Strengthening Your Hand

“And Jonathon, Saul’s son, rose and went to David at Horesh,
and strengthened his hand in God.”
(1 Samuel 23:16)

My Bible reading plan has me reading from 1 and 2 Samuel these last few weeks, and, while I know I’ve read these books numerous times, it is amazing that I continue to find something new each time I read it.  This is one of the blessings of having the habit of regular Bible reading, picking up on something you might have missed before, or seeing it from a completely different perspective.

The passage above from 1 Sam 23 tells us that when David was hiding from Saul, Jonathon, Saul’s son, came to David and strengthened his hand.  That phrase, “he strengthened his hand,” has been stuck in my head for two weeks now.

On the surface, it’s clear what is meant here.  When you get the winning bid in  Pinocle and your partner passes you exactly what you need, that’s “strengthening your hand.”

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When you gain a tactical advantage, or get an increase in strength, you gain the upper hand, or get a stronger hand.  That I understand.

But what isn’t so clear is exactly how Jonathon when about strengthening David’s hand.

All we know is what Jonathon said to David, “Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you.” That’s all we’re told.

Since I read that passage, I prayed over and wrestled with that phrase, “strengthen his hand.” I wanted to try to get my head around it, to let it sink in.  I asked God, “show me what that means!”

And then God did.

I had a friend show up in the midst of a very busy week.  With he start of a new year of programing at the church, and more and more involvement with Presbytery responsibilities, I was feeling swamped.  I’ve been burning the candle at both ends, up early to run and pray, up late to read and pray.  The joy of ministry was dwindling, and it was beginning to show.

So my friend shows up, one who is closer than a brother, and he begins to invest in me, to strengthen me, and to encourage me.  He listened.  He gave wise counsel.  He asked me the tough questions about my prayer life and purity that need to be asked to keep me accountable.  But most of all, he reminded me of the grace that I have been called to proclaim.  He reminded me that I’m not just a herald of that grace, but a recipient of it as well.

Isn’t this what Jonathon did for David?  He showed up when David was downs, and reminded him of God’s promises.  He directed him to God, not to his own strength, not to his own resources.  Jonathon didn’t come to the cave at Horesh and say, “It’s not so bad!” There were no “Daily Affirmations” with Stuart Smalley there in the wilderness…

smalley

No, Jonathon simply directed David’s eyes, and heart, back to the word of God.  God had made a promise to David, had anointed him and poured out his Spirit upon him. All Jonathon had to do was return David to his foundation in God, the source of real courage and strength.

This is how Jonathon ministered to David.  This is how my friend ministered to me.  As we were praying, I thanked God that he showed me personally what it meant that Jonathon strengthened David’s hand in the Lord.  It means having a brother who will encourage, bless, and challenge you.  It means having someone who will speak into your life a word of grace and hope.  It means being reminded of God’s promises in your own life so that you can find the strength to move forward.

I cannot stress what a blessing it is to have someone in your life like Jonathon was for David – a source of strength and encouragement in the Lord.  I encourage you to be that person for someone today – call them up, listen and encreuage them, be the one to strengthen their hand in the Lord.  And also seek out someone in your life who can do that for you.  Invite someone to hold you accountable, to ask you the tough questions, and to remind you of God’s goodness and grace toward you in Jesus.  May you have that God-given friend who will always be directing you to God.

SDG

Your Strength Isn’t Strong Enough

“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord of hosts.”
(Zechariah 4:6)

 Do you remember the Daily Affirmations by Stuart Smalley on Saturday Night Live?  Poor Stuart suffered from “stinkin thinkin”, negative thoughts that just brought him down.  He’d try to encourage himself, and those who came on his show, helping them to think positive.  And always, his mantra was, say it with me…

“I am good enough.  I am smart enough.  And doggone it, people like me.”

Now, not to be one who contradicts such sound philosophy, but there are times in our lives when, unfortunately we are not good enough, we are not smart enough, and doggone it, nobody likes us.  There are times when it seems the rug has been pulled out from underneath us, when conventional wisdom fails us, and our strength isn’t strong enough.  We face trials and persecution from the things we thought would bring us security; our jobs, our friends, our family; our world seems upside down.  The things we counted on for strength fail us, the people we trust let us down.  We find we are weak, we are tired, and we want to give up.  No amount of daily affirmation, no power of positive thinking, can get us out of this mess.

This is why we walk in faith.  We see from the very beginning of the story of Scripture that man was created to be dependent upon God.  We were designed to be in relationship with God, depending on Him, trusting in Him, walking with Him.  The Lord’s Prayer is so basic, yet so revolutionary, because it reminds us, restores us to this absolute dependency upon God.  We are taught to come to God for our daily bread, to turn to God for deliverance from evil, to seek God for forgiveness as we forgive others, and ultimately, to seek God’s glory and His kingdom and His will rather than our own.

Too often, though, we forget our dependency.  We buy the delusion of our success, get drunk in our own power, and we rest in our own accomplishments.  This was what God warned the Israelites about in Deuteronomy, knowing that when the people had success, they would take all the credit, saying, “My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth” (Deut. 8:17).  No, the Lord reminded them, “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples,  but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deut. 7:7–8).

Friends, the truth of the matter is, so often we begin to rely on our own strength, to believe our own press (which we’ve probably printed), and have forgotten that our strength is in the Lord alone that truly the cross we carry becomes too heavy and begins to crush us.  It seems defeating, overwhelming, and humiliating; but even then the cross has purpose.

John Calvin wrote of the purpose of our cross saying,

When we are humbled, we are taught to rely on God alone, and we shall not stumble or sink down in despair.  For it is not small profit to be robbed of our blind self-love so that we become fully award of our weakness; to have such an understanding of our weakness that we distrust ourselves; to distrust ourselves to such an extent that we put all our trust in God; to depend with such boundless confidence on God that we rely entirely on his help, so that we may victoriously persevere to then end; to continue in his grace that we may know he is true and faithful in his promises; and to experience the certainty of his promises so that our hope may become firmer.

When your cross is too much to carry, find your strength in the one who carried the cross for you.  Learn to trust less in yourself, and to trust more in His grace and mercy.  Let his strength be made perfect in your weakness.  And remember it is “not by might, nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.”

SDG