“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.” (James 5:13)
I am a big believer in the local church. We are called to be a family; a community of believers who encourage, strengthen, and comfort one another. It’s by by speaking the truth in love with one another that we grow into the image of Christ, and it’s as each of us contribute that unique supply of grace God has given us that the whole church body is built up and grows (see Ephesians 4:15-16).
However, there are some things in our spiritual life that we must do ourselves, alone and apart from the aid of others. If we are not careful, we can lean overly much on other members of the body, developing an unhealthy dependency on another’s relationship with God to get us through difficult times. Certainly, there is a valid place for pastoral oversight and for mentors who can speak into our lives, but there are some places in your walk with God that you’ll have to work it out between you and Him.
Years ago I had a couple come to my church in Vermont. They were from another state and were Bible School graduates. In fact, they had graduated from the same Bible school from which I had myself graduated. They were seasoned in the Word and were older, grounded people. After coming to Vermont, however, they began to experience some real challenges. I had seen this before with others who had come to the north. New England can be a cold and oppressive place at times. It is not famous for its hospitality, and the winters are bleak and extremely cold, and the winter days are very short. Many struggle with depression merely from the climate.
In addition to these challenges, they had a difficult time finding work. He had been in the printing business which was suffering due to the revolution of desktop publishing. His job had essentially become obsolete. He eventually found work as a furniture mover; a hard, very physical job for a man of his years. It was hard for her too. I would see her weeping in service at times during worship, and it was not difficult to know where the emotion was coming from. It was a tough season for them both.
As a pastor, I wanted to step in and make things easier for them. I wanted to help financially, be an encouragement, and lighten the load in general. However, God checked my impulse to get overly involved. He made it clear to my heart that He was doing a work in them and that it was not my place to be their “savior.” Had I done so, I would have interrupted His process and robbed them of the growing experience He was endeavoring to bring into their life. There are times we have to understand that our dependency is upon Him and Him alone, because there will certainly come times in our lives when there is no pastor, no friend, and no one to whom we can turn for help in the time of need but God.
This happened in the life of David when a raiding band of Amalekites kidnapped the woman and children in the city of Ziklag while he and his men were away. When David and those who were with him saw that their loved ones had been taken captive, the scriptures tell us that they “lifted up their voice and wept until they had no strength in them to weep” (1 Samuel 30:4). One would think that at such a time these men would be comforting and encouraging one another, but for David there was no solace to be found in that gathering. In fact, the scripture says, “Now David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and his daughters…” (1 Samuel 30:6). This is not a reaction based on reason, but grief. It is a mob reaction. It shows us that the loyalties of any crowd are fickle. Men can be singing our praises one moment and cursing us the next. Remember, the crowd that shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord,” when Jesus came riding into Jerusalem for the Passover were the same to shout, “Crucify Him!” a few days later.
We can’t always rely on people, but God is ever faithful. In fact, this same David also wrote, “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me” (Psalm 27:10). If David had been relying on his men for comfort on the day that Ziklag was burned, he would have found nothing but an empty well. Fortunately for David, he had learned the secret of relying on the Lord. Right after the people spoke of stoning David, the scripture goes on to tells us, “But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God” (1 Samuel 30:6).
The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly how David did this, possibly to keep us from tying to create a formula based on how David found strength in God. As the psalmist of Israel, he may have sung one of the many songs he composed on the hillside in his youth, looking after his father’s sheep. He may have reminded himself of God’s past faithfulness and the many deliverances he had already experienced from the wrath of King Saul who unjustly sought to take David’s life. We’re not told how he did it, but what we know is that David did not allow his circumstances to write his epitaph that day. He drew on the internal resources of faith and experience he had from his years of walking with God, drew strength from God’s presence, and took change of the day. In the end, God restored to David and his men everything they had lost and brought them a great victory.
Recently, God brought James 5:13, our main text at the start of this article, back to my mind. I was going through my own challenge, and while no one spoke of stoning me in a literal sense, we all know that there are things in life that can beat us down that are no less real than a well aimed rock. Like that couple from my church in Vermont, God was wanting me to look to Him, rather than to my friends, to bring me out and set me feet on a solid place. His gentle remonstrance was simply to remind me that I had myself preached many times that we if we are the one struggling, going through a trial, or a difficult patch in life, we need to “put down the phone and go to the Throne!” I know, it’s a cheesy sounding cliché, but there is great wisdom there if we want to be strengthened.
Fortunately for me, His gentle reminder put me in touch with the strength I needed to lift me above the raging waters in which I had just moments ago felt overwhelmed. It is at His throne of grace that we can “obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Others can help, and if we have a believing community around us it is easier to face difficult times. However, there is “a friend that sticks closer than a brother,” and He is always present, ready to lift our head and strengthen our heart.