's greatest warriors. He was a rebel, and even though he followed God, he used his rebellious heart to conquer the enemy, which incidentally was used by God to thwart Saul at every turn. The difference was that when David was fighting he was doing it for God. He didn't care about his own throne, even when it was promised to him. He waited on God and used his rebellious desires for God's purposes and not his own.

“You know you would do yourself and everyone else a whole lot of good if you just did what they asked instead of questioning every single thing.” My friend was speaking to me after yet another one of my tirades. The people in charge had just issued another order showing again that they were completely clueless to the needs of the inner city. I, of course, have all the answers and was blowing off a bunch of steam. So my friend called me on it. Sure my rebellious heart was one of the key factors in getting our church and our kids the things that they needed most. But maybe, just maybe, it was the thing that sometimes held us back.

Did I have an unconscious need for power? Was there truth behind my feelings when I jokingly remarked about being surrounded by idiots. And sure, as far as knowledge goes, the pecking order does boil down to God, Jesus, some guy at Oxford, and then me, but did that actually hurt my ministry?

My whole life I was taught to fight for what I believed in. “Let people know how you feel!” “Stand up for injustice in our world.” “Everyone is equal.” These are monikers that were driven into me over and over again. But something that was overlooked was the idea that sometimes we have to back the guy (or girl) in charge just because they're in charge. David did that. He had plenty of opportunity to take the throne from Saul, a man who was clearly an insane idiot, but he never did. He waited.

Being More Like David

David waited on God. He was a pretty smart guy, but he knew that God was smarter (something I often forget); so he waited, waited for God's perfect timing.

I don't have a Ph.D. I've never asked Gallop to do an extensive study, but I think it'd be safe to say that the biggest mistake most youth workers make is taking things into our own hands.

We, the youth workers, are the ones who know our kids best. We're the ones who spend countless hours cleaning up after the impromptu water fight, or losing sleep at the 20th annual jr. high lock-in. We're the ones our kids go to when their parents just don't get it. We're the ones who show up at all their events. We…not the sr. pastor or the decision makers of the church council…we, the lowly youth staff, do it all and know it all. How dare they give us an order? How dare they tell us what to do?

Watchman Nee knew what it was like to be surrounded by idiots. A Christian pastor in Communist China, Nee was thrown into jail over and over again. A scholar, Nee wrote a great many books, but my personal favorite is Spiritual Authority. This book is kind of deep but in it he reminds us of a very basic principal, “God gives all authority, so we should all subject ourselves to the higher authority because their authority is granted by God.”

Easier said than done, right? Sure, we'd all agree that the Bible teaches us to subject ourselves to those in power over us, but how do we actually do it? Nee suggests the following:

Remember and Recognize That All Authority Is Given by God

So even if idiots are in power we have to honor and respect them. As I finish this article, the idiots in authority are giving yet another foolish decree. I have two choices: I can honor their decisions, even though it is an idiotic assessment of the situation, or I can flat out fight them. The choice is mine, but that also leads me to Nee's second thought:

You Must Deny Yourself

Come on, I do that all the time. Don't I give countless hours to the kids? Don't I actually pay for the teens that don't have the money for bowling, even on my meager salary? Don't I…wait, maybe Nee means denying myself when it comes to those in authority. Wow, what a concept. Never really thought of that before, maybe I should give it a try. But that one is too hard, what else does Nee suggest?

You Must Keep in Constant Fellowship with Christ

Oh, now I get it. The third idea really must come first. If I keep in constant fellowship with Christ, I'll be able to deny myself and recognize that God gives all authority, even idiotic authority, power over us—so simple yet so profound.

I think back to Saul; I see a man who could've been a great king but instead became a violent lunatic, just because he wanted his own way. Then I think about David, a foolish kid who screwed up a lot but followed God and put his rebellious heart to the use of the holy and not of himself.

All of these thoughts running around in my head lead me back to my Lion King shirt (yeah, I went back and got the “idiots” one). I think about the reactions I get, both good and bad, and think maybe (if I want to be more like David) I shouldn't wear it at work any more.

Nah, I'll keep my shirt, and just work on my attitude.


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