Communicating with God
David persevered and developed several communication channels, managing to integrate reflective communication with God alongside more formal lines, writes Terry Young in the fourth blog of his leadership series.
Do we have an integrated approach to communicating with God?
If we want to know how David ticked, we have to ask how he communed with God. Since we don’t have a systematic report, we have to piece it together from whatever sources we can find.
Let’s start in one of David’s darkest days as a fugitive, when he returns to his home base at Ziklag (read 1 Samuel 30) and discovers that a raiding party has cleaned it out – wives, families, livestock, all gone. It must have been a desperate day because his men were ready to stone him.
The line, ‘But David found strength in the Lord his God’ points to something personal and hidden that enabled him to see the world differently and to keep his head under the combinational of group disappointment and personal threat (1 Samuel 30:6). We have to guess that this deeply meditative practice is reflected in the psalms that bear his name and go back a long way. So there seems to have been a personal link that David enjoyed.
It's hard to imagine what prayer was like or how it worked before Jesus came and provided the gift of the Holy Spirit. People clearly cried to God, but it sounds like they needed to be in special places or to use special channels to hear God’s reply – not always (grab a smart device and search for Elijah and whisper), but there is something we cannot recognise about their scene as we look back from ours.
David’s next move is to ask Abiathar to bring the ephod. Exactly how this worked, or how much of the priestly attire Abiathar had brought along with him when he fled for his life and joined David’s band, is not clear. We know that the ephod was part of the High Priest’s regalia (Exodus 28) and there was provision for decision-making through two elements, the Urim and Thummim.
As we saw in the last blog, it sounds like David used this system to ask yes/no questions, and the answers always proved correct. It’s possible that the priest needed to be on hand (since David takes the opportunity to ask Ahimelek to seek God’s guidance for him in his early days on the run – 1 Samuel 21 & 22). A second line of communication for David, therefore, is to ask specific questions through the appropriate channels.
Finally, David makes good use of the place of God’s presence. During his reign, he brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem where it seems like the Tabernacle of his day was pitched (2 Samuel 5 & 6). Presumably this is the place where David went to worship when the first child of his relationship with Bathsheba died.
Once we realise how complicated these arrangements were, we can sense how stunning Jesus’ words in that upper room were and how they must have shocked the disciples (John 16:26-28, NIV): ‘In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.’
Saul, too, appealed to the priesthood through Samuel, and to the Ark. We don’t have enough material for a deep analysis of how Saul got it wrong, but we know of two occasions where he couldn’t wait for the priest to arrive or for the answer to come. By the end of his life, he is left with such a magical view of Samuel’s role that he attempts a séance to reach out to him in the afterlife. It’s complicated, because it means breaking his own rules, but if all you have is a magical sort of faith, it’s always complicated.
Let’s just recognise that David persevered and developed several communication channels and that Saul did not. David managed to integrate reflective communication with God alongside more formal lines involving priest, practice and place. This intimacy with God waxed and waned and his moral compass was super-effective at times and completely useless at others, but it was always a part of his life. Saul never seems to get beyond the outward forms.
I guess the important question for us is how we read across from David’s day to our own? Clearly, we can use the Psalms as part of a meditative and reflective practice. We can invest time in developing those unshowy tastes and appetites that will sustain us in the toughest times. There will be times of miraculous deliverances – and we have all had them. Maybe it has been recovery from illness or an accident, or something that dropped into our bank account just when we needed it. And those are great.
Resilience, however, takes time, and as with David, we can lose the benefit of the early years in the wilderness during the more relaxing years in the palace. Certainly, I’ve been discovering an element of that in the past few years, when the house and the job and the family have all experienced great uncertainty, compounded by lockdown. We came to grasp God’s sustaining care in a new way and find ourselves with room to relax and reflect – and to stretch those reinvigorated muscles of faith.
Finally, let’s develop an integrated approach to communicating with God, not just on our own or through private prayer and devotion, but with others and maybe even in special places. The thing about resilience is that it does not depend upon a single factor. The isolated genius may be floored by an internet failure, a serious injury will force the world-beating athlete to retire – none of us can survive on a single super-skill.
David used all the measures at his disposal: he pursued private reflection, he worked with others, he asked probing questions, and he listened. Saul seems to have seen little beyond the physical factors. Let’s learn from both.
Image | Olivia Anne Snyder | Unsplash
Professor Terry Young is an author and member of a Baptist church. He set up Datchet Consulting which combines his experience in industry and academia.
This is part of a series on leadership through aspects of David's life:
Do you have a view? Share your thoughts via our letters' page.