A Gathering of the Wounded

Over the last number of weeks we have been studying the life of David.  We want to understand the heart of David because he was called a man “after God’s own heart” and we want to know how to live our lives after God’s own heart. We desire that same kind of relationship with God.

As we read 1 Samuel 22:1-5 and 1 Samuel 23 we meet David at a time of great anguish.  He had been anointed as the next King but the current King (Saul) wants him dead.  David has been declared “Public Enemy #1”.  Not only does Saul want to kill David, he has shown he will kill anyone who is even kind to David.  David is isolated and alone.

I suspect you have felt this way at some time in your life. Life is moving along. You are doing your best and then the bottom falls out. A job falls through, an investment fails, a relationship comes to an end.  In these times we often feel “let down” by God. We look for a quiet spot to weep.  The ache is so strong it is hard to even find words. I think this is where we find David as we start 1 Samuel 22.

David’s Discouragement

David had received food and a sword from Ahimelech in Nob.  He had been arrested in the hometown of Goliath and escaped by pretending to be crazy. Now he was a man without a home.  He is so well known in the Kingdom that he can’t go anywhere and be safe.

David went back to Judah where he had been raised. He knew the land well and found himself a cozy cave near the town of Adullum.  It was around this time David wrote Psalm 142.  Listen to his words and feel the ache of his heart.

I cry aloud to the LORD; I lift up my voice to the LORD for mercy. I pour out my complaint before him; before him I tell my trouble.   When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who know my way.  In the path where I walk men have hidden a snare for me.  Look to my right and see; no one is concerned for me.  I have no refuge; no one cares for my life. I cry to you, O LORD; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.”  Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need; rescue me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me. Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name. Then the righteous will gather about me because of your goodness to me. [Psalm 142]

Do you hear the sense of resignation and despair? I picture the parchment stained by David’s salty tears. “No one is concerned for me, I have no refuge; no one care for my life”.  These are the words of a man who is discouraged.

We understand his pain.  In times like this it is tempting to hide from the world and simply give up. We lack energy. Life loses its color and seems to be a shade of gray. God seems distant.

What God Provided

David may have felt distant from God but God was at David’s side. God did not help David through some miraculous event.  He helped David by bring people to his side. First David’s family came to him. We get the feeling that the family was not real supportive of David at the beginning.  His brothers were jealous.  Now, they rallied to David’s side.  It’s very possible that they too were feeling the threat of Saul’s wrath.

Families help us get through sickness, loss, discouragement, failure, disappointment and all kinds of other struggles.  Family stands at your side when everyone else turns away.  Family members know us, they understand us, and they can speak to our heart without even using words.

David, aware of the danger to the family, took his parents to Moab (his Great-Grandmother, Ruth came from Moab.)  David’s parents were old and could no longer live the life of someone on the run.  It is likely that David’s brothers joined David’s “crew”.

Second, God surrounded David with other hurting people.  We read, “All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their leader. About four hundred men were with him.” [1 Sam 22:2].  By the time we get to chapter 23, that number had risen to 600 men.

To be honest, if I was depressed and God brought me 400 needy people, I think I would be inclined to jump off a cliff!  These people actually made things more difficult for David.  It is relatively easy to hide out in the wilderness when you are one man . . . a group of six hundred tends to draw attention!

But with this group of people David had to stop focusing only on himself. These people were looking to him for leadership. They believed in him. David rallied (as God knew he would) to the challenge. One of the best things you can do in times of discouragement is to do something constructive or productive.  In times of distress it is helpful to give of yourself to someone else.  It helps restore perspective.

The third person who came to David was Jonathan (23:16-17).  Don’t miss the irony here!  Saul and his men can’t seem to find or catch up to David . . . but Jonathan doesn’t have any trouble finding and talking to David!  God removed the barriers Saul was facing. I’m sure that Jonathan was a boost to David.  He reaffirmed his belief that David would be the next King, and held out a picture of the two of them some day serving together.  This is the last record of David and Jonathan visiting each other.  The embrace of a friend can change our perspective.

I’ve shared the story many times.  I remember a time when I was worn out.  I was emotionally drained from the things that were going on and very depressed.  I was talking to someone and another person swooped in and surprised me by giving me a big hug.  It took me off guard. I reminded me that I was not alone.  It brought me back to life.  I’m sure that this is the same kind of experience David had from his time with Jonathan.  A good friend can breathe life back into a weary frame.

Two other people were sent to David by God: Abiathar and the prophet Gad.  It is interesting that David had his own priest and apparently his own on site prophet.  The Lord gave David two men to help guide his way.

What God was doing

These are not arbitrary happenings.  What David is going through is the way God often trains his people. Look back on your own life.  Where have you learned some of your most important lessons?  I bet it was in a time of trial.  What has had the greatest impact on your character?  It was probably some time of hardship.

Abraham waited decades for his promised son.  Moses wandered in the wilderness 40 years. Joseph learned to be a leader through his trials as a servant, and during his prison sentence.

In the book of Hebrews we are told even Jesus “learned obedience through what he suffered”. (Heb 5:8)  The times of hardship are a necessary training ground for those who will faithfully follow the Lord.

David was enrolled in the same course. He learned to be a King by having to mold a group of malcontents into an efficient fighting force.  Over the course of time these men became known as David’s mighty men.

During the time in the wilderness David learned how to trust God.  He learned to wait until God told him to move forward.  And he learned to not ask questions when God gave him the green light.  These were essential lessons for the future King.

In chapter 23 David applied what he learned. David learned that an Israelite town named Keilah was being looted during the harvest by the Philistines.  There was a time when David might have stormed in to save the day.  This time he sought the Lord first (probably through Abiathar). The Lord told him to go and rescue the people.

After the defeat of the Philistines, David assumed nothing.  He did not assume that Keilah would protect him.  He sought the Lord again and the Lord told him to leave.  He did.  David could not afford another incident like Nob on his record.

David may not have seen it right away but God was at work.  By his rescue of Keilah David was establishing goodwill among the people and gaining practical military experience for his men.  David could not see it at the time, but he was also training the leaders of his new administration.  When David became King these men whom he had trained became his most trusted advisors.  This is what God does . . . he uses the hard times to teach us and help us grow.

We need to learn from David. In the trying times we must,

  1. Turn toward the Lord rather than away from Him.  In trying times it is tempting to get mad at God.  It is better to turn to Him and share our heart as David did in the Psalms.
  2. Look for a way to serve God in your present circumstance.  How can you use your pain for the Kingdom?
  3. Try to focus on the big picture.

God is at work in those who put their trust in Him even when we feel the whole world is against us. Even if you are in the wilderness and feel you are all alone . . . you’re not!

Life Principles

Do you know what the greatest hindrance is to spiritual growth?  It is satisfaction with the status quo.  Things are going well and we shift our spiritual life into neutral.  Truth be told, we don’t follow the Lord boldly and passionately because we don’t want to risk what we have or what we have achieved.  We want to selectively serve the Lord and we want God to be happy about the choices we make!

We tend to be like a worker who only does parts of his job and then expects a raise in pay.  We’re like a student who only turns in some of the work but expects to get an “A” in the class.

The person who is only shooting for “good enough” wants to do the minimum requirements. They are like the student who is always asking, “Is this going to be on the test?” The person who is growing, vibrant, excited, and alive as a person, is the one who wants more.

  • They are the students who are eager to learn, not simply to pass a test
  • They are the ones who continue to re-write their story or speech long after others have checked it off of their “To-do” list
  • They are the ones who keep practicing their musical instrument because they want to not only hit the right notes, they want to play music.
  • They are the ones who work diligently in the factory even though no one may notice because they are trying to honor the Lord in their work.
  • They are the runners who labor to shave a tenth of a second off of their time.

The person who is growing in their relationship with God is like this.  They want more than a superficial prayer life.  They not only want to be see as good . . .they want to be holy and pure in their heart and mind.  They are not content to know about the Holy Spirit, they want to be empowered by the Spirit.  They not only want to know the Bible, they want to build their life on the Word of God.

The way God helps us grow is through the hard times. The wilderness experience of David was meant to develop David into the man God wanted him to be. The trial called David to serve the Lord passionately and completely.

If you watch someone preparing meat with a meat tenderizer (a mallet with spikes on it) you could think the chef was destroying the meat.  You’d be wrong.  The chef was actually preparing the meat to have more flavor and to be more satisfying to eat.

Metal is sent through a furnace not to destroy the metal, but to strengthen it.  The fire burns off the impurities so the metal is much stronger.

A coach has the team run endlessly not because he is a sadist but because he wants to build up endurance so they can excel in the contest.

The music teacher assigns scales to play not because they don’t want you to have any fun but because they know the scales are the only way to develop the dexterity and knowledge needed to play well.

In the life of the believer God uses the trials of life to train us.  He allows pain in the present so we might know strength in the future.  Most believers, I’m afraid, are content to be good enough.  They want to look spiritual to others and hang out with spiritual people.  They learn the lingo but their lives are no different from the rest of the world.  They want the easy life. To be a great follower . . . to be a person of God’s own heart will require that we “deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus.

There is one more application I want you to see: the Church is meant to be a place like “David’s hood”.  As I think about the 400-600 men who joined David, I smile.  Those people came from different backgrounds. The only thing they had in common was their wounds.  What a great picture of the early church.  Paul said,

 “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” [1 Corinthians 1:26-31]

The church was never designed to be a place for the social elite. The church is not a club that everyone clamors to join.  It is meant to be a place where hurting people can find rest for their souls.  It is a place where sinful people find forgiveness.   It is a place where discarded people find love.

From time to time we talk to people who say “You wouldn’t want me in your church . . . my past is too stained.”  That is like saying to an Emergency room attendant, “I’m sure you don’t want me in your hospital . . . I’m too sick.”  Where else are you supposed to go?  Jesus said,““It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” [Luke 5:31-32]

Our challenge as a church is keep working to be a place where broken people are welcomed.  We need to remind ourselves often that we are not here because we are good; we are here because we are sinners who have received a mercy and grace we could never deserve.  Some of us have failed publicly, others of us battle internal demons.  Some have failed in our actions, others in attitude.  The point is: we are all stained.

Many of the people who will walk into our sanctuary expect to be rejected.  This is especially true in a small town church.  People know our history.  People know our past. For many, it takes enormous courage simply to come through the doors.  This is why it is so important that we welcome any visitor.  This is why it is so vital that we look at others through the eyes of Jesus.  We need to let broken people know that this is a place where they are welcome.  This is a place where they can discover the love of God.  It’s a lofty vision but I believe it is God’s vision of the church.

Some people are like old pieces of furniture.  They have been well built but they are covered with years of stain, paint, grime and abuse.  It takes a special eye to see the beauty underneath it all.  Each of those pieces can be restored if someone will dare to see what is beneath the exterior and take the time to patiently reveal the beauty that lies beneath.  The church should be the place where those who have been beat up and abused will be welcomed so God can begin the process of transformation and renewal.

I’ve noticed that men who are Marines (there are no “former” Marines) are people of honor and integrity.  They are among “the few, the proud, the Marines.”  However, getting that Marine uniform is not easy.  The training is rigorous. There are long marches, physically taxing assignments, and unrelenting discipline. I suspect most Marines at one time considered dropping out of boot camp.  But those who persevere are transformed into men who stand together and work as one.

The same is true in the Christian life.  The training is not easy. God uses the hammer, the file and the chisel to chip away at us.  At times it may feel like he is wounding us.  At times it may seem he is angry.  He’s not.  What he is doing is creating a masterpiece.  He is creating you into the image of Christ.  It may take a lifetime to finish but in the end you will be glad He didn’t settle for “good enough.”

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