When you Can't Pray
1 Samuel 30:1-8
You were only gone for fifteen minutes. It wouldn’t be a problem to leave the kids at home for fifteen minutes. What kind of trouble could they get into in such a short time? As you round the corner and approach the driveway it is obvious immediately that something is wrong. The front door is not merely open, but half off it’s hinges as if rammed open by a force beyond anything all of your children combined could muster. As your stomach climbs into your chest, you accelerate down the driveway listening for the expected shouting chaos from inside, looking for signs of life but there are none. All is silent and the children are gone. You are at the same moment both frantic and numb. You don’t know what to think, what to do, and while you ordinarily would counsel others to prayer, you can’t find the words in this moment yourself to do so.
This is a true story… of a sort. It’s essentially a modernized version of what happened to David and his mighty men as recorded in 1 Samuel 30. Toward the end of the book of First Samuel, one reads of David’s flight from Saul and the refuge he finds in the cities of the Philistines of all places. He requests asylum from Achish, the king of Gath. For the next year and a half, David is allowed to live in nearby Ziklag with the understanding that David and his band of mighty men would now fight for the Philistines. This they did, at least as far as Achish was aware. David did, indeed, raid the south country of Judah, but the cities he attacked were solely the dwelling places of Israel’s Caananite enemies such as the Geshurites and the Girzites and the Amalekites. No survivors were left, so Achish never knew that David was sparing the Israelites and, in fact, gaining their appreciation during these exploits.
1 Samuel 29 tells of a time when the Philistines were gathering in the north to attack the Israeli city of Jezreel. David, as expected, was called upon by Achish to join with the Phillistine kings in battle against Israel. We don’t know David’s expectation, whether he sought the LORD about going, or what he would have done during the battle against his own people but we do know that he went with the king to the rallying point. It was here that the Philistine commanders recognized David and demanded that he and his mighty men be sent home.
It’s hard to say how far from home they must have been when they first saw the smoke rising up from the city. The Amalekites, the same people David had been decimating, seized the opportunity to strike back while the men were away. 1 Samuel 30:2-3 report that their families were all taken alive to become slaves, but that their homes and everything they owned was destroyed by fire. David and his men did what you would do in this situation: they fell on their faces and wept till they were too physically exhausted to weep (v.5).
Then, through eyes burning from tears, and hearts burning with rage they saw David. He had led them here, and had pledged them to fight with the Philistines. It was his fault this had happened. We’re told they picked up stones with which to make David pay. On top of this, He himself had two wives and an untold number of children taken and now, in spite of his grief, the walls begin to close in.
1 Samuel 30:6-8 And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God. 7 And David said to Abiathar the priest, Ahimelech’s son, I pray thee, bring me hither the ephod. And Abiathar brought thither the ephod to David. 8 And David inquired at the LORD,
We’ve been looking at prayers in the Old Testament but today I want us to consider something different: What to do if you can’t pray. In our passage David is deeply distressed. You will be distressed. Before he is in any condition to respond, even to pray, David Strengthens himself in the LORD. You must learn to strengthen yourself in the LORD
What does it mean to strengthen yourself in the LORD? It means you must remember and believe God’s promises. A few chapters earlier the same phrase was used when Jonathan reminded David that God will keep his promise.
1 Samuel 23:16-17 And Jonathan Saul's son arose, and went to David into the wood, and strengthened his hand in God. 17 And he said unto him, Fear not: for the hand of Saul my father shall not find thee; and thou shalt be king over Israel, and I shall be next unto thee; and that also Saul my father knoweth.
In this previous passage, Jonathan strengthens David in God. Our passage for this evening says that David strengthened himself in the Lord. Both are important. Being a part of the church means making yourself vulnerable enough to other believers that they see your distress and can minister to you. Don’t come to church stick on a smile and pretend all is wonderful if it isn’t. You need the church. But you also need to learn to do this yourself. Your relationship to the Lord is personal. He wants you to interact with him and that process primarily centers around meditation. Consider Psalm 1’s description of a godly person as one who “meditates day and night.” Edmond Calamy described meditation as “Chewing on the promises of God.” Extolling the benefits of Scripture meditation, Edmond Smith counsels that “meditation will lead to a calmness of disposition, a serenity of mind, and a certainty about the ways of God.” Certainly these were all things David needed that this point in his life. And it is something we too will need when troubles arise, but perhaps even more often than that. It is not often that great tragedy hinders our prayers but far more frequent that we simply feel cold and distant and have trouble getting started. To that end, the puritan Thomas Watson reminds us “A Christian enters into meditation as a man enters into the hospital: That he may be healed. Meditation heals the soul of its deadness and earthliness.” So, are you having trouble praying? Then strengthen yourself in the Lord and you may just find fire there to ignite your prayers!