David strengthened himself in the Lord
In 1 Samuel 30, we read about David facing one of the low points in his life. David was on the run from Saul and he decided that the most dangerous place could, in fact, be the safest place. He stayed among the Philistines, in a place called Ziklag (somewhere in the Negev region in southern Israel today). From there, he made raids on territories belonging to the enemies of Israel.
David was very careful to cover his tracks. When he went on a raid, he saw to it that he left no one alive who could tell the tale, so to speak. In modern standards, it would have been very brutal and savage, not all that different from what Genghis Khan would later do. If his Philistine hosts would ask him where he went, he would simply make up a story to avert their potential suspicion of his loyalties. Here we have a ruthless killer and liar. So let’s not have a sanitised view of who David was. He was no saint. He kept this on for a while.
In a rough neighbourhood like the middle east, you could be a raider one day, and then be a victim of a raid the next day. It should hardly be a surprise that by 1 Samuel 30, David found himself the victim of a raid by the Amalekites. The attacked the city of his residence, Ziklag. In contrast to David, they didn’t kill everybody, but instead carried them off—his wives and children and that of his men’s. It sounds humane, but one must remember that there was no such thing as human rights in those days. If you were carried off, you could be sold into slavery (including sexual slavery). Your raider could do anything he wanted with you, absolutely anything.
Thus it was that David and his men returned from one of their forays, and found, to their shock and horror, their safe haven in flames, their loved ones gone. Naturally, David and his men were in great anguish. They wept until they could weep no more. One can only imagine the terrible weight that David carried on his shoulders. He was responsible, not just for his men, but for his and their families. It was so bad, that his own men talked about stoning him.
To give you a frame of reference, it is as though I had led WAC into some crisis that caused us great pain, and all of you start talking about kicking me out (to put it delicately). 4 years of friendship gone in a single instant.
Anybody in such a situation would quickly and understandably fall into a crippling despair. Your own people, whom you have invested great effort in winning their trust and respect, emphatically rejecting you and wanting you dead. David certainly was distressed (who wouldn’t be?).
Yet in verse 6, we find something important: But David strengthened himself in the Lord.
This is perhaps what set David aside from everyone else. He knew where his trust was supposed to be.
To strengthen oneself in the Lord doesn’t mean we pretend the problem doesn’t exist. It doesn’t pretend that all is rosy. As I mentioned in this year’s AGM, what is the appropriate response is to recognise a problem in the fullness of its gravity. It is to see the hopelessness of the situation.
And then, while keeping the heart-stopping danger in your sight, to intentionally remember that we worship a God that is bigger than all our crises put together. After that, you make the conscious choice to trust (the invisible) God above the (highly visible) problem in front of you screaming for your attention.
This is not to say that it is easy. It isn’t natural. It is far easier to try and grasp for something visible and tangible—a fat wallet, a written guarantee, anything to fulfil the idiom where a bird in hand is better than two in the bush.
Yet what marks mature Christians from others is their capacity to put them in the invisible God, rather than insist on visible guarantees.
How do they do it?
The answer is in Psalm 5:3—O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch [emphasis mine]. In some manuscripts it says, “I direct my prayer to you and watch”. Both convey the same meaning.
The easy thing is to clamour for certainty (good luck insisting on that with God). The more difficult thing is to commit the matter to God…and watch. Again, harking to AGM, where I preached on Israel preparing to cross the Red Sea as doing nothing but waiting for the Lord to work His salvation.
So, for things we are praying and hoping for, let us do what is right in the sight of God (and this primarily involves prayer), and then watching for His resolution of our crisis (or crises).
In His Majesty’s Not-So-Secret Service,