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I remember as a child, whenever we were sitting somewhere and waiting, I often didn’t have anything to do. Unlike my own kids who can play with a smart devise while we wait, or often will have entertainment provided in the form of a toy or gadget, I rarely had such a thing. I remember I would play with my parents’ hands, whoever it was that was near. My mom’s hands were always very soft and tender. Sometimes I would play with the ends of her fingernails or her thin fingers, but I can clearly remember how silky and soft they were. They were always very clean and pristine. My dad’s hands were quite the opposite. His hands were thick and calloused from the hard manual labor of construction. His nails were always trimmed very short, the skin thick and dry. His hands were strong. It’s not that they were dirty, but they felt rough and edgy. My mom and dad’s hands were reflected the work they did, but also of who they were. Mom was the nurturer and caregiver. Her hands were hard-working, but in the most tender ways possible. My dad was the main provider, his hands did the hard and difficult work. He was the disciplinary, but was always the first to be a rock of steadiness and encouragement as well.

Our hands reflect who we are and what we do. Perhaps one of my most favorite accounts about hands comes from the story of this famous art piece known as “The Praying Hands.”

Two Durer brothers, of eighteen children, shared the same dream to pursue their talent and love of art. Being from a poor and large family, neither of them could afford to pay for university. They decided to flip a coin, the winner would attend art school while the other worked in the mines to pay. When the winner had completed his schooling, then the other brother would support the latter to attend as well.

Albrecht Durer won the toss and went off to attend school. Albert worked in the mines in hard manual labor to support his brother, whose work at the academy was almost an immediate sensation. Albrecht showed great talent in various art forms and was beginning to make great money for various commissioned works.

When Albrecht returned home as his schooling was complete, the family celebrated with a great feast. Towards the end of the great celebration, Albrecht raised a toast to his brother Albert, who worked so hard in the mines to make it possible for him to gain his success. His closing words were, “And now, Albert, blessed brother of mine, now it is your turn. Now you can go to Nuremberg to pursue your dream, and I will take care of you.”

All eyes turned to Albert who sat weeping and shaking his head as he quietly said, “no…no…no…No brother, I cannot go on to school. It’s too late for me. Look at my hands. Four years in the mines have destroyed them. Each of my fingers have been crushed, they are thick with calluses, I can’t even lift this glass in your toast because of arthritis. It’s to late for me to learn the fine motor skills that it takes to create fine details in art.”

Albrecht went on to create many great works of art during his lifetime. His most famous work is the one seen here, known as “The Praying Hands.” This sketch he created to honor the sacrifice that Albert gave to him. This drawing of rough strong hands show not only sacrifice, but love, honor, and faithfulness.

Strong hands are not always rough hands, and likewise, soft hands are not always a sign of weakness.

Today I was reading about David in 1 Samuel 23. Most people are familiar with David of the Bible. His most famous account, both in art and literary interpretation, is the story of when he defeated the giant, Goliath. He was a young, attractive and fearless fellow. He was anointed to become the next king of Israel. People quickly adored and followed him, even King Saul’s own children, Jonathan and Michal. It didn’t take long for Saul to become jealous of David and set his face towards killing him. Everywhere David went, people helped him. He narrowly escaped death by spear many times. He learned to run to save his life.

His favorite place to hide from Saul was in the barren desert region of Judea. This was home to David. He knew the best places to hide. No doubt, he knew this place so well from his time as a shepherd. This dry and arid place was merely a place to pass through. The wilderness attracted those on the fringes—outcasts, shepherds, fugitives, hermits, and even fearful rulers. These were the people who became David’s most trusted men. (1 Samuel 22:2)

The desert served as a refiner’s fire for David. Early on, when it would be easy for him to become arrogant and puffed up, David learned to depend instead, fully on the care of God. He was pressed on every side. The enemies that lived in the land threatened him, and his own people of Israel had turned their back to him in order to serve King Saul. David met great success all around him, and yet he no doubt felt the frailness of his own life as Saul continually pursued him.

The “dry and weary land” served as a backdrop for David’s own weariness. And the lack of water around him illustrated an even deeper thirst he felt: “My soul thirsts for You” (Psalm 63:1).

At the height of his emotional and physical distress, David sought refuge in his spiritual life.

He yearned for God. source

The biggest difference in David and Saul’s characters is seen at those most pressing moments. Saul easily gives in to the moment. He allows his desperation to control the outcome. David was driven by the understanding that God is greater and able to determine his reactions based on that. David defeats Goliath because God is greater and stronger. He doesn’t take Saul’s life because God is the giver of life. He bravely faces battle because he knows the battle belongs to the Lord.

But we all know there are times that the head and the heart don’t match up. The head knows the truth, but the heart believes the lie. The head knows God will provide, but the heart worries. The head knows God can heal, but the heart grows weak with illness. No matter the reality we know, the heart makes us weary in doubt and fear. The heart becomes dehydrated before our mind even thinks about thirst. From the inside out, we begin to die a little to our faith, especially the longer we endure in the unforgiving sun.

I love to read these stories of David. they are full of excitement and encouragement. Normally, when I have read over 1 Samuel in the past, I quickly read through 1 Samuel 23 trying to get to the part where David chooses to not kill Saul. The anticipation of David hiding in the very cave that Saul is in. I giggle a little to myself picturing Saul towards the mouth of the cave. The Bible gives the detail that he was “relieving himself,” which we will just leave at that. Little known to him, he has David trapped in this cave. He’s so preoccupied with reading the Readers Digest I guess, that he doesn’t even feel David sneak up and cut a part of his cloak off. Here is David’s chance to kill Saul, but instead he protects him from his own men.

David didn’t always know what to do. He wasn’t always the mighty warrior that he is most often memorialized as. He was indeed human. Like us all, in a dry land, he needed to be filled with living water.

Jonathan was one of Saul’s sons. He was in line to be the next king, however because Saul did not obey God (see 1 Samuel 15), he was rejected as king and God choose David to be the next king. Jonathan was not like his father, however. He trusted God to mightily fight for him in battle. Jonathan and David become extremely close. Jonathan is drawn to David’s faith in God, his courage in battle, and they form a unique friendship. Jonathan is not intimated by David’s greatness. They even promise to each other that they will protect and serve each other. Jonathan personally saves David many times, and  his own father even tries to kill him because of his friendship to David. Jonathan knew that David would be the next king, and he didn’t allow his pride to destroy their friendship.

It’s during this time in the desert, as David is fleeing from Saul, that Jonathan, for one final time, will risk going to David. Jonathan plays in important role in the character of David, a self-love of a true friend. Although David is the star in the story that is unfolding, in the background we catch a glimpse of Jonathan’s friendship to David.

One day near Horesh, David received the news that Saul was on the way to Ziph to search for him and kill him. Jonathan went to find David and encouraged him to stay strong in his faith in God. 1 Samuel 23:15-16

Saul was in hot pursuit of David. He had nearly caught him just prior to this, change David up a mountain. David escaped only because Saul was called out to protect his own country from the Philistines. Jonathan, perhaps stirred by the Spirit, feels to urgency to go to David to encourage him in his faith. The imagery in verse 16 is just simply awesome. (sorry I don’t have a better adjective for that.) “Encourage him to stay strong in his faith” is literally “strengthened his hand in God.” Before, when I had read this passage, I would have skimmed over that and thought nothing more, but this time it was as if Jonathan was speaking that encouragement to me. It was almost as if the Spirit took me by my hands, holding them out and said, “strengthen your hands.”

About a year ago, we were studying the book of Hebrews in a ladies Bible study. Hebrews is a book full of super encouraging verses, that I affectionately call “Life Verses”. Words to live by; words to encourage one’s faith. We were sharing favorite verses as a group, and my friend that leads the study pointed out this verse:

Hebrews 1212

 

This was a verse that never jumped out at me, but I immediately tucked it away in my heart to meditate and remember.

Some time had passed, I had been studying the book of Judges to teach the kids at church. I was reading about Gideon. He was an unlikely hero. Those are always my favorites. He was a man, who in his time, was part of a people who were forced to live in a harsh environment. He was preparing food, hiding in a wine-press, when he receives the call of God. He was addressed as “Mighty Warrior.” Someone who has to hide from fear is not usually looked upon as mighty. Gideon prepares an army for battle and is told he has too many men. After some narrowing down, he then is about to lead his tiny army of 300 men against thousands. The sun sets as his men make final preparations, and Gideon is told to sneak down into the enemy’s camp. If he is afraid or discouraged to go down to hear what the enemy is saying and so that “your hands will be strengthened.

There is was a again. There is no doubt that this is a call to arms. It’s a call to prepare the battle line with a strong-arm, but I think for Christians it’s more than just to feel “mighty”. For Jonathan he came to David to encourage him to believe in God. He wasn’t saying, “you are strong and mighty and are able to kill my dad.” It was a message to trust in God’s protection.

Earlier this year I was reading through the book of Isaiah, and once again I came across this theme of weak hands. In Isaiah 35, their hands were weak. They had been in that desert time.  A time when the people have been drained of life and hope. There hearts were a wasteland with no strength. In that moment of weakness, like a fresh rain, joy and life returns. Isaiah tells them to BE STRONG. FEAR NOT. God is coming to save them. Isaiah 35

Isaiah 35

Jonathan speaks truth to David. He has come for the purpose of encouraging David. It’s easy to think that people in great positions don’t need encouragement. We see them out there in the spotlight. They seem to have success in all they do, and it’s easy to think they are doing great. But that’s not the case. We need encouragement from others to press on. We need to know that what we are doing is important. We need to hear that even though life is extremely hard, God is there helping us. Working on us. We aren’t dying of thirst in the desert, but instead we are being refined. I’ve learned in my own refining moments this truth. Either the moment will refine me, or I will be refined in the moment. Whatever I am struggling with, I am not left alone to fight my way through. I can be strong; I can have strong hands, not because I am strong, but I serve a God who is stronger and HE is able to do it through me. and despite me.

This desert experience has part of the refining and preparations that David needed to become the greatest King of Israel. It was a time that taught him the importance to thirst. Not for things that only leave us lacking, but to thirst for that which really satisfies- the Living Water.

Psalm 63

A psalm of David, regarding a time when David was in the wilderness of Judah.

O God, you are my God;
I earnestly search for you.
My soul thirsts for you;
my whole body longs for you
in this parched and weary land
where there is no water.
2 I have seen you in your sanctuary
and gazed upon your power and glory.
3 Your unfailing love is better than life itself;
how I praise you!
4 I will praise you as long as I live,
lifting up my hands to you in prayer.
5 You satisfy me more than the richest feast.
I will praise you with songs of joy.
6 I lie awake thinking of you,
meditating on you through the night.
7 Because you are my helper,
I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings.
8 I cling to you;
your strong right hand holds me securely.
9 But those plotting to destroy me will come to ruin.
They will go down into the depths of the earth.
10 They will die by the sword
and become the food of jackals.
11 But the king will rejoice in God.
All who swear to tell the truth will praise him,
while liars will be silenced.

click here for other verses about strengthening hands

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