The Fear of Foolishness
by Mark Batterson
2 Samuel 6:1-6:23
Like everyone else, I have had my fair share of embarrassing moments.
When I was in the second grade I fell in a mud puddle and I had to wear a pair of pants that the school nurse gave me. They were checkered wool pants. My legs still itch from those pants!
A few years ago we were playing kick ball at a leadership summit. I played basketball in college. I’d like to think that I still have some semblance of athletic prowess. But there was no evidence of it when I tripped on the kickball running to first base and dislocated my left shoulder. The only thing that hurt worse than my shoulder was my ego!
Last fall I was driving home from our Bonfire Baptism and I stopped to get gas. Long story short, I forget to remove the gas nozzle from my gas tank. I pulled the whole thing off and dragged it behind the car while everybody stared and laughed. I had to go into the gas station and tell the teenage employee what I had done. I felt like a fool.
I could write for a long time on this topic! But I’ll share one more embarrassing moment.
I’m not sure exactly how to say this, but I can’t dance. At least that’s what I’m told by other people! Hold that thought.
Two years ago, a team of NCCers attended the Origins conference in LA and we did reconnaissance at Mosaic. I hold the pastor of Mosaic, Erwin McManus, in highest esteem. He is one of my favorite authors. And he is an amazing communicator.
To make a long story short, Mosaic services are very interactive. And they asked for a volunteer to do an interpretive dance of chaos. Let’s just say there was mutiny on the bounty. Our team turned on me and volunteered yours truly. I was mortified. My sum total of dancing experience was going swing dancing once or twice. If you can call it that. And I did the river dance routine at our variety show a few years ago. That’s it. I didn’t even know the running man yet! I had zero skilzs. And they put on a stage in front of a church. And had me dance! I can’t even put into words what was going through my head. I was dancing on the outside, but I was dying on the inside. I’ve never felt more self-conscious. I’ve never been more humiliated. It ranks as one of my all-time embarrassing moments.
I actually have a video of that dance. One of the mutinous team members happened to have a video phone and he took some footage. If you listen closely you’ll hear Erwin McManus laughing. And he’s not laughing “with” me.
By the way, I was reading Erwin McManus’ book The Barbarian Way this week. No, I haven’t boycotted his books. And he said there is an old Celtic Proverb that says you shouldn’t give a sword to a man who can’t dance. Let’s just say that if I lived in ancient Ireland I would have been disarmed.
The Fear of Foolishness
I think deep down inside, all of us of us are afraid of looking foolish.
For what it’s worth, the #1 fear in poll after poll is speaking in public. The #2 fear is death! That means that most people would rather die than speak in public. Why? The fear of looking foolish! It’s the curse of self-consciousness.
It’s that fear of foolishness that keeps us from raising our hand in the fourth grade because what if our answer is wrong. It’s the fear of foolishness that keeps us from asking someone out on a date because what if they say no. It’s the fear of foolishness that keeps us from changing majors or changing jobs. It’s the fear of foolishness that keeps us from praying for a miracle or sharing out faith. And it’s the fear of foolishness that keeps us from worshipping God the way we could and should.
But here’s the deal: if you aren’t willing to look foolish you’re foolish.
Here’s one of my personal definitions of faith: the willingness to look foolish.
Noah looked foolish building an ark in the dessert. Sarah looked foolish buying maternity clothes at ninety. The Israelites looked foolish marching around Jericho blowing trumpets. David looked foolish attacking Goliath with a slingshot. The Wise Men looked foolish following yonder star. Peter looked foolish stepping out of the boat in the middle of the lake in the middle of the night. And Jesus looked foolish hanging half-naked on the cross. But that’s faith. Faith is the willingness to look foolish. And the results speak for themselves don’t they?
Noah was saved from the flood. Sarah gave birth to Isaac. The walls of Jericho came tumbling down. David defeated Goliath. The Wise Men found the Messiah. Peter walked on water. And Jesus rose from the dead.
Can I tell you why some of us have never killed a giant or walked on water? It’s because we’re not willing to look foolish. We’re not willing to attach with a slingshot or get out of the boat in the middle of the lake.
I think II Samuel 6 is a microcosm. It’s one isolated incident. But I think it reveals why God used David in such historic ways. David has just been crowned the King of Israel. He has defeated the Philistines. He has recaptured the fortress of Zion. And he’s bringing the Ark of Covenant back to Jerusalem.
All of that to say this: this is on the greatest days of his life!
II Samuel 6:16 says, “But as the Ark of the Lord entered the City of David, Michal, the daughter of Saul, looked down from her window. When she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she was filled with contempt for him.”
Let me make an observation.
When you get excited about God don’t expect everybody to get excited about your excitement. Here’s why. When the Holy Spirit turns up the BTUs underneath you it disrupts the status quo. Some people will be inspired by what God is doing in your life. Others will be convicted. And they will mask their personal conviction by finding something to criticize. Nine times out of ten, criticism is a defense mechanism. We criticize in others what we don’t like about ourselves!
Michal is dripping with sarcasm. II Samuel 6:20 says that David went home to bless his family. And Michal says, “How the King of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls.”
Here’s what impresses me about David. He wasn’t afraid of looking foolish. He wasn’t afraid of taking off his royal robes and dancing without hindrance and without inhibition before the Lord.
Think about the circumstances. David was the newly crowned king of Israel. The significance of that is this: I think there was added pressure to act like a King. He had a reputation to protect. He had a crown to represent. Kings don’t disrobe and dance! Shepherd boys do!
And no one knew that better than Michal. Why? She was a KK–a King’s kid. She grew up in the palace. She knew the protocol. And I’m guessing that Saul was very kingly. In fact, I think Saul woke up with scratches on his face because he slept with his crown on his head. Saul was all about pomp and circumstance!
I think there is powerful symbolism here. A few weeks ago I talked about Moses throwing down his shepherd’s staff. That staff symbolized his identity and security. In the same sense, the royal robes symbolized David’s identity and security. He refused to find his identity and security in his position as king. He found his identity and security in God. Read the Psalms. David says, “The Lord is my refuge.” “The Lord is my shepherd.” “The Lord is my shield.”
David wasn’t afraid of looking foolish!
David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel–I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.”
The New Living Translation says, “I am willing to act like a fool in order to show my joy in the Lord. Yes, and I am willing to look even more foolish than this.”
There is a powerful scene in Rocky III. Of course, all the scenes in Rocky are powerful aren’t they? But I love the scene where Rocky is getting soft. He is getting cultured. He has achieved success and he loses the fire. And his manager, Mick, says to Rocky, “But then the worst thing happened that could happen to any fighter, you got civilized.”
When I read the gospels, the only civilized people I see are the Pharisees. Evidently, Jesus wasn’t very impressed with pomp and circumstance. In fact, it seems to me that Jesus handpicked a dozen disciples who were undomesticated.
I see Jesus lambasting the Pharisees and praising a prostitute who doesn’t know any better than to crash a party and pour an Alabaster jar of perfume on his feet as an act of worship.
I don’t think God cares about outward appearance. At all. If doesn’t matter where you’re wearing royal robes or servant’s garb. What God is looking for is people who are desperate enough to climb sycamore trees and cut holes in ceilings and push through crowds and yell at the top of their voices and jump out of boats to get to him!
The David says, “I will become even more undignified than this.”
One of the words for worship in Hebrew is hallal. It means clamorously foolish. I love that. In other words, if you aren’t willing to look foolish you can’t worship!
On a human plane, worship is foolish isn’t it? Singing to someone you can’t see! Raising your hands to someone you can’t touch.
But stop and think about it.
Have you ever seen someone dancing in their car? You see their head banging or their body swaying. If they’re really into it their car is rocking. They look sort of foolish don’t they? Why? Because you can’t hear the music!
There is an old proverb: “Those who hear not the music think the dancer is mad.”
That’s what is happening in II Samuel 6 isn’t it? David hears the music. Michal doesn’t. So who’s crazy?
All I know is this, if we had ultrasonic hearing and we could tune into heaven’s frequency and hear the angels singing it’d lift us off our feet. We’d dance like David danced in II Samuel 6!
II Samuel 6:20 says, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls like any indecent person might do.”
David took off his royal robes. That’s a picture of worship. Worship is disrobing. It’s getting naked and exposing ourselves to God. It’s also the recognition that it’s not about what we can do for God. It’s not about our “royal robes.” It’s about what God has done for us. The greatest freedom in the world is having nothing to prove. Instead of trying to prove who he was–the king of Israel. David was embracing who God is–the King of Kings.
When I was three years-old I got out of the bathtub, went out the front door, and ran down the block stark naked. My mom eventually caught me and put some clothes on me. When I was three years-old I had no inhibitions. Zero. Zilch. Nada.
I see the same thing in our three year-old, Josiah. He is being potty-trained right now. So this week we were at Target and Lora took him to the bathroom. Josiah decided to give a play-by-play description so everybody in the restroom could track his progress. When he finished they walked out of the bathroom and Josiah yelled at the top of his voice, “Daddy, I went poppy in the potty!” He might as well have gotten on the intercom and said: “Attention all Target Shoppers.”
Here’s what I love about that. Kids aren’t self-conscious.
Remember what Jesus said? “You must become like little children if you want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” I think this is one dimension of that. We need to become less self-conscious. Like little children.
I think that’s part of what John the Baptist meant when he said, “He must become Greater. I must become less.” We need to care more about what God thinks and care less about what people think.
Unhealthy and unholy people are trapped by our fear of looking foolish. The happiest and healthiest people aren’t afraid of looking foolish.
Let me put it in theological perspective.
Genesis 3:7 describes what happened the nanosecond after Adam and Eve sinned for the first time: “At that moment, their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness.”
The moment they sinned they become self-conscious. In other words, self-consciousness isn’t just a curse. It is part of The Curse. Before the fall, there were no inhibitions in Eden. For what it’s worth, there won’t be any inhibitions in heaven either!
Think of spiritual maturity as a continuum. On one side is “God-consciousness” and on the other side is “self-consciousness.” To become like Christ is to become more God-conscious and less self-conscious. The end result ought to be no ungodly inhibitions.
What does Ephesians 5:18 says? “Don’t be drunk with wine. Instead, let the Holy Spirit fill you and control you.” What happens when you get drunk? You lose all inhibition. Paul is saying that wine is the wrong way to lose inhibition. The right way is being filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit helps us overcome our ungodly inhibitions.
I like the way Ron Rolheiser says it: “Isn’t it the task of the Holy Spirit to introduce some madness and intoxication into the world? Why this propensity for balance and safety? Don’t we all long for one moment of raw risk, one moment of divine madness?”
David is intoxicated with God. His dance is divine madness! He takes off his royal robes and loses all inhibition. He humiliates himself before God.
We are way too preoccupied with ourselves. And that’s what keeps us from worshipping God the way we could and should. I love Eugene Peterson’s definition of worship: “Worship is the strategy by which we interrupt our preoccupation with ourselves.”
The greatest moments are those moments when we lose self-consciousness. We forget about ourselves. It’s almost an “out of body” experience.
That’s what heaven will be like. We’ll be so enraptured by God that we won’t be thinking about ourselves.
We’ll be too busy enjoying God.