Strengthening Yourself

Reflections on I Samuel 30-31 —

The restless and weary band staggered as they saw the plume of smoke in the distance where their home had been.  They cursed bitterly as they entered the ravaged gates, charred remains of a once-fortified stronghold.  The eerie silence confirmed the truth none of them wanted to believe.  There were no bleating sheep, no lowing cattle, no voices of children, no warm embraces from loved ones.  Their homes had been pillaged, their families and possessions plundered.  Now they looked at the man who had led them away from their homes.  They fumed in rage.

David felt alone.  His family had been seized and taken.  His closest followers, the last ones loyal to his cause, had turned against him.  He always knew they were a rough bunch.  That was fine when they were on his side, but not now.  They were forlorn, angry, and vengeful.

David had nowhere to go.  His house was in ruins.  He was banished from his homeland.  He had been betrayed by those he had helped.  He had a bounty on his head, and had narrowly escaped capture numerous times.

If ever there was a time for David to fall into despair, it was now.

Meanwhile, David’s rival, King Saul, was in a similar predicament.  Far to the north, the Philistine army surrounded him, and was closing in.  Saul was a faithless, unstable man.  As his situation worsened, he frantically sought guidance from the Lord.  His empty, feeble attempts to inquire of God went unanswered.  Crazed with desperation, Saul sought a spiritist who called up the ghost of Samuel.  But even this remarkable encounter gave no hope to Saul, and he eventually succumbed to debilitating fear and anxiety.  Rather than face his end courageously, he asked his armor bearer to kill him.  When the armor bearer refused, Saul fell on his sword, taking his life.

God is a literary genius.  In the Bible, He uses all sorts of techniques to convey His point, including repetition, metaphors, analogies, irony, satire, …the rhythm of poetry, colorful prose, and on and on.  What I like best are His uses of comparison and contrast, and there is no better example of comparison and contrast than in the lessons of Saul and David.  Whereas Saul was never able to shed his fear of men, was never close to God, David was made of a different kind of stuff.  He saw God in everything that happened, and his heart was inclined to trust God implicitly.  Even in this darkest of times, “David strengthened himself in the Lord” (I Samuel 30:6).

There are many advertised cures for anxiety, loneliness, and despair.  Health supplements, diet, medication, entertainment, fitness, relaxants, counseling, support groups, and so on.  I have nothing against any of these things.  I have found great benefit in seeking counseling, changing my diet, relying on a Tylenol now and then, etc.  Yet, I am convinced that all circumstances–even trials that cause anxiety and fear–are from God.  He uses those things to test us, to refine us, and to reward those who pass the test with strengthened faith.  So as you seek relief, stop a moment and consider–your anxiety is a flag.  God is trying to get your attention. I’ve included two references from scripture that give evidence to my conclusion…there are many others.

The first is God speaking to the prophet Jeremiah, several years after David’s time:

“I, the Lord, search the heart,
I test the mind,
Even to give to each man according to his ways,
According to the results of his deeds.”

Jeremiah 17:10

So here, God admits He tests us,  And He does so to reward us according to how we respond to Him.

This second reference was written by James, an Elder in the fledgling church, 50 years after Christ’s birth.  James speaks to God’s purpose for trials like the one David was experiencing:

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

James 1:2-3

So, trials–things that make us anxious, lonely, and despairing–are intentionally brought on by God to test us.

The response He is looking for is this: trust Him and with His help, let the trial perfect us and “make us complete”.  In other words, God’s testing should make us stronger in faith.  David, in his crisis, strengthened himself in the Lord.  With a renewed strength of spirit, David acted promptly and boldly, rallying his men to his side and setting out to rescue their families and reclaim their possessions.  David and his men achieved their objective, and exacted revenge on the pillagers, reclaiming their families and possessions.

How did David strengthen himself?  I think the answer lies in another book in the Bible, a book that contains 150 chapters of rich, beautiful prose, song, and poetry, most of which were written by David himself.  It’s the book of Psalms.  When you read the Psalms of David, it’s clear he knew God and loved Him intimately. More than anyone, David understood the infinite nature of God, and the compassionate, merciful inclination of God’s heart toward those who love Him.  If you want to hear what faith sounds like, read David’s Psalms, like these:

  • “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth” (Psalm 8:1)
  • “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world and all those who dwell in it” (Psalm 24:1)
  • “God is a refuge and strength, an everlasting help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1)
  • “Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens; Your faithfulness stretches to the skies” (Psalm 36:5)
  • “Great is our Lord, and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite” (Psalm 147:5)

These and many other truths about God were David’s Tylenol, his medicine, if you will.  Rather than allow his mind to drift into melancholy and defeatism, David recalled these truths to mind, these promises of God’s character, and set his mind to them. Though it seemed things were out of control, he was not anxious, but calm.  Though he seemed alone, he knew God was with him.  Though it seemed there was no hope, he rallied his attitude with the truth that God sees and understands, and fixed his hope on the God whose “eyes move to and fro throughout the earth, that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His” (II Chronicles 16:9).  Like a Tom Tom corrects our course when we divert from the plan, the truth of God’s nature corrects our wandering thoughts, when we apply our mind to it.  

David was good at aligning his mind to the truth of God.  We need this skill.  As Paul says, “set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth…” (Colossians 3:2).  Maybe you’ve run across people who are strong in spirit, like David was.  They are easy to recognize.  They have a peaceful disposition.  They are calm, at ease, stable, poised, and content.  I think we all want to be like this.  Let’s be like those who trust in God, who are steadfast in mind, …for these God will “keep in perfect peace” (Isaiah 26:3).

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