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Seek Help from the Church---Desperate Days
All the passages below are taken from Max Lucado’s book “Facing Your Giants” published in 2006.
THE DESPERATE MAN sits in the corner of the church assembly. Dry mouth, moist palms. He scarcely moves. He feels out of place in a room of disciples, but where else can he go? He just violated every belief he cherishes. Hurt every person he loves. Spent a night doing what he swore he'd never do. And now, on Sunday, he sits and stares. He doesn't speak. If these people knew what I did....
Scared, guilty, and alone.
He could be an addict, a thief, a child-beater, a wife-cheater.
He could be a she---single, pregnant, confused. He could be any number of people, for any number of people come to God's people in his condition---hopeless, hapless, helpless.
How will the congregation react? What will he find? Criticism or compassion? Rejection or acceptance? Raised eyebrows or extended hands?
David wonders the same. He's on the lam, a wanted man in Saul's court. His young face decorates post office posters. His name tops Saul's to-kill list. He runs, looking over his shoulder, sleeping with one eye open, and eating with his chair next to the restaurant exit.
What a blurring series of events. Was it just two or three years ago that he was tending flocks in Bethlehem? Back then a big day was watching sheep sleep. Then came Samuel, a ripe-old prophet with a fountain of hair and a horn of oil. As the oil covered David, so did God's Spirit.
David went from serenading sheep to serenading Saul. The overlooked runt of Jesse's litter became the talk of the town, King Arthur to Israel's Camelot years, handsome and humble. Enemies feared him. Jonathan loved him. Michal married him. Saul hated him.
After the sixth attempt on his life, David gets the point. Saul doesn't like me. With a price on his head and a posse on his trail, he kisses Michall and life in the court good-bye and runs.
But where can he go? To Bethlehem and jeopardize the lives of his family? Into enemy territory and risk his own? That becomes an option later. For now, he chooses another hideout. He goes to church. "Now David came to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest" (1 Sam. 21:1).
Scholars point to a hill one mile northeast of Jerusalem as the likely site of the ancient city of Nob. There, Ahimelech, the great-grandson of Eli, headed up a monastery of sorts. Eighty-five priests served in Nob, earning it the nickname "the city of the priests" (22:19). David rushes to the small town, seeking sanctuary from his enemies.
His arrival stirs understandable fear in Ahimelech. He "was trembling as he went to meet David" (21:1 God's WORD). What brings a warrior to Nob? What does the son-in-law of the king want?
David buys assurance by lying to the priest:
The king has ordered me on some business, and said to me, "Do not let anyone know anything about the business on which I send you, or what I have commanded you.... Now therefore, what have you on hand? Give me five loaves of bread in my hand, or whatever can be found." (21:2-3)
Desperate, David resorts to mistruth. This surprises us. So far David has been stellar, spotless, stainless---Snow White in a cast of warty-nosed witches. He stayed calm when his brothers snapped; he remained strong when Goliath roared; he kept his cool when Saul lost his.
But now he lies like a mob don at confession. Blatantly. Convincingly. Saul hasn't sent him on a mission. He's not on secret royal business. He's a fugitive. Unfairly, yes. But a fugitive nonetheless. And he lies about it.
The priest does not question David. He has no reason to doubt the skedaddler. He just has no resources with which to help him. The priest has bread, not common bread, but holy bread. The bread of the Presence. Each Sabbath the priest placed twelve loaves of wheat bread on the table as an offering to God. After a week, and only after a week, the priests, and only the priests, could eat the bread. (As if anyone wants week-old bread.) Nonetheless, Ahimelech's options and clerical collar shrink.
David is no priest. And the bread has just been placed on the altar. What's Ahimelech to do? Distribute the bread and violate the law? Keep the bread and ignore David's hunger? The priest looks for a loophole: "There is no common bread on hand; but there is holy bread, if the young men have at least kept themselves from women" (21:4).
Ahimelech wants to know if David and his men have been behaving. Blame it on the smell of fresh bread, but David responds with lie number two and a theological two-step. His men haven't laid eyes, much less hands, on a girl. And the holy bread? He puts an arm around the priest, walks him toward the altar, and suggests, You know, Ahim, old boy, "the bread is in effect common, even though it was sanctified in the vessel this day" (21:5). Even holy loaves, David reasons, are still oven baked and wheat based. Bread is bread, right?
David, what are you doing? Is lying not enough? Now you're playing loose with Scripture and putting the soft sell on the preacher?
It works. The priest gives him holy bread, "for there was no bread there but the showbread which had been taken from before the Lord, in order to put hot bread in its place on the day when it was taken away" (21:6).
Ravenous, David gulps down the food. Ahimelech likely gulps as well. He wonders if he has done the right thing. Has he bent the law? Broken the law? Obeyed a higher law? The priest had decided the higher call was a hungry stomach. Rather than dot the i of God's code, he met the need of God's child.
And how does David reward Ahimelech's compassion? With another lie! "Is there not here on hand a spear or a sword? For I have brought neither my sword nor my weapons with me, because the king's business required haste" (21:8).
David's faith is wavering. Not too long ago the shepherd's sling was all he needed. Now the one who refused the armor and sword of Saul requests a weapon from the priest. What has happened to our hero?
Simple. He's lost his God-focus. Goliath is on the big screen of David's imagination. As a result, desperation has set in. Lie-spawning, fear-stirring, truth-shading desperation. No place to hide. No food to
To the spiritually hungry, the church offers nourishment.
eat. No recourse. No resource. Teenaged and pregnant, middle-aged and broke, old-aged and sick.... Where can the desperate go?
They can go to God's sanctuary. God's church. They can look for an Ahimelech, a church leader with a heart for desperate souls.
Ahimelech had given David bread; now David wants a blade. The only weapon in the sanctuary is a relic, the sword of Goliath. The very steel David had used to guillotine the head of the giant. The priests are displaying it like the Accademia Gallery in Florence, Italy, displays Michelangelo's David.
"This will do just fine," David says. And the one who entered the sanctuary hungry and weaponless leaves with a bellyful of bread and the sword of a giant.
Author and pastor Eugene Peterson sees this interchange as the function of the church. “A sanctuary," he writes, "is. .. where I, like David, get bread and a sword, strength for the day and weapons for the fight."1
To the spiritually hungry, the church offers nourishment:
For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
To the fugitive, the church offers weapons of truth:
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)
Bread and blades. Food and equipment. The church exists to provide both. Does she succeed in doing so? Not always. People-helping is never a tidy trade, because people who need help don't lead tidy lives. They enter the church as fugitives, seeking shelter from angry Sauls in some cases, bad decisions in others. Ahimelechs of the church (leaders, teachers, pastors, and the like) are forced to choose
Pursue the spirit
of the law
more than its letter.
not between black and white but shades of gray, not between right and wrong but degrees of both.
Jesus calls the church to lean in the direction of compassion. A millennium later the Son of David remembers the flexibility of Ahimelech.
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, "Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!" But He said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless?" (Matthew 12:1-5)
At the end of the sanctuary day, the question is not how many laws were broken but rather, how many desperate Davids were nourished and equipped? Ahimelech teaches the church to pursue the spirit of the law more than its letter.
David teaches the desperate to seek help amidst God's people. David stumbles in this story. Desperate souls always do. But at least
David teaches the desperate to seek help amidst God's people.
he stumbles into the right place---into God's sanctuary, where God meets and ministers to hopeless hearts.
For proof, return to the story with which we began: the breathless, disheveled man who sits in the church assembly.
Did I mention the size of the congregation? Small. A dozen or so souls clustered together for strength. Did I tell you the location of the gathering? A borrowed upstairs room in Jerusalem. And the date? Sunday. The Sunday after Friday's crucifixion. The Sunday after Thursday night's betrayal.
A church of desperate disciples.
Peter cowers in the corner and covers his ears, but he can't silence the sound of his empty promise. "I'd die for you!" he had vowed (Luke 22:33 MSG).
God brings bread for our souls ("Peace be with you")
and a sword for the struggle ("Receive the Holy Spirit").
But his courage had melted in the midnight fire and fear. And now he and the other runaways wonder what place God has for them. Jesus answers the question by walking through the door.
He brings bread for their souls. "Peace be with you" (John 20:19 NKJV). He brings a sword for the struggle. "Receive the Holy Spirit" (v. 22).
Bread and swords. He gives both to the desperate.
1. Eugene H. Peterson, Leap Over a Wall: Earthy Spirituality for Everyday Christians (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, t997), 65.
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