The Letter P

The ribbon in my Bible directed me to the place where I had left off yesterday: 1 Samuel 16:14. Lately, I have been in a bit of a dry place spiritually, with no new Bible teachers on the horizon to bring me exciting news from the front lines. This is evidently a season when I have to renew and embrace with confidence the notion that God can and will speak to me directly, purposefully, and personally. Over the years I have amassed a shelf full of Beth Moore workbooks, and most of the blanks are actually filled in. I have Experienced God, Bible Study Fellowshipped, and spent years marking my second-best Bible with colored pencils and symbols inspired by Kay Arthur. I have boxes of notebooks in varying states of completion, a record of 30 years of listening attentively to weekly sermons. I am grateful that many faithful and insightful men and women have taught and inspired me to know, believe, and apply the Word of God. I myself have been a Bible teacher and have created curricula to help other believers dig into the scriptures to find practical help and comfort. But this time, it is the the teacher who needs to find inspiration.

Now, I am rattling my own cage. As I read, there is an inner voice challenging all the assumptions I have settled into over the years. Now, I wonder, does the passage really say what I have always been taught and believed it means? Is this truly what God wants me to know today, or am I just drawing a conclusion based on a sermon I heard a year or two or ten ago?

And what about all those hard passages I have been glossing over for 30 years, those questions for which I have repeatedly heard only a series of tired and unsatisfying explanations that fit like a garment from a discount store. Approximate. It will do for now. But definitely not tailor-made.

A disturbing sense of sermon fatigue is beginning to settle in. A feeling that I have heard all this before. The fresh bread is now day old. Honestly, I am bored. Not with God, not with God’s Word, but with prefab sermons containing 4 points all beginning with the letter P, the last two of which invariably seem forced.Yes, Mary was passionate. Yes, she persevered. But perspicacious? Come on now, I mentally object: no one these days even knows what that means. You would never have pulled that word out to communicate if you hadn’t needed another P.

The only way I know to combat this ennui it is to continue to dutifully work my way through the scriptures with my colored pencils and notebook, and to journal my uncertainty, frustration, and angst. And so began this morning’s time with God: a written prayer, “Lord, PLEASE speak to me through your Word today. Make it alive in my life.”

1 Samuel 16: 14-23 is the story of David in Saul’s service.It follows the account of David’s call to be the future king, when , as the youngest boy in his family he was brought in as a last resort from herding sheep, and dramatically anointed by Samuel . He was clearly changed by the moment, because the text says, “… from that day on, the Spirit of the Lord,came on him in power”( 1 Samuel 16:13).Thus equipped, however, David apparently went right back out to the fields and continued his prosaic career as a shepherd boy. Did he feel as though he’d fallen back to earth like Icarus?

In the midst of my morning musings, I suddenly knew God had heard my prayer. I know he knows my every thought because as I read this morning’s passage, an entire sermon unfolded to me, every point beginning with the letter P!Thank you Lord for your sense of humor and way of humbling me with a gentle rebuke for my joking critiques of contemporary methods of sermonizing.

And so I invite you to read 1 Samuel 16: 14-23 before you read further. And no, I don’t yet have a satisfactory explanation for that sticky little reference to an evil, tormenting spirit from the Lord. I simply make note of it in my journal and trust that someday God will uncover truth there that I need to see. In the meantime, I share my fresh bread for today and trust you will let me know if it rings true to you too. Warning: excessive use of the letter P to follow as I lay out what I have learned today. Personally. Powerfully.

1. The Power of Music.

David was able to drive out an evil spirit by playing his harp. Spiritual dynamite! As a musician and worship leader, I don’t need to be convinced about the importance of music in spiritual warfare.Worship music should be so much more than a way to get the congregation in their seats and feeling groovy. I love the Old Testament passage that shows the praisers going out ahead of the soldiers in battle (2 Chronicles 20: 21-23)The last thing Jesus did corporately with his disciples was to sing a hymn as they set out for the Mount of Olives ( Matt.26:30) and into the greatest spiritual battle of the ages.

Key Word: Practice. David spent lots of time alone with his sheep getting good on his instrument. For a musician to spend time practicing is a form of worship. The more skill I develop as a singer, song-writer, or instrumentalist, the more I can bring honor to God. I am thereby acknowledging that he has given me a gift he wishes me to give to others.

Yoga instructors use the word practice often to refer not simply to repeating physical movements over and over, as in rehearsing., but to a larger mindset.Developing what they call a yoga practice, rather than just practicing yoga poses is expressed as the difference between performing a set of exercises and adopting yoga as a lifestyle. I love to stretch and tone and develop flexibility, but I decidedly want to work on worship as a lifestyle rather than yoga. I want to practice the presence of God as I listen to spiritually uplifting music and learn to be still and know that he is God.

2. Patience in Your Place.

What was teen-aged David thinking when Israel’s prophet pulled him in from the field, poured oil over his head, and told him he’d be king?Saul had been the only king Israel had ever known.Then , as if this whole matter had been merely a figment of his imagination, David’s father sent him right back out to live with the livestock. Before he would ascend the throne, David would experience a variety of other occupations, from court minstrel, to armor-bearer, to warrior, to, finally, a fugitive fleeing for his life. Each of these places would have an essential part to play in preparing him for his life’s high calling.

Key Word: Preparation.David spent cold and lonely nights out in the fields with his harp, pouring his heart out to God in Psalms we still use to worship.Whether he was terrified or elated, he told the story through song.God used and trained him uniquely in each of the roles he would play BEFORE he finally ascended the throne to which he was appointed. As a warrior, David brought peace and justice to his nation, defending them against their enemies.As a fugitive, he learned about God’s ability to preserve his life, to guide and direct him, and to sustain him. As a musician in Saul’s court, he saw first-hand how effective anointed worship truly can be. This passage contains an encouragement to pray for the ability to be patient and to perceive what it is God is doing through each of the progressive steps he takes you through.

3. Package Deal.

Have you ever noticed that the soloist in church usually is not only a talented vocalist, but beautiful, slender, well-dressed, and poised on stage?Fair or not, some people seem to have the whole package. David did. His initial call to service was because of his reputation as a skillful musician. But he was also distinctive because, in addition, as the king’s servant said of him, “He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the Lord is with him”(1 Sam. 16:18).

Key Word: Provision. What qualities has the Lord given you that work together to allow you to do the job he has called you to do?He provides all you need. Working on your strengths is far more effective than simply trying to make up for your weaknesses. What is essential , however, is that you identify both the inner and outer attributes God has given you to use in his service so that you can develop them. God gifted David not only with creative and musical talent, but he gave him other tools as well.He equipped him for leadership by giving him verbal prowess, courage, and a pleasing appearance. How would you add up what has he given you? Can others who know you shed some light on attributes, aptitudes,and character traits they see in your life? Ask them. And remember, chief among these qualifications is the presence of the Lord in your life, something you can count on as you are continually being filled with the Holy Spirit ( Ephesians 5:18).

4. Positioning.

God moved David around like a piece on a chess board. Every situation in which David found himself was strategic. They say the best chess players begin with the end in mind and are always thinking many moves ahead.God gave young David plenty of time in solitude so he could develop his gifts in music and poetry as he sat alone by the fire as a shepherd boy. God then used David’s musical gift to make a way for him to enter palace life. By living and working in the court of the King, David was essentially entering an internship whereby he could learn first-hand how to effectively rule on the throne God had called him to . David developed and exercised courage and prowess as a leader on the battlefield in the service of King Saul. Later, as a fugitive, these qualities would be further refined as he pulled together his own rag-tag band of warriors. All of these elements combined qualified him to lead Israel with strength and authority, albeit imperfectly, but with a whole heart for God.

Key Word: Plan. Who doesn’t love Jeremiah 29:11?: “ I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Believe that God is working in your life purposefully, and positioning you today for where he will lead you tomorrow. Each trial, each opportunity, each person you meet has an essential part in shaping your character.Where you are positioned today isa critical part of your progress toward God’s plans for your future, in this life and in the next.

And finally, Praise the Lord for the letter P !

Please persist in pursuing your passion.

Perfect.

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