Strength In The Lord
Thomas Edison was one of the greatest inventors of all time. Edison invented the microphone, the phonograph, the incandescent light, the storage battery, talking movies, and more than 1000 other things.
In December 1914 he had worked for 10 years on a storage battery. It had greatly strained his finances. One particular evening spontaneous combustion had broken out in his film room. Within minutes the place was in flames. Fire companies from eight surrounding towns responded but the heat was so intense and the water pressure so low that the attempt to do anything was futile.
Everything was destroyed. Edison was 67. All his assets had gone up in flames. The damage exceeded two million dollars, but the buildings were only insured for $238,000.
Would Edison’s spirit be broken?
His son, Charles, found his father calmly watching the fire. He said, “My heart ached for him. He was 67 – no longer a young man – and everything was going up in flames.”
The next morning Edison looked at the ruins and said: “There is great value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start anew.” Three weeks after the fire, Edison managed to deliver the first phonograph.
No one ever wants disaster to come their way. But, for the Christian, because our lives are in the Lord, disaster can have a way of putting us right where God wants us, and turning our hearts toward him.
Thomas Merton, a Catholic monk and one of the clearest writer’s on the spiritual life, wrote in his autobiography, “Souls are like athletes, that need opponents worthy of them, if they are to be tried and extended and pushed to the full use of their powers, and rewarded according to their capacity.”
David is certainly extended and pushed to the full use of his soul’s capabilities as he faces the devastating loss at a place called Ziklag.
David is not yet officially the king of Israel. Saul is still king though the Lord has rejected him. David has been running from Saul who knows David is destined for his place as king and feels threatened by David.
David has assembled his own makeshift army. Several hundred men, some from tough backgrounds, have been following David. They have been given Ziklag by the Philistines as a home base for their families. While David and his men are away on an expedition they return to find out that their enemies – the Amalekites – have raided Ziklag, burning it down and have taken away all the women and children.
It must have been an unbelievable scene to David and the men. They did not see this coming. They are totally blindsided and devastated. Listen to what it says in verse 4: it says they wept until they had no more strength to weep. That is a heavy grief. And maybe you have been there.
Not only that but the men are so bitter and angry in their grief that they blame David for their loss. They hold David responsible. He is at fault. They consider stoning David. So not only is David being hunted by Saul, but now his own people are against him.
When things aren’t well, leaders are often the target of the discontent. Such is the burden of leadership. It says David was in deep distress. The phrase really means David is in great danger, referring to his life being threatened. The Old Testament was written in ancient biblical Hebrew. And the phrase “in great danger” literally means to be “in a very tight place.”
He is at a new all-time low point. He is hurting, isolated, and grieving. David is in a very tight place
Just two chapters before we read how King Saul is at the end of his rope, realizing the kingdom and his power are slipping away. The same exact word is used for him. Saul is in a very tight place. (cf. 28:15)
David and Saul. Both in crises of leadership. Both at risk. But their responses are different. If you read 1 Samuel you will see that Saul goes to a medium who practices a sort of witchcraft with access to the dead. He wants to know what to do.
But it says that David, in crisis, in a tight place, strengthens himself in the Lord. Facing loss, rejection, and without a friend in the world, David turns to the Lord for strength.
The next thing we read is that David goes to the priest, Abiathar, to seek counsel of the Lord and find out what he is to do next. David knows to ask God for direction and is ready to listen and obey.
He asks Abiathar if he should pursue the Amalakites who have taken their families. Abiathar says that David should and that he will succeed.
I think part of David drawing strength from the Lord was going to the priest for counsel. But I think there might be even more buried in this one phrase.
What did David do to strengthen himself in the Lord? We know David was a man of prayer, a man of praise, a man who would sing to the Lord. David was responsible for many of the Psalms. In the psalms we hear David praying:
“I love you, O Lord, my strength.” (Ps. 18:1)
“The Lord is my strength…” (28:7)
“O my strength, I will sing praises to you…” (59:17)
In Psalm 105:4 he prays “Seek the Lord and his strength...”
How did David discover to find his strength in the Lord? That the Lord was his strength? Did he recall God’s past goodness and mercy towards him to reassure his heart? Did he consider the power of God, and realize nothing is too hard for him, and no situation is hopeless?
Did he remember God’s promises to bring him safely to the throne, and even though he didn’t have a clue how his present trouble was going to disappear, he hoped in God, confident that the Lord was at work?
When we are at our wit’s end, we are not at faith’s end. Where does your strength come from?
The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians that he learned that when he was weak, then he was strong for Christ’s strength is perfected in weakness. David learned strength at Ziklag out of the weakness that comes from distress.
Catastrophe actually brings out the best in David. Disaster has a way of revealing what is inside of us. We can look religious, say we are spiritual and have faith, but all outward appearances are melted away and what is truly inside of us is revealed when we are in a tight spot.
Facing the loss of his home, the kidnapping of his family, the bitterness of his community David turns to the place of faith, trust, where hope is either born or dies – and he strengthens himself in the Lord.
Do you ever notice how in a movie or television drama, the person in crisis almost always goes to the bar to find support from friends and a glass of scotch? Just once wouldn’t it be wonderful to see the person in crisis attend a Bible study, go to church, or kneel in prayer as a means of coping? Faith is almost never portrayed as an option.
I think when it says that David strengthened himself in the Lord it was more than just going to his pastor. I think David prayed. I think he might have sang. I think he might have done several things to find this strength. David teaches us that prayer, pastoral counsel, God’s Word, song, thanksgiving are tools to exercise and strengthen faith.
Faith needs exercise to be strengthened. Just as our muscles and bodies atrophy and grow weak if they are not exercised so the muscles of faith become weak if they are not trained and stretched. That doesn’t mean every trial and hardship is sent by God because he wants to make us stronger. The enemy sends things our way to break us. These are times to find strength in the Lord.
In Colossians, Paul writes to the Christians there and says one of the things he is praying for them is that they might be strengthened with all power that comes from the glorious power of God. One bible teacher translates that “being invigorated with all vigor.” Not their own power, but that which comes from the Lord.
The power comes from God, not ourselves. There is a subtle nuance in the wording Paul used. He writes that we are strengthened “in accordance with God’s glorious might.” This is different than the Lord strengthening us just from his might. When a multimillionaire gives “of” her wealth to some cause, she may be giving very little. She might give a thousand dollars out of our multimillions. That would be giving “of” of her wealth. But when she gives “in accordance with” her wealth, the amount will be quite substantial and greater. God gives “in accordance with” his strength.
Paul writes that when God strengthens us in this way we gain great endurance and patience.
The strength that David found, and that Paul writes of, isn’t a strength that can come or can even be found in ourselves. It is the strength that comes only from God. Strength in the Lord comes not from trying harder. It comes from knowing the Lord, surrendering our lives to him, and seeking him each day of our lives.
When that happens something unexplicable begins to take place in us. We find we can endure. We find we can be patient. We find that we don’t break in the hardest of times.
The Message reads this passage from Colossians like this:
“We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul – not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.”
Colossians speaks of joyfully giving thanks to the Father even amidst the trials and hardships as a result of the strength that comes in God. Read the Psalms and whenever David acknowledges God as his strength, he unfailingly gives God thanks and praise. David’s prayers and songs are full of thanksgiving to the Lord for the strength, deliverance, and blessing he has shown him. There is strength in thankfulness.
After the Lord led the children of Israel through the Red Sea and away from the Egyptians, Moses said, “The Lord is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor imprisoned for his political and Christian opposition to the Nazi regime. He is one of the great figures in Christianity in the last one-hundred years. On the day before he was executed he conducted a worship service for the other prisoners. Being imprison did not keep him from living his faith.
One of those prisoners, an English officer, wrote about that day:
Bonhoeffer always seemed to me to spread an atmosphere of happiness and joy over the least incident, and profound gratitude for the mere fact that he was alive…He was one of the very few persons I have ever met for whom God was real and always near…On Sunday April 8, 1945, Pastor Bonhoeffer conducted a little service of worship and spoke to us in a way that went to the heart of all of us. He found just the right words to express the spirit of our imprisonment, and the thoughts and resolutions it had brought to us. He had hardly ended his last prayer when the door opened and two civilians entered. They said, “Prisoner Bonhoeffer, come with us.” That had only one meaning for all prisoners – the gallows. We said good-bye to him. He took me aside: “This is the end; but for me it is the beginning of life.”
The next day he was hanged in Flossenburg.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s strength came from the Lord. If you read about his life he prayed, he fed his soul on the Scriptures, he intentionally lived his life in step with Christ Jesus. And part of that strength was built from his gratitude. No, the circumstances were not ideal, but he could have gratitude just to be alive.
It reminds me of the gentleman who was going through some severe trials. Someone asked him how he was doing. He said, “This isn’t the best of days, but thank God I am alive to know it.”
If God’s strength is the water, then worship, prayer, singing, the support of the church, Communion, fellowship with others are the things we use to draw up that water.
David did lead his men against the Amalakites. And they defeated the Amalakites, and reclaimed their wives and children. And David soon became the king of Israel after Saul was killed.
Things will hit us. Sometimes we don’t even see it coming. In your trial, in your distress, whatever tight place you are being squeezed into – strengthen yourself in the Lord your God.
PRAYER: O Lord, when we are weak, be our strength. In the storm be our shelter. When we find it hardest to hold on, hold on for us. Help us to sing with David, Moses, and saints down through the ages that you are our strength and our salvation. The next time we find ourselves in great distress, or in a very tight spot, bring into our remembrance that we are to turn to you and strengthen ourselves in you, as David did at Ziklag. Amen.
 Chuck Swindoll, Hand Me Another Brick, Thomas Nelson, 1978, pp.82-3  Brueggemann, p.201  Other places to check: Ps.18:32; 29:11; 32:4; 38:10; 73:26; 138:3.  2 Samuel 22:2  2 Samuel 22:33, NRSV  Arthur Pink, p.208  Peterson, Leap Over a Wall  Exodus 15:2