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Traction – Week 4: God’s Choice, God’s Way

I met a military veteran a while ago who served in wartime not fighting in combat, but as a checkers champion sent to play against the troops! The Army would set up a dozen gameboards at a time, with a dozen soldiers waiting to play against him. But he had such a clear command of the game, that he would win all the matches handily.

I have no idea how that helped with troop morale, but he seemed like a nice enough guy!

You’ve probably played checkers, so you know the high point in the middle of the game is when you manage to plot and scheme your way across the board all the way to the other side, at which point you can triumphantly insist, “King me! King me!”

From that point forward, your newly crowned king has a kind of authority it never had before. It can go where it couldn’t go before. It can do things it couldn’t do until now. Being crowned greatly increases your power. 

Philip Ryken, on whose study the next two week’s messages are based, makes the case that a lot of people approach life like the game of checkers—doing whatever it takes to be kinged. 

  • The “King me!” game takes place when people skirt integrity in order to move up at work.
  • The “King me!” game kicks in when we insist on our way at home, regardless of the rest of the family’s needs or desires.
  • It’s the “King me!” game whenever we expect someone else to break a sweat, while we enjoy the fruit of their labor. 
  • The “King me!” game is very common. 

The problem with pursuing being “kinged” is that we miss out on the kingship of Christ in the process; we miss out on discovering our intended role in Christ’s awesome kingdom. 

So because God wants better for us, he made sure to show us some “King me” encounters in the Bible. We’re going to ride along with one today from the Old Testament. Continuing in our series titled Traction: Getting Going With God, we pick up today in the very beginning of the Old Testament book of 1 Kings. In chapter one, we find two contrasting stories. One is about someone who insists on playing the “King me!” game, the other someone who waits for God’s choice, God’s way—and ends up honored. 

Open your Bible or Bible app to 1 Kings chapter 1. Verse 1 opens with King David old and frail, unable to keep warm even with blankets piled on. 

If you were going to make up a fake religious book, you wouldn’t include details like this. The kings of old wanted their biographies to make them sound god-like. Not here. Even something like this very human detail reinforces our confidence in the inspiration of Scripture. It shows us life as it really is, not a pretend scenario.

It opens with stripped-down honesty. 

  • This is David who as a boy killed both lion and bear in hand-to-hand combat when his flocks were threatened. 
  • This is the same David who took down a giant with a sling’s stone;
  • David who had built the city of Jerusalem into an impenetrable mountain fortress.

But as we pick up his life story here, David is physically a shadow of who he had been in his prime. 

It’s a scary time for a nation when they’re facing a change in leadership. David is dying, and they don’t know what comes next. Who will come to power next? Will things get better or worse? Will the new leader show us favor or come down harshly on us?

Verse 5, into that fear and confusion steps someone who decides to force the answer, by playing the “King me!” game. We read…

Now Adonijah, whose mother was Haggith, put himself forward and said, “I will be king.”

1 Kings 1:5

Who is this guy? Adonijah is a son of David; he’s a prince, the king’s kid. But he’s not God’s choice for their next king. God’s choice is Solomon. Solomon becoming king didn’t fit tradition, because he wasn’t the firstborn: Solomon was actually was David’s tenth son. 

But if you know David’s story, you know that when God chose him to be Israel’s next king, David wasn’t his father’s firstborn either. He was the youngest in his family. So God’s choice and God’s way aren’t always what we expect. 

To Adonijah’s way of thinking, however, he should be king, not Solomon. Adonijah looked more like the choice for king. Verse 6 tells us he was very handsome: he would be the guy chosen for The Bachelor, King edition. So as David’s oldest living offspring, Adonijah convinced himself that he should be next in line. So he rushed into a hand of the “King me!” game.

Adonijah makes a massive power play. Verse 5, he pulls together a full-on promo package, complete with chariots and horses, and a ready-to-cheer crowd.

Verse 7, he gets hand-picked powerbrokers to pave the way. He does exactly what you’d expect a king to do: he puts forward a key military leader and a key religious leader to endorse him, to win the crowd over with his friends in high places. 

Verse 9, he makes a big show of his so-called religious devotion, and throws a huge party that showcases his wealth. Adonijah knows that money talks. Everything he does is calculated to reinforce what he wants: “King me!” 

Do you ever do this? Not to the extent that this guy did. But we try to impress others with how much we have, how much we know, and who we know. Sometimes we give more energy to trying to get others to king us, than to showing and telling them how awesome Christ our King is! The Adonijah way is so easy to fall for. 

But what Adonijah lost sight of in that moment is that it wasn’t his kingdom to claim. And it wasn’t for his glory that the kingdom had come. David’s lineage had been chosen to usher in Christ the King, to bring to the world the Savior we all need. It was about something much greater than Adonijah and his dreams of fame.

Let me introduce you to something that’s going to be new to some of you. This is an example of what Bible scholars like to call the Bible’s lower story and upper story. Lower story and upper story.

Two stories are taking place every time you read one of the stories in the Bible. 

The lower story is the one being written and told from eye-level from them to us. It’s a horizontal and linear viewpoint. The lower story is just what we see in the moment—because that’s all we can see. 

The upper story is the one being guided from above, from God’s perspective, in order to accomplish God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will. The upper story is God’s story being played in in the midst of the human story.

Kurt Willems says, “In the Lower Story we are dealing with things in the here and now – paying bills, dealing with conflict, getting over a cold, finding a job, winning a race, stubbing your toe and what you say after you stub your toe.  The Lower Story is our Story.”

“In the Upper Story we discover what God is up to; how he is weaving our story into his one divine love story. The Upper Story is God’s Story.”

Let me give you a quick New Testament example of both the lower story and upper story at work, to give you an idea of what Adonijah lost sight of when he decided to try the “King me!” game. In the New Testament narratives of Jesus’ birth, we read that a Roman census required Joseph to head to Bethlehem when Mary was just about full-term. 

The lower story there is about taxes. All Joseph knew, all that he could see, was that the Roman government had lousy timing for when they decided to run a national census so that they could get people to pay as much tax as possible. From our lower story vantage point, eyeball to eyeball, that’s all we can see—the moment. It all looked like an unfortunate mistake.

We know now, however, that even something as specific as a census ordered by a pagan Roman ruler was part of the upper story. It was part of God’s choice, God’s way. The reason we can say that now is that we see the ancient prophecy of Micah 5:2, given more than seven hundred years before Jesus was born. It predicts precisely where the Messiah would be born when it says…

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.”

Micah 5:2

Bethlehem was the town of David. And since Joseph was a descendant of David, it was required of him by people in authority over him who did not know or believe the Scriptures, that he must head to Bethlehem to be counted for the census. Lower story, upper story: the lower story looked like a giant headache and a mistake. The upper story was nothing less than God working out his good, pleasing, and perfect will to save us from our sin.

So here’s what that has to do with you and me. When you begin to question God’s way, or God’s timing, the upper story helps. Trust that God knows what he’s doing, even when you’re not sure what comes next. 

  • That can help you when you’re in a tough spot in marriage.
  • That can help when money is tight and you’re worried about the future.
  • It can help when you wish you were the one being promoted or encouraged, but someone else is getting the spotlight.

In those moment, remember there’s an upper story unfolding as well—God’s choice, God’s way. He knows what he’s doing, and what he does is good for us. 

Adonijah loses sight of all this. For him, trusting the Lord isn’t enough. He decides to take what he wants, instead of waiting to see how the Lord will guide. Adonijah models the toddler’s Ten Commandments. If you’ve had a toddler, you’ve observed the toddler’s Ten Commandments in action. Here they are.

The Toddler’s 10 Commandments

1- If I want it, it’s mine.
2- If it’s in my hand, it’s mine. 
3- If I can take it away from you, it’s mine. 
4- If I had it a little while ago, it’s mine.
5- If it’s mine, it must never appear to be yours in any way. 
6- If we are building something together, all the pieces are mine. 
7- If it just looks like mine, it’s mine. 
8- If I think it’s mine, it’s mine. 
9- If I give it to you and change my mind later, it’s mine. 
10- Once it’s mine it will never belong to anyone else, no matter what.

That’s cute when it’s a toddler; it’s embarrassing when we act like this as adults. Adonijah falls for it. And verse 6 gives us a giant clue as to why Adonijah ever imagined he could get away with playing the “King me!” game. It says…

His father had never rebuked him by asking, “Why do you behave as you do?”

1 Kings 1:6

The father here was…David! For all of his great successes as king, David failed as a father, because he didn’t discipline his own children. It’s the strangest thing, because David would never have done what his own son attempted. When David was younger and Saul was king but undeserving, David had the chance to take Saul out and make himself king. But he refused to play the “King me!” game. He instead trusted in God’s choice, God’s way. 

And good for sim. But he failed to teach that character lesson to his son. David apparently consistently failed to discipline Adonijah when he saw his son behaving badly.

So Dads and Moms, do you discipline your children? Are you teaching them right from wrong now, while there are low-level consequences to rebellion, before the choices and consequences grow to adult-sized? 

Adonijah looked good and had friends in high places. What he didn’t develop—because his father didn’t discipline him—was good character.

By the way, this is an appropriate place to point out that the end goal of discipline is not compliance. We don’t want to raise kids who never question things. The greatest end goal in discipline is to help our kids feel their need for Christ—so that they can experience his forgiveness and call on him for his power to do right. That’s why we discipline our kids—to help them feel their need for Christ as King. 

Philip Ryken puts it well. He says, “If you crown yourself the king, or the queen, eventually your life will turn out to be a royal disappointment.”

Parents, let’s not raise a generation of Adonijahs. Let’s discipline our kids, even though they won’t be happy about it in the moment. We need to deliver them from playing the “King me!” game, while they’re young.

I was at a new home dedication recently when I met children from Indian families. For each child, the parents had chosen them a name that drips with rich significance. You find the same in many cultures.

Same with Adonijah. His name means “my Lord is Yahweh,” or “the Lord is my master.” Amazing meaning in his name, but his behavior contradicted the name his parents had given him—in part because his father failed to guide him. Don’t let that be the case in your home.

Adonijah from his youth on came to imagine that life was all about playing the “King me!” game. Look back at the text with me. Verse 8, Adonijah did an end-run around the true authorities of his. He avoided listening to God’s true prophet, priest, and king—which were in turn:

  • Nathan, the prophet who had rebuked David after David had sinned and tried to cover it up (that’s a true prophet, not a people-pleaser); 
  • There was Zadok, Israel’s high priest at that time; 
  • and there was David, Israel’s king. 

Instead of seeking wisdom from the prophet, priest and king God had put in place over him, Adonijah did an end-run around all of them.

One of the surest signs that someone is playing the “King me!” game is when they refuse to follow authority themselves. They want to be kinged with authority, but they don’t accept others’ authority. Huge warning sign.

Let’s make this really practical. When you have a big decision to make, how do you do it?  Independently? By yourself? Do you look for those who will tell you what you want to hear? Or do you seek out wise and mature friends who will give honest input, even if it goes against what you want to hear?

Proverbs 27:6 describes what we ought to go for. It says…

“Wounds from a sincere friend
    are better than many kisses from an enemy.”

Proverbs 27:6 NLT

In other words, better a warning or correction from a true friend, than a green light from someone who is afraid to challenge you. Adonijah made sure he only heard from those who affirmed that he was “the man,” those who played along with his “King me!” game.

Verses 11ff, Adonijah’s game is exposed, and Solomon is crowned king instead of Adonijah. For all of Adonijah’s sweat and expense, God makes sure he doesn’t get away with it. The upper story always wins.

So here’s the big takeaway for us: When it comes to the “King me!” game, throw away the gameboard. Don’t even play. Just refuse to play. Throw away the board entirely. And instead of trying to force anything, trust in God’s choice, God’s way. It’s always best. He sees both the lower and upper story before it even plays out.

  • I think this is why Jesus taught us in Matthew 6:33 not to stress out, but to seek God’s kingdom first.
  • I think this is why Paul teaches us in Romans 12:2 not to think the same way the world around us does, but to be transformed in our thinking, so that we can discern God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will.
  • Where Adonijah fell for the “King me!” game, we want to follow Jesus Christ who is our true prophet, great high priest, and risen king today. Everything that Nathan and Zadok and David imperfectly embodied as prophet, priest, and king, Jesus perfectly personifies. He is the perfect prophet, priest, and king. We love what he teaches, we treasure what he has accomplished on the cross, and we can trust him as he reigns. 
  • Where Adonijah tried to push forward his own name and fame, Jesus pursued God the Father’s glory. 
  • Where Adonijah grabbed horses and chariots to make an impressive entrance as king, Jesus entered David’s city humbly, seated on a plain donkey rather than a warhorse. 
  • Where Adonijah rounded up a crowd to acclaim him because he asked them to, Jesus approached Jerusalem surrounded by crowds who freely and of their own will praised him as King.
  • And where Adonijah came chasing his own will, his preference and his short-sighted “wisdom,” Jesus came not to carry out his own will, but to do the will of the Father who sent him, perfectly obeying, even to death on a cross—trusting that this was the path by which he would be recognized as King. Jesus is God’s choice, God’s way.

This is the King we serve, friends: not one in it for himself, but one who reigns for the good of his people and the glory of God. As we follow Christ our King, let’s do so in the same way he walked: not playing the “King me!” game, and not avoiding God’s choice, God’s way, but trusting and serving our King, while we wait for what he has next.

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