blog // building relationally
blog // building relationally
Ali Scott from Emmanuel Church, Chester-Le-Street UK preached recently at the Regions Beyond UK Hub in Wrexham. His teaching is a foundation of what we are wanting to create in our family of churches.
building relationally // lessons from jonathan
As I recently read through 1 Samuel in my devotional times and the famous relationship between Jonathan and David struck me again, especially what we read in 1 Samuel 23:14-18, and I believe it has a lot to teach us in this whole area of building relationally as a movement.
Put yourself for a moment in David’s shoes. Here is a young man who has received great promises from God. A little shepherd boy who is called in from the fields to be anointed by the prophet of God as the next king of Israel. Initially everything seemed to be going to plan. The trajectory, as it were, from shepherd boy to king that he believed God had put him on seemed to be on course. First, he entered Saul’s service as his armour bearer and his personal lyre player and we are told Saul loved David and he found favour in his sight. Next, he started getting a public profile as he was used by God to perform a mighty exploit, defeating the great Philistine hero Goliath when everyone else had cowered away in fear. Then, Saul set him over men of war and he was successful wherever he went (18:5), and people started singing songs about David’s victories, so much so that ‘all Israel and Judah loved David’ (18:16). To top it all off, he was given Saul’s daughter as a wife!
All was going to plan! But then the attacks of the enemy – in this case king Saul – started to come. First, it was just the odd spear thrown at him but soon he was on the end of an all-out attack as Saul sent his men out to hunt him down and kill him. And so David, the one carrying great promises from God, the one whose life and calling from God had once looked all nice and neatly planned out, finds himself on the run, hiding in place after place in order to just stay alive. And in v.14 we read that David finds himself in the ‘wilderness’ and that Saul sought to kill him every day.
There are times when we all feel like Davids. Times when the promises that God has made or the desires and longings that he has put in our hearts do not match the present reality of our life. Times when we feel isolated and lonely. Times when it feels like the whole world is against us. Times when the enemy is on the attack and we are on the run and fearful. Times when physically, emotionally, spiritually, it feels like a wilderness.
And in those times, all you can see is the enemy attack. We read in v.15: ‘David saw that Saul had come out to seek his life’. It’s like his gaze is filled with all that is against him. When we are in those places, we need strengthening. We need a Jonathan. In v.16 we read ‘And Jonathan, Saul’s son, rose and went to David at Horesh, and strengthened his hand in God.’ This is so powerful – the coming out of the enemy to attack David was paralleled in the very next verse by the coming out of a friend to strengthen David.
When we are in a David-like wilderness, God delights to bring Jonathans into our lives to meet our need for strengthening. This has always been God’s way – to bring other people into our lives to strengthen us. It’s called community! We see this plan of God right at the outset of creation, so much is ‘good’, but the first cry of ‘not good’ we hear is this: ‘It is not good for man to be alone’, and so he forms Eve. This isn’t at its most basic level about marriage but about community. It is not good for there to be Davids alone in the wilderness.
But here’s the thing: in order for there to be no Davids among us, we ALL need to be Jonathans. We need to be friends in God, representing Jesus to one another, speaking truths to one another, and praying for one another and encouraging and exhorting one another.
There is a shift in mindset that God wants to bring many of us, even as a movement. We have seen ourselves, our ministries, our churches as Davids – we are always the ones in the wilderness, struggling, and needing help and so have become very me- and my church-focused. We have written ourselves off from being Jonathans. And God is saying, ‘Regions Beyond, let the Jonathans arise!’
The starting point for this will be to cultivate a Jonathan heart. The writer explicitly introduces Jonathan in this scene as ‘Saul’s son’ (v.16). He is highlighting this fact to show that Jonathan is the one who has most to gain by David’s death and the most to lose by him being successful. After all, Jonathan is the natural heir to Saul’s throne, and yet he doesn’t see his role to compete with David for that throne, to look after his own interest but to serve the greater purposes of God by serving David and seeing David succeed. In v.17 he declares that David shall be king over Israel and ‘I shall be next to you’.
This isn’t a new mindset for Jonathan. In 1 Samuel 18:4 the handing over of Jonathan’s royal clothing/armour to David was a highly symbolic act of humility – an act almost of abdication. A laying down of his natural rights for the sake of God’s greater purposes.
I love the verse that immediately follows (v.5): ‘And David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him’. Jonathan could quite easily have been an obstacle to the success of David – David was a threat to his own personal success/to fulfilling his potential – but instead Jonathan encouraged and motivated David to be all that God was calling him to be.
This heart attitude that we see in Jonathan is the foundation block we need in place if we are going to be a movement of Jonathans. It’s the heart attitude of humility. It’s the heart attitude of a servant and not seeing the purposes of God revolve around us. It’s the heart attitude of being secure in who I am in Christ and the role God has given to me in his purposes. As you read through the story if just feels like Jonathan really knew who he was and what God had called him to and he was secure in that identity. As a result of this security, he was able to take his eyes off of himself and have them on the needs and callings of others.
If we are not secure then our attention will be occupied with ourselves – our personal reputation, or status, or position, or success. And this will just lead to a culture which is the opposite of a ‘Jonathan culture’ – rather than a culture of strengthening and releasing others, we will have a culture of comparing and competing and position-seeking.
I can get so focused on my personal calling and forget that actually it really isn’t about me. I am really not a big deal! You are really not a big deal! It iss the church as the corporate Bride of Christ that is the big deal as she fulfils her calling to glorify Jesus and see his kingdom come.
So if we are ever going to truly be Jonathans to one another then the first thing we need to do is sort out our hearts. We need to allow God to kill all that pride and self-centredness.
Once our hearts are right, we can then consider the practicalities of what David did to strengthen Jonathan:
1.) He was proactive:
v.16 says: ‘Jonathan rose and went to David at Horesh’. There was an arising and going. Strengthening others is a proactive and intentional thing, not something that just happens. We need to make an active decision like Jonathan that is something we are going to do. Let’s be proactive in seeking God about who he wants us to strengthen at this time.
2.) He was committed:
v.18 says: ‘And the two of them made a covenant before the Lord’. This was not the first time this happened. Jonathan didn’t just strengthen David as a one-off, but was committed to seeing him succeed – their souls were knit together (18:1). There is a real danger of showing someone some support and then forgetting all about them. The feeling of being dumped leaves them feeling worse off and more isolated than they were before. Let’s make sure this doesn’t happen. Let’s stick with people for the long-haul. Obviously there will be times when relationships drift apart by mutual agreement, but let’s ensure this doesn’t happen without first talking it through.
This kind of commitment is borne out of love. To use the words of 1 Cor.13, if we seem to be doing great things as a movement, but have not love for one another, we are nothing. We don’t want to be an organisation producing results, but a family demonstrating love. Deep committed others-preferring love.
3.) He paid a cost:
Jonathan knew that his father was determined to put David to death. This act of going out to David in the wilderness, if Saul found out about it, was potentially going to further damage his relationship with his own dad. But Jonathan was so committed to David and to strengthening him at his time of need, it is worth this cost.
Let’s never say, ‘We’ll wait for a time when it feels less costly to build with others’ – that day will never come! Let’s build it into our mindsets and our schedules and our finances as a priority now.
4.) He overcame fear with promises:
We don’t know the details of everything Jonathan did and said to David when he strengthened his hand in God. But the words that are recorded are: ‘Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel’.
Fear and its partner anxiety are a huge battle we all face, and we need a Jonathan to come along with the words ‘Do not fear’. However, what follows those words is significant. It is not ‘Do not fear – it will be alright in the end’, but ‘Do not fear’, followed by truths about the promises and purposes of God. Let’s strengthen people by speaking both general promises from Scripture but also prophetic promises over their lives. The prophetic gift is a wonderful gift that God has given us to strengthen each other. Let’s use if often. Let’s eagerly desire it as we are commanded in Scripture, so that we are able to love and strengthen people well by using it.
In closing, let’s remember the most significant motivation to be a movement of Jonathans: fix our eyes on the ‘Greater Jonathan’, who is at the centre of this movement.
Jesus, the Greater Jonathan, was so proactive in coming to us at our time of need, when we were under the attack of sin, Satan and death, in the wilderness of despair and hopelessness. He, like Johnathan, ‘arose’ from his heavenly throne and came to us. The light of the world stepped down into our darkness.
He came to us, compelled by love, and committed himself to our well-being – he made a covenant with us in his blood shed on the cross. His shed blood declares to us: ‘I am committed to you, I will never leave you or forsake you, I am with you always to the very end of the age.’
This great act of God strengthening mankind was deeply costly. God in Jesus became flesh. More than that, God in Jesus became a servant. The Creator serving his creation. More than that, God in Jesus died the most horrific death, enduring the torment of hell as he took the punishment for our sin. In our place.
This sacrificial act of the Greater Jonathan has enabled fear and despair to be overcome in our lives, as his resurrection from the dead three days later boldly declares to us unbreakable promises about our future destiny. Whatever wilderness we may walk through in this life, whatever attack may come, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ and the everlasting life we are journeying towards.