1 Samuel 23:14-18 – Encouraging Others in Hard Times

David stayed in hideouts in the hill country of Ziph Desert. Saul kept searching, but God never let Saul catch him.

One time, David was at Horesh in Ziph Desert. He was afraid because Saul had come to the area to kill him. But Jonathan went to see David, and God helped him encourage David. “Don’t be afraid,” Jonathan said. “My father Saul will never get his hands on you. In fact, you’re going to be the next king of Israel, and I’ll be your highest official. Even my father knows it’s true.”

They both promised the Lord that they would always be loyal to each other. Then Jonathan went home, but David stayed at Horesh. (Contemporary English Version)

Encouraging with Help

There is an old Hasidic story of a rabbi who had a conversation with the Lord about Heaven and Hell.

“I will show you Hell,” said the Lord, and led the rabbi into a room containing a group of famished, desperate people sitting around a large, circular table. In the center of the table rested an enormous pot of stew, more than enough for everyone. The smell of the stew was delicious and made the rabbi’s mouth water. Yet no one ate.

Each diner at the table held a very long-handled spoon – long enough to reach the pot and scoop up a spoonful of stew, but too long to get the food into one’s mouth. The rabbi saw that their suffering was indeed terrible and bowed his head in compassion.

“Now I will show you Heaven,” said the Lord, and they entered another room, identical to the first – same large, round table, same enormous pot of stew, same long-handled spoons. Yet there was gaiety in the air; everyone appeared well nourished, plump, and exuberant.

The rabbi could not understand and looked to the Lord. “It is simple,” said the Lord, “but it requires a certain skill. You see, the people in this room have learned to feed each other!”

We as humans are hard-wired for community. Ideally, we seamlessly move between being providers of help and receivers of help. A healthy life is a balanced life consisting of consistent rhythms of giving and receiving. And where we are all participating together, there is Heaven.

Encouraging through Friendship

For sure, there will be times we become discouraged. To remain optimistic and encouraged, all the time, is difficult. We need help to keep going and not give up hope. Sometimes we just need a darned good friend.

David, a man who seemed fearless, became afraid. And understandably so. I can only imagine what it would be like to be hyper-vigilant, too scared to shut your eyes and go to sleep, wondering if this might be your last day or night on earth. It’s one thing to die. It’s altogether another thing to be hunted like an animal so that another person can snuff out your life.

Of course, David was scared. And in this state of fright, Jonathan enters. The friend par excellence. True friendship is resilient and reliable. Jonathan did what a loyal friend does: encourage. David was emotionally drained and spiritually weak. So, Jonathan came to David’s side, was present with him, and helped him find his faith and strength in God again.

Encouraging by Affirmation

The helpful encouragement came in the form of truth and affirmation. Those are two indispensable elements to encouragement. Real friendship is built upon the solid foundation of truth, with continual overtures of affirming loyalty and commitment.

Two peas in a pod. Fits like a hand in a glove. Littermates. Cut from the same cloth. Whichever way you choose to say it, Jonathan was the warm gravy to David’s cold mashed potatoes. There was no way Jonathan was going to sit on the sidelines, knowing his best friend was on the run from danger. He proactively took action and was there to help feed David when there was nothing but a long-handled spoon to eat from.

Take note of the four encouraging and affirming truths Jonathan told David to help encourage him and strengthen his faith:

  1. Saul will not find you, despite his paranoid persistence. The sovereign God is in control – not King Saul. Your capture is not in the Lord’s plan.
  2. You will be king. You have been anointed as such. It will come.
  3. I will be second to you. I am with you, all the way. I am your humble servant. I am your faithful friend.
  4. Saul himself knows the truth, which is why he’s so zealous to take you out.

Through Jonathan’s encouragement, David gained newfound optimism, fresh hope, with affirmation and confirmation of the truth. And David needed this to face the upcoming cat and mouse games he would be playing with Saul.

Encouraging the Truth

In the New Testament, the verse, Romans 8:28, is still true. Yes, it gets overused by some as a mere platitude which sometimes invalidates a person’s experience and emotions. Yet, it remains nonetheless true:

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

Romans 8:28, NLT

The year, 2020, was a kick in the pants for a lot of people. For some, it felt like the disease was hunting them down, trying to take their life. And it did, as of this writing, for 3.5 million people worldwide. The economic and social toll is inestimable. Add to this grim reality that all the socio-economic problems, political issues, and other diseases and disasters of the world have continued, unabated, throughout the pandemic.

It can be difficult to see how any of this could work for good. Yet, this is when friendship is found to be at its best – giving incredible encouragement while in the teeth of terrible circumstances.

Ultimately, death and disease do not have the last word. No matter what happens, we are and will remain children of the King. Jesus steps in and calls us “friend,” acting on our behalf. And God’s Spirit is forever with us, vigilant to support us when we can no longer stand.

God of all encouragement, when evil darkens our world, give us light. When despair numbs our souls, give us hope. When we stumble and fall, lift us up. When doubts assail us, give us faith. When nothing seems sure, give us trust. When ideals fade, give us vision. When we lose our way, be our guide! May you help us find serenity in your presence, and purpose in doing your will. Amen.

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