When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over Israel, they went up in full force to search for him, but David heard about it and went down to the stronghold. Now the Philistines had come and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim; so, David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go and attack the Philistines? Will you deliver them into my hands?”
The Lord answered him, “Go, for I will surely deliver the Philistines into your hands.”
So, David went to Baal Perazim, and there he defeated them. He said, “As waters break out, the Lord has broken out against my enemies before me.” So that place was called Baal Perazim.The Philistines abandoned their idols there, and David and his men carried them off.
Once more the Philistines came up and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim; so, David inquired of the Lord, and he answered, “Do not go straight up, but circle around behind them and attack them in front of the poplar trees. As soon as you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the poplar trees, move quickly, because that will mean the Lord has gone out in front of you to strike the Philistine army.” So, David did as the Lord commanded him, and he struck down the Philistines all the way from Gibeon to Gezer. (New International Version)
Ordinary Time of Prayer
Let’s take a step back for a moment and see the big picture of the Christian Year. We have thus far experienced Advent and Christmas with the birth of Christ. We moved through Epiphany with its focus on the light of Christ for the world. We experienced Lent, celebrated Easter and spent weeks in Eastertide, basking in the glory of the resurrection. Christ’s ascension, then the Spirit’s coming at Pentecost have come.
Now we are in Ordinary Time – the longest season of the Christian Year. It isn’t sexy. It goes on and on until Advent finally arrives again, months later. We are in the doldrums of summer and the daily reality of living with the tedium of doing what we need to do, over and over again.
Prayer can sometimes feel that way. Although it is the normal ordinary vocation of every believer, prayer is not always easy nor is it done consistently.
David’s Time of Prayer
David continued a practice of prayer in his reign, just as he had done repeatedly in the years leading up to becoming the king. The compiler of stories about David wanted to ensure the connection between prayer, obedience, and success. King David inquired of God, did exactly what God told him to do, and then watched God act on behalf of the people.
It sounds simple when I put it that way, doesn’t it? Pray. Obey. Succeed. Yet we know it really isn’t so easy. The monotony and demands of our lives have a way of crowding out such a simple plan. Although it might only require a few minutes of our time to stop and inquire of God before acting, we still may not do it, believing our anxious action to be more necessary than a brief pause.
King David faced and defeated the opposition because he deliberately took the time and effort to ask God for direction in what to do. David neither trusted in his own past experience nor his accumulated expertise. Rather, he kept up his ongoing practice of living by faith and trusting the Lord to guide him.
Sometimes we ask for divine guidance and get what seems to be weird answers. David was given precise instructions in dealing with the Philistines. From the vantage of a human General, the orders didn’t make a lot of sense. However, David did not hesitate to do exactly what he was told – and there was a decisive victory.
Our Time of Prayer
When it comes to our prayers, we ought to expect the unexpected. God’s answers frequently look more like problems than answers. They are often not what we expect. We may fail to see how they correspond to our prayers.
If we inquire of God to love others, the Lord just might respond by having us pay attention to someone in our lives who is obnoxious to us, whom we rather would not be around, at all. (Mark 12:31; Luke 10:29)
If we inquire of God to be near us, the Lord may break our hearts to especially be close to us. (Psalm 73:28; Psalm 34:18)
If we inquire of God to receive grace and mercy, the Lord will likely dismantle our pride and humble our hearts. (James 4:6)
If we inquire of God for justice to be done on this earth, the Lord might put the spotlight on our own lives and expose our spiritual bankruptcy, cause us to mourn, and make us meek, as the Son is meek. (Matthew 5:3-5)
If we inquire of God for wisdom and discernment, the Lord could send a muddle of confusion for us to work through, teaching us to distinguish between good and evil. (Hebrews 5:14)
If we inquire of God to save us from our predicament and take away our fear and anxiety, we may get only silence for a long while – prompting us to persevere in prayer. (Luke 17:5; 2 Corinthians 5:7)
If we inquire of God for money, the Lord might give us opportunities to give money away and deplete our resources – helping to build treasure in heaven, not just on earth. (Matthew 6:19-21; Luke 16:13)
If we inquire of God for happiness, the Lord just may take away a bunch of our stuff so that we will know the surpassing joy of knowing Christ. (John 16:24; Philippians 3:8)
Many of God’s best and greatest gifts come in the form of befuddling answers. If we learn to go with it and obey, a new world of possibility is opened to us that we never would have anticipated.
Being in Ordinary Time doesn’t necessarily mean getting ordinary answers to our prayers.
Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.
*Above painting of King David by Dutch artist Gerard van Honthorst (1592-1656)