A number of years ago, we made the 22 hour trip to Maine with our dog, Sophie. She loved the cottage where we stayed and enjoyed taking long naps on the cozy couch opposite the fireplace. One afternoon, a neighbor came by to introduce herself with her three Labrador Retrievers in tow. Not confident in how Sophie might react to these canine visitors, I opted to leave her inside the cottage while I went out to greet them.
After their short visit, I returned only to discover that Sophie had pulled the garbage can over and had dragged the trash around the kitchen. The trail of shredded paper, plastic, and styrofoam led me into the first-floor bedroom where I found her sprawled out beside the bed, contentedly chewing on an unidentified object. Regardless of the numerous psychological explanations for this canine behavior (which, I might add, she had never exhibited before), there remained a giant mess... someone else's mess... and I had to clean it up.
While that debris consisted of the contents of a trash can, relational messes created by someone else are not as easy to be cleaned up. And though we may choose to step around the drama, muttering to ourselves, "Not my circus and not my monkeys," sometimes, some-times, God invites us to partner with Him to clean it up. If that happens to be you right now, may I offer two reflections that I pray would encourage you?
Encouragement for your heart and mind: In a recent podcast, Graham Cooke said, "God is the origin of any command He makes of us." He explained, "God doesn't ask anything of us that He does not first supply. Whatever God wants from you, He intends to give to you." His Divine power has given you everything you need for life and for Godliness according to His power at work in you [2 Peter 1:3-4]. That means that if God invites you to partner with Him to engage in someone else's mess, in immutable kindness, He will not only supply more than enough... He will be more than enough of all that you need.
Encouragement for your hands and feet: I Samuel 25 contains an extraordinary story that offers both vocabulary to pray and guidance for "next steps" in responding to God's invitation to partner with Him to clean up someone else's mess. Clearly, while there may not be an exact line by line correlation to your 21st-century situation, I do believe that there is wisdom to be gleaned.
The chapter begins by introducing us to a woman named Abigail who learns that her neanderthal husband, Nabal, had created an enormous mess. The situation he created was so potentially explosive, that left unaddressed, would, in fact, decimate an entire community and further complicate the path of a man destined to be king.
The drama begins when Nabal arrogantly and selfishly offended the weary, fugitive, future-king, David. Seemingly oblivious to the fact that David and his men had "night and day" been "a wall around" his sheep and shepherds [v 16 NIV], Nabal denied a request that they be included in the sheep-shearing-end-of-season feasting celebration. And, not only did Nabal say no, but he also hurled insults at David and his men, decrying their rogue status.
Eavesdropping on David's internal monologue, we discover his in-kind response to this offense. "It's been useless - all my watching over this fellow's property in the wilderness so that nothing of his was missing. He has paid me back evil for good. May God deal with David, be it ever so severely, if by morning I leave alive one male of all who belong to him!" [v 21-22]. And with the terse command, "Each of you, strap on your sword!" [v 13], David and his 400 men descended into the mountain ravine towards Nabal's household.
When Abigail, described as, "intelligent and beautiful" [v 3 NIV], "wise..." [NCV], "clever..." [NRSV], "smart..." [VOICE], and "sensible..." [NLT], is given the ominous warning from her servant that "disaster is hanging over our master and his whole household" [v 17 NIV], she quickly intervened.
I believe her response offers some practical steps in moving forward if God asks us to partner with Him in cleaning up someone else's mess. Abigail addressed the physical need. God enabled her to act quickly to supply provisions that were so desperately needed for David's men. The feast that she brought provided essential nourishment.
She also spoke to the spiritual need. In stark contrast to Nabal calling David out on his perceived behavior, Abigail called David up to his true identity saying, "The Lord your God will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my lord, because you fight the Lord’s battles, and no wrongdoing will be found in you as long as you live" [v 28].
Abigail also identified what was true, but then spoke the Truth, helping him see past his present condition to his actual position. "Even though someone is pursuing you to take your life, the life of my lord will be bound securely in the bundle of the living by the Lord your God, but the lives of your enemies he will hurl away as from the pocket of a sling" [v 29]. Surely, she stirred memories of David's true anointing that perhaps were forgotten along the way being on the run from Saul for so long.
Lastly, Abigail appealed to legacy. Helping David take a step back to see the big picture of his life, she asked a clarifying question. "When the story is told about all that happened here, what do you want to be said?" "When the Lord has fulfilled for my lord every good thing he promised concerning him and has appointed him ruler over Israel, my lord will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself. And when the Lord your God has brought my lord success, remember your servant” [v 30-31].
I pray that these reflections offer a starting place as you enter into prayerful dialogue with God. Just as the Lord gave Abigail wisdom, discernment, strategy, creativity, strength, and courage, I believe He offers His empowering presence to you as He calls you into partnership with Him.
So Beloved, exhale. Rest. Open your heart and allow Him to be in you what He wants to be for you. As you respond in obedience, I believe the prophecy spoken over Jesus will be true of you. "The life-giving Spirit of God will hover over him, the Spirit that brings wisdom and understanding, the Spirit that gives direction and builds strength, the Spirit that instills knowledge and Fear-of-God. Fear-of-God will be all his joy and delight. He won't judge by appearances, won't decide on the basis of hearsay. He'll judge the needy by what is right, render decisions on earth's poor with justice. His words will bring everyone to awed attention. A mere breath from his lips will topple the wicked. Each morning he'll put on sturdy work clothes and boots, and build righteousness and faithfulness in the land" [Isaiah 11:2-5 MSG].
And now, Precious One, "I pray that God, the source of all hope, will infuse your lives with an abundance of joy and peace in the midst of your faith so that your hope will overflow through the power of the Holy Spirit" [Romans 13:15 VOICE]. Let's watch and see what God will do. Amen.
Interested in further insight about Abigail? Here is a teaching from Andy Stanley that was helpful to me. While it is exploring the folly of "Getting Even," he delves into how God used Abigail to avoid a catastrophe.
If you are finding yourself stressed and anxious, here it an atmosphere changer. This 70-minute instrumental CD called Lakeside is designed to immerse you in God's peace and rest. It is also available for digital download through iTunes, Amazon Music, and Google Play.