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King David: A Heart Like God’s: Life With A Forward Lean

II Samuel 12:15b-23; Psalm 23

I wish to read for you two passages of scripture. The first from 2 Samuel 12. This is the Word of God.

“The Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became ill. David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and went into his house and spent the night lying on the ground. The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them. On the seventh day, the child died. David’s servants were afraid to tell him that the child was dead for they thought, ‘While the child was still living, we spoke to David, but he would not listen to us. How can we tell him the child is dead? He may do something desperate.’ David noticed that his servants were whispering among themselves, and he realized that the child was dead.

“‘Is the child dead?’ he asked. ‘Yes,’ they replied, ‘he is dead.’ Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request, they served him food, and he ate. His servants asked him, ‘Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat.’

“He answered, ‘While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, “Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.” But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.’”

And then the Psalm of King David which you may well know by heart, the 23rd Psalm.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul. He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies. Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

May God bless to us the reading and the hearing of this portion of His holy Word.

Pray with me please. Give me Jesus, Lord. Give me Jesus. You can have all the rest. Just give me Jesus. Amen.

Great King David, for all his magnificent accomplishments, never achieved the dream of his life, that of building the temple in the holy city of Jerusalem. However, I believe we do well to remember that great King David actually built another temple—a temple of words. It’s just a psalm, just a few verses long, but oh, how many have been blessed by that pen and ink cathedral. King David, you see, was not only a warrior and a king. He was also a poet and a musician. He composed many, many songs which endure in the hearts and minds of people through the ages, but I think there is no doubt whatever that the best known, best loved song King David ever wrote is the song that we know as the 23rd Psalm.

The words of that psalm flowed right out of his heart because the words rose up quite literally from his life’s experience. There were times in his life when his body and his soul cried out in thirst, and God always led him to water. There were times in his life when he departed from God’s will, and God always managed to set his feet back on the paths of righteousness. There were times in his life when he encountered fierce enemies, and God always provided friends for support and a table for strengthening. There were times in his life when his experience was fraught with hazard and danger, but God’s rod and staff surrounded him providing unfailing protection. And yet, I have to tell you that for all the incredible lines in that song, the lines which to me are the most powerful of them all are those lines that come off like this, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for Thou art with me.” Understand, please, that those words rose up out of David’s own experience. When you dive into the life of David in the Bible, you will soon discover that there are at least four instances where he had to deal with the reality of death. There was the death of his king, King Saul. There was the death of Jonathan, his best friend. There was the death of his son Absalom. And then, there was the experience of death that he encountered at the loss of his baby boy.

That story is told for us in 2 Samuel, 12. And in that passage, King David delivers himself of an absolutely beautiful and powerful truth. Understand, please, that we’re told that when the child first was stricken, King David was plunged into agony. But then when we read on, we discover that when subsequently the child died, King David rose up. And we’re told he went to the house of the Lord to pray. And then he renewed and refreshed his spirit. His friends said to him at that point, “Why is it that you are no longer in an agony of despair? When the child was alive, you were in agony. Now the child is dead, you’re not. Why?” And King David responded—and I want you to hear this clearly—King David responded by saying, “I cannot bring him back again. I shall go to be with him, but he will not return to me.” I believe that it was that truth, that experience, that led King David ultimately to sit down and write his best love song, for David came to understand that ultimately all God’s children, those who love God, those who are loved by God, all God’s children ultimately dwell in the house of the Lord. And David realized that while he could not bring his son back again, ultimately, he would go to be with his son to dwell in God’s house together forever.

Like King David, and like some of you in this congregation, my family and I have walked through the valley of the shadow of death. Like King David and like some of you in this congregation, we experienced the loss of a child. Like King David and like some of you in this congregation, we discovered in the midst of the valley the presence of a powerful and personal God. And like King David and like some of you in this congregation, we know that ultimately, we shall be together in the house of the Lord forever more. I suppose that’s why I can never read 2 Samuel 12 without also reading alongside it the 23rd Psalm. Let me try to explain.

In 2 Samuel 12 we discover that the very first thing King David did after the death of his son was to go to church.

People sometimes say to me that when they experience the death of a loved one in life, the hardest, most difficult thing for them to do is to go back to church. I understand that. I understand it completely. And yet, it is so important for us to know that the very first thing that King David did after the death of his son was to go to church. I believe that there’s a lesson there for us to learn. When we experience the sting of death in our own experience, the best thing to do is to get to the church, where the songs will strengthen us, where the prayers will lift us, and where God can touch us because there is healing in his hands. That was the experience of King David, and that is my experience as well.

Our son John David was killed on December 21st, 1994. It might as well have been yesterday. The pain is every bit as sharp right now as it was then. We had his memorial service on December 23rd. The next day, Christmas Eve, I was scheduled to preach at the five Christmas Eve services held at the First Presbyterian Church in Orlando. I knew it would be the hardest work I have ever done. Because you see, John David loved Christmas best of all. He was always the first one in our family to catch the Christmas spirit every year. He loved the Christmas Eve candlelight services even more than I. He loved Christmas.

And on that Christmas Eve, as I found myself in the valley of the shadow of death, I realized that the only hope I had was in the love of God, and that the ultimate expression of God’s love is when he chose to come down to us in the Christ of Christmas. And so holding on to that hope for all I was worth and knowing full well that John David was having in heaven the most phenomenal Christmas he ever had, I went to church. And as the services unfolded, every candle brought light to my darkness. Every carol filled my soul with strength. And preaching God’s Word, reminding myself that while John David would never come back to us, one day, we would go to be with him, that made all the difference for me in the valley. See, that’s what the shepherd Lord always does for His sheep. He’s always with His sheep, but He is especially close when they are in the valley of the shadow of death.

The second thing that King David did was to receive his friends.

When you read through that passage, you readily recognize that his friends were there. They were there all the way through. He needed them there. He was in a desperate straight. They were with him when he hurt. They were with him when he prayed. They were with him when he renewed and refreshed his spirit. They fed him. They cared for him. They ministered to him. They never ever left him. And I am convinced that great King David drew extraordinary strength and consolation from their presence. The experience of King David is mirrored in my own.

One of the things that Tricia and I discovered in the valley of the shadow of death is that oftentimes, the love of God is communicated to us most profoundly through our sisters and brothers in Jesus Christ. Friends cannot remove the pain. No, no, no, they cannot do that. But friends can help you to find the strength to bear the pain. At the point where Tricia and I were leveled by devastation, suddenly, people began to appear. Just a few hours after the tragedy, Vonette and Bill Bright laid aside the responsibilities of heading the great world-encircling ministry of Campus Crusade and came to our home to hold us tight. It was just a few hours after we had been completely destroyed. And yet, they came and lifted us up. They asked the others who were there at the house at the time to gather in our family room, and we had an enormous circle of prayer there. And the two of them prayed with a power and a fervency that had to come from God. And it overwhelmed us with love.

The mayor of the city of Orlando and her husband came and spent an extraordinary amount of time with us just to cry with us and, yes, to pray for us. My great friend, doctor Jim Henry, interrupted his travels as the president of the Southern Baptist convention to fly to Orlando to stand with us in the valley. Cherished friends from far and wide suddenly descended upon us to wrap us up in their love. Add to that an unseizing stream of people—some of them, many of them even we didn’t even know—all of them reaching out to us, all of them somehow, for me, at least, framed in the face of an auto mechanic covered with grease from his work who knocked on our door, and when I answered, he said, “Dr. Edington, you don’t know me. I watch you on TV every week. I don’t know what to say. I just want you to know that I care.” Dear friends, let me tell you something. When you are in the valley of the shadow of death, it is a wonderful thing indeed to have friends and even people you don’t know suddenly surround you and remind you that the Lord is our shepherd, and we are His sheep, and as long as we stay close to Him, we shall stay close to one another.

And then we are told that after the death of his son, King David renewed and refreshed his spirit and went on to do great things for God.

You see that so clearly when the friends said to him, “How can you live on after the death of your son?” And King David said, “I cannot bring him back, but I shall go to him.” That fact is what put the forward lean to King David’s life. And from that point on in his life, he made the decision that he would make every moment, every decision, every relationship count. He became a man of such vision and such sensitivity and such spiritual power that he went on to become known as the man after God’s own heart. His faith enabled him to lean toward the future rather than to languish in the past.

King David’s experience has been duplicated in my own. In the 23 Psalm, King David says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” We do not pitch camp there. We do not stay there. We move through the valley of the shadow. That truth is what puts a forward lean in our lives. Certainly, that has been true for Tricia and me. We know John David will never return to us. Nothing in all the years has ever been able to diminish the terrible pain we feel at his loss. But we have refused to become paralyzed by that pain. We know he will not come back. And therefore, we are grateful for every single memory of him we have, every photograph of him we cherish. And all of that is good. That does not remove the pain. That does not bring him back. But it is our faith in Jesus Christ that enables us to know that one day, yes, one day, we shall go to be with him. That’s the forward lean in our lives.

You see, it is the good shepherd Jesus Christ who has taught me that I am to live my life in such a way that I can bring significance not only to my life but also to John David’s tragically shortened life, that I am to take the lessons learned from my own pain and use them to help others bring relief to their pains, that I am to strive to build the church so strong and spiritually powerful that other people’s sons and daughters might come to know Jesus, that I am to so burn myself up and burn myself out in the sheer joy of the gospel ministry and the Christian life that by the light of that fire, other people may find their way to Jesus Christ. I can do that because I know that surely the goodness and the mercy of the Lord shall follow us all the days of our life. And one day, we shall go to be with our son in the house of the Lord where we shall dwell together forever more.

That’s what I wanted to share with you today from King David’s journey and from my journey through the valley of the shadow of death. And what King David said, I can say. And I want you to be able to say it too. I can say, “I will fear no evil, for thou, oh Lord, my Lord Jesus Christ, thou, oh Lord, art with me.”

Soli Deo gloria.
To God alone be the glory.
Amen and amen.


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