This life requires much of us, doesn't it? So much perseverance to endure the hard stuff with flexibility to keep us from being broken. There is peace and there is turbulence. We're sometimes buffeted and sometimes buoyed in the storms.
And no one can live it for us. Our experience of life is largely our own alone.
Sometimes our weakness seems insurmountable. Passages like Psalm 61:1-3 resonate deeply:
"Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer;
from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I,
for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy."
For David, the encroaching enemies were probably the Philistines; armed masses set on his destruction. For us, enemies aren't usually weapon-bearing combatants; they are life pressures: finances, job stresses, relationships, health problems, family hurts. Each one can be overwhelming and threatening but together, they can crush.
David calls to God - he asks for a strength that is stronger than his strength. He knows God has been that for him in the past. He trusts God in his present weakness. God has shown Himself strong in strengthening David.
He recalls those past strengthenings and identifies with them in his present danger. He reminds himself:
"I love you, O LORD, my strength.
The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised,
and I am saved from my enemies."
- Psalm 18:1-3
David is reminding himself that God is with him in the storm. God may be the storm! But there is nowhere more safe. There's a lesson for us here in how we talk to ourselves. How we preach to ourselves.
This preaching to ourselves isn't intuitive. This trusting God's present faithfulness because of His past faithfulnesses only comes as we live it - leaning into Him in life's storms. Sometimes sailing headlong into the gales. Sometimes dropping the sails and waiting out the storm. We learn to listen for the "Peace be still" as we weather the thunder and lightening.
No one can do it for us.
And no one can do it for our kids. How often, as a parent, I have longed to take away a difficulty or erase a pain for one of my kids. Or pass on to them the trustworthiness of God - like a transfusion or a transaction. But that isn't within my power to do.
One of the privileges and challenges of parenting (especially of adult kids) is to stand with them in life's difficulties while knowing we can't do it for them. Truth be told, their storms (as they take us into them) are ours on a different level. But they are uniquely theirs - they must be! We are somewhat helpless. But not hopeless.
We can implore them to trust God in the storm because we've found Him to be so trustworthy and we've experienced what I think of as the John 8:68 desperation:
"Simon Peter answered him, '
Lord, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed,
and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.'"
Indeed, where else could we go? Peter says it a bit reluctantly. A bit resignedly. A bit desperately. He had seen Jesus still the storms that threatened to capsize his little boat. He had heard the: "Take heart, it is I." He had seen Jesus send the nets of fish. He had seen Jesus provide the bread. He would one night see Jesus walk on water toward him - he would ask Jesus to command him to climb out out of the boat - and Jesus did. Peter walked to him until he took his eyes of Jesus and he noticed the wind - then he sank. And so do we.
And at the end - at that last supper - THAT Peter was told by Christ to strengthen his brothers with the strength he would gain after his humiliation - after being in a bigger storm - and succumbing to fear. And THAT strengthened Peter became the rock on which the Church was built!
Some years ago, our family toured the Biosphere2 in Arizona. Fascinating. It's basically a huge terrarium in the desert. You can look it up on Wikipedia. We didn't tour the inside - it had been shut down and sealed off as a somewhat failed science project. As the tour guide lead us around the outside of the huge facility - he explained the failure. Ants and other insects overtook some areas because there were not enough of the right predators; fish didn't reproduce in the little "ocean" because the man-made tides weren't right; the food-bearing plants and trees didn't grown enough to sustain the inhabitants for a myriad of reasons (e.g. the tiny portions of coffee beans had to be rationed - now there's a crisis!). The whole program had to be shut down early because the inhabitants would have starved. But most interesting to me - the trees were all flopping over - we could see them through the glass - propped up and still falling over. The tour guide said that was the big mystery to the researchers. The soil was right for each variety of trees, the fertilizers used, the irrigation - all were what they would get outside to grow strong and healthy. What was wrong?? Then they made the discovery. There was no wind. They learned that without the gentle and the harsh pressure of the wind on the trees, they didn't grow strong cores. They couldn't live and thrive without the wind.
THAT was the lesson of Biosphere2 for me: like trees we need adversity to grow and flourish - to live.
I love this thought from Oswald Chambers, a man who certainly knew adversity and its benefits:
"God does not give us overcoming life; He gives life as we overcome.
The strain is the strength.
If there is no strain there is no strength…
Immediately you face the strain, you will get the strength."
- from My Utmost for His Highest - August 2nd reading
And a last thought from Peter - an example of how he obeyed Jesus and strengthened his brothers and sisters - he wrote these stabilizing words:
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace,
who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ,
will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
- 1 Peter 5:10
He WILL strengthen us - through the very things that seem to threaten us. We are safe. And strong. And getting stronger!