I have always been captivated by this verse, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart” I Sam 16:7b. God’s leaders are not necessarily to be equated with characteristics of people that our world system elevates. This verse shows it so. Israel's King Saul had disappointed God. He started well enough but succumbed to folly and arrogance. He was no longer God’s man and God had taken away whatever hold he had on Israel. So Samuel is sent to anoint a new king: “you are to anoint for me the one I indicate” (1 Sam 16:3).
Samuel obeys – “then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice” (1 Sam 16:5). Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely he is the one?" But the Lord said "No. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” God makes it clear in this passage that the people he chooses to do great things for him are called on the basis of inward character, not on the basis of outward impressiveness. In fact, the things that impress us aren’t impressive to God. The thing that God looks for is the quality of the heart.
Why is the condition of a person’s heart such a big deal? Don’t we often hear that the leader’s private life has no bearing on his ability to perform well on the job? However, the leader’s private life does matter to God regardless of his ability to perform well in leadership. Look at Solomon – he started well but ended badly. He became half-hearted in his devotion to God. So the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates” (1 Kings 11:11).
Whatever else qualifies people for leadership, no one is qualified for greatness – by God’s standard – until his or her heart is ready. The leader’s prayer and focus of effort must center here – in his or her own heart to be wholly devoted to God. Skills, intelligence and hard work are all a part of the package but God reminds us that, in the final analysis, one thing makes the difference. God looks at the leader’s heart.
David had a heart wholly devoted to God. Because he was a man after God’s own heart, David never gave up on his relationship with God. This is precisely what was godly about David’s heart. God did not give up on His relationship with David, either. Nor does He give up on us. No matter where we are, or what we have done, or where things appear to be headed at any point in life, He is calling us to move on. All we have to do is follow.
In the end, we become what our own desires make us. This is why Jesus stressed the importance of the pure heart and the clear eye (Matthew 5:8; 7:5). Success in life is to be focused on one thing – Jesus called it as “seeking first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33). If this is not first, we end up a divided heart, with divided loyalties. We end up not knowing where to turn or where to move to.