If you’ve been in leadership for any amount of time, you’ve experienced ups and downs. Success and failure. I know that I have.
I think of so many of the great leaders of the bible; Moses, Abraham, Paul, and David for example. They each had moments of triumph and moments of crying to God in desperation. Today, I’d like to share about one particular moment in David’s journey.
For me, it encourages me that no matter the failure I experience in leadership, God can redeem it. And no matter the stumbles I take as a Christian, God can redeem me. I hope that you experience the same encouragement from this passage.
Create in me a pure heart, O God and renew a steadfast spirit within me.Psalm 51: 10
As we dive in, let me remind you of the context of this passage. This is one of the few Psalms that we know the context for. So, let’s look at the setting in which David penned these words.
The Fall of a Leader
The story is found in 2 Samuel 11 and 12. I encourage you to read the passage in its entirety. But for now, let me highlight a few things. Even if you’ve read this passage a thousand times, I encourage you to allow this passage come alive to you again as you engage with David.
After a long struggle with Saul, David had become king and was hugely successful in winning military battles. He had a sterling reputation. Throughout the life of David, we read him as highly favored by God and men. He is the hero of many scenes in scripture. Yet, in this story, we meet him in a situation that seems contradictory to the rest of his journey.
From his rooftop, he spies a beautiful woman bathing. Now, he doesn’t just accidentally see her for a brief moment and look away. No- he sees and watches. In his heart, he begins to want her.
Usually, the retelling of this biblical story portray Bathsheba as this scandalous women that intentionally evokes the lust of David, luring him into her trap. Artists and movies have portrayed this women as a gold-digger trying to ensnare this innocent king. And we allow it because we somehow want someone blame for the hero’s fall, but this is indeed David’s fall.
Be Warned of Small Sin
In reality, scripture doesn’t say anything to imply that Bathsheba is a temptress. In fact, all the action in this story is from this powerful man manipulating a situation for his own gain.
Bathsheba’s privacy was invaded by this powerful man peering onto her rooftop and into her life.
We read that David rises from bed, walks around, sees Bathsheba, and sends for her.
Although David sees her as an object, the text identifies her by name, she is the daughter of Eliam, one of David’s valiant warriors. And she is the wife of Uriah who is off fighting in battle on behalf of David.
David knows these men and knows exactly who she is but none of this information deters David because in his heart, he already desired her. To him, Bathsheba was another conquest, she was simply kindling that ignited the flames of his passion, not a person with a name, family and life of her own.
David looked upon her. A look led to desire, desire to intent, and intent to pursuit, and pursuit to deed. And this deed ultimately brought death. This is the nature of sin. When sin enters a leader’s life, no matter how small it is at first, it leads to more sin and the wages of sin is always death. My friend, sin for leaders comes in many forms. It may be a lustful desire or a secret addiction. It might be jealousy or even a rugged independence. Sin is anything that separates you from God.
Misused Power and Massive Repercussions
David sent his messengers to take her from her home. When she came to him, he slept with her and she returned home. In a half of a verse we learn that Bathsheba’s life changed forever. We see that she was taken from her home by the king’s men, brought to his chambers, was used for sex and sent away.
This was not only a male dominated culture, he was the King! He had a sterling reputation and she was one of his subjects. She would have had no opportunity to say no to his advances and she would have no one to tell for no one would believe her against the king. David was in total control of the situation and whether or not she put up a fight, it appears from this passage that she was taken advantage of.
David was supposed to use his power to protect his subjects. Yet, in this case, he uses it for his own gain with no regard for the life of Bathsheba.
So, some time passes and while her husband still away at battle, she realizes that she is pregnant. Bathsheba, a victim of an abuse of power, sends word to her abuser to tell him she has become pregnant with his child.
Can you imagine, the statement of “I’m pregnant” is usually so joyful, but in this situation, I cannot imagine these words written, read or relayed with joy. Her action of sending word to David is the only action of Bathsheba recorded in this story. And, her words propel David into a spiral of trying to clean up his own mess; a spiral of one sin which leads to another.
The Spiral of Sin
David comes up with a plan to cover his mess and calls Uriah home from battle and tries to get him to sleep with Bathsheba. But, Uriah has too much integrity to enjoy such pleasure while his troops continue to fight. David’s plot fails and he comes up with plan B. He sends Uriah back to war, to the most dangerous front and calls for the troops to pull back when Uriah charges forward. David calls for the murder of Uriah.
David, again, uses his power not to protect his subjects but to destroy them.
Upon learning of Uriah’s death, Bathsheba laments for him. In the bible, laments call for God to hear, see and to intervene. In response to Bathsheba’s lament, the text points out that God heard and saw by saying “But the thing that David had done was evil in the sight of the LORD”. We know from that short acknowledgement that God would not let Bathsheba’s pain and suffering will not go unnoticed and he would not let David’s behavior go unaddressed.
So David takes Bathsheba as his wife and she has the child. It’s important to note that David had Uriah set up not because he wanted to marry Bathsheba, but because he wanted to hide the truth behind her pregnancy. He wanted to act fast enough to deceive people into believing the child is his. In this story, David is consumed by a desire not to lose his public persona and reputation. He trying to clean up his own mess.
The Effects of Sin
Part of God’s response to Bathsheba’s lament is to intervene and send the prophet Nathan to confront David.
Nathan shares a story with David about a rich man and a poor man. The rich man had many sheep and the poor man had only one whom he loved like a daughter. The rich man steals the lamb of the poor man to feed a traveler. David is outraged and Nathan points out that the rich man is David. Nathan proceeds to tell David that The Lord has put away his sin and David shall not die. However, David’s deed scorned the Lord and the child that Bathsheba bore for him will die.
The child does die. You see, sin affects the guilty and the innocent alike.
The Story Nathan shared underscores how precious Bathsheba was to Uriah and reiterates the victimization of Bathsheba by David. She is innocent, just like the little lamb taken by the rich man. David here is the thief, taking what is not his.
It is here, in the middle of this mess that we find David crying out to God to create a clean heart in him.
Restoration after Failure
It seems to take on a whole different meaning when we understand the filth he has found his way into. You see, why would the heroic David need to cry out to God like this? It is a very broken David that we encounter in this cry. He has come a long way from fighting bravely and defeating Goliath to save his nation and he seems to have come a long way from being “a man after God’s heart”. Instead, we find an abuser and a murderer who is now mourning the death of a son and realizing the weight of what he has done.
This is David, a sinner coming to God in lament. And again, God hears, sees and intervenes.
Surrender is the Start of Restoration
In the start of this Psalm, he cries out “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”
David, cries out to God in the middle of his mess and repents. He acknowledges his sin and God’s goodness, asking God to act. You see, David surrenders his process of self-protection and invites God into the situation. This is not a half-hearted “clear my conscious” kind of cry from David, this is a “I want nothing to do with it, wash me from it” kind of cry.
David is giving up his control. Throughout scripture, he seems to be this guy that is so surrendered- these valiant stories of him are stories of a guy who makes himself available. But, throughout this story what we’ve seen is him trying to cover everything himself; and he simply can’t. So in His lament, he must surrender his desire for self-protection and image management that he was working so hard at. In order to for things to change, David had to surrender is attempts at trying to hide his mess and just invite God into it.
What do you need to surrender today?
Confession Opens the Door for Holiness
He Says in verse 7 “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me and I will be whiter than snow.” and later in the most poignant request he says “Create in me a pure heart, O God.”
When we surrender to God, He steps into the mess and it is there that we are cleaned and made right in his sight. This is a deep work of the Holy Spirit to make us clean, pure and Holy before God. However, when we ask, He creates purity where there is none.
My friend, in Christ, you are made holy. He makes you clean in a way that you cannot.
What needs to be made holy in you today?
Dependence Allows for Restoration
Next, David says “renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast from me your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”
Not only does God make what is dirty, holy and what is impure, pure, he makes what is lost, restored. I love what David says “restore to me the Joy of your salvation” because I think of the shame he must of felt over the sin he had committed.
Brene Brown, shame and vulnerability researcher, says “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.” And my friend, shame, combined with that lack of hope will steal your joy quicker than anything I know. And in this passage we see David coming to the end of himself and finally asking God to do the changing for him.
David, at the point of this Psalm, has finally stopped attempting to manage the situation himself, has confessed it and invited God to work and then one thing he has asked for is God to lift the burden of shame that has stolen his joy.
This is such an intimate request; it is something so deep in his heart and he so bold to ask for it. In our own lives, I think we are willing to ask God to work out the details of a situation but somehow stop short of asking the deep things of our heart be restored. However, God, in his love, longs to restore what is broken, what we have given away and what has been stolen from us.
Throughout all of scripture, we see a God that longs to restore. I am reminded of Joel 2 where it says: I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten… “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame.
What, in you, needs to be restored today?
The Response of Restoration is Mission
Finally, David says in verse 13, “Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you.”
Wow. What a statement. David realizes something key to the heart of the Gospel. We are transformed to bring transformation. What God does in us to make us holy is then a preparation to be sent back out on mission. Leadership doesn’t end when you’ve gotten a few bruises. It may begin a new or different chapter. But when we go through a process of dying to ourselves, being made holy by God and restored by his love, the natural next step is to invite others into it- to continue leading. Mission is a natural reaction to God’s work.
When you are changed by God and invited to be his change agents in the world. When you recognize the redemptive power of Gospel in your own life, whether you’ve had a leadership failure or not, you’ll share what God has done. You cannot simply stop with being transformed by Christ and becoming his disciple because our journey does not and cannot stop there.
We are made holy to then invite others into the same transformation we’ve experienced. God works in us, but he also works through us.
So, where is God calling you on mission today?
Chances are that you have not found your way into a situation like David. And I pray that you never do. But you probably have somethings that you need to allow God to clean up. And the beautiful thing is that you need only to lay yourself bare before him and invite him to step into it with you.
Far too often, leaders feel the pressure to be all things, to know all things and to manage all things. Yet, you cannot. And if you try, you will fail. No matter what. If you’re called to lead in the church, your neighborhood, your community, you cannot do it without God. If and when you try, sin will creep in. And sin leads to more sin.
The only way to flourish as a leader is to find yourself dependent upon God. And, the only way to be restored after a failure, is to find yourself dependent upon God. I love that the remedy, no matter where we are, is dependence upon God.
I get it. I’m as independent as they come. But, the longer I am in leadership, the more I realize that the breadth of my leadership impact is directly tied to the depth of my dependence upon God.
Lament as an Act of Dependence
As Bathsheba and David showed us, a lament invites God to see, here and intervene. Frankly, it’s a confession of dependence. Today, I invite you to lament. I invite you to cry out to God with whatever is in you. You don’t need to filter it or be embarrassed of it. I assure you he is big enough to handle it, and loving enough to handle it gently. That is one of the beautiful joys of following Christ. Whatever it is, he can handle it.
With your leadership challenges, cry out to God. In the places where you feel overwhelmed, ask God to intervene. Even in the places where you have failed or fallen short, I encourage you to give it to God.
Think about the questions I’ve included in this post.
What do you need to surrender?
In your life, what do you need God to make holy?
What do you need God to restore?
Where is God calling you on Mission?
I’d love to hear from you. What are you giving to God and where are you inviting Him into your leadership today?
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