Potential Producing Power


It was 25 years ago in April of 1999, that I found myself taking a short rest from my missionary work in the Chaco region of Paraguay. My team had traveled to a border town called Puerto Iguazú. It is home to Iguazú Falls (think Niagara Falls on steroids) The cool, refreshing mist from the falls was soul-refreshing after months in the arid Chaco. After visiting the falls, we returned to the hotel to rest and get ready for dinner. I found a quiet moment in my room and pulled out my Bible and let it flop open on its own. Isaiah 43 presented itself. I began reading but soon came to a stop at verse 25.

“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more. (Isaiah 43:25)

I got stuck on 4 little words. I easily understood what blotting out or erasing my sins meant and it is still a glorious thought to think of a God who knows everything who willfully chooses to forget my sins. But those 4 little words were challenging me to think about WHY God would choose to erase my sins and remember them no more. “For my own sake”

You see, I would have told you that salvation was by grace through faith alone and that it was a free gift from God. But inwardly, I still held onto the subtle belief that I needed to somehow earn my salvation or to be worthy of it. I thought that’s what God wanted from me. A committed life to earn my way and show others the way too. So you can imagine the wonderment as my 22-year-old, got-it-all-figured-out brain came to grips with the fact that God was better than I thought He was. Could it be that His plan of salvation was rooted entirely in His goodness and perfect character and not even a little bit in my ability to respond to it or earn it? Could it really be “for His own sake?”

God saw something in my heart that day and began developing a deeper relationship with me for a deeper purpose by revealing more of WHO He is… rather than what He has done.

Perhaps my true potential did not lie in what I could accomplish for God but rather in knowing and being known by God.

As we have studied the Book of 1 Samuel we have seen Hannah make the choice to surrender her son into God’s service, Samuel choosing to faithfully carry out his duties under difficult circumstances, the Israelites choosing to reject God for an earthly king, and Saul choosing to be disobedient to God’s word. And now, in 1 Samuel 16, God’s choices and character are placed at center stage.

1st Samuel 16 reveals four actions that describe God’s power to develop potential in His people.

The first action is

God does not fixate on failure.

“The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” (1 Samuel 16:1)

Samuel had every right to be grieving the consequences that his people were facing because of their disobedience. It is a right and necessary response to sin and disobedience. However, notice that God is not questioning why he is grieving but rather how long Samuel will remain in this paralyzed state. I know a little about what it feels like to be paralyzed by failure.

God commands Samuel to “fill his horn with oil, and go”. This is God shaking Samuel out of his paralysis and getting him back on track to fulfill his potential as a prophet of Israel. The horn and the oil are Samuel’s tools to accomplish his purpose and they are sitting empty and unused. God is about to choose a new king of Israel, and He is not going to let Samuel miss out on being a part of it because of past sins and failures. God is so kind and merciful that He even takes the failures of Israel and turns it around for His glory and the good of His people.

E.H. Miller states: The rejection of Saul did not force the Lord to a new course of action. Rather, God’s action followed His omniscient plan in such a way as to use Saul’s disobedience as the human occasion for implementing His higher plan. God had permitted the people to have the king of their choice. Now that that king and their mistake in choosing him had been clearly manifested, God proved the superiority of His own wisdom in raising up a king who would come in fulfillment of His perfect will.”

And Samuel said, "How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me." And the LORD said, "Take a heifer with you and say, 'I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.' And invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do. And you shall anoint for me him whom I declare to you.” (16:2-3)

Not only does God shake Samuel out of his paralyzed grief but He also provides the answer to overcome Samuel’s objections & fears. He provides cover for Samuel to go see Jesse in order to anoint the new king. God does not fixate on our past failures or the future failures that we imagine.

So why is God able to look past our failures?

Because the second action that describes God’s power to develop potential in His people is:

He sees your secret potential.

Samuel did what the LORD commanded and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling and said, "Do you come peaceably?" And he said, "Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD. Consecrate yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice." And he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. 6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, "Surely the LORD's anointed is before him." “But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (16:4-7)

What do I mean by secret potential? Your secret potential is only what God can see and produce in you. Consider this passage from Psalm 139:

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” (Psalm 139:13-16)

God has a unique perspective of you that no one else in the universe sees or knows.

John Woodhouse puts it like this:God has a point of view, and his point of view is different from the human point of view. If we take the text as it is translated here, it tells us that God is not limited, as humans are, in his point of view. He is not deceived by outward appearances. He sees a person’s heart. That, of course, is true. At least one reason that your point of view is different from my point of view is that we both have limited points of view. We have limited experience, limited understanding, limited knowledge, and we make mistakes. So it is hardly surprising that we all see lots of things differently. But God is not limited as we are limited. Therefore, if God has a point of view, that point of view will not be simply one more point of view among many others. His unlimited point of view will have an absolute validity.”

Because of God’s unlimited view of us, we should value and hold fast to what He says about us above all else. Period.

While we are talking about words, another word to describe this ability to have an unlimited viewpoint is “holy”. Translated from the Hebrew it means “separate” or “set apart”. God is not like us, He behaves in ways that are different than humanity and that are unique to His own character. So when we sing songs or read scripture that includes the word “holy” we are not simply singing or reading a “church word” or a transcendent word that escapes our limited understanding but rather we are declaring that God is different than us and has the abilities to do things that we cannot. And praise God that He is holy because we would be in terrible shape if God, in all His power and might, treated us like we treat ourselves!

Perhaps there is no greater contrast between Saul and David in regards to how their hearts were before the Lord than their own words.

“Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.” (15:24)

“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts, I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:103-105)

“Then he (Saul) said, “I have sinned; yet honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, that I may bow before the Lord your God.”(15:30)

Then King David went in and sat before the LORD and said, “Who am I, O Lord GOD, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? And yet this was a small thing in your eyes, O Lord GOD. You have spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and this is instruction for mankind, O Lord GOD! And what more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Lord GOD! Because of your promise, and according to your own heart, you have brought about all this greatness, to make your servant know it. Therefore you are great, O LORD God. (2 Samuel 7:18–22b)

God not only sees the present potential of the heart but can see the future potential that can be accomplished with His help. That’s why…

The third action that describes God’s power to develop potential in His people is:

He is eager to equip.

Then Jesse called Abinadab and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, "Neither has the LORD chosen this one." 9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, "Neither has the LORD chosen this one." 10 And Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, "The LORD has not chosen these." 11 Then Samuel said to Jesse, "Are all your sons here?" And he said, "There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep." And Samuel said to Jesse, "Send and get him, for we will not sit down till he comes here." 12 And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the LORD said, "Arise, anoint him, for this is he." 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward.

It’s important to note that the equipping Spirit of God was a unique and constant reality for the people of Israel. God was and is always faithful to protect, deliver, and empower His people. Though they did not always acknowledge it or give thanks for it, God was always at the ready to help His people.

“For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him”. (2 Chronicles 16:9)

Saul had been enabled by the Spirit but not in the same way that David, God’s choice, would be enabled. God’s choices are perfect and without flaw so they carry with them the characteristics of permanence. Saul was equipped for tasks but David was equipped for life. Here are two examples of that…

“When they came to Gibeah, behold, a group of prophets met him, and the Spirit of God rushed upon him, and he prophesied among them. And when all who knew him previously saw how he prophesied with the prophets, the people said to one another, “What has come over the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” (1 Samuel 10:10–11)

Now, behold, Saul was coming from the field behind the oxen. And Saul said, “What is wrong with the people, that they are weeping?” So they told him the news of the men of Jabesh. And the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul when he heard these words, and his anger was greatly kindled. (1 Samuel 11:5–6)

Woodhouse comments on this difference: “The same Spirit of the Lord came upon (or perhaps into) David, but not now as an empowering for a particular moment or specific task, but permanently.7 Once again we are made aware that this new king will be different. David had become the one whom God had now equipped to be the leader of his people, or as the Lord had put it, to be “a king for myself”

Most scholars believe David was about 15 years old when he was anointed as king and that another 10 years passed before he began serving in Saul’s court. And finally another 5 years before ascending to the throne at age 30. In those intervening years, God is faithful to equip David to fulfill His purposes. In the remaining part of our text, we see God’s plan starting to take shape.

The fourth action that describes God’s power to develop potential in His people is:

He disciplines by design.

Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the LORD tormented him. And Saul’s servants said to him, “Behold now, a harmful spirit from God is tormenting you. Let our lord now command your servants who are before you to seek out a man who is skillful in playing the lyre, and when the harmful spirit from God is upon you, he will play it, and you will be well.” So Saul said to his servants, “Provide for me a man who can play well and bring him to me.” One of the young men answered, “Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and the LORD is with him.” Therefore Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me David your son, who is with the sheep.” (16:14-19)

We see God’s design unfold in 3 ways. First, in the length of time that He takes to develop David and the length of time He offers Saul a chance to repent. He is not rushed by earthly circumstances or human behavior. He moves and acts in His own time. Second, in sending a harmful spirit to Saul, he provides another opportunity for the rejected king to find help outside of his own twisted, egotistical mindset. And third, the harmful spirit provides a way for David to be positioned in Saul’s court in accordance with God’s purposes.

Now if you are uncomfortable with the idea of God sending a harmful or evil spirit (as it's sometimes translated) to torment Saul, then you are in good company. Scholars and theologians have debated this for a long time and will oftentimes seek to let God off the hook for this action by explaining it away as something else. But Scripture does not give God a pass. It clearly says the harmful spirit was sent from the Lord for the purpose of tormenting Saul.

Robert Bergen explains: “Saul’s tortured state was not an accident of nature, nor was it essentially a medical condition. It was a supernatural assault by a being sent at the Lord’s command, and it was brought on by Saul’s disobedience.”

While we may not be comfortable with this method of discipline, we can trust that God’s method is motivated by His character. Even after Saul’s multiple failures to obey, God is disciplining him with an eye toward restoration. Not a restoration to the throne because He has rejected Saul as king but one of right relationship between Creator and creation.  God has put Saul in close proximity with His chosen one as a means of grace so that perhaps the embattled king would long for the days when he too experienced the presence and power of God. In case you don’t know God’s character or intention we can find it here in 2 Peter.

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9

And Jesse took a donkey laden with bread and a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them by David his son to Saul. And David came to Saul and entered his service. And Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armor-bearer. And Saul sent to Jesse, saying, “Let David remain in my service, for he has found favor in my sight.” And whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the harmful spirit departed from him. (16:20-23)

God brings discipline by the harmful spirit but also provides relief from it and a pathway to restoration and redemption. God’s methods of discipline may take many forms but His character and His purposes remain steadfast and immoveable. We often will not understand the methods but we can trust He is just, loving, and kind in all that He chooses to do.

So given these 4 actions by God in 1 Samuel 16…

CHALLENGE: What do you need to surrender in your life to experience God-given potential in yourself and others?

Has life become so busy and full of chaos that you have no time to help others or serve in a meaningful way in your community? Turn to God, who is eager to equip you to live an incredibly fulfilling life that will produce good in your life and glory for Him. He has provided a community of believers to help you along the way.

Have you been striving to attain status and wealth so that others think highly of you? Are you so concerned with the outward appearance so much that your inward reality is in shambles and disrepair? Turn to God, who sees your secret potential. The good, the bad, and the worst, and desires to cultivate your heart to reflect His heart.

Has past or present failure paralyzed you to the point that you are no longer moving forward in life? Turn to God. He is not fixated on failure so why should you? Pick up the gifts and tools that God has given you and prepare to go where He sends and do what he says.

Have you become so bitter at God because nothing seems to be working out for you and you feel God is punishing you unjustly? Turn to God, who disciplines by design and not out of retaliation or carelessness. You may have lost out on some opportunities and some doors may now be closed to you because of sin and poor choices but God is not done with you. Repent and trust His discipline to bring you into a place of redemption.

“For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29)

Can you imagine what kind of church we would be if our lives were influenced by these 4 actions? All the things we could accomplish together, the impact on our community and the people who live and work with us. It would be amazing if we embodied these actions for all to see. It would surely be a compelling vision for a lost world.

But perhaps our truest potential and biggest impact doesn’t lie in all the things we can accomplish for God but rather in knowing and being known by God.

The Apostle Paul sums it up this way:

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8)



Discussion Guide 

 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7


This one verse in 1 Samuel 16 describes how God revealed to Samuel the man whom He had selected to be king over God’s people. But it is an interesting verse for us today because it gives us a glimpse into the inner workings of the mind of God.


God is infinitely wise and knowing beyond our comprehension, so it is sometimes difficult for us to discern why God makes some of the choices he makes. Ultimately, however, we should gain trust in God when we know that He can see the inmost being of a person and actually create the sort of heart in a man or woman that he can use.


Discuss in your group how you can apply this insight into the mind of God to your own understanding of yourself and the decisions you make in relating to others.


How do we know that God was not OK with just anybody being king over Israel?


Why is it important to understand that God shows intentionality in choosing who he wants to work with? 


How did God prepare David even while his own family failed to see his potential?


How do we often overlook what God is doing inside somebody's heart?


What difference did it make for David that God saw more in him than his own family did?


What does it mean that God sent an evil spirit to Saul (v.14)? What does this say about God’s sovereignty over evil?


How does the story of God’s calling of David allow you to move forward in “making your own calling sure (2 Peter 1:10)?


How is God shaping your heart for him?