When I was sixteen years old, I was convinced God was calling me to be the next Sandi Patty…I wanted God to use me- to put me on a stage every night in front of thousands of people so I could sing to them about Him…Somehow, it never occurred to me to care what God thought about all this or what He might want to do in my life. If I thought about it at all, I just assumed He was on board with my plans. Like, how could He not be, right?¹
There’s much ado about dreaming big dreams for God in modern evangelicalism. Think of the biggest thing you want to do for God and then “step out on faith” and make it happen. Sometimes we’re even told God is offended if our dreams aren’t big enough. It means we don’t have enough faith. It means we don’t believe God – or love Him – enough.
Or does it?
If you study through the books of 1 and 2 Samuel, you’re going to get to know Saul and David pretty well. And as you observe and compare their words, their behavior, and their interactions with God, a major theme that jumps out is obedience to God’s word versus doing what’s right in your own eyes.
Saul was an “I did it my way,” kind of guy. Time and again, he looked out for number one. Tried to build up his own kingdom. Did what he thought was best.
In 1 Samuel 15, God told Saul to utterly destroy the Amalekites. Everything. Every living creature and all their stuff. All means all.
But Saul had big dreams. So, he destroyed all the worthless stuff and all the people, but he saved the king and all the valuables. He disobeyed God’s clear word in favor of what he wanted to do.
Here’s the interesting part, though. When Samuel showed up and said, “Why did you disobey the Lord?” Saul said, not once, but twice, “I did obey the Lord.”
Why? Because Saul was going to offer some of those sheep he spared in a grand and showy sacrifice to the Lord. He was going to “do great things for God” and, in his mind, that was far better and more glorious than simple obedience to God’s explicit command.
By contrast, God says David was “a man after my heart, who will do all my will.” David sought the Lord and obeyed His words.
But David had a dream, too. He loved God deeply and wanted to do something big to honor Him.
“See now, I dwell in a house of cedar,” David said, “but the ark of God dwells in a tent.” David wanted to build a grand and glorious house for God.
It was a good dream. A dream that stemmed from godly motives. A dream that was, in reality, part of God’s plan.
But God said, “No.” Because it wasn’t God’s plan for David.
Sometimes there are things we want to do for God in life or in ministry because our hearts are fairly bursting with love for Him. Nothing small or insignificant will suffice- we want to do great things for Him because He has done so many great things for us.
Can I just tell you- that heart is what is most precious to God, not whatever it is you can dream up to do for Him. Every parent who’s ever received a clay ashtray or a bedraggled dandelion from her five year old knows this. We love the heart of our child who wants to show her love for us, even if the gift itself isn’t quite right.
And just like you would have to tell your five year old no if she wanted to demonstrate her love for you by having the family skip church on Sunday so she could cook you a four course brunch, God sometimes has to say no to the things we want to do for Him because those things – even though motivated by love for Him – conflict with His word, are out of sync with His timing, or aren’t His specific plan for us, personally.
It might be your heart’s deepest desire to serve God as the perfect Proverbs 31 wife…and God says no by declining to provide you with a husband. Maybe it’s always been your dream to raise a house full of children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord…and God says no by preventing you from bearing or adopting children. “I’ve always loved to tell people about Jesus,” you think, “Surely He’s calling me to be a pastor.”…and God says no in His word because that’s not His plan for Christian women.
God said no to David, too. It wasn’t the right time. It didn’t fit with what God was trying to accomplish in Israel at that moment. And David wasn’t the right man for the job. God had other things He wanted David to do.
How did David respond when God said no? Did he push forward with his own plans and build the temple anyway? Spend the rest of his life sulking or angry at God? Turn away from God all together?
No. David responded with humility that God would use him in any way, joy over God’s love and blessings, and thanksgiving for God’s plans and promises.
That’s what a heart that truly loves God does. It obeys Him. It finds joy in any task He might bring our way. It is thankful and humbled that God takes any notice of us whatsoever and lavishes His grace and mercy upon us by allowing us to do what He wants us to do.
God didn’t allow David to build the temple. God didn’t allow me to become a top Christian recording artist. Maybe there’s something God isn’t allowing you to do. Will you joyfully obey Him in the things He does have planned for you? Will you be thankful and humbled that He desires to use you as part of His good plans and purposes even if those plans and purposes don’t match your own?
May we all follow David’s example – and the Greater David’s example – by saying, meaning, and living out, “Not my will but Thy will be done,” even when God says no.