Stay Encouraged (Boot Camp for Creators & Dreamers 20)

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We can’t state this enough: we creators and dreamers need to stay encouraged. If we fail to do so, the odds of realizing our hopes and aspirations will be stacked against us. Chances are, if we lack encouragement, we’ll give up on the bright future God has planned for each of us.

But staying encouraged isn’t easy. Actually, it’s downright difficult. The long, winding path that leads to our goals and aspirations is often littered with obstacles and pitfalls; life has a way of throwing us a curve when we least expect it; and sometimes, our good intentions and best efforts can end in complete failure and utter disaster. At times like these, it can feel as though your whole world has crumbled around you.

Israel’s first true king, the poet and warrior David, faced just such a crisis, when it felt as though the ground had collapsed beneath his feet. What kept the Psalmist was toppling headlong into the pit of despair? Read on.

Close to a thousand years before the Lord Jesus Christ walked the earth in the form of a man, God anointed the Shepard David to be the King of His people Israel. But a big obstacle remained between David and the throne: a pain in David’s neck, whose name was Saul.

Saul had been chosen — not by God, but by the Hebrews — to be the king of the Jews. This might have worked out if Saul hadn’t disobeyed God’s will in a few key areas (and afterwards made up some really lame excuses for his disobedience).

God ultimately rejected Saul’s kingship, and chose David to replace him. Saul, however, wasn’t ready to step down, so he devoted all his time and energy to chasing David across the desert, in the hopes of capturing his successor — and executing him! (Life can be complicated.)

David was already an accomplished leader and warrior. He could have easily met Saul in battle and ended all his problems. But David didn’t want to kill the people’s “King”; so instead, he simply continued to elude Saul.

Just hanging out in the wilderness and trying to stay out of Saul’s way.

At one point, though, David grew tired of running. He and his army of 600 men, along with their families, sought refuge in the land of King Saul’s enemies, the Philistines. It was a good idea: Saul soon lost interest in David, believing he’d never again see his rival; and David found favor with a Philistine leader named Achish.

Achish gave David and his men the city of Ziklag, where they could live in peace and raise their families. Who knows, they might have remained their, had Achish not given David an ultimatum. For over a year David maintained the appearance that he was serving the interests of the Philistines, by defeating several of the tribes that opposed them. But these warring tribes also opposed the Hebrews — so defeating them was actually in the best interests of God’s people.

David’s exploits on the battlefield are legendary. Here  he defeats Goliath.

Again, David was enjoying the best of both worlds, until Achish announced that the Philistines were about to attack King Saul and Israel; and he expected David and his men to join him in the battle — against David’s own people.

David probably broke out in a cold sweat. The time had come to “either put up or shut up,” and it looked as though he was going to be forced into a battle against his own people. Fortunately for David, Achish’s military leaders didn’t trust the allegiance of their Hebrew Ally. (Apparently at least some of the Philistines had discernment.)

David was ordered to take his army and go home to Ziklag. They would NOT be fighting in this battle. David was filled with relief, joy, and probably the satisfaction of having pulled a fast one on Achish. And then the bottom fell out of his world.

Ziklag today: all that remains.

When David and his men reached Ziklag, they found the city deserted and in ruins. While they were away, the Amalekites (who hated the Philistines, the Hebrews, and just about everybody else) had taken captive all the women and children before burning the city to the ground.

The Bible states that in unison this band of tough, seasoned warriors suffered an emotional meltdown: “David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept until they had no more strength to weep.” (1 Samuel 30:4 ESV) They were strangers in a strange land, cut off from the greater part of their people, and now they’d lost everything they had, their wives, their sons and daughters, even their homes.

David’s grief was manifold. He, too, was suffering, having lost not one but two wives; but he also realized he’d failed the men who’d trusted him, who’d followed him across the desert into the land of their enemies. David’s men were disillusioned and in deep despair. Their future seemed dim, and their great cause lost and buried in the ashes of Ziklag.

As if this were not enough, David then faced yet another devastating blow. The mighty men who had always trusted him, whom he had always relied upon, were ready to turn against him: “the men were thinking of stoning him; each man grieved bitterly over his sons and daughters.” (1 Samuel 30:6 NET)

Sooner or later we all face situations similar to what happened at Ziklag. Our “Ziklag”s may come in the form of demoralizing disappointments, setbacks, or false starts; unexpected obstacles, opposition, or challenges in life, particularly in the pursuit of our dreams. How do we endure our “Ziklag”s? Well, what did David do?

“David was greatly distressed; for the people spoke of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved … but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God. (1 Samuel 30:6 AKJV)

The word encourage means to give support, hope, confidence. David gave himself these things. He found in God what was necessary to keep from falling apart, to keep going and not give up. Other translations correctly render the word “encouraged” as strengthened: “David was very upset, for the men were thinking of stoning him; each man grieved bitterly over his sons and daughters. But David drew strength from the LORD his God.” (1 Samuel 30:6 NET)

We can learn from David’s example. What do we do when even our closest friends and relatives, our loved ones, abandon us and tell us to give up on our hopes and dreams?

What do we do when we get yet another rejection; another “No!”; another door slammed in our faces? When we think we’ve finally found the right person or door of opportunity, or taken the right steps in the pursuit of a dream — only to learn later, after expending considerable time, energy, resources, and prayer, that we’ve reached just another dead end?

Do we throw in the towel and walk away in disgust? Or, worse, do we sink into depression?

When we face our “Ziklag,” we sincerely hope that instead of giving up, we can stay encouraged, finding strength and courage in the Lord — just as David did! And speaking of David — the giant killer — what ever happened to the poor fellow? Did his men stone him? Did he flee? Did he find another wife? Did he get angry at God? Will we ever know? Of course we will!

Join us next session for David’s Daring Decision.

Click here to all the Boot Camp lessons.

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That Tears It! (Angel in the Kitchen)

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Tuesday we discussed some things onions have in common with Life experiences and human relationships. Each day we peel back another layer of the “onion” to reveal new mysteries, new opportunities, new lessons. And in our relationships, we again need to peel back the layers that insulate people from people.

Interestingly, living and interacting with people is exactly like cutting into an onion!  The experience will often make you cry! We all know how the pain and disappointments of life and relationships can leave us in tears, but why exactly do onions make us cry? Simple answer: it’s Chemistry!

When you slice an onion, you break the plant cells, releasing Amino acid sulfoxides. No need to remember this, it won’t be on the test. These newly-released amino acids form sulfenic acids, which in turn mix with enzymes in the onion to produce a volatile sulfur compound. As this sulfur compound pervades the kitchen air, it quickly gets into the eyes, where it reacts with the natural moisture to produce a mild solution of … SULFURIC ACID!!! Gaahh!!  No wonder it stings! This is the type of acid found in car batteries (albeit, far less concentrated). Our tears are quickly released to flush out the irritant. They are a natural, God-given mechanism for relieving the burning sensation of onion vapor.

Similarly, our emotional tears help to relieve some of the pain of life’s disappointments. And just as the presence of an irritant signals the eyes to tear, our emotional tears alert God that we need an extra dollop of His grace and comfort.

You see, we have a personal, loving God who deeply cares for us, and He pays close attention when we suffer. No pain, hurt or disappointment goes unnoticed. God takes a full accounting of your emotional stress, that He may comfort you in those moments: “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book?” (Psalm 56:8 NLT)

The Book of Hebrews describes our Lord, Jesus Christ, as a high priest who can “sympathize with our weaknesses [and our sorrows]” (v4:15) and who makes intercession for us. (v5:5)

If you’re hurting today, seek the Lord in prayer. Cry out to the one whom Isaiah 53:3-4 describes as “despised and rejected — a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. …It was our weaknesses He carried; it was our sorrows that weighed Him down.” (NIV)

Our Heavenly Father hears our cries, just as He heard those of His Son: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears … and He was heard because of His reverent submission.” (Hebrews 5:7 NIV)

We all have sorrows. We each face trials that bring us pain. We learn from these hard times, and through them we grow closer to God. But God has  also promised to bring an end to our suffering. “…He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore….” (Rev 21:4 ESV)

God made us several promises. Claim them! “…You will weep no more. How gracious the LORD will be to you at the sound of your cry! As soon as he hears it, he will answer you.” (Isaiah 30:19 ISV)

“Those who sow in tears will reap in joy.” (Psalm 126:5 NKJV)

“Weeping may endure for a night, but Joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5 NKJV)

Life got you down? Hurting in a relationship? Chopping onions? Cry out to the Lord, “The Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort.” (2 Corinthians 1:3 NKJV)

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