I’ve been going through 1 Samuel lately and observing what makes up a David and a Saul. Sadly, all too often, I see Saul in my own heart more than David, and I want to resemble the man after God’s heart. This phrase “a man after God’s heart” (1 Sam. 13:14) is a noble thing to desire. Many use it, but don’t always consider how this kind of person is fashioned. Gene Edwards, in his book, A Tale of Three Kings, speaks of the kind of school that makes these kind of people,
God has a university. It’s a small school. Few enroll; even fewer graduate. Very, very few indeed.
God has this school because he does not have broken men and women. Instead, he has several other types of people. He has people who claim to have God’s authority…and don’t–people who claim to be broken…and aren’t. And people who do have God’s authority, but who are mad and unbroken. And he has, regretfully, a great mixture of everything in between. All of these he has in abundance, but broken men and women, hardly at all. (p. 15)
David himself, in a pivotal moment of deep confession, wrote about the kind of heart and the kind of sacrifices that God desires from his people:
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. (Psalms 51:17)
What is left out of the call to be a person after God’s heart, is that the kind of heart God is after is a broken one. God’s delight is not in those who think they can give him a worthwhile sacrifice and offer him something (51:16), rather his delight rests upon those who admit they cannot and in desperation offer up their broken and sinful selves to his magnificent sin-washing and new-heart giving mercy (51:7).
Psalm 51 is clearly a confessional Psalm of sinful brokenness penned by David after his adulterous and murderous affair, but this is not the only kind of brokenness that David experienced. He experienced the brokenness of being hated by God’s anointed king. Therefore broken people don’t just know their own sin. They have also known the sins of others against them, but this does not harden and embitter them–it softens them. Godly brokenness over personal sins and the sins of others produces tenderheartedness.
Broken men and women after God’s heart are not simply “woe is me” people. They don’t complain consistently about how they have been wounded by others (even when massively so), and they don’t simply revel in their own sinfulness (of the most heinous kind) in a kind of overly introspective and depressed false humility. To the contrary, the “joy of salvation” (51:12) is poured upon the broken and humbled. The tune resulting from brokenness is a song of joyful praise (51:14) not a morose dirge. The broken heart is the new heart that only God creates (51:10) and is the heart God is after–“The Lord has sought out for Himself a man after his own heart” (13:14).