Peter sits on the street in the middle of the night and leans his head against a building. He would like to beat his head against the wall. He just messed up again. Everyone misspeaks occasionally, but Peter does it daily, even many times a day. Today it was really a whopper. He blurts wrong words like a whale spouts water, spraying folly everywhere He always hurts or offends someone, but tonight he hurt his dear friend of long years standing. Peter and his troublesome quick-triggered tongue is in trouble like never before!
Then there is Joseph and his failures. The poor guy cannot hold a job. His career rivals the Rocky Mountains, up, down; cold, hot; lush, barren. He tried his hand at the family business. They fired him because they were jealous of him. He tried his skills as a manager and got canned and jailed. Now he sits in prison, future as bleak as the Mojave Desert. No one could fault him for feeling insecure because he has flopped at every opportunity given him.
So has she, not at work but at marriage. The first one failed. So she did her second. By the collapse of the third, she knew the names of the court clerk's grandkids. If her fourth trip to divorce court didn't convince her, the fifth time removed all doubts. She is destined for marriage flops, always landing flatter than a pancake.
People and their proverbial hang-ups. Peter always speaks before he thinks. Joseph inevitably fails when he should succeed. The dear woman wins at marriage as often as a burro wins at Churchill Downs.
And you? Does one prevailing problem leach your life away?
Some are seemingly prone to cheat; others quick to doubt. Maybe you worry too much. Yes, everyone worries some, but you own the national distributorship of anxiety. Perhaps you are judgmental. Sure, everybody can be critical, but you pass more judgment than a federal judge in service on the bench for years.
What is the one weakness, that one bad habit, or rotten attitude in your life? Where does the dirty devil have a stronghold in your life? Ah, what a question! There is the fitting word, stronghold, a fortress, citadel, thick impregnable walls, tall gates. It is as if the devil staked a claim on one weakness and constructed a rampart around it. It seems as if he taunts you, "You ain't touchin this flaw!" He defies you, he defies heaven, placing himself as squarely between God's helping grace and your explosive temper, fragile self-image, freezer-size appetite, or your distrust for authority. Seasons come and go and this Loch Ness monster still lurks in the water bottom of your soul. He won't go away. He lives up to both sides of his compound name, strong enough to grip like a vise and stubborn enough to hold on. He clamps like a bear trap, so the harder you try to shake him lose the more it hurts.
Strongholds: old, difficult, long entrenched, firmly rooted, discouraging challenges in our life.
That is what David faced when he looked at Jerusalem. When you and I think of the city, we envision the temple and prophets. We picture Jesus there, teaching, a New Testament Church growing. We imagine a thriving community, a hub-of-history capital.
But when David sees Jerusalem in 1000 BC, he see sees something else. He sees a millennium-old, cheerless fortress, squatting defiantly on the spires of a ridge of hills. He perceives a rugged outcropping which elevates her, tall walls that protect her, faithless Jebusites who inhabit her. No one bothers them. Philistines fight the Amalekites who make war on the Chosen People. But the Jebusites? They are a coiled rattlesnake in the desert. Everyone leaves them alone and runs from their company.
Everyone that is, except David. The just-crowned King of Israel has his eye on Jerusalem. He has inherited a divided kingdom. The people need, not just a strong leader, but strong headquarters. David's present base of Hebron sits too far south to enlist the loyalties of the northern tribes, but if he moves north, he will isolate the south. He seeks and needs a centralized city.
He wants Jerusalem. We can only wonder how many times he has stared at its walls. He grew up in Bethlehem, only a day's walk to the south. He hid in the caves in the region of En Getti, not far south. Surely he noticed Jerusalem. So he pegged the place as the perfect capital. The crown had scarcely been re-sized for his head when he set his concentrated eyes on his newest Goliath.
So the king and his men went to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of that land, who spoke to David saying, "You shall not come in here, but the blind and the lame will repel you."...nevertheless David took the stronghold of Sion, that is the City of David. Now David said on that day, "Whoever climbs up by way of the water shaft and defeats the Jebusites...he shall be chief and captain"... David dwelt in the stronghold and called it the city of David" 2 Samuel 5: 6 - 9.
This regrettably brief story tantalizes us with the twofold appearances of the term stronghold. Briefly the account is "David took the stronghold" 2 Samuel 5: 7, and a few verses later, "David dwelt in the stronghold" 2 Samuel 5: 9.
Jerusalem fittingly meets the definition and qualification of a stronghold: an old, difficult and discouraging fortress. From atop the turrets, Jebusite soldiers have ample time to direct arrows at any would-be wall climbers. And discouraging? Just listen to the way the city dwellers taunt David. "You will never get in here ... even the blind and lame could keep you out" 2 Samuel 5: 6.
The Jebusites pour scorn on David like the dirty devil dumps buckets of discouragement on us in our struggle toward perfection. "You will never come in here with your bad habits. Poor southern white trash that you are in the spiritual life, you just gonna die the way you live. Think you can overcome your addiction to sin? Think again you wormy weakling."
If you heard the mocking David hears, your story needs the word included in David's story. Does your reading of Scripture encourage you? Have you seen it? Most simply rush and hurry past it. But we should not. Let us hesitate a moment and learn. Pull open to the right page and underline this twelve-letter encouraging masterpiece.
"Nevertheless David took the stronghold" 2 Samuel 5: 7.
Granted the city was old. The walls were difficult. The voices were discouraging ... BUT nevertheless David took the stronghold.
Would we not love for God to write a nevertheless in our biography? Born to alcoholics, nevertheless, she led a sober life. Never went to college, nevertheless, he mastered a fulfilling trade. Never prayed or read the Bible or attended church until older age, nevertheless he came to an abiding faith in the life of the Church.
We all need a nevertheless. And our heavenly Father has plenty to go around. Strongholds mean nothing to him. Remember Paul's reminder? 'We are God's
mighty weapons, not mere worldly weapons, to knock down the devil's strongholds" 2 Corinthians 10: 4.
All of us fight with silly toothpicks. God comes into our lives with battering rams and bazooka cannons. What He did for David, He can do for us. The question is will we do what David did? The young king models much for us here in this incident. David ignores them. He dismisses their provocative words and goes about his work. He concentrates on what God expects of him.
And our God makes up in him what is still lacking so that he achieves success.
Nehemiah, on these same walls, took an identical approach. In his case, however, he was atop the stones and the mockers stood at the base. Fast forward some five hundred years from David's time, and you will see the bulwarks of Jerusalem are in ruins and many of her people are in captivity. Nehemiah heads up a building program to restore the fortifications. Critics tell him to stop. They plan to interfere with his work. They list all the reasons the stones cannot and should not be re-stacked in place. But Nehemiah will not listen to them. "I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave and go down to you" Nehemiah 6: 3? Nehemiah knew how to press the mute button on his dissenters.
Jesus did the same. He responded to satan's temptations with three terse sentences and three scriptural verses. He did not dialogue with the devil. "Satan be gone!" Matthew 4: 10. When Peter told Christ to sidestep the cross, Jesus would not entertain the thought. "Get behind me, satan" Matthew 16: 23, was his response. A crowd of people ridiculed what He said about a young girl. "The girl is not dead, only asleep. But the people laughed at him" Matthew 9: 24. You already know what Jesus did to naysayers. He silenced them. "After the crowd had been thrown out of the house, Jesus went into the young girl's room and took hold of her hand and she stood up" Matthew 9: 25.
David, Nehemiah, Jesus practiced selective listening. Can't we do the same? Can't we concentrate on the promises of the Lord and fulfill them in our own lives? Have we placed ourselves outside the circle of salvation so that God cannot touch us? Do we choose to remain beyond his ability to touch our lives? Or are we making ourselves usable to God?
Two kinds of thinking continually vie for our attention in life. One says, "Yes, I can!" The other insists, "No you cannot." The first begins with our heavenly Father. The other has its source in the devil. One says, "God will help." The other repeats to us, "God has left you to yourself." One speaks the language of heavenly salvation, while the other continually reverberates and deceives in the vernacular of the Jebusites. One proclaims God's strength while the other lists your failures. One longs to build you up and ennoble you while the other seeks to tear your down. And the greatest and wonderful news is you select the voice you hear and the voice that benefits you; the one which builds you up and makes you an ally and co-worker of the Father. Why listen to mockers, to second-rate advice? Why heed their voices? Why give ear to pea-brain scoffers when you just as easily can, with the very same ears, listen to the encouraging voice of our God? Open your heart and soul to grow faith in Christ.
Do what David did: Turn a deaf ear to old voices. Turn off tired worn negative insights. And, as you do, open your eyes to new choices. When everyone else saw walls, David saw break-throughs in the tunnels. Others focused on the obvious while David searched for the unusual. Since he did what no one expected, he achieved what no one imagined. Become creative in your spiritual life and your problemsolving. Follow the advice and encouragement of our God.
One woman memorizes long sections of Scripture along with vesperal and matinal hymnology to overcome her anxiety. A traveling representative asks hotels to remove televisions from his rental room so he won't be tempted in his traveling loneliness to watch pornography to pass the time. Another man grew so weary of his prejudice that he moved to a part of town which housed non-whites, made new friends and not only changed his attitude, but by his zeal brought a number of them into the Orthodox Church.
If the wall is too tall, try the tunnel, try the way and methodology of God. It works remarkably!
David found fresh hope in a hole in the ground outside Jerusalem walls. So can you. So can we all. Not far from David's tunnel is the tomb of Christ. What David's tunnel did for him, the tomb of Jesus can do for us. "God's power is very great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the strength God used to raise Christ from the dead and put him at his right side in the heavenly world" Ephesians 1: 19, 20.
Do in your life what David did in his. Turn a deaf ear to the temptations of the devil, turn off old voices. Open a wide eye to new opportunities. Entrust your soul wholly to Christ. Who knows, you may be a simple prayer away from a nevertheless in your own life. God loves to distribute them when we make ourselves worthy of receiving them.
He gave one to Peter, the one who spoke now and thought about it regretfully later. God helped him release the devil's stronghold on his non-thinking tongue. For proof, you can read St. Peter's Pentecost sermon in the Book of Acts, chapter 2. God turned the impetuous Peter into the Apostle Peter (Luke 22: 54 - 62). And Joseph? Fired and dismissed by his family, jailed by his employer, jobless Joseph began to finally amount to something. He became the Prime Minister of Egypt. (Genesis 37 - 50). What about the five-time divorcee, the woman whom men used, abused and discarded? Jesus made out of her a firm disciple. The Samaritan woman was Jesus' first missionary (John 4: 1 - 42). These are all further proof that "God's mighty weapons ... knock down the devil's strongholds" 2 Corinthians 10: 4.
Peter always stuck his foot in his mouth; Joseph was imprisoned in Egypt; the Samaritan Woman was married five times; Jesus was dead in the grave. Nevertheless, Peter successfully preached, Joseph ruled nobly and helped his antagonistic family, the woman shared, not men but the good news, Jesus rose from the dead. What about you? How are you going to finish your life story? When are you going to begin with a nevertheless, a firm and serious use of God's assistive grace to transform yourself into what you ought to be?
Fill in the blanks for yourself. Your nevertheless waits for you. You have sinned and short-changed yourself. Repent and confess you sins. Seek God's confirming strength in the Eucharist. Grab it and run for the finish line of your life!