When Every Silver Lining Has A REALLY Dark Cloud was, again, one of my favorite messages to deliver.
It had a title I really liked, a noun-centric metaphor (a harp), and a closing section I was able to deliver with considerable conviction because I’ve been on the receiving end of what I was talking about.
The message was also a detour from the rest of BrainWashing in that it came not from I Corinthians but from I Samuel 16. We moved from the letter section of the library back to the history section.
The bottom line was really a question: Who’s got your harp?
With a secondary, supplement question that governs the conclusion: Have come to hate the one who came to help?
So: a lot of you know David. He’s the one who slew Goliath with the slingshot (AV). He’s the one who seduced Bathsheba while she was taking a bath (NO AV!). He’s the one who was bow and arrow friends with Jonathon. He’s the one who ruled a united nation. He was a king. He was a warrior. Sometimes he was a mess, but he was a man. A man’s man. Giant slayer and lady killer. A he man, you could say. But I met most of you didn’t know that this giant-slayer & lady-killer, this warrior-king & nation-builder, this he man . . . also played the harp. Yes! A he man on a harp! We think harpists look like this – AV, lady in flowing dress – or this – similar – but we don’t think they look like this: AV body builder on harp. Yet that’s exactly what he does.
And I know all this about the he man on the harp because of this incredible tale in I Sam 16:14-23, a story that, believe it or not, I see played out in one way or another all the time these days. And it’s a story that especially gets played in the lives of those people who for whatever reason are able to lock on in the dark cloud that surrounded by a silver lining. Some people focus on the lining; today I’m talking to those who zero in on the cloud . . . and those who have to live with them.
Because here’s what’s going on. It’s about 1000 BC, 3K years ago. A man named Saul is king Israel. And Saul is a mess. In part because of his own pattern of disobedience to God and in part because unknown to Saul the prophet Samuel has already anointed David – then just an adolescent – as the once & future king of Israel. David’s been anointed king in a land where there’s already a king – Saul. And look at what I Sam 16:13 says about David:
13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David.
So the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Which is the exact opposite of what has happened to Saul in 16:14a:
14 Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul
That’s the kind of contrast that ain’t by accident! But then comes one of Scripture’s most problematic verses:
and an evil[a] spirit from the Lord tormented him.
16:14b. Huh? And I just have to deal w/ these words before I do anything else, because how in the world can God have & send an evil spirit?!
Look at the language closely: of the Lord in 14a and from the Lord in 14b. In the ancient mind, there were no secondary causes. If people got sick, if a natural disaster happened, if Satan lurked around . . . all that ultimately came from God because it passed through his sovereign hands. We say sickness is due to germs and storms are caused by low pressure systems, but the ancient mind knew of neither of those. We are more likely to say that God allowed an evil, bedeviling spirit; the ancients would say that since he is sovereign over all and we don’t think in secondary causes, it’s ultimately from him. Maybe it lands us here: God’s not the author but he is the allower. But why? Especially in this case with Saul, why? Ah, that’s an ancient question and I don’t have all the answers, though in this case (as you’ll see later) I might just have an idea.
But the clear implication from 16:14 & beyond, based on both what the text says and the behavior that Saul exhibits, is that Saul was suffering from some kind of deep despair, some type of major melancholy, perhaps a version of clinical depression, and quite possibly what we might today call bi-polar disorder. Because we know from I Samuel that he had enormous mood swings – from buoyant to brooding to brutal & from euphoric to melancholic to murderous. Manic and then depressive. And an inner turmoil that often led to outer trouble. That was Saul then and Lord have mercy is that not people today? Here? Now? You?
Because I know you. I hear you. One of my dearest friends here tells me that sometimes REGARDLESS OF CIRCUMSTANCES, a deep depression will grip him and not let. And there are times in his life – again, having nothing to do with job or family or appearance – that depression’s grip will not respond to meds or counseling or anything. Some of you know what this is like. Others of you live with someone who knows what this is like. Barely able to get out of bed in the morning. Things look nice on the outside but they are a mess on the inside. And you’re not sure if it’s an evil spirit from the Lord but you wouldn’t doubt it. You know the wide swings in mood and affect like Saul.
And you know how at times the inner conflict erupt into outer confrontation and the ppl you should love the most have learned to keep their distance from you. But in all that, you know what really interests me today in Week 4 of BrainWashing?
The connection between obsessive thoughts and depressive emotion. How it is what what you think translates into how you feel. Do people get depressed because they think negative thoughts or do they think negative thoughts because they are depressed? Answer: YES! Thought patterns at the very least REINFORCE despairing, depressed emotional state and I don’t have time to settle that particular chicken & egg question. But listen to Dr. Martin Seligman:
The defining characteristic of pessimists is that they tend to believe bad events will last a long time, will undermine everything they do, and are their own fault . . . One of the significant findings in psychology over the last 20 years is that individuals can choose the way they think . . . and depression is caused in large part by negative thoughts . . . Emotion comes directly from what we think . . . depression results from lifelong habits of conscious thought. If we change these habits of thought, we can go a long way towards curing depression.
And there’s truth there whether you’ve got clinical depression or occasional despair. Think about it: who do you talk to more than anyone else? YOU! You are the most influential person in your and so the way you talk to yourself & think about yourself has GOT to impact your emotional state.
Because I know all about irrationally negative thoughts. I remember that day several years ago, early on a Sunday morning, fixing to turn left on Moss from 49 and I thought: “No one will be there today. The church is done & it will be empty.” Or if I hear of a new church anywhere in our area: That’s it. There’s NO POSSIBLE REASON for anyone to come to GS ever again now that they have that younger, hotter option. And I’m not alone! There are people whom I know and love: I’m going to get fired at work (despite positive reviews). Or I’m going to get sick and I just hope I handle death well. Or My mate is going to stop loving me, I just know it. I have seen the brutal effects of these obsessively negative thoughts first hand. Samuel then, us now. It’s why the worst, most profane word for a Xn to utter is . . . hopeless. (GULP! You thought I was going somewhere else!) Hopeless is profane for the Xn because it takes God right out of the picture.
Which takes us back to Saul. The mess. The clinical. Look at the solution one of his minions has for his melancholy: 16:15-16:
15 Saul’s attendants said to him, “See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. 16 Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the lyre (harp). He will play when the evil spirit from God comes on you, and you will feel better.”
You’re hopeless and a harp will fix ya! And then in 16:18 someone knows a name:
18 One of the servants answered, “I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the lyre. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the Lord is with him.”
Hilarious. It’s like one of those John Irving novels where the narrator arranges all the pieces so that the most improbable events become inevitable. In this case, it’s that David has to befriend Saul & get in his inner circle. In this case God the narrator is using the “Oh! I just HAPPEN to know a harp player!” to make the improbable become inevitable. And the irony of David’s qualification – the Lord w him – is lost on Saul. David’s qualification is Saul’s disqualification.
Because look at 16:21-23:
21 David came to Saul and entered his service. Saul liked him very much, and David became one of his armor-bearers. 22 Then Saul sent word to Jesse, saying, “Allow David to remain in my service, for I am pleased with him.”
23 Whenever the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.
Ahh! The he man on a harp and healing happens! On the book level, this is ironic intrigue at its highest as Saul unknowingly is bringing his replacement to work with him!, but for you & me & all of us who have obsessively negative self-talk that fuel our powerfully depressive emotions, it leads to a question: Who’s got your harp? Who is it who God provides you to get out of your melancholy and into your ministry? Who is your harp player? I remember that time in Monroe, I was certain I’d KILLED that church (because it’s MINE & not God’s, you know) & I’m blue & crying and who comes over? Wade Broome . . .
. . . and he asks “what’s wrong?” and I’m crying so hard I can’t even talk and so what does he do? Starts crying himself! No advice, just comradeship. He had my harp. And God had his church. Who’s got your harp?
Or the guy I told you about earlier who has these episodes where depression grips him. Well, I was there that night when he shared his journey with his LifeGroup and they listened & loved & laughed with him and I saw room of guys be my friend’s harp. Who’s got your harp?
Who has yours? Your harp is that someone or something from beyond you who enters into your life as an agent of relief. It may involve medication – no shame in that. In my mind, it’s no different than what I take for allergies. It may involve music. It may involve exercise. It may involve therapy. It may involve a LifeGroup. Get this: it will likely involve a ServeTeam. Why do I say that? Because what better way is there of getting out of your head, leaving the obsessive self-pity behind, than to get out of your life so you can get into someone else’s. So: serve a lunch at the Rescue Mission. Spend a night at Room In The Inn. Teach the children at the CAH. You might just find that those whom you are serving are the best harpists you got. Wherever you locate it, find it. Don’t settle. Don’t assume. Don’t utter Xnty’s most profane word about yourself: I am hopeless. Don’t. Who’s got your harp?
Because I have an odd theory about why God allowed/sent an evil spirit to Saul. Why he sometimes renders us helpless. So we will reach out for help. Lord, any recovering addict can tell you that the first step is the most important: we admitted we were powerless and that only a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Same with obsessive thoughts & depressive emotions: maybe, just maybe, those are in your life so that in feeling helpless you will reach out to the one true Helper. Who’s got your harp?
And I so wish that 16:23 was the end of Saul’s story. Got his David, his harp, and he is all better. But it’s not. Look at 18:10-11:
10 The next day an evil[a] spirit from God came forcefully on Saul. He was prophesying in his house, while David was playing the lyre, as he usually did. Saul had a spear in his hand 11 and he hurled it, saying to himself, “I’ll pin David to the wall.” But David eluded him twice.
What? Throws a spear at the harp that heals?! No mistaking it; it happens again in 19:9-10:
9 But an evil[a] spirit from the Lord came on Saul as he was sitting in his house with his spear in his hand. While David was playing the lyre, 10 Saul tried to pin him to the wall with his spear, but David eluded him as Saul drove the spear into the wall. That night David made good his escape.
Do you see what has happened there? (First of all, David’s not that smart for letting it happen a second time!) But Saul, consumed by jealousy, overcome by his own melancholy, comes to hate the one who came to help. And if there is any pattern among people who wrestle with depression and despair that CONTINUES TO THIS DAY, it’s this one. People with relentlessly negative thought patterns beg for help, intervention, a listening ear … and all too often after they get it, they turn on the helper. Sometimes in ways that are passive aggressive; other times in ways that are all too public. I’ve seen this. I’ve been on the receiving end of it. Who knows? I may have even dished it out.
Have you? Honestly? As you look back in your rear view mirror of life, have you? As you reflect on those who brought their harps to help you, can you now see the ways you turned on them? The ways in which, like Saul, you have come to hate the one who came to help? You thought you were justified at the time but in this moment God is giving you clarity into what was really going on. And very likely you need to approach that person this very week with a mea culpa. Because you now see that you came to hate the one who came to help. And if you see that pattern in your past, that you’re pretty good at lashing out at those of loved well, oh, hear this: STOP.
Yeah. I said it. That way. STOP. This is a pattern and these are attitudes over which you are not helpless. You have control. I’m so passionate about this because I know all too many helpers, healers, enablers out there who have become victims at your hand. Put down your spear. Let them pick up their harp. And continue well that process by which God delivers you from you.