Distress Drives Prayer

David was anointed king of Israel in I Samuel 16. David was not given the throne until II Samuel 5-6. During the intervening period he had spears thrown at him, was chased around the wilderness by a deranged King Saul, was forced to flee from his best friend who ended up dying in battle, had one of his cities overrun by the Amalekites, and had to pretend to be mad to escape Achish King of Gath. Why did the Lord put David through all of this? Why didn’t God move him from the hills of Bethlehem straight to the throne in Jerusalem? The answer is found in II Samuel 22:5-7.

II Samuel 22 is David’s song of victory after God had delivered him from all his enemies, including King Saul. Here are verses 5-6

For the waves of death encompassed me, the torrents of destruction assailed me; the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me. 

The question we all ask when bad things happen to us is why. Why does God allow the waves of death to encompass David? Why does God allow Saul to pursue him all over the Israel countryside? Why did my child get cancer? Why did I lose my job? Why did that relationship collapse? Why does my boss hate me? Why does God allow bad things to happen to us?

There are many reasons, but the primary reason bad things happen is to drive us to God. The reason God brought David through verses 5-6 is so that David would end up at verse 7:

In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I called. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry came to his ears. 

The Lord wanted David to trust him and cry out to him. We are such self-sufficient creatures and so easily distracted from God that he has to use affliction, pain, grief, hardship, and misery to drive us to him. Without hardship would we ever pray with the zeal and fervor that God demands and deserves? I doubt it. Do we feel our weakness when life is easy and comfortable? No. Does our trust and dependence upon the Lord grow in times of ease? Rarely.

Moses warns of this in Deuteronomy 8. Israel is about to enter the promise land. For forty years they have depended upon God day by day (Deut. 8:1-5). He provided them with manna, kept them safe, made sure their clothes did not wear out, and gave them quail and water. Now they are about to enter a land flowing with milk and honey. A land with houses they did not build and wells they did not dig where they will eat bread without scarcity (Deut. 8:7-10) This sounds like a paradise, which it was. But paradise came with a warning:

Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ 

When all is well we stop trusting in the Lord. Our hearts become proud. We forget we are creatures dependent on Him for daily bread. We start trusting in ourselves and believing that our own hand delivered us. God sent David around the wilderness so David would trust Him and cry out to him.

He does the same for us.  God brings distress into our lives to drive us to Him.We look at hardships, even little ones like flat tires and broken arms, as annoyances and irritations. We just need to get through them. They are like a parenthesis in our lives or a bad commercial that we endure until we get to the main show. But suffering and hardship are central to our walk with God.  In many ways, they are the main show. They are not extras or irritations, but blessings sent by God to drive us to our knees. Suffering breaks our illusion that we are strong and in control.  Without distress our prayer lives would be cliche and cold.  Without hardship we would miss God himself because we would be too self-centered to run to him.

My exhortation is simple.  The Lord wants us on our knees trusting Him because that is the best place for us to be. Without suffering we would never get there. We must learn to see difficulties, hardship, pain, distress, and suffering no matter how big or small as God’s gift to us so that we might learn to cry out to Him.