David was described in the Bible as a “man after God’s own heart.” We know David as a shepherd, a musician/writer/artist, a warrior, and a king. So, does that mean that all those attributes must be present to be recognized as people after God’s own heart? Those qualities describe what David did. Identifying with God’s heart means going deeper to grasp Who God is, more so than what He does. Just think of how many times someone has misunderstood something we did, and gotten angry because he/she thought we purposefully intended to hurt him/her. Unfortunately, we often treat God the same way.
But David understood what was at the root of God’s identity: “God is love.” (1 John 4:16) That perspective colored every situation – good and bad – in which David found himself. The assurance of God’s love empowered and emboldened David to face and kill both a lion and bear in hand-to-hand struggles where humans are generally not the winners. God’s protection born out of His love was David’s confidence in facing the giant, Goliath, and slaying him. No one was betting on this boy – the Israelite army was simply out of options.
David’s deep understanding of the love of God carried him through trial after trial: not immune from them, but victorious in them. David frequently found himself in dire circumstances such as the years he spent running for his life from King Saul who was bent on killing his successor. Most of us identify with unjust accusations that put us on the boss’ negative list, or in the doghouse with a spouse when our intentions were truly good. Through such things jobs have been lost, families broken apart, friendships destroyed. Like us, David felt the weight of the crisis and was not shy in describing the desperation of his situation. In Psalm after Psalm, we see his expression of pain, fear, and injustice followed by, “But God …” Every time David recounted God’s faithfulness and love, supernatural assurance and encouragement manifested. And afterwards, God changed his circumstances.
One of the most profound understandings of God’s love is recorded in Psalm 23. This is familiar to most of us, as we hear it quite frequently at funerals. But if we see it primarily as comfort in death, we have missed its most amazing aspect. When David says, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want,” he is saying God is the One Who looks after me, attends to everything that concerns me, provides ALL that I need. When God cares for me this way, I lack NOTHING. He goes on to state the Lord’s good intentions toward us: feeding our bodies and our spirits with the best of what they need, providing peace and safety, restoring and rejuvenating us from the weariness life brings.
Then we come to that famous line: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and staff, they comfort me.” The “shadow of death” can be interpreted as darkness, and scripture equates darkness with evil. So this is not just physical death, but anytime evil comes against us in any form. David is making the same statement that John made after Jesus’ death and resurrection: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” (1 John 4:18) Jesus took our punishment – there is no greater demonstration of love than that. So, the rod and staff — shepherds’ tools for herding, correction and defense — are not punitive, but protect us and keep us on God’s path. Minus these illustrations of ultimate love, we have no hope of truly understanding love. “We love because He first loved us.” (v.19)
As if this were not enough, David goes on to describe the extravagance of God’s love. God demonstrates His blessing on us even in the midst of hardships/attacks. His redemptive recycling of the negatives in our lives to beneficial purposes that even positively impact others, overwhelms us. We could have never imagined His scenario nor thought to ask for it. This is the abundant life in the present that accompanies the gift of life through all eternity.
God has given us more through His love than we can ever comprehend. All we have to do to be people after God’s own heart is to recognize that HE is the very embodiment and definition of Love. Even when life circumstances appear differently, this Truth is irrefutable. And that changes everything.