Spirit of Grace Ministries
Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Unlikely Paths to Ministry

David: From sheperd to king

David anointed by Samuel

by Dennis Pollock

There is a divine and mysterious process by which the Creator of heaven and earth calls, prepares, equips, and raises up ministers and leaders for His sovereign purposes. There are numerous examples of this in the Bible, and countless more examples throughout church history. Anyone who gives serious thought to God’s ways in setting His servants in their positions of service cannot help but be impressed both with His resourcefulness and creativity. In God’s great love for humanity He has always had a powerful interest in placing men and women in positions of usefulness, so that His name may be glorified and His chosen ones may fulfill their ordained destinies.

Two of my favorite Biblical characters in this regard are Moses and Joseph. Moses “just happened” to be born at a time when Pharaoh was killing male Hebrew babies. His mother couldn’t bear the thought of her infant son being killed, and so she placed him in a basket in the Nile River. Pharaoh’s daughter “just happened” to be bathing at that exact spot, and ended up adopting the Jewish baby boy. Moses was brought up in the royal family, and then at the age of forty had to flee for his life, and lived his next forty years as a shepherd in Midian. Finally, at the age of eighty he was anointed, ordained, and sent back to Egypt to deliver his enslaved brothers and sisters. Moses became a shepherd and judge of the people of Israel, and is revered to this day as one of history’s greatest leaders Who could ever have thought of such a plan for his life?

Joseph started out a little differently. He was born into an upper-middle class family, and was one of a dozen sons to his father. As a teenager, he had dreams which seemed to point to his eventual leadership and service, but later appeared to have the opposite effect on his life. His brothers were jealous of him, hated him, and sold him as a slave, resulting in him being taken to Egypt. Hardly an impressive start for one who dreamed of greatness! In the end, Joseph realized that God knew what He was doing all along, and that His brothers’ betrayal was all part of a larger plan which would result in Joseph attaining to a position that enabled him to be a savior for his entire clan. As with Moses, this was not something anyone could have dreamed up. Joseph’s path to leadership and service was bumpy, and definitely scary, but the results were wonderful. Joseph became what God intended Him to be, and accomplished what God destined him to accomplish, not by formulating his own plans and goals, but simply by walking with God, and allowing the winds of God’s sovereign providence to carry him where he needed to be.

King David

In this study, we’ll take a look at the process by which David rose to become the king of Israel. One thing we have to make clear at the outset is that the process toward ministry and leadership is never left in the hands of men. God’s children are never given a choice as to what gifts they are to have, or to what positions they may attain. There is no voting, nor questionnaire offered to allow for choice in our service. God alone determines where we shall be used, the degree and measure of our service, and the length of time in which we are to exercise our ministry. John the Baptist appeared to have exercised his ministry for less than two years. Samuel served as a prophet from his youth to his old age. William Borden studied to be a missionary and served Christ passionately, but died before he could start his missionary ministry, never reaching the age of thirty. Billy Graham began preaching as an evangelist around the age of thirty, and continued doing so for nearly sixty years. Surely our times, our ministries, and our service are in God’s hands.

David’s early days gave no indication of his future role as king of Israel. He was born in what he described as a poor family, the youngest of seven brothers. Researchers tell us that typically the firstborn in large families end up with the greatest measure of leadership qualities and initiative, but David, the baby of the family, proved the exception. In his youth he became the designated sheep herder and watcher, which gave him lots of time for quietness and reflection. Somehow, and at some point – we don’t know the specifics – David developed a relationship with the God of Israel. He sang to the Lord and wrote songs of praise to God. We may wonder why some people just seem to be born with a deep interest in spiritual things, while others, often from the same family, have no interest whatsoever. There are no answers to this enigma, but David just seemed to have a very healthy respect for and fascination with His Creator. And God noticed! Indeed, to say that He noticed would not really be telling the whole story. In fact it was God who had deposited this grace within David, this passion for fellowship with God which earned him the title: “a man after My own heart.”

In those days, young men from poor families typically did not aspire to greatness or leadership. They normally did what their fathers did, who did what their fathers had done. So it must have been a great shock when the number one spiritual celebrity of Israel, the prophet Samuel showed up at his family’s doorstep. David didn’t know it at first; he was out with the sheep as usual. But when they called him, and when the old prophet poured olive oil all over the young lad’s dark hair, and pronounced him the next king of Israel, it surely must have overwhelmed the tender young teen, along with his entire family. Shortly after that the prophet left, and David was left to ponder what had just happened.

Effect of Samuel’s Visit

Nothing changed immediately. David still kept sheep, and Saul gave no indications of taking an early retirement. In fact, if anything, David’s situation may have gotten a bit worse, as there is evidence later on of his oldest brother’s jealousy toward him. And Joseph could have told him that having older brothers jealous of you is definitely not a good thing!  But the prophet’s visit did two things for young David. First it planted in his mind a sense of God’s calling. For the rest of his life, David could never forget the words of Samuel, and the feeling of the warm oil being poured on his head. If the prophet was right – he was to become a king someday. Wow! David must have spent many hours thinking about this, and wondering if it would really happen. And if it was to happen, when it would happen, how it would happen, and why on earth would God want it to happen.

A second effect of Samuel’s visit is often overlooked by those who read the narrative, but is so very important. The Bible tells us that there was more than olive oil that came upon David on that fateful day. He was filled with the Holy Spirit. The Scriptures tell us, in describing how Samuel anointed David with oil, that “the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward.” David entered into a new dimension as of that day. He began to experience the Holy Spirit “coming upon him,” filling him, inspiring him, encouraging him, and giving him the courage that would take him to heights that none of his contemporaries could ever reach. David became a Spirit-filled man.

In that regard, even though we are now under a New Covenant and living in an entirely different era, nothing has really changed. Just as David needed the Holy Spirit’s power and anointing to fulfill his destiny and service, today we who are in Christ need that filling every bit as much. Jesus told His disciples, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be My witnesses…” (Acts 1:8). Whether we witness through singing, preaching, sharing, or teaching children in Sunday School, if we are ever to witness of Christ effectively we will need a divine anointing, described in the story of David as “the Spirit of the Lord coming upon him from that day forward.”

The next key milestone in David’s life was when he was “discovered” by one of Saul’s servants as an outstanding musician. Simultaneous with David being anointed, Saul was rejected by God, and the Holy Spirit took permanent leave of the rebellious king. Saul lost his anointing, and an evil spirit began to badger him. At times, he would become moody; frequently he became so paranoid that he was ready to kill anyone he saw as a threat. Saul’s servants decided that the unstable king needed someone to play soothing harp music for him, and calm him down when he got into his moods. Somehow David’s name came up, and the next thing the young man knew he was regularly being called to the palace to play for the king himself.


David plays harpHere was David’s introduction to the halls of power and influence. It would have been extremely unlikely that David could have ever attained sufficient influence and visibility to have any chance at becoming king had he simply watched sheep all his days. Somehow, some way he would need to go where the movers and shakers of Israel were. This was not something he sought. He had just minded his own business, watching sheep, working for his dad, and worshiping God. But God saw to it that His prospective king was introduced to palace life. David became a semi-regular in the palace of the king of Israel.

Another milestone was passed when the Philistines made war with Israel, and their champion, a giant of a man named Goliath, began daily mocking the fearful soldiers of Israel. David was back home watching sheep for his father at the time, but when he went on his dad’s behalf to check on his older brothers who served in the army, he heard the giant’s mocking and became indignant. We all know the story, but sometimes I think we don’t stop to reflect upon the amazing nature of David’s eagerness to fight Goliath. Humans are born with an instinct for survival, and going one on one with a man three times your size does not really fit with that instinct. In the entire world, apart from insane individuals, you might not have been able to find one young man other than David who would have reacted the way David did. Sure, David was born with a risk-taker’s personality and more than usual courage, but there was something more involved here. David’s respect for God, and his faith in God were at play. Those years of talking with God in the fields were paying off big time. David had already slain a lion and a bear in defense of his sheep, no mean achievements. How much tougher could a giant be?

When the deed was done, David’s name was declared all over Israel. Saul no longer allowed him part time status, and insisted that he serve him full time. Soon he was promoted from chief musician to captain in the army. Here David learned military strategy, leadership principles, and gained battlefield wisdom that would serve him well for the rest of his days. He soon became the most popular man in Israel, and the Israelite women sang a popular little ditty which declared, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.” At this point, David must surely have recognized that Samuel’s prophecy was spot-on. He surely was destined for greatness and leadership in Israel, as their next king.

And David must have imagined that he could easily see the path to his destiny. He would continue to serve under Saul, gaining more and more popularity, and developing and honing his skills, until at last the old king would see that David was God’s choice to succeed him, even over Saul’s own sons. Finally, Saul would quietly retire and turn it all over to David. Or perhaps Saul would die quietly in his bed, and the people would clamor for him rather than one of Saul’s sons. His path to kingship would be a smooth one, and all he needed to do was bide his time and serve Saul faithfully!

Of course, we know that it didn’t work out that way at all. With Saul as paranoid and unstable as he was, the last thing he needed was to hear the masses celebrating young David more than himself. It wasn’t long before concern turned into jealousy, and jealousy morphed into murderous rage. In a short time, David was expelled from Israel, and forced to flee for his life. Things weren’t turning out at all the way he had no doubt assumed that they would. Now living with a few rough men out in the wilderness, how in the world would he ever fulfill Samuel’s prophecy and become king? What was God thinking, when He allowed all this to happen?

The Men Who Followed

One of the most important characteristics of a leader is charisma, that mysterious magnetism that draws others to your cause, to your ministry, to your passion, essentially to yourself. Along with all the other necessary leadership qualities, David possessed charisma in abundance. Thus, when he was forced out into the wilderness of Judea, away from the heart of Israel, he did not go alone. David did not wander the hilly paths of Israel as a solitary figure, mumbling to himself, and bemoaning his lot in life. Almost immediately other men were drawn to him, and he found himself a sort of mini-king in exile. But in those early days the men who followed him were not the pick of the litter.

The Bible says:

David therefore departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam. So when his brothers and all his father’s house heard it, they went down there to him. And everyone who was in distress, everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him. So he became captain over them. And there were about four hundred men with him (1 Samuel 22:2).

What a group! We are not told: “Everyone who was valiant, everyone who possessed keen insight, everyone who was successful gathered to him.” No, the Bible says that the men who were drawn to David’s side were the debtors, the discontented, and those whose lives were falling apart. These were the kind of men who were attracted to the newly displaced, former army captain. Any leader will of necessity experience the hassles of disgruntled subordinates, and rebellious, whining, complaining, and difficult followers who prove more of a detriment than an asset. But in David’s case, he no doubt experienced far more of this than normal. The people who followed him were essentially misfits, men who could not function well in normal society, and figured they had little to lose in leaving their homes and throwing in with David.

What Do You Have?

One of the major Biblical principles for increase in ministry or spiritual leadership or just life in general is to simply use what you have been given, and not waste your time in worrying about what you have not been given. When told by His followers about the multitudes having nothing to eat, Jesus asked them, “What do you have?” He did not ask them, “What don’t you have?” No, it was, “What do you have?” In other words, “Let’s work with what is available.” What was available was a few small fish and bread loaves. Jesus started from there and fed thousands. In his early days of exile David was given several hundred men who were nothing much to brag about. But the one thing you could say for them is that they were his; they were David’s followers, such as they were, and for better or for worse he was going to have to find a way to lead them, and harness their unruly energy.

It is to David’s credit that the numbers of those who followed him increased rather than decreased. There seems little to attract men about tramping around in the wilderness, raiding enemy cities for the food you need to survive, and running for your life from King Saul’s army. But somehow they stayed, and after a while 400 became 600. Eventually David left the land of Israel altogether and stayed with the Philistines for a season. Amazingly, rather than kill his former enemy, the king of the Philistines took a liking to David and gave him freedom to live among them in peace. David’s charisma worked its magic even upon the leader of the people he had formerly fought so successfully.


Toward the end of this season of exile, another caliber of men began joining David’s little band. But these men were well-trained and exceptional in ability. The Bible tells us:

Now these were the men who came to David at Ziklag while he was still a fugitive from Saul the son of Kish; and they were among the mighty men, helpers in the war, armed with bows, using both the right hand and the left in hurling stones and shooting arrows with the bow (1 Chronicles 12:1).

The principle has always been the same. Use what God gives you, be faithful, trust the Lord, and eventually you shall receive much more. David had started out with discontented misfits, but now he was receiving trained soldiers, highly skilled, and highly motivated. Had he sat around complaining and sent all those early men back home, he would never have progressed further. In working with the losers, the whiners, and the malcontents, David eventually qualified for some of the best soldiers in the land. Not long after this we are told, “Some Gadites joined David at the stronghold in the wilderness, mighty men of valor, men trained for battle, who could handle shield and spear, whose faces were like the faces of lions, and were as swift as gazelles on the mountains” (1 Chronicles 12:8). The Scriptures describe this amassing of men thus: “For at that time they came to David day by day to help him, until it was a great army, like the army of God” (1 Chronicles 12:22).

From hundreds of undisciplined, unruly men who mostly joined David out of desperation, he eventually came to lead thousands of some of the most effective soldiers in the world. After Saul’s death in a great battle with the Philistines and a brief civil war, David was the natural choice for the scattered and dispirited Israelites. And he was ready, fully equipped and fully prepared to lead the people of God. His training in the wilderness had served him well. Here was a man who could lead!

When Saul finally died in battle, many years had passed since that fateful day when Samuel anointed the young man as the next king over Israel. His transition to king was precisely as the prophet had announced, but surely the specifics of just how God brought it all about were nothing like David had expected. His life had taken many strange turns, and he had been through countless dangers and difficulties. It had been anything but easy. Yet God’s preparation and training program for David was effective. It was a unique and custom-tailored curriculum that worked beautifully in the life of a young man who wrote psalms, played the harp, and killed giants.

In some ways, David’s path to leadership had many similarities to Joseph’s, so many years before. As with David, it was revealed to Joseph in his youth that he was destined for greatness and leadership. But never in his wildest dreams would Joseph have realized that it would involve many long years as a slave, and then as a prisoner. He may have had his idea about how it would happen, but he was totally blindsided when God’s preparation program began for him, and his brothers sold him as a slave to a group of Midianite traders headed for Egypt.

Some Things Never Change

Of course, God doesn’t always raise up His servants through such dramatic and unexpected ways. In some cases, He uses far more ordinary means. Many pastors have felt called to ministry in their youth, studied in Bible School or seminary, graduated, and went on to fulfill the ministries they dreamed of years earlier. But for nearly all of us, whether pastor, teacher, writer, Sunday School teacher, or anointed doctor, lawyer, mechanic, office worker, or any other profession and calling – in almost every case we will face in our lives at least a few major unexpected twists and turns through which the Heavenly Craftsman prepares His chosen ones for unique and effective service. Anyone who can reach old age and declare, “God has never surprised me in my life,” has probably never experienced what it means to be led and directed by the Holy Spirit. Nearly all of us who follow Christ and pray that simple prayer: “Lord use me” are going to have a few occasions when we say to God, “I never thought it was going to go this way!” But much to our consternation, this is, to use a golfer’s phrase, “par for the course.”

And like David, if we are going to make significant progress in our lives and ministries, we must learn to use what we have at hand. Too often, our eyes are on what we do not have. “If only I had more money,” or “If only I could speak better,” or “If only I had a few talented people to stand with me,” or “If only I had more opportunities to use my gift.” But we must always remember that such thinking is entirely counterproductive. The question is not, “What don’t you have?” but always, “What do you have?” Do you have a Sunday School class of six people? Give it all you’ve got! Do you have a home Bible study that meets every two weeks? Prepare for that study as though twenty thousand people were going to be attending! (But don’t rent out a stadium just yet!) Has someone asked you to work with your church’s food pantry? Go for it, and be joyful for the opportunity. The great evangelist D. L. Moody said, “The reward for service is more service.”

Two vital aspects of preparation for leadership are faith and patience. While still a youth, David had been anointed by Samuel and told he was to be the next king of Israel. This instilled a faith in the young lad’s heart that never left him. He, the young shepherd boy, had an amazing destiny ahead of him. But it would take years and years for this to reach fruition. Along with his faith there had to be patience, allowing God to take His time and shape all the necessary circumstances for this to happen. God never allows us to either hurry Him or slow Him down. He works at His own divine pace, and we must adjust ourselves to His schedule; He will never adjust His schedule to ours. Anyone who thinks that God must always come running as soon as we call on Him knows nothing about the divine ways.

Our Great Advantage

There was one thing missing from David’s training that must always be a part of ours. David knew nothing of Jesus Christ. Well that perhaps is not exactly true, since he did write some messianic psalms containing prophecies about Jesus and what He would accomplish. But David did not have the amazing resources that we have. Specifically, he did not have the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to read and absorb. Any insights he had about Jesus were mere hints given by the Holy Spirit as he was inspired to write those beautiful psalms.

Today we have more than hints. We have four accounts of the most amazing life our world has ever seen. We have the Holy Spirit to reveal more and more to us of Jesus all through our lives. We learn of God and His ways through giving thought to the life and ministry of His Son, who was in fact, God manifested in human flesh. And any training for leadership and ministry must always include great, massive doses of Jesus! Yes, we must follow certain principles, yes we must exercise faith and patience, and yes, we must expect and allow for God’s unusual twists and turns in our lives. But first and foremost, we must know Jesus! We must walk with Him through the pages of the Scriptures, we must fellowship with Him, and we must come to depend upon Him as our True Vine, the Source of life and fruitfulness to all the children of God.

 Jesus was the ultimate Leader. He had so much charisma that He often had a tough time getting away from the multitudes to be able to enjoy a meal. After His death on the cross for the sins of the world and His resurrection from the dead on the third day, people have been drawn to Him from every nation under heaven. Today billions profess to follow Him, and He is looked upon as the greatest Man who ever lived. And it is in knowing Him and trusting Him that His leadership qualities become manifest, although imperfectly, in our own lives. We can lead, we can exercise ministry, we can inspire others, because the ultimate Leader lives in us.



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