He also chose David His servantAnd took him from the sheepfolds; From tending the ewes with nursing young He brought himTo shepherd Jacob His people,And Israel His inheritance. So David shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart;And guided them with his skillful hands.
Psalm 78: 70-72
We know King David as one of the most gifted leaders the world has ever known. His bravery inspired incredible exploits by the Mighty Men, his battle strategy won many conflicts, and he welded the divided kingdom back together with his diplomatic skill. If we look back to his younger years, we find that his leadership skills and character were shaped during years of obscurity on the hillsides tending sheep.
During those seemingly empty years, how many times did David wonder if his life would ever amount to anything? Day after day and night after night, he paid attention to the task before him. He led the sheep to better pastures and fresh water, and he killed a lion and a bear that attacked them. Alone with his thoughts, he prayed, reflected, and developed literary skill as he wrote his prayers to God. When the time came for David to act to rescue Israel from Goliath and the Philistines, his heart was strong and his hands had been trained. He was ready.
Some of us find ourselves living and serving in obscurity. Many of our friends and colleagues have passed us up, and we’re tempted to feel abandoned and quit trying. David’s example helps us stay in the game, to sharpen our skills and strengthen our hearts so we’re ready when the time comes to act.
Will you be ready?
Integrity gives you real freedom because you have nothing to fear, since you have nothing to hide.
Webster defines integrity as the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness. There is great need in our world today for people of integrity. Integrity isn’t something that someone is born with. It’s developed over time through consistently practicing choosing to do the right, honest, and proper thing.
The earlier in life we begin this practice the more likely it is that we will practice it in larger ways later in life. We are creatures of habit and if we choose the path of integrity early in life, it will continue to be our choice throughout life. Integrity begins in small ways and small things. Usually if we don’t exhibit integrity in the small things, we probably won’t in the big things either.
David didn’t become a person of integrity after he became king. He had already developed that trait as a young man. We read about the visit that Samuel made to his father’s house. I’m sure that must have been a momentous occasion and it would have been easy for a youth to justified abandoning his work to meet Samuel. After all it was probably a once in a lifetime opportunity and something never offered again. David could have reasoned that the sheep would be ok for a few hours. As we read the story, we hear Jessie saying to Samuel, “Yes, I have another son, but he’s with the sheep.” How did Jessie know that? Perhaps because every time David had been given that task he was faithful in carrying it out. David’s faithfulness in taking care of the sheep trained him to care for God’s people. God knew that if David couldn’t be trusted to care for his earthly father’s sheep, neither could he be trusted to care for the flock of God.
When Jesus called the disciples, He found men who were faithful to their work. James and John were busy mending nets for their father’s fishing business. They had no doubt spent the day fishing, casting nets and dragging them in again which was grueling work. They could have done a piece-meal job at mending nets, just enough to get by but they knew their livelihood depended on those nets and each tear had to be carefully mended so there would be no loss as the net drug over the bottom of the sea. They understood it was important to take care of the small things well and when Jesus called them to ministry, their integrity in the small things would give them success in the “fishing of men.”
Someone defined integrity as doing the right thing when no one’s looking but I think that it goes beyond that to an awareness that God is seeing. The challenge we face as Christians in our current environment stems from those who profess to be Christian and yet their conduct doesn’t reflect their walk with Christ. Christians, of all people, ought to be the ones that people can trust. Their faith and their lifestyles ought to coincide, each reflecting the other. Christians are often accused to coming to church and singing Oh how I love Jesus while at the same time being difficult neighbors, employees, and citizens. More than once I’ve heard non-Christians talk about professing Christians who don’t pay their bills, who are quick to take the advantage of others, whose word is seldom kept, and who exhibit a harsh, uncaring attitude toward those not in the club.
What I’m going to share may sound like a radical reverse from our norms. While we are in the church, our flaws, shortcomings, and sin nature ought to be made known. When we view the church as a hospital where those who are sick go to become well, it becomes the place where we confess our need for God and for help to overcome the power of sin. But unfortunately church is often the place where we put on our best behavior and pretend that all is well. We live to impress each other, we project a life of righteousness, and we hide our struggles. We do so out of fear that if the real us became visible we would be subject to gossip, shunning, and perhaps excommunication. But wasn’t it Jesus who invited the one who is burdened and broken and trapped by sin to come to Him. I think He said that if they came, He wouldn’t cast them out.
Following this line of thinking, then, means that the place where our integrity should be seen is outside the church. Integrity doesn’t mean that we get it right all the time, but it does mean when we fail that we admit to that failure and seek forgiveness. I believe that part of confession is restitution, making things right. If we fail to keep our word in a matter, it is imperative that once the Holy Spirit brings it to our attention, that we go to the person with whom we broke our promise and confess our sin and make restitution if at all possible. If our business ethics are lacking, we need to ask God’s help in managing them so that we pay what we owe, we give a fair day’s labor for a fair day’s pay, we become known as people who can be trusted with confidential information and other’s property, and when we give our word, people know it will be kept. It’s not easy being a person of integrity. Sometimes it will bring suffering. Just ask Joseph who was thrown in jail for resisting Potiphar’s wife. Sometimes others may get the best things. Ask Abraham who gave Lot first choice of grazing land. Sometimes it will cause others to persecute you. Ask David when he was being pursued by Saul. Sometimes it would be easy to give in and even those close to us may encourage us to “be reasonable.” Ask Job when he was surrounded by friends in the midst of his adversity and when even his wife said, “Why don’t you just curse God and die.” But scripture tells us that in all this, Job kept his integrity and did not sin against God.
God is looking for those with whom He can trust with the treasures of the kingdom of heaven. I hope that He finds in each of us an integrity He can use.
Dr. John Thompson