Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Lifter of My Head

I learned about a new game recently called "Ingenious." The play is fairly simple. There are tiles that look a lot like dominoes with different colors on each end. You earn points in each color by connecting them together on the table. Simple enough, right? The catch is that your lowest total color is your final score. You are only as strong as your weakest score.

I'm learning that the same concept is true when our faith is tested. I've been having some very discouraging days lately, and the discouragement is made even worse because I'm already feeling weak. It seems to snowball - I feel sick physically; I encounter trying situations emotionally; I think thoughts negatively. I have so much more trouble maintaining my faith when I feel sick and frustrated. My fuse is short, my tears are on the surface, and setbacks and challenges take on monumental significance. I told my friend recently that I felt like I was completely out of gas - without the resources to keep going in the face of adversity.

King David felt the same way. In my study of the Psalms, I came across Psalm 3 and read the backstory of what David was going through when he wrote it. David's son Absalom was staging a take-over of the kingdom. Absalom had networked and plotted and gathered enough supporters so that he was in position to march into Jerusalem to take down his father completely. What heartbreak - to not only have such a cunning enemy, but to have it be a family member. David was fleeing from his son, and on this journey with covered head and bare feet, he mourned. He had even lost his trusted adviser to his son's treachery, just piling on added feelings of betrayal.

I read this account of David's discouragement in 2 Samuel 15-18 with fresh eyes. I related to the feelings of betrayal, having suffered similarly with my own father. I related to the discouragement, the hopelessness. God had once been clearly with David and prospered him, and now he was at one of his weakest points - fleeing the capital, afraid for his life.

This is all bad enough, but on the way, David ran into a man named Shimei who, because of his relation to the previous king Saul, decided to "rub salt into the wound" by cursing and taunting David and his followers as they walked along.

And he threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David, and all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left. And Shimei said as he cursed, "Get out, get out, you man of blood, you worthless man!"

When I read that, it was like a light bulb went on in my head. Though I am not audibly taunted by a human being, so often my discouragement leads to thoughts of worthlessness and memories of past sins. When we try to follow God, it's guaranteed that opposition will come. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6 that we are in a spiritual battle. I don't think any of us really need to be told - we can feel the inner toll that fear, anxiety, and discouragement take. It's not hard to figure out that we have an enemy of our souls - one who would like nothing more than for us to give up and quit. And when does that enemy choose to attack us? When any war general would - when we are at our weakest.

So as Shimei mocks on, back in Jerusalem, Absalom is getting advice about how to finish his father off. The adviser who betrayed David told Absalom the best strategy for winning:

"I will come upon him while he is weary and discouraged and throw him into a panic, and all the people who are with him will flee."

Another assault is planned for when David is weak - this one intent on scaring off his companions. When we are alone in adversity, we are easy targets.

As I read the kind of explicit plots of the enemy against David, it gives me insight into my own spiritual warfare. I see how David's faith was tested by multiple assaults all at once. He could have easily given in and laid down thinking God had abandoned him. He had lost friends, security, and hope. He was attacked, taunted, pursued, and betrayed when he was down. But God had other plans.

Psalm 3 hints at the victory that was yet to come for David.

When we follow God, we automatically have an enemy. He will whisper to us that we are worthless. He will remind us of those who have left us and turned on us. He will point out how hopeless our situation appears. He will even lift up our past sins to try to remind us of how utterly undeserving we are of God's love and help. But just like the game of Ingenious, we are only as strong as our weakest moments of faith. When David feared, he chose to confess his trust in God to sustain him; God responded by giving him security and help. I learn from David that I must do the same. God is my glory and the lifter of my discouraged head.

But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,
my glory and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the LORD,
and he answered me from his holy hill.
Psalm 3:3-4

If you are discouraged, check out this video of The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir singing Psalm 3 (Thou, O Lord). I can't help but be moved to continue on when I hear God's promises sung like this!

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