What Happens If You Flop At Forty?
2 Samuel 11
This past week, we had the opportunity to celebrate a milestone in my life, I had my 40th birthday. Now I know that for some of you 40 years old is ancient, some of you remember when you turned 40, and some of you have gotten to the age where you are a little fuzzy about where you are right now.
You know, before the dawn of the twentieth century, no preacher would have thought it necessary to preach this sermon. In 1901 life expectancy for Americans was only 50, and during the middle ages life expectancy was a mere 37. Today, however, the average life span for men is 76 and women are expected to live to be 81.
Somewhere around the midway point of our lives we start to question different aspects of our lives and we begin to go through a myriad of changes that psychologists have labeled a Mid-Life Crisis. We are all a little like the man who told his friends, “I went to my high school reunion, and everyone there had gotten so old and fat they didn't even recognize me.”
I fully understand that there are some of you here this morning that are already past this point. You'd never admit, but trust me, you're way past it. That's okay, I still believe that you can find a mustard seed this morning. When we hit middle age we tend to do stupid things. In older age, we tend to do cynical things. So the survival skills we will talk about can be easily adapted to an older stage of life.
Some of you here this morning are younger than middle age, but I have finally reached the point in my life where I can say, now you younger people need to listen to me. I have walked the path you are now walking and I believe that I can give you a mustard seed this morning as well to make your journey a bit easier.
According to the Meyer-Briggs psychologists there are several characteristics that appear in the lives of people who are experiencing a mid-life crisis. See if any of these sound familiar to you.
1. A newly developed discontentment with life.
2. Boredom with things and/or people you previously found interesting.
3. Risk-oriented thrills gained by doing things you have never done before.
4. The questioning of values which have shaped past behavior.
5. Confusion about who you are and where you're headed.
As I looked at that list, I immediately began to think about the story of David in 2 Samuel 11. I was drawn to this story not because it is one of my favorites, or because it’s a story of a hero with strong convictions, or because it is one of those stories that's just fun to tell. I am drawn to this story because it’s honest.
It’s not only historically true, it’s honest about how corrupt we can be. And yes, we, includes you and me. If David, a man after God's own heart, writer of dozens of Psalms, slayer of giants, defender of Israel, could fall this hard and this far, so can everyone of us. And the truth is that everyone of us can not only flop at forty, but you can tank at twenty or sink at sixty.
So I would like for you to turn in your bibles or find on your tablets to our text this morning found in 2 Samuel 11. We will start by reading the first six verses.
The first thing we must do is learn to grow old in humility
The most frequently used verb in those six verses is the word sent, David sent Joab out to battle in verse 1. David sent someone to find out who Bathsheba was in verse 3. David sent messengers to get her in verse 4. David sent word to Joab to retrieve Uriah in verse 6.
Why do you think that there are all these references to David's sending? I believe that it’s because they tell us something about the position at which David has arrived. He now has the authority to send people to do things. David has succeeded.
He no longer has to go off to war like other kings. He can send people. He no longer has to research information for himself. He can send people to do that. He no longer has to go knock on doors and ask people to come see him. He has people for that. And with every sending and summons, the people around David dutifully obey.
Something dangerous happens to us the older we get. We accumulate a certain amount of power. You may not have the kind of power David had, the power to send and summon at will. But you have more power now than you did ten years ago. And in ten years, you'll have more power than you do now.
We gain power in three different ways. First we gain power by visibility, the more you are seen the more power you hold. That’s why people often turn to the preacher instead of the Shepherds when things go wrong.
Secondly we gain power by wealth. We still live by a gold rule, the one with the most gold tends to rule.
Finally we gain power by longevity. Whether you feel powerful or not, there is tremendous power that comes with grey hair. At a certain point in our lives, people begin to listen to us. What we say matters. They want to know what we think. Our opinions hold more sway the older we get. We slowly gain more influence.
The problem with having influence is that it begins to feel good. We enjoy it too much. We slowly develop a sense of entitlement. We convince ourselves that people should listen to me, my opinion should be important, or I should have more influence.
The more entitled we feel, the less critical we are of our opinions, the less careful we are about the influence we wield. We begin to act and think like David did; if I see it and want it, I deserve it. We become arrogant. That’s why I believe the first skill we need to handle the challenges of mid-life or even past-mid-life crises is humility.
Dan Rather tells the story of a time he had flown into Dallas for a speech. He was tired and irritable and feeling a bit like the world owed him a great deal. He stepped onto a crowded elevator to ride down to the banquet room where he was to give his speech. He felt every eye on him. And that made him feel both a little proud and a little irritated. Proud that people knew who he was, irritated that they were staring. When the doors opened, a lady leaned close and quietly said, "Mr. Rather, I don't mean to be a bother, but your fly is open and piece of your shirt tail is sticking out."
David needed someone to tell him his shirt tail was out. Sometimes we all do. Sometimes we need someone to remind us that despite our successes, we are still just ordinary people. This morning I am asking you to confront the danger of middle-aged arrogance with a full dose of Christian humility. A lesson that we have forgotten is that the world doesn’t owe us anything. No matter what you have been told. And neither does the church or God. We were created to give glory to God, and unless we grow in our humility we will never be able to fulfill our purpose.
Let’s pick the text back up in verse 7 and we will read to verse 13.
The next thing we must do is learn how to be transparent.
If the sinful attitude in verses 1-6 was arrogance, it shouldn't surprise us that a sinful behavior follows in 7-13. Attitudes always end with actions. The sinful act in verses 7-13 is manipulation.
Actually the manipulation started in verse 3, when David asked who Bathsheba was. I mean are we really to believe that David didn’t know who Bathsheba was. Think about it, she was his neighbor. And not just that, she was the wife of Uriah the Hittite one of David’s 30 mighty men. She was the daughter of Eliam, who was part of David’s personal bodyguard. And she was the granddaughter of Ahithophel, the most respected man in David’s cabinet. So are we really going to believe that he had no idea, or is this just the beginning of his manipulation?
In fact David doesn't do one genuine thing in these verses. Every word, every action is carefully calculated to achieve a particular goal. The questions he asks of Uriah in verse 7 are not genuinely aimed at seeking information. David doesn't want to know how Joab is. He already knows. David doesn't want to know how the soldiers are or how the war is going. David is just making conversation with a dear old friend that he is getting ready to stab in the back.
In verse 8, David tells Uriah to go home and "wash his feet." I love the way that the Bible describes things sometimes. Do I need to tell you that washing your feet in this context has nothing to do with hygiene? David is asking Uriah to break the levitical law in Leviticus 15:16-18 that forbids soldiers from having conjugal visits while they are in battle. David now faces the problem that Uriah is a man of honor and refuses to go home.
So David continues to reach new lows in his life in verse 13. At David's invitation Uriah comes to a banquet where David get’s him drunk. But still drunk, Uriah has more integrity and honor than David. He still refuses to go home to be with his wife while Israel and the ark are camped out and in danger.
Arrogance was the downfall of David. It was arrogance married to lust that summoned Bathsheba to begin with. It is arrogance tag teaming with deceit that causes his attempted manipulation of Uriah.
There are times that we see this desire to manipulate people and circumstances in the very young. But usually the sin of trying to control people, of trying to play God, is found in those of us who have been around awhile. We see this play out in family systems like a church all the time. Folks who refuse to be transparent. Folks who live in the dark, are those who are deeply involved in manipulation and deceit.
We become accustomed to getting our way any way we can, so we use emotions like anger or grief or guilt to manage people. Or we use power or influence or deceit. Whatever tools we use, we see people as pawns and life as a chess board. We just have to figure out where we want everyone to be, then move them in that direction. Because we believe if we can control the situation, if we can get everyones eyes off of me then I can live how I want to, I can live in the darkness.
The problem we face is that when we treat life like a giant competitive game and people like board pieces, we lose the thing we most want; relationships. David begins this story alone. He is alone in the middle. And in the end, he is still alone. For all his power and success, he is unable to gain and hold a single, genuine relationship. He has no one that he can share his honest struggles and trial with. There is no one who has the ability to see things as they truly are in his life.
Let's look at one last section of verses; 11:14-18, 26-27. (read)
The last thing we must learn how to do is to find real success
In these verses we find the most sobering warning of the story; We have the ability to succeed at sin and fail in life. David got everything he wanted and failed at life.
At first, all he wanted was a night with a beautiful neighbor. And he got it.
Then he wanted a cover up for her pregnancy. And he got it.
He wanted Uriah out of the way. And he got it.
David succeeded at getting everything he wanted, only to realize, too late, that he wanted the wrong things.
Chapter 11 ends with these troubling words; "But the thing David had done displeased the Lord." You and I will never reach an age where we are immune to the consequences of our sin. Unquestioned wants, desires never submitted to the criticism of a conscience, wishes never strained through the filter of God's word, will rise up to destroy us.
Sometimes I think the one thing we should most pray for is that God will save us from success, if that success is achieved without Him. George MacDonald said, "In whatever man does without God, he must fail miserably or succeed more miserably"
Wherever you are in life, young, middle-aged, or entering your final years we must confront arrogance with humility, cherish your relationships, and by all means be sure that the goal you are pursuing is one that honors God. The last thing you want to do is succeed at something that He can't bless.