Living on Top of the Circumstances

The Ninth reflection in a series, “Hope to See Us Through,” by the Rev. Terry Elsberry.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’”

—Jeremiah 29:11
I

A professor of mine once said, “We have this habit of saying, ‘Under the circumstances. Under the circumstances, I couldn’t get it done. Under the circumstances, it’s not going to turn out the way we hoped it would. Under the circumstances, I wasn’t able to do my best.’”

“We have this tradition,” my teacher went on, “of blaming circumstances for a lot of things. But as Christians, when we’re feeling low or down or stuck or hampered by some situation, what if we turned it around? What if we addressed some tough situation by making the statement—if only to ourselves—that ‘I’m going to live ON TOP OF NOT UNDER the circumstances.’ How life-changing that might be.”

This professor went on to teach about the uplifting realization we have as Christians that when we’re feeling overwhelmed by some upsetting situation, instead of staying stuck in distress or dismay, we can make a choice. We can choose to see in the hard place not a dead end but an opportunity.

For me this is a great approach to take in these times of pandemic.

II

One of the most powerful stories of choosing to live on top of the circumstances features David in the Old Testament.

David is not yet king. In fact, for several years he’s been on the run from the current king, Saul, who has a price on David’s head. Saul has become irrationally jealous of David and sent soldiers to put him to death. Finally, after several years of never being able to find David, who has managed to hide out in caves and other safe places, Saul has given up. This has allowed David to get some property, stock it with sheep, even build his own house. He’s been living a life of relative freedom and safety.

Then a completely different enemy, a virtual army of thieves from a neighboring country, without warning attack David, steal his flocks, carry off his wife and children and burn his house.

There’s more. Because of his magnetic personality and charismatic leadership, a band of men have attached themselves to David and settled the area around him with their own flocks, barns and houses. Now the enemy has ravaged them, too, burned their homes, stolen their livestock, carried off their families.

Half-crazed with frustration, anger and grief, David’s followers threaten to take everything out on him.

We read: “Moreover David was greatly distressed because the people spoke of stoning him, for all the people were embittered, each one because of his wives and sons and daughters who had been stolen from them. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.” (I Samuel 30:6)

The hinge word here is BUT. David has all these calamities coming at him. His former partners are threatening to stone him. His family has been carried off. He doesn’t know if he’ll ever see them again. He’s been stripped of his livelihood and everything he owned. His house in burning.

The enemy has stripped David of everything. They’ve stolen everything he had.

But they haven’t stolen God. David still has the God he loves and trusts and lives for.

What strengthens David in his hour of supreme desolation is his conviction that comes over him that in spite of it all, that he still has God. And God has Him. God has David and will not let him go.

It was this conviction, based on the experience of a personal relationship, a deep, abiding friendship with the Lord, that enables David to turn to the Lord and find the courage to survive.

III

None of us know what’s ahead. In these times, especially, the future is even more oblique than ever. Some of the things we thought we had a grip on have been ripped away. A lot of us are trying to figure what it all means, what it’s going to mean for the future.

But when we feel stalled out, frustrated, overwhelmed, anxious or frankly scared, we have in David the role model for overcoming, the role model for finding opportunity in the situation, for coming through on top of, not under, the circumstances. Let’s encourage ourselves in the Lord!