This morning, during my devotions, I found myself reading Psalm 3, which is a psalm that teaches us to trust in God when we find ourselves facing adversity. Although the words in this particular psalm are beautiful and instructive, what I find most inspiring about them is when they were written and the circumstances behind the penning of this psalm.
When David wrote this psalm, he was Israel's king. David had a son named Absalom who was not only rebellious, but overly ambitious as well. Absalom believed that it was he who deserved to sit upon Israel's throne, not his father. Eventually, he conspired against his father, gathered around himself a large following, and proclaimed that he was the new king of Israel. When David learned of this, he and his men were forced to flee the city of Jerusalem because if they stayed, Absalom and his men would have overtaken them and put the entire city to the sword. As David departed from the city, he wept profusely, for his heart had been so broken by his son's betrayal.
It was during this time in David's life, when he was forced to flee from Jerusalem because of his son's betrayal, that Psalm 3 was penned, and it is this one fact that ministers to me most of all whenever I read this psalm.
How often do we wrongly assume that because we are going through difficult circumstances in our lives, we cannot possibly do a work for God? We see ourselves as weak, incapacitated, distracted, and too overwhelmed by our circumstances to be of any use to the Holy Spirit in our lives. If there is something that needs to be done for the glory of God, God needs to find someone who isn't struggling, as we are. Then the job or task will be done right. We then promise both God and ourselves that when the darkness and distress are removed from our lives, and we find ourselves walking in the sunshine once more, we shall resume our spiritual work for God once more.
Unfortunately, this isn't how God usually works, is it? In fact, if we take a close look at the stories in the Bible, we find that God often used people when they were going through their most difficult times, not the best of those times.
David was in great distress, and yet, he yielded to the Holy Spirit in his life in the midst of his circumstances, and allowed himself to be used by the power of God to pen a psalm that has benefited millions for thousands of years.
I am reminded of another psalm in the Bible in which the psalmist writes as follows: "Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him." (Psalm 126:5-6). Notice what the psalmist did not say. He did not say that those who sow in happiness, smiles, and sunshine will reap with songs of joy. He also did not say that those who go out rejoicing, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy and bundles of sheaves. The psalmist makes it very clear that there are going to be times in our lives when we will be required by God to "sow our seed for Him" in times of weeping. There are going to be times when we will have holy tasks to perform and loving deeds to carry out in the midst of dark and difficult times.
There are going to be times when we find ourselves "weeping," and yet, God will still want us to "carry seed to sow." He will still want you to teach that CCD class, head up a certain ministry, homeschool your children, visit the sick and imprisoned, or prepare a meal for an invalid. If we faithfully "sow in tears," God will bless the work that we have done for Him, and we will reap a bountiful harvest.
Many of us are familiar with the classic hymn, It Is Well With My Soul, which was written by a man named Horatio Spafford. But how many of us are familiar with the tragedy that inspired him to write this song? Spafford was a Chicago attorney with profitable investments in Chicago real estate. On October 8, 1871, the Chicago fire ripped through the city and destroyed nearly all of his real estate investments. Several years later, Spafford decided that he and his family desperately needed to take a vacation. They chose London as their destination. Spafford sent his wife and their four daughters (ages 11, 9, 5, and 2) ahead on a steamship, as he was delayed because of business. On November 22, 1873, an iron sailing vessel crashed into the steamship that was carrying his wife and four daughters. In the end, 226 people lost their lives, his four daughters included. When his wife reached the shores of Europe, she sent a telegram to her husband with only two words: Saved Alone. Spafford immediately sailed to Europe in order to be with his wife. He took the same route across the sea as the steamship that had been carrying his daughters. Spafford asked the ship's captain to tell him when they crossed the spot at sea where his four daughters perished. Spafford waited by the railing. When the captain informed Spafford they were crossing his daughters’ watery graves, Spafford penned the words to It Is Well With My Soul.
Spafford chose to "sow in tears" rather than wallow in them. Because of his willingness to use a God-given talent for God's glory even in the midst of gut-wrenching sorrow and tragedy, millions have been ministered to over and over again by the song which God's Spirit penned through this weeping and broken man. Spafford, like David, was willing to yield to the Holy Spirit by sowing seed even while he wept.
As I reflect on these things, I think of Mother Teresa, carrying out an incredible work for the Lord in India while struggling with her own "dark night of the soul." She was a woman who was so filled with God, and yet, went through dark, gut-wrenching, and empty seasons in her life when she simply could not even feel God anymore. Instead of giving up, she chose to faithfully "sow her seed" for the glory of God. She kept praying. She kept reading her Bible. She kept going to Mass. She kept working among the poor and needy just as much as she did in the days when she was able to sense God's presence in her life. She did not allow her circumstances to stop her from sowing seed for her Beloved. Only eternity will reveal how many sheaves have been gathered into Heaven because of this one woman's willingness to "go out weeping, carrying seed to sow."
What about you? What about me? How do we respond when we find ourselves going through difficult times in our lives? Do we quit what we are doing for God? Do we call up the pastor and say, "Please get someone else to take over this particular work for God because I've got too much stress in my life and can't handle it anymore?"
Oftentimes, our greatest works for God take place when
we are in the midst of trials and storms. How I wish it were
not so, but it is. It is during these distressing times when
we are forced to rely upon God's Spirit, rather than our own feeble strength, to carry out a work
for Him, because if we rely upon our own strength, we will quit.
How many people have quit "sowing seed" for God in their daily lives because they tried to
carry out God's work in their own strength rather than the Lord's?
When we work for God in our own strength, this goes undetected as long as the sun is shining,
the bills are getting paid, and all is right with the world.
But let the dark clouds gather, let the storms hit, and then see if you can continue on in your work for Christ. If you cannot, it is because you were operating in your own strength all along. God often sends storms into our lives in order to teach us to rely upon His strength, and not our own, because once we have learned how to operate in His strength, nothing Satan throws into our path will be able to stop us.
The Apostle Paul struggled terribly with something in his life which he identifies as a "thorn in his flesh" and a "messenger of Satan." People have been debating for centuries as to the identity of Paul's thorn in the flesh, but nobody knows exactly what it was that he was struggling with and to speculate is unnecessary. It isn't necessary that we know what Paul's thorn was. What matters is that he was trying to do a work for God, but something kept cropping up in his life, something that was deliberately sent into his life by Satan, (and allowed by God) that was making it difficult for him to carry on his work. Listen to what he writes in his second letter to the Corinthians regarding this thorn in the flesh: "Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'” (2 Co 12:8-9). Paul then went on to write as follows: "That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Co 12:10).
Brothers and sisters, what goes for Paul goes for us as well. Whether we want to accept this truth or not, there are going to be things which God is going to allow to remain in our lives so that when we pick up our sack of seed, we will learn how to sow that seed in His strength, and not our own. If you are waiting for your depression or your arthritis to clear up before you carry out a work for Christ, that day may never come. If you are waiting for things to settle down at the office or for your children to stop breaking your heart before you carry out a work for Christ, what will you do if those unpleasant circumstances are not removed from your life for a very long time? If this is your strategy, I can almost guarantee you that Satan will see to it that there is always some dark cloud looming over the horizon of your life in order to keep you from glorifying God through the use of your time, talent, and energy.
Without a doubt, almost every article that I have ever written or every Bible study that I've ever taught has occurred against the backdrop of dark and difficult times. If I waited until things were going smoothly in my life before I rolled up my sleeves and did a work for God, I would probably have less than 5 tasks under my belt.
This is not a coincidence in my life, and it certainly will not be one in your life. God uses us in our weakest moments so that we will completely rely upon the power of His Holy Spirit when sowing our seed for the glory of His Son instead of relying upon our own feeble strength. When we rely upon the power and grace of God to work in and through us, the work truly becomes God's and not ours. And when it is God's work, it will be anointed and powerful, and it will touch men's souls for God, and not just their intellect.
Even in the midst of miserable, gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, fear-inducing and distressing circumstances, David yielded to the Holy Spirit and allowed the Spirit to glorify God through him in the composition of a psalm. Was David weeping? Absolutely! But he chose to sow his seed anyway. As a result, millions down through the ages have been blessed by Psalm 3, which was penned in the midst of the storm.
What kind of hardships are in your life right now? Are you faithfully sowing seed for Christ in the midst of those storms or are you allowing Satan to hinder you in your work for Christ because of them? Are you relying upon the power of your Father in Heaven to work in and through you in spite of those circumstances or are you caving in to the pain?
Are there times when we cave into the pain? Absolutely. There have been times in my life when I have been so despondent and discouraged that all I've wanted to do is simply sit and stare at a wall. In my weakest moments that's precisely what I did, even though I knew that there were Bible lessons which needed to be taught and people who needed to be touched by the Word of God. I have found that when I cave in to the darkness and distress, it is not because God's strength has failed me. Rather, it is because I have refused to do the things necessary in my daily life to keep my spirit strong, such as daily prayer and time spent in God's Word. If I get away from prayer and time spent in God's Word, there is absolutely no way that I will be able to continue on in the power of the Spirit. Instead, I will find myself walking in the flesh, which is absolutely powerless to keep me going through dark and difficult times. When this happens, I faint, and the work for God gets hindered.
Therefore, it is absolutely essential that we remain diligent in prayer and time spent with God in His Word. These will nurture our spirit within us, giving us the power, strength, and grace, to "keep on keeping on." They will empower us to continue sowing seed for Christ even though we might find ourselves weeping for a season.
I also cannot emphasize the importance of attending Mass, especially during the dark times in our lives. There have been times when going to Mass has done for me what prayer and Bible reading alone could not. In times past, I have entered the church sanctuary heavy-hearted and distressed, only to leave with my burdens lifted and a heart filled with joy. There have been times when simply going to Mass gave me the "boost" I needed to pick up my sack of seed and start sowing once more. Sitting with God's people, hearing the Word, singing the songs, partaking of the Body and Blood of our Lord, and feeling the awesome presence of Christ have been used so many times by the Spirit of God to encourage me to go on, not to give up, and to keep working for God.
God is looking for men and women through whom His Spirit can carry out His work. But He wants the work to be His, and not our own. In order for a work to be truly His, it has to be done in the power of His Spirit. When we find ourselves being forced to continue on in a work for God, even though our flesh and soul are hurting, we are forced to rely upon His Spirit to do that work in and through us. As mentioned earlier, when the work is truly of the Spirit, and not of our flesh, the souls of men will be touched, and not just their intellect.
Spafford have been able to write the moving and compelling words of It Is Well With My Soul if he wrote them in the midst of pleasant and heartwarming
circumstances? Would any of us even know what a "dark night
of the soul" is unless God had allowed St. John of the Cross to endure it? Could he have written Dark Night Of The Soul
apart from the circumstances and experiences which God allowed him to endure? These men learned how to sow while they wept, and you and I have
reaped a bountiful harvest today because of the work God's Spirit did in and through them.
I have on my bookshelf a copy of Dark Night Of The Soul. Whenever I pick up the book, I stare at it thoughtfully, and I say to myself, "In my hand I am holding a precious sheaf, and all because this one man was willing to sow his seed in tears.” When I hear the words to It Is Well With My Soul, I don't hear a song. I hear the sound of a man weeping before God while sowing his seed. To me, it is not just a song; it's a sheaf given back to us by God because of a man who was willing to sow his seed in tears.
Most of the sheaves that we enjoy today in the Church are the result of precious seed that was sown in tears down through the ages. Are we willing to join ourselves to this high and noble rank of servants, or are we still waiting for the clouds to part and the sun to come out before we pick up our seed and sow?
The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. He who has a listening ear, let him hear what the Lord of the Harvest is saying to His Church.
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