SPIRITUAL GROWTH IN DIFFICULT TIMES
Bill S Chellberg
Jeremiah 12: 5 (from “And …”)
1 Samuel 30:1-7 to “ephod”
2 Timothy 1:12-15; 4:16-18
I would like to say a few words about how we grow spiritually in times of crisis. And I have read about these two great men; one of them was soon to be king, the other one was the great apostle Paul. We live in a day of increasing darkness. You might say that there is real advancement in technology; real advancement in social services, and I suppose in some sense there is. There is some kind of advancement in man’s world, but darkness is increasing. We only need to look at the newspaper to read about terrorist attacks and other violent crimes - these things all tell us that this is a difficult and dark day. As believers are we exempt from it?
The first scripture I read asks, “…how wilt thou then do in the swelling of the Jordan?”. We are subject to the ills of humanity; there is no question about that. We get sick; we have accidents; we have difficulties. Then there are the things that we need to make decisions about. The young people especially are trying to decide on a career. Where should they work? Where should they live? And the great decision for the young may be who should be their companion for life; all of these things cause us to be in turmoil and stress. And again, that scripture says, “the swelling of the Jordan”; I think it is like Psalm 23, “the valley of the shadow of death”, v 4. The Jordan generally speaks about death, and that might be sudden and swift and over, you might say, but the swelling of the Jordan is that it is looming up before us - as the Israelites went into the land it was “over all its banks”, Josh 3: 15. But God moved in His own sovereign way at that time. So the question is, ‘How will we make it through?’. That scripture in Jeremiah says we might run with horses and we may have run with man, but there is something even greater. We each have exercises, and some of them are serious, some of them are great and difficult exercises, such as death in the family or serious sickness.
There was a man in the books of Chronicles who, the Scripture tells us, “was born when calamity was in his house” (1 Chron 7: 23); all of his brothers were killed; his name was Beriah. So there are these things that we need to think about. What we need, in some sense, is what men call risk management; we need to consider how we will do when faced with these things.
So I have read about David. David was a man just like us. Oh yes, he became king: we are told in the next two chapters or so that he became king, but he was a man “of like passions to us”, James 5: 17. James was speaking there about Elijah, but David made mistakes just like we make mistakes. And he made a big mistake here: he went down to seek asylum among the Philistines. He was prepared - it is hard to believe - but he was prepared to fight along with the enemy of God’s people and he, too, against them but God in His sovereign ways, I am sure, caused it not to happen, through the lords of the Philistines. The lords of the Philistines would not let him go into battle with them; they said he would just turn against them in the battle. What he proposed to do was a serious thing.
However, worse yet, he had left his most precious treasures unguarded; he and his men had left wives, sons and daughters, and all their wealth, cattle, and property. And when he returned the Amalekites had raided and carried them all off, and he was distraught. It is not a sin to be distraught; it is not a sin to weep; no, it is not a sin. He wept and his men wept until there was “no more power to weep”. What a situation David was in, and his men were going to stone him. This is a tremendous crisis in his life; like a crisis that we might have in our lives. This was his crisis. What would he do? He was about to be stoned, and his wives were gone, and the sons and daughters, cattle and flocks were gone - everything gone - what would he do?
We might find a clue in another man who was in a similar situation - Job. Everything was taken from him - all his family, all his flocks, all his herds - everything except his wife. Everything was taken from him, and what did he do? His wife said, “curse God and die”, Job 2: 9. You might feel like that. You might come to a point where you feel that God is not fair. I heard of a young woman that said she was mad at God and would not speak to him for a long time because she lost her hearing. We might say that, but God is gracious. He knows how we feel, but Job - what an example he was - he “fell on the ground, and worshipped”, chap 1: 20. What a wonderful result!
And here David is beset by this tremendous situation - what would he do? If you read through his history you see other things that he did that were wise, and some were downright sin, but at this point what could he do? He “strengthened himself in Jehovah his God”. We might ask, how do we strengthen ourselves in our God?
Now I have thought much about this, and have had some experience of it too. I think one way, and it would be a good way for us, is to go over our history, and see where God was with us. Where has the Lord helped us in various situations? Why did David pick up those five stones, 1 Sam 17: 40? Why did he go into such an impossible situation against that giant? Why did he do that? He would be thinking of that, I am sure, as he strengthened himself in the God who helped him through. He would be thinking of the time that Saul threw a spear at him as he played the harp (1 Sam 18: 11), and he was able to avoid it. He would be thinking of that; how God had helped him with Jonathan, and at various other times in battles. Then I suppose he would think of the time in 1 Samuel 25 when he was just about to go down to Nabal’s camp to destroy the whole thing - to destroy everybody - and how Abigail saved him from it. It is important to go over our history with God. I do not know the details of your life, nor do I know what your history with God is.
Then David enquired of his God. That is one good thing that David did when he enquired of Jehovah - now he is recovering himself with his God; he strengthened himself in God. He might have said, ‘I remember now God that I know; I remember how He helped me here and He helped me there.’ So he went to the priest and asked for the ephod, and he asked God for direction this time. I think that it is wonderful to do that in the midst of the most trying circumstances. Perhaps you lose your job and there is not much possibility for another. Where can you get another job? I would let the brethren fill in all of the various things that can and do happen in our lives. You come against a severe illness perhaps, like our sister who is laid aside this weekend with a severe illness, and what do you do? Do you speak against God? Do you take Job’s wife’s advice? “Curse God and die.” I do not think that anyone would want to do that, but in extreme situations we do things and say things that we might not have done or said when we were thinking rationally. Well, God is a gracious God.
The brethren will know the story here; how they bring to David an Egyptian, v 11. And the Egyptian leads him down to the Amalekites (v 16), and he recovers everything, v 18. Not only that, but he recovers more than all, because some of it is called David’s spoil, v 20. And that is really what is in the mind of God in regard of our circumstances. In regard of our exercises, our difficulties in life, whatever it may be - David’s spoil - that is what God is looking for. He is not looking for wealth for us or any sort of physical advancement in the world; He is looking for spoil for Himself. What did God receive from David who strengthened himself in His God? The end of any test we have should be glory to God.
Now, I want to say a word about Paul. As we read the Scriptures - and we become so familiar with these various persons - we sometimes think of them as being above normal human beings. I was especially interested in this part where it says, “all who are in Asia … have turned away from me”, 2 Tim 1: 15. Now the Asian churches are principally the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3, maybe more. Asia, I might note, is not Asia as in China and Vietnam; Asia mentioned here is the Roman province, a large part of what is now Turkey, but Paul says, “all who are in Asia… have turned away from me.” But he takes account of a few persons of whom some that are still with him. Think of Paul here; he was an old man - I think he was a little over sixty years old, and that was old in those days. He had laboured among these churches; he had travelled among them; he had worked with them day and night. He tells us how he worked as a tent maker so that he would not be chargeable to them, 1 Thess 2: 9. Now he comes to this point - this is his last letter; these are his last words and he said, “All who are in Asia, … have turned away from me.” He even names certain persons whom he may have led to the Lord - even they turned away from him. What feelings were in the apostle’s heart as he lay in prison saying, ‘They have turned away from me’; how depressing! So what would he do?
Now we know that John the baptist weakened. He was in prison and he sent and asked the Lord, “Art thou he that is coming, or are we to look for another?”, Luke 7:20. He was weakening, and we may weaken, and the Lord knows that. What a Lord He is! How gracious He is!
He knows our weaknesses. Scripture says, “For himself knoweth our frame”, Ps 103: 14. But when Paul was in Rome he says, “At my first defence no man stood with me”. They probably could not - it might have been at the expense of their life. Onesiphorus earlier had sought him out (2 Tim 1: 17) and perhaps lost his life over it, but here Paul says, “But the Lord stood with me.” He took account of that; “the Lord stood with me.” And in a situation like this we know of Paul in the prison in Philippi, he and Silas together “in praying, were praising God with singing”, Acts 16: 25. I think that is a wonderful thing to be able to do. I am not sure I could do it, but I could count on the Lord standing with me, as Paul says, “The Lord stood with me, and gave me power”. I think He can give us power to do that. What a wonderful Lord He is!
So as the apostle assesses the situation, and he is aware that shortly he will die, he will be martyred. He said that this time he was delivered out of the lion’s mouth, but he was well aware what was coming and what does he do? He ends the letter in worship: “to whom be glory for the ages of ages. Amen.” I trust, dear brethren, we would be able to end like that.
For His Name’s sake.
At three day meetings in Calgary, Alberta
30th June 2017