Friday, 17 February 2017

How to love when you are under pressure (1 Sam. 27)

There was a woman in America who was so fed up with the behaviour of her family that she put a sign in her front garden reading, ‘Mom of Strike!’  Then she went out to the back garden and took up residency in the tree house, saying that she would not come down until the back-biting and lack of co-operation stopped.
Maybe you know how she feels.  It could be your work-life, your home-life, your wider family circle or even people in this church that put you under pressure.  You feel like everyone wants a piece of you and you are ready to snap.
The problem for me is that when I snap I don’t like what comes out of me.  Pressure makes me irritable, impatient, harsh and loving.  Jesus speaks of these things coming from our hearts.  So it is not so much that pressure makes us bitter, but rather pressure brings our bitterness to the surface.
This morning we see David snap under immense pressure.  Sadly, what surfaces from his heart is terrifying.  Thankfully, he has a God who does not treat him as his sins deserve but according to his loving-kindness.  I want you to see that there is hope for our hearts, even when our hearts are put under huge strain.
When you are under pressure, don’t tell yourself lies
Life is very difficult for David.  King Saul has been relentlessly pursuing him.  Some of his own people have betrayed him.  He has no home to go to for refuge.  He has responsibility for a rag-tag crew of six-hundred men and their families, who have placed themselves under his care.  It all seems too much to him, and it seems that he crosses over to the dark side.  Deceit, selfishness and even murder come to the surface.
Part of David’s problem is found in how he talks to himself.  ‘Then David said to himself, “Now I shall perish at the hand of Saul.”  That’s not true!  God had promised David that he would be king.  God had demonstrated his faithfulness David time and time again.  In a previous chapter we read that God did not hand David over to Saul (1 Samuel 23:1).  David should have remembered God’s promises and recalled God’s faithfulness.  David could have sung, ‘through many dangers toils and snares, I have already come.  It was grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.’
What do you say to yourself, when you are under pressure?  Do you say, ‘this temptation is too much for me’?  God’s word says, ‘God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure’ (1 Corinthians 10:13).  Do you say, ‘God has let me down’?  When God has actually promised, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’ (Hebrews 13:5).
I may never have passed through the trials you are going through, but I have seen God’s faithfulness.  I can think back to a time, in my early twenties, when I lost all hope, could see no light and was filled with the most awful anxiety.  I didn’t see how I could get through.  But God did bring me through.  He will bring you through too.  And even if the pain does go away in this life, he has promised to bring you to a home where he will wipe away all your tears.
When you snap, thank God for his grace
So David arose and went over, he and his six-hundred men who were with him, to Achish the son of Maoch, king of Gath (2).  Gath was where Goliath was from.  The future king of Israel is siding with the Philistines.  This is shocking.
David serves Achish as a mercenary.  In order to convince Achish that he has turned against his own people he pretends to go raiding the Israelites.  Instead he raids the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amalekites.  He leaves neither man nor woman alive, in case they tell Achish what he has done.  That is a bit like what he does to Uriah—having he murdered to cover his tracks.
Amazingly, despite David’s deceit and wickedness, God does not let Achish find out what he is up to.  Even when David is walking in disobedience God continued to deliver him.  In fact, God would keep his promise to put this flawed leader on the throne.
When we snap, and the bitterness comes to the surface, don’t forget that God still loves you.  He is the perfect parent who loves his children even when they are being naughty.  He still loves you with the same love that he has for his Son, Jesus.  He wants to put you back on your feet and use you for good.
When the pressure is on, think of Jesus
Why should God forgive David for the evil he did when the pressure was on?  Why should he remain committed to me when I continually let him down?  He remains committed to us because he is faithful, and in his faithfulness Jesus took the punishment for all our bitterness.
Think of the pressure that Jesus experienced.  He was pursued by the leaders of his day.  He had crowds make unreasonable demands of him.  He was let down by his own people—even by his immediate family.  He was rejected by the people he came to save.  He was a man of sorrows and familiar with grief.  He not only faced the threat of death, he willingly walked towards his death.  He was under so much pressure that in anguish, he sweet drops of blood and would cry out in anguish.  He was forsaken so that we will never be forsaken.  Yet when he was at the snapping point, what was revealed about his heart?  He cries out, ‘father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!’
Someone produced a poster that read, ‘Please forgive me for the things I said when I was hungry!’  How are you when you are hungry?  How are you when you are tired?  How are you in the mornings?  How are you when everyone is demanding your attention?  What is your driving like when you are running late?  Do you like the things that come out of your heart when the pressure is on?  I don’t!  My heart gets exposed as irritable, unloving and self-centred.
So what hope is there for us?  Speak the truth to yourself.  God will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear but will give you the strength you need.  But remember that this promise is only true because Christ dwells in your heart.  Only Jesus can enable you to respond to pressure with love.  So keep on asking him to do a work in your heart.  When you do snap, and bitter words come out from your mouth, apologise to those you have hurt, but also thank God that even though you let him down every day he never stops loving you.  Look to Jesus as the evidence of God’s love and faithfulness.  He was perfectly faithful so that our bitterness is forgiven.  He experienced the most extreme pressure anyone has ever known, and it exposed the beauty of his heart.  Let his love change you. For as one seventeenth-century Christian explained, ‘there is nothing more powerful than love.  Things impossible to others are possible to them that love.’

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