The best that I can be

2 Samuel 23 v. 8 – 17 Shortly after the loss of his right arm, Nelson was presented to King George III, who congratulated him upon his naval victories, then added, almost prophetically, “But your country has a claim for a bit more of you.”

Centuries earlier, King David had motivated his army with a similar loyalty.  The four hundred soldier who had become renowned as being men distressed, in debt and discontent, became the core of a much bigger army.  They became valiant men, famed for their exploits.  Adina the Eznite killed 800 men at one time; Eleazar attacked Philistines until his hand was weary and stuck to the sword; Shammah stayed and killed the Philistines when others were fleeing;  Beniah killed two lion-like men of Moab, an Egyptian with his own sword as well as others. 

There was an occasion when David was with his men, and the Philistines were occupying Bethlehem, when almost under his breath David said with longing, “Oh, that someone would give me a drink of the water from the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate.”

David’s desires were natural enough.  His fortunes were at a low ebb, hiding in the cave of Adullum, and the Philistine garrison holding Bethlehem.  David was indulging in allowing his mind to revel in the past, and to dwell on those never-to-be-forgotten memories.  This was a craving for the old life which was neither spiritual or helpful to him, to others or the cause he was fighting.

Sometimes, especially when things are tough, we can indulge ourselves by envying the wicked, or the world with its ways and wealth.  However, the longing is never quenched by gratifying, but by replacing them with things that are legitimate. 

David’s three mighty men were, as Warren Wiersbe puts it, “close enough to hear his whispered words, loyal enough to take his wish at their command, and brave enough to obey at any cost.”  Responding to the wish of David, they bravely broke through the camp of the Philistines, drew water from the well of Bethlehem, took it and brought it to David.

David’s actions were spiritual.  He was, I am sure, overwhelmingly grateful for the dedicated, sacrificial service of Josheb-Basshebeth, Eleazar and Shammah.  However, David:

Refused to drink the water selfishly

It seemed to David that the water was dyed with the blood of men.  Only God had the right to receive that for which the men had risked their lives. 

It is good for me to ask myself whether the things which gratify me are purchased at too great a price.  My home, my hobbies, my holidays, my honour, the things I hoard, may all be legitimate, but have they taken a hold of me to the extent that the Lord is being displaced?  God has given me great privileges, including time and energy, gifts and abilities.  They are not to be used self-indulgently but for the glory of the Lord.  I have to ask myself whether the Lord is being eased to edge of the plate of my life?

Resolved to sacrifice the longed-for water to the Lord

As David  poured out the water to the Lord, he offered to God what was too precious for his own use, and when offered it became more precious.  If he had just drunk the water, he would have enjoyed its refreshment for some moments, and it would have been forgotten forever.  Instead, it has become a timeless picture of devotion and sacrifice.  It is the Old Testament equivalent of the oil of Mary’s alabaster box, and the widow’s two mites.  They could have been used selfishly, but instead were given to the Lord, multiplied in usefulness, and immortalised.  Jesus’ blood was always precious, for it is “the blood of God”, but when it was poured out at Calvary, it became of inestimable value to the millions who have found their sins washed away because of it.

As well, the water of Bethlehem became sweeter to David in pouring it out to the Lord, than it would have if he had greedily gulped it.

The principle is scriptural.  “Sacrifice” is a theme permeating all of the Bible.  Our salvation is based on the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus.  He who was rich, for our sakes, became poor, and He was righteous for our sakes was made sin.

David’s act doesn’t compare to the sacrifice of Christ, and realistically, what can we give in gratitude to the Lord?  Nevertheless, we are privileged to sacrifice for Him, and in so doing, we give to God a fragrant offering.  Abraham was willing to sacrifice his own son, Moses gave up his position in Egypt, the Israelites willingly devoted their possessions in building the tabernacle and temple, the prophets sacrificed their comfort and reputation, and even their lives to proclaim the word of God.  Esther, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego would have laid down their lives, as would Daniel, for the cause of the Lord.

David said, I will not “offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God with that which costs me nothing.” (2 Sam. 24 v. 24).  On another occasion he wrote, “Surely I will not go into the chamber of my house, or go up to the comfort of my bed; I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids, until I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.”  (Psalm 132 v. 3 – 5). The Lord was a greater priority to David than sleep and comfort.

Jesus said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me.  And He loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.  And he who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.”  (Matthew  10 v. 37 – 38).   He also warned, “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  (John 12 v. 25)

The challenge is, to be not entangled in the affairs of this world, but to dare to “go outside the camp, bearing His repoach”.  This will be a testimony to the world around, as well as to heaven itself, as to our seriousness of commitment.  God uses devotion like this to overcome Satan, who is defeated by the blood of the Lamb, the Word of their testimony, and believers not loving their own lives event to death. (See Revelation 12 v. 11).  I have seen this working out today.  I met with a group of young people in Secondrabad, India who were preparing to go and live and evangelise in a huge, desperately unlovely shanty town.  Working with Operation Mobilisation, they were willing to live with no running water, sanitation, electricity or comforts.  I found them deeply challenging.

In case this all seems too costly, Gladys Aylward, missionary to China,  testified of the compensations of living sacrificially, “I have not done what I wanted to do.  I have not eaten what I wanted, or worn what I would have chosen.  I have lived in houses that I would not have looked at twice.  I longed for a husband and babies and security and love.  But God never gave them.  Instead he left me on my own for 17 years, with one book – a Chinese Bible.  I don’t know anything about the latest novels, films, theatres.  I live in a rather out of date world.  And I suppose you say it’s awfully miserable, isn’t it?  Friend, I have been one of the happiest women who stepped on this earth, I have known the heavens opening and the blessings tumbling out.”

Three or four miles from my home is the village of Arthington named after Robert Arthington.  He was a Cambridge graduate who lived in a single room, cooked his own meals, and nearly a century ago gave £500,000 to foreign missions on the condition that it was all to be spent on pioneer work with twenty five years.  He wrote, “Gladly would I make the floor my bed, a box my chair, and another box my table, rather than that men should perish for want of the knowledge of Christ.”

“Nothing is too precious for Jesus” said Amy Carmichael.  My desires are to be transformed to devotion and duty; my rights turned to responsibilities; my gifts given back to the Giver.  This leads to questions such as, is my work merely advancing my career or is it exalting Christ?  Is my money being used for self-indulgence or self-sacrifice?  Is my spare time used for self or for others?   

I recently heard a tape of a sermon, where retired people were challenged to be venturing into so called ‘closed’ countries to distribute gospel literature, and speak of Christ?  Better to die as a martyr, than on a golf course, said the preacher!   Certainly it is better to sacrifice than to selfishly indulge. 

The Lord poured out His life for me … how much more should I be willing to give to Him, yielding my rights in a daily act of love to the Lord Jesus.  I believe … I belong …do I obey?