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What to do When Your Men Want to Stone You

What to do When Your Men Want to Stone You:
How to do Battle with Discouragement

War-torn and weary, he trudged onward – ready to be home – at Ziklag. It had been a long time since he had seen Ahinoam – and Abigail was waiting. For over a year now he had fought as a mercenary for Achish and the Philistines. But the Philistine lords were suspicious of David, whose fame had now spread the ranks of the common people. They sang about his victories in their ballads. And after all, this was the kid who had killed Goliath only a few years before. So when David marched with Achish in Aphek, the lords insisted that he be sent back to Ziklag, the city which Achish had given David for a headquarters. The lords were afraid that in the heat of the battle, David might make peace with Saul and fight against the Philistines instead. Achish wouldn’t listen to David’s protests. David and his men had to leave. So, with his six hundred men, he had risen early in the morning three days before to start the fifty-mile march south to their home.

These had been bloody months. Now that he had time to think, he was eager for rest. He was ready to see Abigail and the children. They were just a few miles away now. “Look over there! Smoke!” someone yelled. David was jarred out of his day-dreaming by the shout, and looked up. A cloud of black smoke hovered on the horizon. A surge of excitement started to pass through the troop. “Send some scouts ahead!” one of the generals said. David was suddenly anxious. “Bring my horse,” he yelled to Abishai. In less than two minutes he was mounted on his charger in a dead run, with scores of men behind him. The closer to Ziklag he got, the more scared he became. Finally, he made it over the last hill and there was Ziklag – in ashes, the smoke still rising.

There was nothing left. It took only minutes to scout the whole village. The twin houses where David had left Ahinoam and Abigail were burnt to the ground. He dismounted and started walking through the rubble. His voice choked and he started sobbing, oblivious to din of his weeping men. They wept until there were no more tears left.

Abishai was quick to bring David a report. “It was the Amalekites. We have seen no signs of casualties. Looks like they looted the village and took the women and children with them.” David just stared at the ashes, without turning to Abishai. “How’s morale?” he said. “Not good, David. They are upset.” “I don’t blame them,” David replied. “You don’t understand, David. They are angry. They’re talking about getting a new leader. I think your life is in danger. They might stone you.”

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While none of us have faced the possibility of being executed by our own mutinous men, we have all come to the proverbial “end of our rope.” Financial struggles, marital frustration, wayward children, failing health, slanderous friends, and lethargic churches have often conspired to bring wave after wave of despair and discouragement crashing in on our soul. Like David and his men we have wept till we had no more power to weep (1 Sam. 30:4). Everyone has felt hopeless at some time or another. Discouragement is a deadly weapon in the hands of the Enemy. It has maimed many a minister and killed many a Christian. We have little power over the circumstances that usually give rise to discouragement. But we do have choices to make when it comes. The worst thing to do is not fight. Discouragement, when not resisted, is sin. So how are we to deal with discouragement? David’s story gives us some good lessons. First of all, there are several things we must not do.

1. We must not rely on people. People fail. Sometimes people turn against you. David had no person to turn to. His family was taken captive. His friends were ready to stone him. He was not going to find hope from a human source. I don’t deny that sometimes God may use someone to encourage you. Nor do I deny that it is our responsibility to try to encourage others. But we should never rely on other people to give us hope for the future. To do so is to invite further disappointment and discouragement.

2. We must not try to escape our problems. Notice that David didn’t run away. That is what a lot of people do. When the marriage gets too tough, they walk out. When the financial situation seems hopeless, they file bankruptcy. But abdication is never a solution. Of course, there are less extreme forms of escapism that we are all subject to, as well. Many people turn to alcohol, drugs, or some other form of pleasure. Perhaps a night on the town, or maybe a trip to the refrigerator. Some will watch television, in hopes that some light-hearted comedy will cheer them up. But those are really just forms of escapism. They may make people feel better, but they don't deal with the real issues at stake. They provide no answers.

3. We must not do nothing. Giving up must never be an option. David didn’t run away, but neither did he quit on life. He didn’t consider suicide. He did not sit down in the futility of despair.

What then must we do? Well, notice what David did. 1 Samuel 30:6 (ESV) says: “And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.” David strengthened himself in the Lord. That is what we must do. How do we do this?

1. We must go to God’s Word and run to God’s Son. David didn’t have a Bible, but he did have a means of hearing God speak. He called Abiathar the priest and asked him to bring him the ephod. The ephod was a garment worn by the High-Priest which contained the Urim and Thummim (cf. Ex. 28:30, Num. 27:21). He who approached God garbed in the ephod would gain direct access to God. We don’t have the ephod any longer, but we have something better: the completed canon of Scripture and the new and living way opened through the redeeming death of Christ (Hebrews 10:19-22). This is where we are to seek guidance from the Lord. Therefore, when you are discouraged, go to the Bible and flee to Christ.

2. We must preach God’s Word to our own souls. Getting in the Word is the first step, but a cursory reading will not do. We must preach it to ourselves until we believe it.This was the counsel of the late Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his excellent book Spiritual Depression. He said: “I say that we must talk to ourselves instead of allowing ‘ourselves’ to talk to us! Do you realize what this means? I suggest that the main trouble in this whole matter of spiritual depression in a sense is this, that we allow our self to talk to us instead of talking to our self. Am I trying to be deliberately paradoxical? Far from it. This is the very essence of wisdom in this matter. Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? . . . . The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself.” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: It’s Causes and Cure [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Printing Company, 1965] 20-21). That is excellent advice.

3. We must pray. I Samuel 30:8 begins: “And David inquired of the LORD.” He prayed for direction. That is what we must do. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great British Baptist who pastored several thousand people in nineteenth century London, faced recurring depression and discouragement. Sometimes the waves of despair broke like billows over his soul for no discernible reason. Spurgeon said: “Causeless depression is not to be reasoned with, nor can David’s harp charm it away by sweet discoursings. As well fight with the mist as with this shapeless, undefinable, yet all-beclouding hopelessness . . . . The iron bolt which so mysteriously fastens the door of hope and holds our spirits in gloomy prison, needs a heavenly hand to push it back.” (C. H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students [Pasadena: Pilgrim Publications, 1990 reprint] 1:177). It is in prayer that we find the heavenly hand pushing back the iron bolt of discouragement. That is why the writer to the Hebrews exhorts: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16, ESV).

4. We must do the next thing. David sought the Lord and then he acted. With confidence that God would miraculously carry him through, he did what had to be done. He took four hundred of his men and pursued the Amalekites. God providentially led David to an Egyptian slave who had been left by the Amalekites three days before. The slave promised to help David and his men for the price of his freedom. 1 Samuel 30:16-19 (ESV) records what followed: “And when he had taken him down, behold, they were spread abroad over all the land, eating and drinking and dancing, because of all the great spoil they had taken from the land of the Philistines and from the land of Judah. And David struck them down from twilight until the evening of the next day, and not a man of them escaped, except four hundred young men, who mounted camels and fled. David recovered all that the Amalekites had taken, and David rescued his two wives. Nothing was missing, whether small or great, sons or daughters, spoil or anything that had been taken. David brought back all.” David recovered all. That doesn’t always happen. God was especially merciful to David. But in reality, the greater mercy in this story was the sustenance of David’s hope. He had hit the bottom. He had lost everything. And God carried him through.

What will you do when the floor falls from beneath you and the roof caves in? How will you handle the waves and billows of discouragement when they crash against the vessel of your life? Will you be capsized? Will you abandon ship? Or will you fight the waves by strengthening yourself in the Lord?

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