I’ve been thinking about King David’s worst day. He had many, if the psalms are any guide. Bleakness stalked him, calamity lay in ambush. He made stupid decisions that cost him dearly. He suffered betrayal, divorce, assassination attempts, coup attempts. Some of his best plans went horrible awry. He was hunted by a crazy king. He lost his best friend. One of his sons raped one of his daughters, another of his sons murdered the rapist, then his chief henchman killed the son.
There is more bloodshed and sorrow in David’s story than in a Shakespeare tragedy.
But I think his worst day is when his son Absolom overthrows his kingdom – not because losing a kingdom is the worst that can happen, but because that day is a perfect storm: all his sorrows converge. A tsunami of accumulating disaster surges, breaks, and engulfs him. He is woebegone in a thousand ways.
David evacuates Jerusalem. Like Jesus on his own lonely and sorrowful night two millennia later, David crosses the Kidron Valley and climbs the Mount of Olives. An old enemy shows up to taunt him, hurl rock and dirt on him. The writer captures with terse vividness the weight of it all: “The king and all the people with him arrived at their destination exhausted” (2 Sam. 16:14).
Exhausted. In Hebrew, it means he was fainting tired. He was collapsing with weariness. He was dead on his feet. He was completely empty.
But then the writer adds this: “And there he refreshed himself.”
Refreshed. In Hebrew, it means he breathed deep. He restored his soul. He came alive. He was abundantly full.
I think this is a spiritual skill David learned back in the sheepfold: how to locate God – his presence, his strength, his goodness – in the thick of troubles. How to hear God’s voice in the din – beneath the condemning silences, above the jeering shouts. Indeed, I believe David wrote Psalm 23 out of the experience of this day, as he walked through a valley of death, surrounded by enemies. It’s here he turns afresh to God, and finds God’s comfort, and provision, and guidance, and renewal. “He restores my soul,” David says in Psalm 23. It’s the same word used here for refreshed.
This is a skill every Christ-follower needs to cultivate. Finding God in the dark. Resting in God in the turmoil. Trusting in God in the teeth of catastrophe. Being restored by God when all earthly comforts fail.
It’s a skill you cultivate daily, until it becomes a muscle memory, an instinct, a default. And then, just when it’s needed – when you’re dead on your feet – it kicks in. And you come alive.
The Apostle Paul puts it this way:
I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. (Phil. 4:11-13; Msg).
I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.