This article is linked to the TLW Bible study post for June 20.
See also this week’s video How to Trust God in Sticky Situations
It is based on these Bible readings for Sunday, June 20, which are listed in the Revised Common Lectionary which is a resource shared by many churches and chapels of various denominations:
OT: 1 Samuel 17:1a, 4-11, 17-23, 32-49 – The providence of God in personal vulnerability
NT gospel: Mark 4:35-41 – The providence of God in calming a storm
NT letter : 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 – The providence of God through hardships and opposition
Three stories this week draw out attention to the bigger story of our God who is especially with us when we come under the shadow of death, as David expressed in his best-known psalm.
With God in our lives, we sometimes feel we should have the assurance of His protection against the attacks of the enemy which take many forms, from profanity-shouting brutes to angry mobs and shipwrecking storms. And that is both right — and wrong. We have the assurance of God being with us, but we still find ourselves in sticky situations. Sometimes this is because faith calls us to act in a certain way, or because faith in God makes us a target.
The three people who feature in this week’s story of stories would be top of anyone’s list of people known for their love of God and their closeness to Him. But what they faced up to and overcame in their human experiences is the stuff of film scripts, except that it is true and unexaggerated.
- Facing down a giant
- Speaking calm into a storm
- Suffering that authenticates the gospel
OT: David trusts God to go and face down a giant
David, later to become the most remowned king of Israel and also a poet and worshipper with a remarkable sense of walking with God, is probably a young teenager when we meet him in this first ‘sticky situation’.
He is not eligible to be part of the army, and earlier his brothers had taunted him when he was sent to take food up to the battle line — a humble task. There he heard the massive Philistine warrior shouting across the valley for anyone with the courage to take him on. No one fancied their chances in such an unequal fight.
But David saw it differently. He saw it as a confrontation between God’s own covenant people, and the pagans, who had neither God’s protection nor His divine guidance.
David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”1 Samuel 17:32
Saul wasn’t about to let this untrained, unarmed youngster go out to a certain death and humiliation for Israel.
Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”1 Samuel 17:33
To which David makes a speech about how God has always rescued him from predators including bears and lion. God will surely undertake for him to deal with this foul-mouthed oppressor. He refuses an offer of armour, crossing the brook with only his shepherds staff, his sling and some smooth stones.
We know the story so well, I’ll just refer to it here (you can read it in 1 Samuel 17 from the beginning). After much altercation, David approaches Goliath, who is confused: this much smaller figure has no armour and no recognisable weapon. David states his purpose. It is a bit like a prayer declaration, and it is for the hearing of heaven as much as his opponent — we don’t know how much common language they had. Then David delivers a deadly slingshot, hitting Goliath’s exposed temple.
You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands…I Samuel 17: 45, 47
“…All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s…
What picture does this true story illustrate for us?
- At first sight, it is a picture of extreme inequality
- The inequality turns out to be the reverse of what the picture seems to show
- What David has in his heart, to be able to speak it out with confidence, teaches us where the battle is actually won.
NT gospel: Jesus speaks calm into a dangerous wind-storm
This is another of the best-known Bible stories, where one evening, Jesus and the disciples are crossing the Sea of Galilee in a fishing boat. The combination of warm air rising from the below-sea-level and almost tropical lake, with rapidly cooling air from the mountains around can easily overbalance into a wind-storm — but the storm that threatens to sink the small boat has a demonic ferocity.
A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”Mark 4:37-38
The learning point comes in the next two verses, and it hangs on the disciples’ very real fear of the small boat filling with water and foundering, as they cry out: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
There’s a difference between being in a boat in a storm that is being swamped, and being in a boat in a storm with Jesus.
His time had not yet come. That time would be when He would surrender Himself to evil men, WITHOUT divine protection. But let’s ask ourselves, where is the kingdom of God operating in this story?
The fear, danger and the threat of death is always a hallmark of the other kingdom — the other realm of influence that is working here. But it is limited, as Jesus goes on the demonstrate. This is the bit the disciples shuld have realised:
Jesus got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.Mark 4:39-40
He said to His disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
At this point the disciples were only in their first year of a three-year intensive course on the kingdom of God. But they should have been confident about Jesus’ introductory lesson:
“The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”Mark 1:15
Jesus is with them. He is the embodiment of the rule and reign of God. The “prince of this world”, John 14:30, has influence and even control of this world, 1 John 5:19, but it is a limited influence and control — limited by what Jesus permits.
By exercising authority over the natural order of wind and waves, Jesus is demonstrating that He is none other than the promised Messiah.
Our situation, which follows the Cross with Jesus’ death, and His resurrection, is different. We don’t have Jesus physically present to speak His commands, but if we have surrendered our lives to Him, putting our belief and trust in Him as Saviour and also Lord of our lives, we are in a covenant relationship. We’ll still encounter ‘tricky situations’ and storms with their fear and destructive power. Why? God allows these to test where our reliance is. Is it in Him, and our covenant relationship through Jesus?
Another way of looking at it is to ask ourselves, “Is Jesus in my boat? Am I asking Him for His divine presence? Have I set about this task, or journey, or other situation by inviting Him to be Lord of it?”
And we should be ready to speak to the fear, or to the threat — as He leads us to.
NT letter: Paul’s suffering in the gospel mission is his passport
Someone who had the closest of relationships with Jesus and was the most submitted in serving Him, also seemed to get in a lot of trouble! Paul is our reminder that bad things happen to good people. In fact, bad things may happen as a consequence of being:
…a servant of God… in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left…from 2 Cor. 6:4-7
He talks about the opposition, difficulties and sheer suffering he has experienced:
…through glory and dishonour, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.2 Cor. 6:8-10
Paul is saying that although he and his companions are widely recognised, yet treated as unknown imposters.
They have taken beatings, faced disappointments, travelled light with little comfort or security — yet with the sense of “possessing everything” and having it to share, and through the setbacks, “always rejoicing”.
This is a catalogue of ‘sticky situations’ but Paul is not questioning why this is happening. Instead, he sees it as God’s way of validating the ministry. No one who was self-serving or self-promoiting would put themselves though that. This is about a call from the Lord of lords who Himself was well acquainted with suffering and who never said it would be easy for us — in fact, quite the opposite. The life of a disciple of Jesus, often does feel like taking up one’s own cross, Luke 9:23.
This teaches us that
- The overriding character quality of God, alongside His merciful love, is His faithfulness. As we exercise faith, so — as a matter of honour — Hen will be found to be faithful.
- David knew this. He had to step into danger, knowing that God stepped in ahead of him.
- Jesus knew this and t he disciples had to learn this. He was in the boat. Post-resurrection, He is in our lives and we are in Him — to the extent that we give Him that lordship.
- Paul, Timothy and his other companions knew this. They accepted that the advance of the good news of the kingdom comes with setbacks, and that opposition proves the success of the mission.
Having trusted Jesus in a new spiritual start and come to know God personally, the way we strengthen and grow that trust — is by trusting Him more.