We are wrapping up our first series of the year, called Retreat to Advance.
Here’s something I am discovering in the Bible. The faithful followers, the ones who seem to get it right, the ones who are blessed by God and seem totally content and at peace? It rarely happens after they conquer some foe, or ascend a throne, or satisfy some primal urge. It happens, oddly, when they are pulled by God out of the crowd and into the desert, onto a mountain, into some dry, desolate space that mirrors the reality of their own life. To God, wilderness seasons and spaces are not for disappoint, but for renewal.
In retreat, God works in four areas:
REFOCUS: our time alone with God renews our vision. Apart from him, we do what is right in our own eyes. But in his presence, God gives us eyes to see things they way he does.
REFINE: Our time alone with God reorients our heart. In the hustle of life, our loves and desires are driving by our selfish impulses. But in the wilderness, God redirects our desires toward him and others.
REVEAL: Our time alone with God renews our minds. We tend to form “God” in our own image when we get busy. But in the stillness, God shows us who he is, and we can take him at his word.
REFILL: (That’s our word today) Our time alone with God restores our strength. When our energy is sapped, when our resources are thinned, when our hope fades, the time we spend alone with God gives us exactly what we need to endure to the end.
i would encourage you today, if you are in a wilderness season, maybe God doesn’t want you to press forward, fake it til you make, and just keep going. Maybe this is the moment you recognize you need a timeout; if you want to truly advance, start with retreat.
A psalm of David. When he was in the Wilderness of Judah. God, you are my God; I eagerly seek you. I thirst for you; my body faints for you in a land that is dry, desolate, and without water. So I gaze on you in the sanctuary to see your strength and your glory. My lips will glorify you because your faithful love is better than life. So I will bless you as long as I live; at your name, I will lift up my hands. You satisfy me as with rich food; my mouth will praise you with joyful lips. When I think of you as I lie on my bed, I meditate on you during the night watches because you are my helper; I will rejoice in the shadow of your wings. I follow close to you; your right hand holds on to me. But those who intend to destroy my life will go into the depths of the earth. They will be given over to the power of the sword; they will become a meal for jackals. But the king will rejoice in God; all who swear by him will boast, for the mouths of liars will be shut.
THE PROBLEM: RUNNING ON EMPTY
THE PROBLEM: RUNNING ON EMPTY
Here’s what’s going on in this song. David is the king over Israel. David is widely regarded as a good king in Israel’s history. He even gets the title, “Man after God’s own heart,” which is totally the kind of title you want. But there’s been some major drama in David’s reign recently. One of his sons recently murdered his brother and then claimed the throne for himself, and his constituency is pretty strong. So David is on the run from his own son, off into the northern wilderness of Judah (2 Sam 15). Along the way, David is cursed, slandered, and harassed. It says in 2 Sam. 16 that when David and his camp finally reach the desolate lands, they are exhausted, hungry and thirsty and weary and discouraged.
Have I just described you?
Maybe you are here this morning, and you are on your last legs with something;
Maybe it’s your marriage; things started out great and awesome and romantic, but now the honeymoon season is over, and those endearing quirks are now annoying issues, and the “discussions” are now full-on fights, and your spouse who was once your greatest advocate is now your greatest critic, and you are tired and beat up and feeling insecure and ignored and disinterested, and ultimately disillusioned by this whole “marriage” thing.
Maybe it’s your job; everything seemed great at first, the hours were good and you were passionate about the field and you were happy with the pay and the possibilities; but now you’ve hit the grind and you are done with the politics and the tedious tasks, and all the promotions came and went, and your boss is kind of thoughtless and agitated, and you are stressed out beyond belief.
Maybe it’s your walk with Jesus; man, everything seemed so great at first; you felt welcomed into the family, you were hearing teaching and reading this Bible that was reframing everything you thought you knew, and everything seemed to be going awesome; but now you’re bored with the Bible, and the pastor’s voice is starting to grate on you and you’ve heard all his stories, and you’re not growing at all emotionally or mentally or spiritually, AND now your getting criticized by your friends and they are asking questions about faith that you don’t know how to answer, and this Jesus who seemed so close and personal at first is becoming cold and distant and almost fantastical, and the church family keeps asking you to do stuff and give money and it’s burning you out.
Whatever the case may be, you’ve all been there, because you are human. You have limits, you have needs, you have expectations; and when these fall short, when you get emptied out and worn down, you find yourself like David, hungering and thirsting and unsatisfied with life as it is.
You need to be filled. You need to be satisfied. Or else it’s all over.
Now, here’s the thing. When we get to this point of dissatisfaction, we usually have a rough idea of what we need to make it all better. If only I had _____________________ (vacation, money, excitement, enlightenment, recognition, etc) I would be happy. You might be totally done and lost and have no idea if anything will work, but it’s possible if we did a quick word association and I asked you to tell me on the spot what you need that you lack, what can fill the hunger or quench your thirst, something will come up.
The question is, will it really? What will truly satisfy your hunger, your hurt, your weakness and discouragement?
Let’s see what David has to say.
God, you are my God; I eagerly seek you. I thirst for you; my body faints for you in a land that is dry, desolate, and without water. So I gaze on you in the sanctuary to see your strength and your glory. My lips will glorify you because your faithful love is better than life. So I will bless you as long as I live; at your name, I will lift up my hands.
Just in the beginning here, David desires something. He searches for it, he thirsts for it. My Bible says he faints; another word could be yearns or aches for something. In the midst of a dry, empty wilderness—a desolate space—David desires.... God.
Kind of strange, right? If you were in David’s shoes, what might satisfy you? Water? Food? Obviously basic needs. Rest? This is also a king who has just been deposed and spit on, someone was just throwing rocks at him a little bit ago. What about respect? Recognition? Value? Maybe even a loving touch?
These are the things we often look to for satisfaction. Heck, that’s what his son Absolom was looking for. Power, authority, the ability to judge right and wrong for himself. He attacks his own father, runs him out of town and takes his throne, his temple, at one point he sets up a tent on the roof and has his way with David’s women. Absolom, like every one of us, craves glory, achievement, respect, pleasure, because that is what satisfies a person. We’re sure of it.
But, out in the deserted wastelands, alone with his thoughts and his poverty, David realizes something. All of those kingly desires he once craved himself do not fill you. They leave you wanting more, and more, and more. They turn brother agains brother, son against father.
And so, David has committed to yearn, to ache for nothing except God. David says here that he gazes upon God “in the sanctuary,” literally, in the sacred space. Remember, David is nowhere near Jerusalem; the tabernacle is miles away. He’s in the wilderness. And yet, here, the wilderness has become a sacred space, a sanctuary where he might encounter his God, where he might worship his God, where he might see God’s strength and his glory.
What do you desire? What do you crave more than anything? Be honest. Don’t just say “Jesus” because we’re in a church building. I’ve been asking this very question of myself lately. What is is that feel that I need? Maybe affirmation? Maybe more earthly success? Maybe more financial security? I’m not totally sure what it is, all I now is that it drives a certain discontentedness within my spirit. It’s not a holy discontent. It is a decidedly unholy discontent. And what I find in myself is that when I have driven by this desire, I struggle to find sacred spaces. Not even in a church building, not on Sunday mornings, not studying my Bible or operating as an elder or teacher. And I think, if I’m reading David correctly, that is because the sanctuary, wherever it is, where you come to witness God’s strength and glory. In my endless search, If I hope to discover my own strength and glory, I will fail to discover anything truly sacred. I will eat and eat and not be full. I will gain and gain and never have enough. I will fight and struggle and never win. I will burn out, and bail out, and fall apart. I need a wilderness moment, to come to the end of myself, in order that I might find something better. I encourage you to do the same. I believe that if, in our retreat, we search for God, we will find what we are looking for, and that’s because of what David says next.
You satisfy me as with rich food; my mouth will praise you with joyful lips. When I think of you as I lie on my bed, I meditate on you during the night watches because you are my helper; I will rejoice in the shadow of your wings. I follow close to you; your right hand holds on to me.
So David desires God, but why? It’s because it delights in God. He enjoys God’s presence. David uses the Hebrew word raman here a few times; it’s like this shrill, loud shout of fulfillment. David is intensely satisfied here.
But what is he delighted in? Look in verse 5, he says you satisfy me as with rich food. But he does not eat or drink. It is not food or drink, so what is it? What does he say in verse 3?
My lips will glorify you because… your faithful love is better than life.
David says here that his contentedness, his satisfaction, is not found in material needs like food, money, shelter, human strength. It comes by experiencing the hesed of YHWH, the faithful love of God. Here’s what David understands that we have got to get ourselves. At our core, we are relational beings, and the thing we crave most is unconditional, unmerited love. A love that sees us as we are, knows every failure and fault and flaw, and embraces us anyway.
We are relational beings, because God–the all-powerful God of the universe, who creates and sustains all things by his hand—is a relational God. The most important, unique, most divine characteristic there is, the thing that defines God most, is that he is faithfully, eternally, loving and kind. And, despite all you’ve done, despite all that you lack, despite your brokenness and weakness and all that is messed up in your world, God wants to embrace you, to hold on to you as you follow close to him, that you might let go and rejoice in the shadow of his protective wings.
If you can retreat just long enough for God to show you that he loves you, that is enough. David says, as long as he has breath, he will praise God, he will be satisfied in him because he is filled with faithful love. I can’t express to you enough how much your relationship with God needs this time.
My wife and I have been working this out in our own marriage. We are nearing 15 years of wedded bliss this May, and you’d think we’d have it all figured out by now. But, sometimes—and if you’ve been married for longer than six months, you know what I mean—it’s possible to be married without being married. You can go about your life, you can claim your spouse as your own, you can provide and partner and support, but still, somehow, grow distant and tired and stuck in a rut. And what we have discovered is the solution is fairly simple: we need to fight for 1-on-1 time, to put our busy schedules on hold for a hour or two, dress up just a bit more than usual, and just look each other in the eyes for a while. And so I set time in my calendar every week, every Thursday, to make space for us. To see each other as we are and to show faithful love to one another. Right now in our marriage, the thing that keeps us going is retreating.
When was the last time you simply delighted in God? Just rested in his presence, just retreated into his love for you? David is suffering, and at war, and weak and weary and alone, and yet he can’t stop rejoicing, taking delight in God’s love for him, in his help, in his gracious compassionate care. That is all God wants for you.
But those who intend to destroy my life will go into the depths of the earth. They will be given over to the power of the sword; they will become a meal for jackals. But the king will rejoice in God; all who swear by him will boast, for the mouths of liars will be shut.
Check out how David ends his song in verse 9. David is desiring God, delighting in his love for him, and yet he knows where is is. He’s in the wilderness, he hungry and tired and he has enemies who are attacking him. His circumstances have not changed. David is not suddenly well-fed and back in power on the throne. But in retreat, David knows that he present circumstances will not destroy him. He has confidence in the victory of God. He enemies will fail, his accusers will be silenced. But David does not claim to be the hero of his own story. He simply rejoices in God, praises him for all that he is, because he knows that God will always win. So David’s strategy? It’s not to fight for himself, it’s not to reclaim his riches. David chooses to use every last breath to sing praises to his God, to follow him, to be as close to God’s presence as possible.
Retreat into God shows us that true strength does not comes from within you. It comes from God. It’s is God’s strength that we wield, it is God’s power that sustains and drives away darkness. You are safe and secure, but you have nothing to do with it.
This is one of the key lessons of following Jesus. It’s not about you, it’s not about what you do or who you are or what you are capable of. It’s not about how much you know or how much you have acquired or how popular you are. None of that matters. What matters is who God is, and what he has done. The Christian faith seems really upside down in this way. When you are weak, you are strong. When you are poor, you are rich. When you mourn, you will be comforted. When you surrender, you will be victorious.
John Piper has this saying, that God is most gloried in me when I am most satisfied in him. And the idea there is simply that for God to show the world who he truly is, that he is loving and kind and forgiving and faithful and just, it will be shown by a people who are not fighting and pushing and clamoring and whining that they need more, want more, deserve more, and aren’t getting their fair shake. It’s found in people who are willing to lose their life—meaning all of their earthly dreams and desires and delights—to find their peace and wholeness and strength and joy in God’s love for them. That is enough. The world will know God is his people find their desire, their delight, and the defense, in him.
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