Service that Is After God’s Own Heart
Enoch Hou—Cerritos, California, USA
“[God] said, 'I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own
heart, who will do all My will.’” (Acts 13:22)
David was a man after God’s own heart. Yet even such a person may serve
God in a way that is not according to His will. This can be seen in the
events surrounding David’s attempt to bring the ark to Jerusalem—a
lesson for us when serving God. We learn what displeases God even while
we serve Him, how heavy a price we have to pay for displeasing God, how
to return from error and to continuously adjust our servitude to God’s
commandments. Most importantly, we learn about the need to change our
mindset so that we can truly be people after God’s own heart and serve
Him even better.
Loving God Is Not Enough
After years of suffering and persecution, David had finally become king
over the whole Israelite nation (1 Chr 12:38–40). His reign had a
positive impact on the faith of Israel: one of David's first projects
was to bring the ark of God to the new capital, Jerusalem. During the
reign of Saul, Israel had not inquired of God. So David hoped to enable
and encourage the people to draw near to God once again by bringing the
ark to Jerusalem (1 Chr 13:3–4).
More than sixty years earlier, the ark had been taken away by the
Philistines (1 Sam 4:22) and then sent back to Israel because the LORD
had made them suffer from tumors. When the Philistines sent the ark of
God back to Israel, they put it on a new cart, pulled by two milk cows
(1 Sam 6:7). When the cart had crossed the Israelite border and arrived
in Beth Shemesh, some of the local people curiously looked into the ark
(something not even the high priest was permitted to do) and were
subsequently killed by the LORD. Therefore, the inhabitants of Beth
Shemesh sent God's ark to Kirjath Jearim to Abinadab's house (1 Sam
Almost seventy years later, David not only wanted to bring God's ark to
Jerusalem, he also wished to build a temple for it because the ark had
been sitting in a tent ever since the time of Moses. This was a good
intention indeed because David was truly concerned about God's ark and
the matters of God.
Before embarking on this “project,” David consulted all the military men
and leaders in Israel about bringing the ark back to Jerusalem. Then he
discussed with the people (1 Chr 13:1–2). When everybody agreed with the
idea, David proceeded with his plan. In contrast, David had often
inquired of God for instructions before he became the king of Israel (1
Sam 23:2, 4; 30:8; 2 Sam 5:19, 23). It is therefore surprising that
David not only forgot to consult the priests but also forgot to inquire
of God, especially in this work that was directly related to God.
On the appointed day, many people came to accompany God's ark from
Kirjath Jearim to Jerusalem (1 Chr 13:3–6). In fact, David gathered
thirty thousand choice men for this occasion (2 Sam 6:1) and created
such pomp that his own glory surpassed the glory of God.
The problem was that David cared very much about men’s opinion and used
a very democratic way to find a consensus among the people; however, he
didn’t respect or care about God’s law or commandments. If we want to
serve God, it is not enough to love God. We have to know God’s law; God
wants us to serve Him according to His way. Therefore, in all things, we
have to seek first the “good and acceptable and perfect will of God”
The Price of Service that Displeases God
After they had arrived at Abinadab’s house, they set the ark on a new
cart (similar to the Philistines' way) and appointed Uzzah and Ahio to
drive the cart (1 Chr 13:7). But when the oxen stumbled and Uzzah
touched the ark to support it, God's wrath was aroused. As a result
Uzzah was struck to death and David became afraid to bring the ark to
Jerusalem; the blessings that were originally to come upon the whole
nation were only given to the household of Obed Edom (1 Chr 13:9–14).
What had made God so angry?
If we look into Numbers, we will notice that God had originally
prescribed a very different way to handle the ark. He especially
appointed the sons of Kohath from among the Levites to carry the things
that are in the tent of meeting. As a rule, Aaron and his sons had to
cover all the holy items, including the ark, before the Kohatites could
carry them. If the Kohatites looked at any of the holy things or the ark
while they were not covered or if they touched them, they had to die
David and his people did what was contrary to God’s will; they did not
even inquire about the proper procedure (1 Chr 15:13). They had departed
from the laws of God for too long, so even the Levites had forgotten how
to handle the ark correctly. It is true that David had good intentions
but that did not please God because he served God according to his own
heart. Uzzah’s death shows God’s strict requirements, especially towards
the Levites and priests who should have known the Law of God, for Uzzah
was punished “for his error” (2 Sam 6:7). For the Levites who carried
the ark, their service concerned a matter of life and death, yet they
did not serve God according to the way He had prescribed it.
As for David, Uzzah’s death caused him to worry; the initially happy and
fervent atmosphere had suddenly changed to fear and doubt. Moreover, his
view of the ark also changed because he did not understand why God was
so fierce. What did God want him to do? In his doubt, he concluded:
"How can the ark of the LORD come to me?" (2 Sam 6:9) Since
David did not dare to receive the ark anymore, he sent it to the house
God’s strike caused David to examine himself and turned his focus away
from self-glorification back to considering God’s will. So here we see
the consequences of a servitude that displeases God: God was angry, a
man died, the people where frightened, and the king was worried and
afraid of God. Thirty thousand people returned home disappointed, and
the ark was unable to move to Jerusalem.
Serving God with a Renewed Mindset
When David was told that the family of Obed-Edom was blessed because
they hosted the ark in their house, David realized that he had made a
mistake. He had been afraid of the LORD and the ark because of the death
of Uzzah. David thought that God would naturally guide and bless him in
all that he did for Him. But, in fact, neither God nor His blessing can
be found in this kind of grand show of extravagance. Instead, God’s
blessing is upon those who fear God and upon the family who hosts the
ark of covenant.
Subsequently, David made a second attempt to bring God's ark to
Jerusalem. This time, he sought and found the correct way of handling
the ark (1 Chr 15:1–3). David conferred with the priests and Levites
first (1 Chr 15:11). He asked them to consecrate themselves before
bringing the ark to the city of David (1 Chr 15:12–14), and “the Levites
bore the ark of God on their shoulders, by its poles, as Moses had
commanded according to the word of the LORD” (1 Chr 15:15).
This time, David did not care about the glory that the ark would bring
about, but about the God who sits above the two cherubim. He no longer
followed his own heart but God’s heart. He understood that he should
serve God and God alone. He humbly obeyed God’s law, sent the Levites to
carry the ark to the City of David, and enthusiastically danced and
sang, offering sacrifices before God (cf. 1 Chr 15:25–16:3).
Moreover, David did not only offer burnt and peace offerings. This time,
he offered himself as a living sacrifice to God. He no longer pursued
his own glory; instead he only wanted to humbly obey God. By commanding
the ark to be carried, he set a good example in fearing God, led the
people to walk in God’s way, and blessed the people in God’s name—this
type of servitude is pleasing to God and after God’s own heart.
From David’s transformation, we see that God used Uzzah’s death to
correct David’s misconception of the ark and his mindset as a king.
Initially, David thought that bringing the ark to the City of David
would definitely bring peace, blessings, glory, and God’s presence. He
thought that welcoming the ark of God with pomp to inaugurate his reign
would please God. But God was not pleased, and this spectacle could not
obtain God’s blessing.
Subsequently, the Lord taught David that the glory of God’s kingdom
depends on the king’s ability to understand and carry out God’s law and
to lead the people to worship God according to His instructions. Since
David had already stepped up to manage state affairs, God wanted him to
confirm that this was God’s kingdom and God’s people; apart from zeal
and love for God, he also needed to have true wisdom (God’s law) to
manage God’s household. As the king, he was to manage God’s kingdom on
God’s behalf and he needed to “write for himself a copy of this law…
and…read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD
his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these
statutes, that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he
may not turn aside from the commandment” (Deut 17:18–20).
Service that is After God’s Own Heart
Today, we often do things based on what we think is right. But in
Deuteronomy 12:8 we are told that we should not serve according to our
own judgment and mindsets: “You shall not at all do as we are doing here
today—every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes."
So today, when we serve God, we must do what is right in the eyes of
God. What we think is right is usually derived from our background and
education. If, in addition, everyone around us agrees with our ideas, we
think them to be right. But we have to think about whether God really
wants us to serve Him in this way.
“Carting the ark” and “carrying the ark” can be seen as a parallel of
man’s ways versus God’s ways. Moving the ark with a new cart was more
efficient. That is conventional wisdom. Who would have thought of
carrying this “wooden box” that was so heavy? But this was God’s law.
God does not care about efficiency or professionalism. What He wants is
our heart—a heart to serve Him and to love one another. Through the four
Levites who carried the ark together, the people could learn how
important it is to work together as a team, share each other’s burdens
and have fellowship with one another. In addition, they could receive
God’s blessings by carrying the ark with all their strength and all
their heart (1 Chr 15:26).
To prevent the ark from falling off, those who carry it must be of one
heart and move in unison (Amos 3:3). They would need to consider one
another and adjust their steps according to each one’s strength so that
none would stumble. Today, we can only achieve such mutual understanding
through regular fellowship (Acts 2:46).
This fellowship in Christ can’t be achieved just through large-scale
activities in the church. If we are constantly busy with meetings and
church events, we may have the misconception that this is all that God’s
work comprises. But actually church work and service should be based on
fellowship, not activities. When we show our love for one another
through fellowship, God is among us. We should therefore not neglect or
underestimate the importance of spiritual fellowship within the church:
Every call now and then, every greeting, every visit, every
intercession, regardless whether it is among worker or believers—all
these actions are God’s will working in our hearts to accomplish His
For this reason, we need to be willing to invest time in establishing a
deep and solid spiritual fellowship in Jesus Christ (the truth), bonding
with our co-workers, fellow believers and family members. In addition,
we need to be willing to put effort into deep prayers and mutual
intercession. Only then can we “carry the ark” in the fear of God and
with one heart, bearing each other’s burdens (Gal 6:2).
If we compare David’s two attempts to bring the ark to Jerusalem, we see
that God did not want all the pomp and those thirty thousand spectators
in the first attempt. Instead, God was pleased with the second attempt.
He wanted David, the Israelite elders and leaders as well as the Levites
and priests to really know him (1 Chr 15:25). Sometimes we think that we
have to do great things to glorify God, e.g., large-scale evangelistic
services, hymnal outreach or other events that will potentially attract
many people. However, from David’s experience, we learn that God
actually wants us to understand His will and to serve and worship Him
according to His way. The scale of events and number of people are only
superficial and cannot please God. As long as our actions are pleasing
to God, He will work with us; whether it is pastoral or evangelistic
work, God will bless and guide us, and God’s word will grow and multiply
Perhaps, out of our heart to love God, we want to raise money for a
church-building fund through investments to ease the members’ financial
burden. But has God not promised to bring all the riches of the world to
the house of God in times of need?
Maybe we want to hire cleaning or catering professionals to ease the
believers’ workload. But does God not want us to practice the truth by
serving one another and to show God that we love Him by offering our
time and energy?
Maybe we think that it is easy to get church work going, as long as we
have a complete organizational structure and come to a consensus through
discussions and voting. But have we considered whether our consensus is
truly God’s will? If this consensus is merely human will and not God’s
will, our work will not bear any fruit.
The church is God’s household and her master is God. Therefore, whatever
we do, we need to first seek God’s will lest we displease God or even
arouse His anger and suffer loss.
May we always serve the Lord as a servant after His own heart.