I try to keep a spiritual fervour – I do. My husband and I fast, and I’m filled with joy. I prepare meals for guests, I stay up late to study the Bible with someone, I get up early to pray, I run my children to this event or that, and I brush off any feelings of overwhelm. I rejoice in all the blessings God has given me.
And then. One morning – usually after I’ve been giving a lot, no matter how joyfully, I wake up tired.
It might be because my husband has been swamped with work and not as available. Or my children might be particularly loud and needy. Perhaps I was too tired to clear the supper dishes and they greet me in the morning when I woke up too late to have a quiet time and now must run out the door to teach. Forget my resolve to wake up early to exercise on top of it all. I’m tired and grouchy.
David is one of my favourite people in the Bible. He has all the reason to be proud – strong, brave, handsome, chosen royalty. He has all the reasons to boast of his spiritual fervour, but instead views himself only in relationship to God. He sees himself as God’s servant, and humbly accepts things like wandering around the desert for years and years. He flees from Saul who has lost God’s stamp of approval as king and has handed it to David. He refuses to take what is rightfully his, and calls himself a ‘dead dog’, ‘a flea’ when addressing himself to Saul, whom he terms “the Lord’s anointed.”
David is amazing! When they brought the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem, he danced in his underwear – a sign of great humility, not one befitting for a king. He didn’t care! He was on fire for God.
If you look at the headlines from the beginning of 2 Samuel, you see things like:
David anointed king over Judah.
Abner (the commander of Saul’s army) goes over to David
David becomes king of Israel
David conquers Jerusalem
David defeats the Philistines
The Ark brought to Jerusalem
God’s promise to David
David defeats the Ammonites
It’s all good! But then – when things couldn’t be going any better spiritually for David, he gets … tired.
In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.
One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliamand the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” (2 Samuel 11:1-3)
David was tired, and he just didn’t feel like doing what he was supposed to anymore. It was spring – a time when kings were supposed to be going off to war. But David (a king) didn’t feel like going and sent Joab out in his stead. He was left with a ripe opportunity for temptation.
It’s sad when you see how far he falls. He gets Bathesheba pregnant, so – to fix that disaster – he calls her husband home from the war so that her husband can sleep with her and no one will be the wiser. But her husband is too righteous. He sleeps at the palace entrance with the servants because his commander and men are camped in the open fields. “How could I go to my house to eat and drink and lie with my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing.”
So David keeps him for another night and gets him drunk, hoping that this will do the trick. But Uriah maintains his integrity, even while drunk and doesn’t go home. There’s nothing left but for David to send Uriah back to Joab, carrying a note in his possession that orders his own demise. David’s note tells Joab to put Uriah in the thickest part of the battle, and then to withdraw from him so he may be struck down and die.
When the messenger came to report news of the battle, Joab told him to mention that Uriah was killed, in hopes that it would allay his anger at the troops’ losses. To be sure, he handled the news diplomatically. “Don’t let this upset you;” he told the messenger. “the sword devours one as well as the other.”
When Bathsheba heard that her husband died, she mourned for him. How could she not? She had married one man who was righteous and loved only her, only to be swapped for another man who added her to his collection of lust – even though he was king. It was not a trade that could bring happiness to a woman.
The story made me think how easy it is to get tired – to let your fervour go. You’re loving your neighbour, you’re serving the poor, you’re begging for people in prayer, you’re praising God, you’re cleaning your house (!!!) – I had to throw that in there – and then you just don’t feel like doing it anymore.
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Since we are, as I mentioned, in a period of fasting, prayer and service, it’s not really an option to let go completely. Sure, I can skip the quiet time in the morning because I’d rather surf the web. And I can leave my dishes in the sink and all over the counter, rebelling in my own way. But I don’t have recourse to my usual coping tactics, like stuffing myself with chocolate and sundry things. Since I can’t give up in my usual way, I have to find a way around it and face what I don’t want to face. And this is what I found seems to work.
Prayer helps. I pray for God to let me feel his affection. I pray to overcome the desire to give in and give up. I pray for people who need it prayers and support. I pray for the spirit to express what I cannot articulate. I pray for Jesus to carry the heavy burden that I seem unable to carry.
Praying with others helps even more. I finally reached out to a friend, and she suggested I call another friend who lives close by and ask her for some tangible help. (I can’t really talk specifically about my spiritual victories and defeats because many of them involve other people, so please excuse the generalities). She drove 20 minutes to my house last night so we could get on our knees to pray together and have a big hug. Then she drove off again. I felt much better.
Memorize scriptures that will come to you unbidden when you need it. One of my students gave me a beautiful box of Belgian chocolates right when I began fasting sweets, among other things. I wasn’t tempted right away, but as I gave them away one by one, I had the vicious thought, “Who cares! What if I eat them all right now!”
(You probably think I’m nuts. I think I’m nuts to care that much about something that is only going to go in my mouth and out the other end – sorry – but such is my stupid struggle).
And the scripture came to me unbidden “who keeps an oath even when it hurts.” It’s in Psalm 15. I had to go look it up because I didn’t remember where it was, but I certainly remembered the scripture. I will be a woman who keeps her oath even when it hurts. I stuck that box of chocolates in the freezer for the day when the fast finally ends, and I haven’t thought about it since.
Do it when you don’t feel like it. I had an “I’m giving up” moment this week and miraculously, both of my students canceled, freeing up my morning. I had no excuse not to have a great time with God and do some exercise. The rest of the day went much better because I made the decision to do what was right. Today, I wasn’t so lucky as to have a free morning, but I still pushed myself to exercise right after teaching and take a second shower – when I would usually convince myself not to get sweaty in the first place. Believe me, this forcing myself to jump into the dailiness of life with exercise, eating right, cleaning the house is a spiritual act of worship because I am, by habit, a creature of escape.
That’s probably a good place to start, right? With those four things? It’s not so much throwing advice at you from a place of supreme wisdom (cough, cough) as it is identifying that our spiritual victories are often followed by an intense temptation to give up. And to recognise that fact is to fight against it, because keeping a spiritual fervour is not so much about racing forward, reaping victory after spiritual victory without pausing for a breath, as it is about simply not coming to a screeching halt. Or – even worse – going backwards.
One steady foot in front of the other will get us there just as well.