Dear Influencer and Encourager in the Church,
This month I am focusing on finding strength in God. I seem to find myself on the short end of power and encouragement, so I am presuming you also are in need of more power to love, and forgive, and minister. The truth is, life this side of heaven is hard. Often, we are tired and empty and done. Phil and I joke with each other after we’ve have had a long day saying, “I got nothing for ya!”
When life throws me a curveball, I, like most of you, take the slap in the face, and move ahead. We are strong women. We have endured a lot and, honestly, we can handle a lot. But, I want more than gutting it out. I want joy and abundance and laughter and peace. I want to experience God and I want to help others experience God. Instead, at unexpected times, I find myself at the precipice of discouragement.
A familiar legend tells how the devil put his tools up for sale, each marked with the appropriate price. Hatred, lust, jealousy, deceit, lying and pride were all there. Apart from these and marked with a ridiculously high price was a harmless looking but well-worn tool. A buyer asked, “What tool is this?”
“Discouragement,” replied the devil.
“And why is it priced so high?” asked the man.
“Because it is more useful to me than the others,” answers the devil. I can pry open a man’s heart with that when I can’t get near to him with anything else. It’s so badly worn because I use it on almost everyone, since few people know it belongs to me.”
We’ve all known discouragement to varying degrees. Even the giants in the faith, such as the Apostle Paul, knew times of deep despair. He wrote, “We were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life” (2 Cor. 1:8). Paul is describing a “worst day of your life”.
There is a children’s book that describes this kind of day called, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Alexander knew it was going to be a terrible day when he woke up with gum in this hair. And it got worse… His best friend deserted him. There was no dessert in his lunch bag. And, on top of all that, there were lima beans for dinner and kissing on TV!
It is that kind of day when we find David in 1 Samuel 30. He is in Ziklag, a little Philistine town some 40 miles SW of Jerusalem. David had been on an excursion with 600 men and arrived back to find all their homes burned to the ground. Their wives were all taken captive and the little town of Ziklag was smoked before them in blackened ruins. To make matters worse, David had got himself into this precarious predicament. He had aligned with the Philistines who were enemies of Israel. He was actually fighting against Israel just to win favor from the Philistines so they would give him a safe haven. So, imagine the guilt when he knew that planting his family and his soldier’s families in Ziglag was of his own choosing, not God’s.
1 Sam. 30:4 tells us that David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep. Then his men became enraged and overwhelmed and blamed David. Verse 6 describes his despair, “David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters”. Life was more than not working out, it was unraveling. David was surrounded by trouble and guilt and sorrow. This indeed was a “worst day of your life”, a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
It’s at this moment of utter despair and gloom that we read, “But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.” One tiny word – “but” – introduces something new, something different, something that rises up to stand against all this doom, depression, disillusionment, distress, and desperation. Nothing had changed and the situation still looked hopeless – but David encouraged himself in the Lord His God.
How did David do it? Was it a special song? Was it a special prayer? Was it something he confessed? Exactly how did David encourage himself?
The way out is up. In that moment of despair, we can presume that David stopped and prayed as was his pattern exemplified throughout the Psalms. Over and over, in the midst of honest complaint, David remembers God and it calms him. I call this is wrestling with God because we have in our minds what God should do; rescue us, help us, provide for us, save our teen, heal this person, change our husband. We lay that request before God, but then struggle, because often He works much more mysteriously and covertly.
Our starting place out of discouragement is to lay out our problem before God where we wrestle with Him until we come to the point of surrender. The way out of our attitude plummet has to start with stopping and praying.
The way out is intentional. “But David …” Everything around David was gloom and doom. His property was either destroyed or stolen. His family was gone and he didn’t know at this point if he would ever see them again. His men were talking of killing him. “But David!” He intentionally looked beyond the smoldering ruins of Ziklag to the greatness of his God.
David’s strong intention is seen in the Hebrew verb, “strengthened himself.” It implies persistent and continuous effort. There is nothing passive about coming to the Lord at a time of despair. It doesn’t happen accidentally. Sometimes, like the psalmist, you have to grab yourself by the lapels and talk to yourself, “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, He is my help and He is my God”. Like the prodigal son, you have to determine, “I will get up out of this pigsty and go back to my father!” The way out of the pit is always intentional.
The way out requires action. At one point Moses was pleading with God when the Israelites were hemmed in with Pharaoh’s army on one side and the Red Sea on the other. In Exodus 14, the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.”
In a similar way, David strengthened himself in the Lord his God. Then, it was time to do something with that strength. The next verse tells us what David did. “Then David inquired of the Lord.” “OK, Lord, what is next?”
The Lord said, “Pursue your enemies for you will surely overtake them and recover everything.” So David wiped away his tears, took his sword, led his 600 angry men into battle, defeated the enemy, and recovered everything they had lost. If David had just stopped at verse 6, then he would’ve been sitting in Ziklag feeling strengthened, singing Kumbaya.
Prayer is like the key that turns the engine. It was the precursor to putting David into motion. If you are struggling with a particular person or situation, praying about it is a start, but you will need to be like David and find strength in God and then move out to DO SOMETHING. To see God in the dark, to experience God in the dark, to give away God while in the dark, requires us to fall on our faces before God; pleading, crying, asking, surrendering, and then by faith, moving out to praise and honor God.
Don’t ever give up! Ziklag is not your final resting place. Encourage yourself in the Lord, then move forward.