by Wesley C. Parker
Maybe you’d call it a necessary evil, or maybe you’d just call it evil, but a wake-up call in a cozy, pitch black hotel room at 5:00 AM could be the only difference between making or missing your flight that morning. Or maybe you’ve heard about someone hearing, “cancer” or “heart disease” from their doctor, and using that exact same term “wake-up call” to describe how they were motivated by that news to change the harmful, careless ways they’d been living. Whatever the context, and invited or not, a wake-up call serves us in ways we all need.
But let’s say you’ve set your alarm for 5:00 AM all your life and you’ve always been able to get up on time, and so – based on that – you decide not to set your alarm any longer, even though you have an important flight to catch the very next day. Leaving behind the thing that brought success up until that point may, in the end, find you peacefully snoozing when you should be running for the final boarding call.
In leadership, we can make the very same mistake: easing off on the daily disciplines that got us where we are, and assuming that waking up on time is now a given. Sadly, when discipline gives way to assumption of results, missing your flight can quickly become the least of your worries.
One place we see this kind of misplaced confidence is in 2 Samuel 11 with king David. Up until this point in the story David is consistently hitting it out of the park on pretty much every level, and actually it’s because that’s the case, that it makes what happens next stand out in such stark contrast. For it’s here that David – the shepherd-boy hero over Goliath, the man after God’s own heart, one of the greatest kings in Israel’s history, and the writer of much of the book of Psalms –face plants into a swamp of lust, coveting, adultery, lying and murder; basically breaking almost half of the 10 Commandments in a single day! Yet as incomprehensible as this is, you’ll search in vain for the footnote that says this is some other David.
The central piece of evidence that I think helps bring clarity is found in 2 Samuel 11:1. There we read that during the spring, when Kings are supposed to go off to war, David sends his armies and generals off to fight, but – instead of going out along with them - he hangs back in Jerusalem to chill and binge on Netflix. More than just missing the season for fighting, what makes this stand out even more is that all you read about David up until this point is that he is a warrior to the core.
Yet just because the warrior ceases to battle does not mean that all enemies cease to fight.
There seems to be a direct correlation in 2 Samuel between David’s fighting of physical enemies and his ability to have victory over spiritual enemies. This is not unlike the way our immune system seems to ramp up into overdrive when we’re in a busy season, but then we get sick the day after we go on vacation. And in laying down his sword to rest when kings are supposed to be going out to war, David has now made an opening for sin’s deadly attack as well.
Like a serpent that has been patiently waiting for years to strike, sin now seizes its opportunity as its prey slows in pace, and silently wraps its coils around this resting warrior. And yet - although these are truly sad and mournful events - I think one the most terrifying results of all is that Bathsheba’s husband dies, David takes her as his wife to cover up her pregnancy, and life appears to go on as if absolutely nothing had even happened.
But while David seems pleased to have avoided detection he’s actually in even more danger than he knows, because – although he feels like he’s awake – this warrior who’s stopped battling is actually in a deep/deadly sleep with no wake-up call coming . . . or, is there?
Unscheduled wake-up call
The good news is that God, in His mercy - as well as in His own time and way – will never allow His sleeping warriors to remain asleep forever. And like a firefighter who drags an unconscious victim out of a house filled with Carbon Monoxide that is silently killing them, God sends an unscheduled wake-up call to David in 2 Samuel 12 in the form of the prophet Nathan.
If you know the story, Nathan comes to David with a purpose-filled tale that effectively restores blood-flow to his all but lifeless sense of justice. This in turn awakens his conscience to the place where he can at last feel guilt for his own grievous sins and repent, and the beautiful result is that the resting warrior now picks up his sword and regains his will to fight again.
Strength regained in battling
In the Lord of the Rings series, there is this powerful moment (and I wonder if J. R. R. Tolkien didn’t have this exact scene in 2 Samuel 12 in mind when he wrote it) where Gandalf comes to visit a seduced and sleepy king Théoden of Rohan; now impotent in his ruling of his kingdom. And in silencing the lies of Worm-tongue and freeing Théoden from the spell of Saruman, Gandalf awakens his sleeping friend to his former strength to fight once again. And I think the words Gandalf speaks then ring so true - not only for king Théoden but also for king David - when he says, “I think your fingers would remember their strength better if they grasped your sword.” In other words, “I think you’d find you’d regain your former victory over sin if you picked up your sword and begin to battle again."
When David was on the run from Saul and battling daily he knew greater victory in his spiritual life as well, as his practice was one of daily dependence on God. When he became king and felt he’d “arrived” and could rest, he dropped his guard and quickly found out that the battle was still far from over.
We too can be susceptible to this very same slumber as pastors and Christian leaders when we forgo the discipline of a daily dependence on God and assume we’ve arrived. May we be humble enough to receive God’s gracious wake-up calls in whatever form they come, and be vigilant to remember the words of M. Babcock as long as this life remains:
This is my Father’s world, the battle is not done. Jesus who died will be satisfied, when earth and heaven be one.