Alone in a Cave

One of the Openings to the Cave of Adullam

One of the Openings to the Cave of Adullam

Dealing with life at its darkest and most difficult times

If People Magazine had been around in ancient Israel, for months the cover would have featured the face of David, the giant-slayer.  Young women sang about the handsome, national hero.  David was the man women adored and men admired.

God had already chosen David to follow Saul as the next King of Israel. David must have thought this fame and notoriety was all part of the plan.  It all looked so perfect. God was doing something incredible!

But a few spears aimed at David by a jealous King Saul seemed to change everything! Saul’s jealous rage caused him to become obsessed with destroying David.  We learn in 1 Samuel 21 that David even fled to his enemies for help. He turned up in Goliath’s hometown of Gath – the capital of the Philistines.

After asking to see Achish, the Philistine King, David realized this was a bad idea. So, he presented himself to Achish and he pretended to be insane, even drooling in his beard. Achish sent the supposed madman packing.

According to the opening sentence of 1 Samuel 22, “David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam.” Scholars believe David spent three to six months living in the muddy, dark, lonely cave. We pick up the story there with David sitting defeated — his own drool dried up in his beard. What a low point!

Most of us come to a cold, dark cave experience. We find ourselves alone, facing the shattered dreams, inexplicable pain, and desperate grief that life sometimes deals. Cold, dark, difficult caves, indeed!

David’s experience in the cave teaches us about handling life at its darkest and most difficult times. David wrote several Psalms during his months alone in the cave. Let’s look at three keys to handling a cold, dark cave experience. 

#1: Tell God How You Feel (Psalm 142)

Read Psalm 142 and you will sense the overwhelming emotions David experienced after he arrived in the Cave of Adullam. While there are hints of determination and even worship of God, the predominant mood is one of deep discouragement.

Early in his time in the cave, he learns the importance of simply telling God how he feels.  Notice his dejected phrases:

  • “Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need” (v. 6)
  • “No one is concerned for me” (v. 4)
  • “No one cares for my soul” (v. 4)
  • “Set me free from prison.” (v. 7)

Ever been there? Have you ever been so low that you felt like no one cared and despair wrapped its tentacles around you?

Some think it is wrong to tell God how badly life stinks. They think that being grateful means you never express your pain and emotions to God.  But, for David, telling God how bad he felt, with a raw honesty, was key to the process of experiencing God in a cold, lonely cave.  Whatever you are going through today, no matter how dark and difficult, tell God how you feel. 

#2: Praise God for Who He is (Psalm 57)

As you read through the second Psalm David wrote while in the cave of Adullam, you sense a subtle shift in tone.  Many people discover the value of telling God how they feel when they are stuck in a cave experience.  But too few turn the corner to praise God even in the cave.

David declares, “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth” (57:5). Boldly he commits to God, “I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples” (57:9).

Proactive praise does something transformative in us. When we choose to praise God based on Who He is, instead of what our circumstances are, good things happen.  We see the eternal God in Whom we have put our trust.

True worship is not based on what our circumstances are but on Who our God is! Our circumstances will change, but our God never changes. 

#3: Serve God by Helping others (Psalm 34)

God does a work in David’s heart at one of the lowest points in David’s entire life. God listens as David tells God how he feels. He refocuses David’s heart as David chooses to praise his God for Who He is. Back in 1 Samuel 22 we learn that some of David’s friends and relatives choose to join David in the cave. Samuel tells us that “all those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him there” (1 Samuel 22:2). Few of us want people with problems showing up while we are still dealing with our own issues. But God knew what David needed next.

The most practical way we serve God is by helping others. David did that.

God expects us to use our dark, difficult experiences to help others. We may not even be fully free from the cave when He brings a bunch of broken people to our doorstep.  So, look around. Maybe God has planted some hurting people near your cave. You don’t have to have it all together for God to use you. 

Maybe you are at one of the lowest points of your life… a dark cave with spit on your face.  Learn from David.

Tell God how you feel, praise God for Who He is, and serve God by helping others. Watch what God does to transform you and use you to impact others!

Letting God Redeem Your Childhood

0190eb1bafcab4655f3d127393601dd8On July 5, 2016 my memoir “All But Normal: Life on Victory Road” will be released by Tyndale Publishers. It’s my story of growing up in a home with a mother greatly effected by a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and how her struggles impacted our family. My childhood had some incredible challenges due to Mom’s condition. At times, I wished that God had put me in a different family.

Many of us know the difficulties of facing tough circumstances during our coming-of-age years. For some it was a home affected by drugs or alcohol, for some it was the trauma of divorce, for some it was being raised as a first generation immigrant, for others it was natural challenges of living in a world full of disaster, disease, and death, and still for others it was being abused verbally, physically or sexually as a child or teen. Psychologists say that when a minor is forced to process something they are not developmentally ready to handle they experience the “adultification of childhood.” Many who experience the “adultification of childhood” actually take on certain aspects of the parental role for one or both parents because of some challenge the parent faces.

For years I thought my story was important because it shaped who I am as a man, a husband, a father, a pastor, but that the stories of my childhood themselves had no benefit for others. Three years ago I shared my story in a setting where both Joni Eareckson Tada and Max Lucado heard it. Both suggested I write a book telling my story. They told me God would use my story to help others. So, I embarked on a three year journey to write what it was like to be raised with a mother with significant physical, emotional, and mental challenges. “All But Normal” is the product of my efforts. While I am pleased with the book, it has not been easy sharing my childhood journey in written form. It has been rewarding. I have seen God use it already in so many great ways!

Throughout the journey I have learned so much about letting God redeem my childhood. Actually, I have learned much about God redeeming any wound from the past. After teaching through the life of Joseph in our church a year ago, I began to look at Joseph’s childhood in a different light. He had a home full of dysfunction. Jealousy, favoritism, distrust, immorality, competition, and animosity all marked the home of his father Jacob. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery when he was seventeen years of age. He was taken to a foreign country, enslaved, falsely accused, imprisoned, and forgotten. God raised him up from prison and made him second in command of ancient Egypt. Only Pharaoh was greater.

Twenty-two years after the betrayal of his brothers, Joseph saw God do something great as his brothers came to Egypt for help during a great famine. Joseph forgave his brothers. He wept many times over them and the brokenness of the past. The wounds still hurt him. But, he watched as God redeemed his childhood.

How do you position yourself so that God can redeem the wounds of the past – even those from your childhood? Let me suggest five things Joseph did that you can do as well.

 

#1: Identify the Abnormalities – Even though you want to overlook them

Genesis 45:1-4

I love how Joseph clearly points out how his brothers wounded him when he meets them twenty-two year later. Sometimes we want to act like nothing happened. We want to pretend there are no wounds. Joseph teaches us that it is important to be honest with yourself and others about the abnormalities of your past. We all have them to one extent or another.

 

#2: Acknowledge the Pain – Even though you want to forget it

Genesis 46:29

When Joseph is reunited with his father after more than two decades of his father believing he is dead, he cries for a very long time. The puss of the wound comes out in tears. I am sure there were tears of joy at seeing his father, but it had been a long time and a lot of pain had occurred. One of the beautiful blessings about the Book of Psalms in the Old Testament is that we learn from them that it is okay to tell God how you feel. Let him know it hurts. Acknowledge the pain. As some of us sort through the pain, we may even need to seek out some counseling to process it.

 

#3: Release the Bitterness – Even though you want to hold on to it

Genesis 45:5 & 50:15-17

Someone once said, “To hold a grudge is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” Joseph refuses to drink the poison. He extends to his brothers a grace they have never extended to him. Two decades after they wound him deeply, he rejects any notion of revenge and shows them grace. Prayer is one of the best antidotes to bitterness. It’s important to let God hear your frustration and pain while at the same time asking him to refresh and renew your spirit. Release the bitterness that can only cause you trouble.

 

#4: Embrace the Sovereignty of God – Even though you want to explain it away

Genesis 45:7-8; 50:20

There are two extremes when it comes to God’s sovereign control over our lives. One is a form of fatalism. The fatalism approach says it does not matter what I do or say because God will do what he wants. So, why even try. The other extreme is to say that God has nothing to do with the bad stuff that comes into our lives. He has no responsibility for it. Anything bad or difficult in life is Satan’s responsibility. Both are an oversimplification of the sovereignty of God. God is weaving something much more grand. In His sovereign plan, even the evil intentions of others can be used for our good and His glory. Joseph tells His brothers that what they did was wrong, but that God had used it for good. As you process the wounds of the past, remember that God can use the worst events over a period of time to mold you and shape you into the image of Christ!

 

#5: Celebrate the Blessings – Even though you want to downplay them

Genesis 45:6-8; 50:20

While I was thankful for the challenges of my childhood and how they had formed a pastor’s heart in me, I did not celebrate those challenges. Joseph is able to celebrate with his father and brothers the incredible grace of God on His life. Many of us want to downplay our blessings because we don’t want to brag. But, when our praise is focused on our Lord, then the celebration of our blessings brings Him praise, rather than brings us pride. Even with the struggles of my years growing up on Victory Road, I can now call them a blessing. To move toward the stage of being able to celebrate the wounds of your past as blessings, you begin by simply thanking Him for those challenges. Thank Him for the purpose He is working – even when you can’t see it. Celebration begins with gratitude!

 

Let me encourage you to process the wounds of your past the way Joseph did. Let God redeem your childhood or your past. Let Him work in and through you according to His grace. That is what Joseph did and that is why he was able to embrace all that God was doing even through some very difficult stuff!

Don’t let Satan get the advantage with your past. Let God use it for your good, the good of others, and ultimately His glory!

 

screenshotCLICK HERE to preorder “All But Normal: Life on Victory Road” by Shawn Thornton with Joel Kilpatrick

 

“Blessings” by Laura Story

blessingsThis is the song I read at the end of my message today. In this post, you will find a video with the lyrics of the song, a video with the story behind the song, and at the bottom of the post you will find the lyrics themselves. What a great story that God used to give us this great song!

 

 

 

 

 

“Blessings” – by Laura Story (with Lyrics)

 

“Blessings” – The story behind the song

 

The Lyrics to “Blessings”

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering

All the while You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears?
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near?

What if trials of this life
Are Your mercies in disguise?

We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt Your goodness, we doubt Your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough

And all the while You hear each desperate plea
And long that we’d have faith to believe

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears?
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near?

And what if trials of this life
Are Your mercies in disguise?

When friends betray us, when darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not, this is not our home
It’s not our home

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears?
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near?

What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst
This world can’t satisfy?

And what if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise?
Read more at http://www.songlyrics.com/laura-story/blessings-lyrics/#AgSzUCCw2crGiAEa.99

The Suffering Heart – Sermon Outline & Resources

005aHere is the basic outline for today’s message at Calvary. Below the outline are some resources to help you in your journey of suffering.

 

 

The Suffering Heart

The Book of Job

Part 4 in the series: “Change of Heart”

Pastor Shawn Thornton – January 25, 2015

 

Suffering should prompt us to trust God more – not less.

5 Sources of Suffering:

#1: The reality of living in a broken world (Romans 8:20-22)

#2: The foolish or sinful choices of others (Joshua 7:5-11)

#3: Our own foolish or sinful choices (Isaiah 64:6)

#4: Satanic attack (1 Peter 5:8)

#5: The plan of God (Romans 9:20-23)

When you suffer:

#1: Make worship your first response (Job 1:20-22)

#2: Tell God how you feel (Job 13:23-24)

#3: Surround yourself with the right people (Job 2:11-13)

       When others suffer:

#1: Be there for them (even in silence)

#2: Avoid simplistic theological answers

#3: Point to the supremacy and sovereignty of God

#4: Do not attempt to answer “Why?” definitively

#5: Help them see their suffering as “Father-filtered”

#6: Encourage them to trust God more

#4: View your suffering in light of all eternity (Job 19:25-27)

#5: Remember that ultimately God knows “why?” (Job 42:1-3)

#6: Look for areas in your life God wants to grow you (Job 42:4-6)

#7: Submit to the supremacy and sovereignty of God (Job 40:1-5)

When you suffer, do you trust God more?

 

 

Resources on Suffering:

Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller (Book)

Why Suffering?: Finding Meaning and Comfort When Life Doesn’t Make Sense by Ravi Zacharias & Vince Vitale (Book)

Video with Song Lyrics for Laura Story’s “Blessings” (Youtube)

Ten Reasons to Believe in a God Who Allows Suffering (online PDF Booklet)