One of the most amazing things about the modern world is the ability that we have to accomplish tasks in a fraction of the time that it would have taken a hundred, or even fifty years ago. Now more than ever, we have devices innumerable available to us that help us vanquish formidable tasks quickly, pick apart knotty problems rapidly, and travel great distances speedily. The truth is, that there are many advantages and disadvantages to these devices. It is this author’s contention, however, that through undisciplined and unbridled use, the most formidable danger is the destruction of time spent in quiet, reflective thought. Over the past several weeks, we have embarked on a new series exploring the subject of meditative thought, under the title, “A Refreshing Pause.”
The first part of this series tackled the weighty question, “Is Meditation Necessary?” An objective evaluation of almost any walk of life will reveal that those who spend time reflecting on methods, principles, and information pertaining thereto will usually wind up being the more successful pursuers of that vocation, provided they balance time spent thinking with time spent working, of course.
The second post explored the life of Elijah, and how a pause for refreshment (and the supernatural empowerment of God) allowed him to make an incredible, forty-day journey into the wilderness, where he met with God in the holy mountain (most likely Sinai) and received encouragement and reassurance of his calling to God’s prophetic ministry.
Another man who understood the power of a pause to meditate was David, the man who succeeded Saul as king over Israel. Years before he was finally appointed king over the entire nation of Israel, David encountered a grave situation that was most discouraging. Returning from a battle, he discovered that the city where he had been dwelling was burned with fire, and his two wives, the wives of the men under his command, and all the children, had been carried off by the Philistines. Distressed, tired, sore, and–I would imagine–hungry from their efforts and the battles behind them, the men under David’s charge became restless, disgruntled, and mutinous. In fact, Scripture records that they were ready to stone him.
I don’t know about you, but to me, this would be a discouraging and very
stressful situation in which to find oneself. Here is a man who has marched the same distance his men have, fought the same battles, carried the same load, and endured the same hardships. Under such circumstances, I’m pretty sure most people would find it perfectly understandable and natural if the man in charge had a meltdown. At the very least, he should have been shouting at everybody to calm down.
But he didn’t, did he? Immediately after this turbulent account of men growing angry and frustrated, to the point of wanting to stone the man in charge, the Sacred Writ records this antithetically peaceful phrase: “…but David encouraged himself in the Lord.”
Wow. That’s a powerful concept, is it not? Look at this phrase against the larger context of the preceding chapters. David, although not fully right with God at this time in his life, was spiritual enough that–even after heavily contested battles that cost him much time and effort to win–he could take a few moments and meditate on what he knew about the Lord, draw strength from it, and be encouraged and strengthened to the point that he could regain control of his fractious army and rally them around a single cause: overtaking the enemy and reuniting the troubled soldiers with their families. There are several principles that stand out as I meditate on this phrase.
Of immediate evidence is the principle of leading by example. Rather than succumbing to the enormous pressure bearing upon him, David remained calm. The military has given us a phrase that we now use to describe this person in any high-pressure situation: “cool under fire.” Instead of joining in the general melee, running around and screaming at his men to get a hold on themselves, David decided to do the sensible thing and give them an example of a calm, controlled person. While this should be the goal of anyone, it is vital for successful leadership in any organization.
Another readily evident benefit of remaining calm is that it immediately requires you to do the most important thing: stop and think. Being a lover of the outdoors, I have read and heard countless times that one must be prepared for anything that could go wrong to go wrong at any time. The keys to survival, experts agree, are being prepared for accidents/incidents, and then to remain calm when things do go wrong. Over and over they pound home their favorite saying (which, incidentally, is extremely true): “Your most important survival tool is your brain.” This illustrates yet again the power of–and the pretext for–a pause to reflect on the situation. It also illustrates the fact that mastering the act of reflective thinking is a skill that will not only improve the quality of your life, but may also save it.
Still another benefit of pausing to gather one’s wits is the fact that remaining calm and thinking things through has the potential to diffuse a potentially explosive situation. Had David chosen to join with the mob (they could hardly be called an army at this point) and gone running around tearing out his hair and succumbing to the stress, it would have seriously undermined his authority over these hard-bitten men, and could have destroyed his reputation with them. Through diligent searching of the preceding chapters, one finds that the men following David were not decent, law-abiding, well-educated citizens. Some were criminals. Others were vigilantes. Many of the men were there to avoid being thrown into debtors’ prison. These were rough fellows, and such men will only follow a strong leader who can roll with the punches, so to speak.
Another principle to consider is the lack of self in David’s behavior. Instead of relying on his own strength, his skill, or his reputation, David turned to God, freely admitting by doing so that he was incapable of solving this dilemma on his own. By taking these few quiet moments to encourage himself, he was admitting that even the strength for what must now be done would have to come from the Lord, because David’s resources were gone.
Of great importance is another brief phrase in this passage, conspicuous by its absence in the accounts of previous movements. After drawing strength and encouragement from a few moments’ meditation, David calls for Abiathar, the high priest, and asks, “…I pray thee, bring me hither the ephod.” (Part of the attire that the priests wore while in the service of the Tabernacle, the ephod was
a linen breastplate ornamented richly with twelve unique gemstones, each representing a tribe of Israel. At this point in Israel’s history, it was also a method God used to make known His will for His people.) The Bible then records that David “enquired of the Lord,” and this is what makes this account different from those battles preceding it. Here we see David’s heart begin to change, to become more sensitive to the Lord’s leading, and to submit once again to that leading.
This account illustrates an important truth, and–I believe–a reason why many people are afraid to still themselves and engage in meaningful thought and meditation on spiritual things. It is for this purpose that the Lord designed us with reflective mental capacity, so that we would be able to thoroughly contemplate our actions and beliefs and establish whether or not they hew to the line of our chosen paradigm of life and practice. While there are those who would argue that it does not matter what one believes, this is another method of excusing and sidestepping inconsistencies in one’s life and habits, and is also another form of mental laziness.
From the first post, we took away the principle that meditation is indispensable to the Christian who desires to live a life full of meaning and purpose. From the incident in the life of Elijah, we learned that a brief pause to tend to the needs of the body can be encouraging to the soul as well.
So, what can we take away from this event in the life of David? Simply this: we should realize our own fallibility, the fact that we can indeed make mistakes. One of the mistakes we often make is failing to follow the leading of God in our lives. Any time we fail to heed his guidance, we will end up on the wrong path. In a world adrift on a sea of relativism, it is reassuring to have an absolute point of reference on which to focus, an immovable standard against which we measure our every action. More on this in another post outside the scope of this series.
–The Southern Voice Writer