Sooner or later, nearly every Christian will experience something in their life that I describe as “not in the brochure.” This is a devastating turn of events that absolutely rocks your world and might even shake the very foundation of your soul. But what we call devastating, God often calls development. As a Gulf Coast pastor pointed out in a post-hurricane Katrina sermon, “What seems like a setback is often a setup, by God, for something even better and for His glory.”
Rather than stick our heads in the sand and just hope it never happens, I believe it’s important for Christians to be prepared for setbacks so that they might have some spiritual “arrows in their quiver” they can turn to if and when the chips go down for them. A quote from a business book The Idiot Factor frames this nicely:
“I almost feel sorry for people who believe that once they get started, they’ll be fine and all will go well. These folks are naive…You are going to experience setbacks and failures. Welcome to the world of growth. It happens. Instead of expecting it not to happen and being devastated when it does, be prepared.”
David the shepherd boy might have been as young as 15 when he was anointed by Samuel to be the next King of Israel to replace a disappointing King Saul. David was a “man after God’s own heart” and on the fast track to success. Then one day a spear goes hurling by his head.
King Saul was jealous of David to the point that he made it his life’s ambition to kill him so he could never be King. From the moment he threw his first spear at David in I Samuel 18 until he died by his own spear in I Samuel 31, Saul forced David to live a life on the run. We’re not sure for how long but David did not officially become King until he was 30 so it’s safe to say David was on the run for many years.
But during this time, we get some of David’s greatest writings as recorded in the Book of the Psalms. And there are many helpful lessons learned along the way as David experienced this part of his life that was definitely not in the brochure. We’ll look at seven of them in particular from the account in I Samuel, chapters 21-23:
- I Samuel 21:1 – David was all alone when the chips went down for him. Whether or not you are literally left all alone, you will at least feel loneliness like you have never felt before. While this is a real feeling, this is not reality for the Believer. David penned this in Psalm 142 when he states “Look to the right and see; for there is no one who regards me; there is no escape for me; no one cares for my soul. [BUT] I cried out to You, O Lord; I said, “You are my refuge.” Even though you will feel like no one truly understands or cares for you, Someone always does. Take your voice, your supplication, your complaint, your trouble, and your cry to Him who is able to comfort your loneliness. He will never leave you or forsake you, especially when it feels like you have been left and forsaken.
- I Samuel 21:2-9 – The world is not going to stop for you and your desperate times. Even though you do not feel like it, you must continue to provide for and protect both you and “your people.” David had to do this and Jesus Himself commended him for those actions in Matthew 12:3-4. You will still have to muster the courage to just “keep breathing” and tend to the necessities of life, even while the hurricane swirls about.
- I Samuel 21:10 – Have no pride when it comes time to get out of Dodge but do not fear. While extra prudence is called for during desperate times to avoid making rash decisions, desperate times do sometimes call for desperate measures. Like Abraham before him, David had to leave his community, his security and his identity. Sometimes, you too might have to “change your playground and change your playmates” and that can be terrifying. Just like loneliness, however, while this is a real feeling it is not reality for the Believer. David penned in Psalm 56: “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, In God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid.”
- I Samuel 22:1-4 – There will still be people in your circle of influence that need your help. Do what you can to give it to them, even though you don’t feel like it! David’s new “playground” consisted of some fellow downtrodden people, including his own Mom and Dad. He used it as an opportunity to lead, provide and protect them all, earning a tremendous amount of respect and sharpening some future-needed skills along the way. Just like Jesus told Peter in Luke 22 at the last supper, “Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for your that your faith may not fail and when [not if] you turn back, strengthen your brothers.”
- I Samuel 22:6-10 – Don’t try to get even with the people who may have sold you out. David was tempted and came very close to doing so (especially in I Samuel chapters 24, 25 and 26). Instead, like David, leave this stuff up to God. When David learned that Doeg had “ratted him out” to Saul, he left revenge up to God as penned in Psalm 52. Rather than obsess about trying to get even, “trust in the lovingkindness of God forever and ever…give [Him] thanks forever because [He has] done it…wait on [His] name, for it is good.”
- I Samuel 22:20-23 – Stop making excuses and own up to your part of the setback. Once David realized his actions contributed in part to the slaughter of all but one priest back in Nob, he immediately owns that mistake and looks after the only priest remaining for the rest of his life. Often as you start to come through to the other side of your “non-brochure moment,” God might reveal that you too played a role in some part of the devastation. If so, confess that to the Lord and, if appropriate, to the person or people hurt in the process and make it right with them. Jesus Himself instructed us to do so in Matthew 5:23-24.
- I Samuel 23:12-14 – Discover the new freedom of “wherever.” David had already escaped the hand of Saul on numerous occasions. You would think by now he’d catch a break but he doesn’t. Even after rescuing the city of Keilah from the Philistines, the inhabitants of that city intend to give David over to Saul. When David learns of this from the Lord, he doesn’t throw a temper tantrum or a pity party. The Bible says he and his men simply left the city and “went wherever they could go.” If you can get to the point in your faith when you can honestly say, “God, you can do whatever or wherever you want – good, bad, or ugly – and I’ll still love You; I’ll still serve You; I’ll still worship You; and I’ll still praise You;” then you will begin to experience the freedom of truly surrendering to the Providence of God and moving on with your life.
Those moments in life that are not in the brochure can leave some scars. But how we choose to react to those moments, give them to the Lord, and keep growing in our faith gets us on the road to recovery so that those scars do not define us. In 2 Samuel 22, it records that “David spoke the words of this song to the Lord in the day that the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.” Spend some time this week mediating on these great truths that succinctly sum up our lessons learned from David’s life on the run:
“The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer;
My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge;
My savior, You save me from violence.
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
And I am saved from my enemies.
For the waves of death encompassed me;
The torrents of destruction overwhelmed me;
The cords of Sheol surrounded me;
The snares of death confronted me.
In my distress I called upon the Lord,
Yes, I cried to my God;
And from His temple He heard my voice,
And my cry for help came into His ears…
He sent from on high, He took me;
He drew me out of many waters.
He delivered me from my strong enemy,
From those who hated me, for they were too strong for me.
They confronted me in the day of my calamity,
But the Lord was my support.
He also brought me forth into a broad place;
He rescued me, because He delighted in me.
The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness;
According to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me.
For I have kept the ways of the Lord,
And have not acted wickedly against my God.
For all His ordinances were before me,
And as for His statutes, I did not depart from them.
I was also blameless toward Him,
And I kept myself from my iniquity.
Therefore the Lord has recompensed me according to my righteousness,
According to my cleanness before His eyes.
With the kind You show Yourself kind,
With the blameless You show Yourself blameless;
With the pure You show Yourself pure,
And with the perverted You show Yourself astute.
And You save an afflicted people;
But Your eyes are on the haughty whom You abase.
For You are my lamp, O Lord;
And the Lord illumines my darkness.
For by You I can run upon a troop;
By my God I can leap over a wall.
As for God, His way is blameless;
The word of the Lord is tested;
He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him.
For who is God, besides the Lord?
And who is a rock, besides our God?
God is my strong fortress;
And He sets the blameless in His way.
He makes my feet like hinds’ feet,
And sets me on my high places.
He trains my hands for battle,
So that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
You have also given me the shield of Your salvation,
And Your help makes me great.
You enlarge my steps under me,
And my feet have not slipped…
The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock;
And exalted be God, the rock of my salvation,
The God who executes vengeance for me,
And brings down peoples under me,
Who also brings me out from my enemies;
You even lift me above those who rise up against me;
You rescue me from the violent man.
Therefore I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the nations,
And I will sing praises to Your name.
He is a tower of deliverance to His king,
And shows lovingkindness to His anointed,
To David and his descendants forever.”