As American patriot Thomas Paine once said, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” It has become so easy to get entangled in the things that war against our very souls. Distresses, if they have not targeted us, seem to be always waiting in the wings looking for the perfect time to strike. Many distresses we bring on ourselves by bad decisions while others are thrust on us by our enemies. Those distresses can make us better or bitter depending on what our relationship with the Lord is like.
King David was like us in many ways and we can learn a lot about how he handled a particular stressful time in his life when he was a fugitive from Saul. During the time David was fleeing, his faith weakened a bit and he thought he could manipulate circumstances to his advantage by seeking refuge among the Philistines and starting an unnecessary personal war with the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 27-29. But his efforts became fruitless when the Philistines rejected him and the Amalekites retaliated against him by raiding the city where his family and the families of his men stayed while they were away [1 Samuel 30:1-6]. To make matters worse, his men were so grieved by their families’ captivity at the hands of the Amalekites that they turned on David and wanted to kill him. Look at how David handled it:
6 And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.
7 And David said to Abiathar the priest, Ahimelech’s son, I pray thee, bring me hither the ephod. And Abiathar brought thither the ephod to David.
8 And David enquired at the Lord, saying, Shall I pursue after this troop? shall I overtake them? And he answered him, Pursue: for thou shalt surely overtake them, and without fail recover all.
9 So David went… [1 Samuel 30]
When all his personal efforts came crashing down, David was greatly distressed. He could have easily lost his mind or could have become depressed and could have given up, but he remembered he had a lifeline–his relationship with Jehovah. Everything and everyone else failed him, but calling to mind all of the wonderful works and prophecies God had done on his behalf in the past, David knew enough to encourage himself in the Lord. He knew just as Jehovah came through for him in the past, he would again.
So David humbled himself and prayed, asking the Lord for direction. And God’s answer was “Pursue…overtake…recover all.” Then David humbly obeyed and God kept his word and everything was recovered [1 Samuel 30:19]. David and his men even got to take more than what they originally had in the process of God helping them recover what was taken.
What this tells us is that even when we get off track and completely mess things up, even when the whole world has turned against us (including our friends), God can use such chastening to help us mature spiritually. Those situations teach us to rely on God, not men, to listen to the Lord’s report, not man’s report. Distresses drive us to encourage ourselves in the Lord and to run to him in humility, knowing that it is the Lord who has the final say. And when we rise from our knees to carry out what he has told us to do, he’s right there with us to “pursue” his will, to “overtake” all obstacles thrown in our path, and to “recover all” of the physical and spiritual blessings that God set apart for us to possess, even in the midst of persecutions and sufferings.
Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance. [Psalm 42:5]
–Harry A. Gaylord–