God does not measure or equate approval or progress by the positions we hold. I wish we could get rid of that whole idea in our thinking. We tend to gauge and measure our approval and our progress in God’s sight far too much by position, by callings. We also, perhaps unintentionally, create that misconception by what we say in lessons or talks, and we do it at every level. I’m not being critical or judgmental of any individual in the Church, but at every level we induce this type of assessment. When we are talking to the youth, for example, we say things like, “You will be the future leaders of the Church! Somebody, perhaps, in this congregation or this group will be a future Apostle, stake president, bishop, Relief Society president!” As we do this over time, we are in danger of creating in people the feeling that callings in the Church, or positions, are equal to approval and progress.
May I be absolutely honest with you, totally honest, even at the risk of misunderstanding? When I was called to be a bishop, do you know what my very first emotion was? Relief! Please understand that I didn’t want to be the bishop. I don’t like administration. I’d much rather teach. The classroom is my natural habitat. But I felt relief because being called took the pressure off me of needing to be in a leadership position so I could feel good about myself. Relief!
After ten years of serving in a stake presidency, I realized the emotions and doubts I experienced when I was called as a bishop were not unique. A number of times when we reorganized bishoprics—not every time, but often—someone would say something; ask a tentative question; or, you could see the question in their eyes: “Why was I not called?” These were good men. They were not aspiring. They just wanted to know they were okay, they were qualified. Whenever those times came and I had the opportunity, I would sit down with them and say, “Let me teach you about the Jonathan factor.”
In the book of 1 Samuel, the tragedy of Saul is told. Saul was going to be replaced as king. There were two wonderful candidates to succeed him as king of Israel—David, who would be the man anointed by Samuel to be the new king, and Jonathan. Of the two, who was in the most logical position to succeed Saul? Was it not Jonathan? He was Saul’s son, and Jonathan, without question, is one of the most remarkable people in scripture. I could make a very good case that Jonathan would have been a better king than David. He was as courageous. He faced a whole garrison of Philistines on his own. David faced one Philistine in Goliath. Jonathan and his armorbearer faced an entire garrison. It is a remarkable but little-known story. Jonathan said to his armorbearer, “Come, and let us go over unto the garrison of these uncircumcised: it may be that the Lord will work for us: for there is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by few” (1 Samuel 14:6). The two of them then climbed up a very steep cliff on their hands and knees, attacked the whole garrison, defeated them, and sent the entire Philistine army into a panicked retreat. In terms of courage and faith in God, Jonathan was every bit the equal of David.
When David was anointed, Saul felt threatened. He wanted Jonathan to use his friendship with David to have him killed. This was suggested again and again and again. Yet in spite of the pressure, Jonathan supported David. He supported him even though David was taking his place. He is the best male example that I know of in scripture, other than the Savior, who demonstrates by his life Paul’s definition of charity, especially that part of the definition that says charity “seeketh not her own” (1 Corinthians 13:5). Jonathan’s last encounter with David is indicative of the majesty of Jonathan’s character and fitness for leadership, “Fear not: for the hand of Saul my father shall not find thee; and thou shalt be king over Israel, and I shall be next unto thee” (1 Samuel 23:17). The man’s humility and selflessness are unprecedented.
I relate this story because I know there are many Jonathans among us who, figuratively speaking, will never be king, but who display some of the deepest qualities of a godly character. I do not know why God chose David instead of Jonathan, but I am certain it was not because David was a better man, or because God approved of David above Jonathan, or because David had progressed to a higher level than had Jonathan. God does not measure or equate approval or progress by position. Nor must we!