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First Reading = 2 Samuel 1:17-27
17David intoned this lamentation over Saul and his son Jonathan. 18(He ordered that The Song of the Bow be taught to the people of Judah; it is written in the Book of Jashar.) He said: 19Your glory, O Israel, lies slain upon your high places! How the mighty have fallen! 20Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon; or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice, the daughters of the uncircumcised will exult. 21You mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew or rain upon you, nor bounteous fields! For there the shield of the mighty was defiled, the shield of Saul, anointed with oil no more. 22From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan did not turn back, nor the sword of Saul return empty. 23Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely! In life and in death they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions. 24O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you with crimson, in luxury, who put ornaments of gold on your apparel. 25How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle! Jonathan lies slain upon your high places. 26I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women. 27How the mighty have fallen, and the weapons of war perished!
We are starting a new series looking at the life of King David in the Old Testament. For a quick refresher in case your Old Testament knowledge has been collecting dust, David lived during a transition time for Israel. After they arrived in the Promised Land, they relied on God to raise up leaders whenever they were threatened. But the people wanted a king just like the other nations, so God granted their wish after some severe warnings.
The first king was the tallest, handsomest man they could find. Saul. God was with him for a while, but then Saul forgot that he was supposed to lead on God’s behalf instead of for his own gain, and God stopped helping Saul.
Instead, God picked his own future king – a shepherd boy named David. Saul and David had a very…fraught relationship. It started off well – David killed Goliath, married Saul’s daughter, played music for Saul whenever he was upset. But as Saul perceived the threat to his own rule and that of his son Jonathan, he became violent toward David. David had to run away into hiding to avoid death at Saul’s hands. But eventually Saul was killed, and David was able to gain the throne as the true king of Israel.
David wasn’t just another king. He wasn’t some anonymous leader in Israel’s history. He wasn’t like…I don’t know…the 22nd president of the United States. He was more like George Washington – the measuring stick of all future leaders. Side note – the 22nd president was Grover Cleveland. I had to look it up.
And many of the prophecies about the Messiah likened that future king to King David. The Messiah was supposed to be a King David 2.0 – the upgraded and perfected version! So David was a big deal. And he was a kind of precursor to Jesus so many years later.
But – and this is a significant but – but David was far, far, far from perfect! Rather than thinking of him as a precursor to Jesus, I find it easier to think of him more like one of Jesus’ disciples. They did some amazing things. They did some stupid things. They were better than many of their peers. They were far from being like Jesus. So for this series, we’re going to look at David’s life and imagine what his Gospel would have been like. If he were making an account of the grace of God as he had experienced it, demonstrated it, and desperately needed it, what would be the highlights of that account? That’s the Gospel According to David.
In our main text today, we see David’s response to a doubly surprising message from God. David received a surprising “No!” from God when he decided to build a Temple instead of the tent that had been housing the Ark of the Covenant for so long. But he also got a surprising “Yes!” from God. God promised to build David’s house and to make his legacy last forever. David was blown away by this promise, and listen to his response to this surprising “No!” and surprising “Yes!” from God.
Main Reading = 2 Samuel 7:18-29
18Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and said, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? 19And yet this was a small thing in your eyes, O Lord God; you have spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come. May this be instruction for the people, O Lord God! 20And what more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Lord God! 21Because of your promise, and according to your own heart, you have wrought all this greatness, so that your servant may know it. 22Therefore you are great, O Lord God; for there is no one like you, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears. 23Who is like your people, like Israel? Is there another nation on earth whose God went to redeem it as a people, and to make a name for himself, doing great and awesome things for them, by driving out before his people nations and their gods? 24And you established your people Israel for yourself to be your people forever; and you, O Lord, became their God. 25And now, O Lord God, as for the word that you have spoken concerning your servant and concerning his house, confirm it forever; do as you have promised. 26Thus your name will be magnified forever in the saying, ‘The Lord of hosts is God over Israel’; and the house of your servant David will be established before you. 27For you, O Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, have made this revelation to your servant, saying, ‘I will build you a house’; therefore your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to you. 28And now, O Lord God, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant; 29now therefore may it please you to bless the house of your servant, so that it may continue forever before you; for you, O Lord God, have spoken, and with your blessing shall the house of your servant be blessed forever.”
Triggers for Prayer
As I have shared before, prayer is one of my lowest spiritual gifts. That doesn’t mean I don’t pray. That just means I have to work at it. Prayer is a discipline, not a gift, for me. As a discipline, I have attempted many different approaches to praying habitually. For a while, I used bedtime as a trigger for praying. When my head hit the pillow, I would pray. Easy to remember that trigger, even for me. And I certainly remembered to pray. It worked great. With one…teeny, tiny exception. I fell asleep rather than praying. Whoops. Scratch bedtime off the list.
Then I tried waking up as a trigger for prayer. If I could remember to pray when my head hit the pillow, I could remember to pray when my head left the pillow in the morning. And that also worked pretty well. I could remember that trigger. Pray before breakfast. Easy. Nothing to it. With one…teeny, tiny exception. We had children! Mornings haven’t offered me the chance at prayer ever since. I tried getting up before them, but then they just got up earlier. No dice! Scratch waking off the list.
I have a different approach at the moment. I try to regularly check in with my spirit to see if I am “in tune” with the Holy Spirit or not. Have you ever heard a piano that has a few notes out of tune? Or even more screechingly noticeable, have you ever heard an out of tune violin? Yikes! That dissonance between what should be and what is, that’s being out of tune. Usually I can just check in and notice whether I am near or far from the Holy Spirit at the moment. But I also use the Fruit of the Spirit as a checklist if I need to think more deeply. Am I being loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, gentle, generous, controlled, good? I’ll be honest, the COVID life has not afforded me a lot of opportunities to invest in how “in tune” I am with the Holy Spirit. I bet many of you can relate. But when I’m out of tune, everything is off.
So those are some of my triggers for prayer. Some worked. Some didn’t. Some worked for a while, and then stopped. What are your triggers for prayer? When do you pray? How often? What times of day? What events trigger you? Are you reminded to pray when things go well? When things go poorly?
David’s Life of Prayer
Some of our people with a high spiritual gift for prayer are wondering why someone would need to remind themselves to pray! And David was kind of like that. He turned to prayer all the time. He lived in prayer. That did not make him holy all the time. But it kept returning him to God no matter the circumstances.
In our first text today, David received news that Saul and his son Jonathan had died. This marked the transition between Saul’s reign as king and David’s attempt to gain the throne. The messenger who brought this information was elated! He thought David would be pleased to know that Saul, the man who tried to kill him, was dead. David was not pleased. The text says he “intoned this lamentation over Saul and his son Jonathan.” For good measure, David then killed the messenger. Not figuratively. Literally. Remember, I said David was not perfect. Very complicated. Mercurial. Sinful. Still… he’s worth getting to know.
But what an interesting response to his sadness! Jonathan, Saul’s son, was his best friend. It’s very understandable for him to be sad about Jonathan. But he is also sad that Saul is dead, because he was the anointed leader of God’s people. David was sad personally because of his friend Jonathan. David was sad for his nation that it had been defeated and its leader killed. And in response to those two sadnesses, David prayed. He wept as he prayed. He poured out his sadness to God in word and song.
He didn’t say, “Oh, God, it’s kinda sad that Saul and Jonathan died, but you know what you’re doing so I won’t be sad.” No, he lamented! He wept! But he did it in conversation with God. Do you converse with God when you are deeply sad? If not, take a page from David’s playbook and give it a try. Shout at God! Shake your fist at God! Ask God why? He can take it.
I already gave you the backstory on our main text today. Well into his reign as king, David wanted to build God a Temple in Jerusalem. But God surprised David and the prophet Nathan by saying, “No! Your son will build it instead.” David was deeply disappointed. But then God gave him some good news as well, and David was overwhelmed with joy!
In his deep disappointment, David prayed! In his overwhelming joy, David prayed! Are you picking up on the theme yet?
No matter the situation, David continually turned to God in prayer. David checked battle plans with God. David repented when he sinned, and he sinned deeply in his life. David prayed his anger. David prayed his sadness. David prayed his thanksgiving. David prayed his hopes. David lived a life of prayer.
Simone Weil was raised in a secular, agnostic home in France. She was a teacher, a philosopher, an intellectual. But in her late twenties, something happened. Here’s what she said: “In 1938…I was suffering from splitting headaches; each sound hurt me like a blow…. I discovered the poem…called “Love” [by George Herbert] which I learnt by heart. Often, at the culminating point of a violent headache, I made myself say it over, concentrating all my attention upon it and clinging with all my soul to the tenderness it enshrines. I used to think I was merely reciting it as a beautiful poem, but without my knowing it the recitation had the virtue of a prayer. It was during one of these recitations that Christ himself came down and took possession of me.”
An agnostic intellectual came to know Jesus by accidentally praying during her migraines. When you talk with Jesus, stuff happens! Not always what you want to happen, but stuff happens when you talk with Jesus. Even accidentally! Even in pain! Even stuck at home! Even when you’re confused or angry or joyful or thankful!
So here’s a challenge for you. Pick a prayer trigger this week. Pick some situation, or some time, or some feeling, or some one that will remind you to converse with Jesus in prayer. Pick a prayer trigger.
Maybe that’s a place where you feel out of tune with the Holy Spirit. Maybe that’s a time when you feel absolutely in tune with the Holy Spirit. Pick a prayer trigger.
Converse with Jesus in prayer this week – more than usual. Give it a try. See if it helps. Remember, Jesus won’t always do what you want him to do. But he usually does something. Sometimes he changes your situation. Sometimes he changes your heart or how you’re thinking. Sometimes he brings the right person at the right time. You never know what will happen, but stuff happens when you talk with Jesus in prayer. And I bet you won’t regret whatever does happen.
So pick a prayer trigger this week. Converse with Jesus in prayer – more than usual. It might help if you tell someone else what your trigger is. When you speak it or write it, your brain tends to remember it more. If you can’t think of anyone more meaningful to tell about your prayer trigger, feel free to email me. Maybe my prayer trigger this week will be whenever someone tells me their prayer trigger! Give me a reason to pray this week!
Sisters and brothers, David turned to God in prayer every step of the way. In his victories. In his defeats. In his spiritual connection. In his spiritual distance. In his moral triumph. In his moral failure. In his sadness. In his pain. In his joy and thankfulness. Stuff happens when you talk with Jesus in prayer. How will you pray – more than normal – this week? Amen.