One of the things that I’ve been learning over the past few years is that there are some prayers that God doesn’t answer in the ways that we expect. Seven years ago we felt that God had given us a promise: specifically that He would bring us to a spacious place. Both Debbie and I have written about this spacious place a number of times in this blog. It is an interesting term and brings all sorts of things to mind.
In the Bible it is used uniquely on four occasions and almost always by David regarding his experience of God’s rescue. I’ve reproduced these occasions below so that you can see what we are talking about here and then there are some of my reflections.
He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.
I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul. You have not given me into the hands of the enemy but have set my feet in a spacious place.
When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord; he brought me into a spacious place. The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? The Lord is with me; he is my helper. I look in triumph on my enemies.2 Samuel 22:17-20 (also in Psalm 18:16-19), Psalm 31:7-8 and Psalm 118:5-7
1. Our need of rescue…
David speaks in these verses about powerful enemies and foes. He feels afflicted, hard pressed and afraid. He feels anguish of soul and at times he is facing disaster. We know from David’s life that things were never easy for him. Having been anointed King he was soon on the run from King Saul. Once established as King the threat from his enemies loomed from every side. Later on in life he faced plots and conspiracies even from his own family. He also faced plenty of personal failures that pushed him to the brink. Yet time and time again, God delivered him and brought him into what David calls the spacious place. David of all people was used to spacious places – his time as a shepherd up in the hills with the sheep would have taught him this. Life was never easy but this was his testimony in these verses. By way of context Blueletterbible.org suggests that Psalm 31 was written about David’s persecution from Saul (1 Sam 23), Psalm 118 on God’s promises to David (1 Chron 17) and Psalm 18 on the conclusion of David’s wars (2 Sam 22).
He is wooing you from the jaws of distress to a spacious place free from restriction, to the comfort of your table laden with choice food.Job 36:16
There is one other example in the life of Job. His plight is also well known. He lost everything (Job 1-3) and was then counselled by his friends (Job 4-37). Later on in the conversation Elihu draws the distinction between the jaws of distress and the spacious place which he says is free from restriction. This feels quite an apt description for our own times given our own experience of live under COVID19!
I can imagine that Job felt pretty hemmed in by all that he had faced and the prospect of enjoying the comfort of a table laden with choice food must have been quite enticing. These so called friends encouraged Job to repent and accept that God was punishing him. This was not however the case and in fact God later rebukes them for not speaking the truth about Him as Job had done. Job was going through a rough time but it was not one of his own making.
2. God delights to rescue us…
Advertising often plays on our sense of worth: companies tell us that we should have their products because we are worth it or because we deserve it. David however says that God rescued him because He delighted in him. In the eyes of God, we really are worth it. Simply because that is true, God holds nothing back in order to grow and mature us in the faith.
Delight means to please greatly or a high degree of gratification or pleasure. It is a strong term and communicates well how God feels about His people. Another verse that takes up this word is in Zechariah 3:17 which says:
The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”Zechariah 3:17
The verses in 2 Samuel 22 come as part of a song of praise. It seems likely that this song came at the end of David’s life and He had repeatedly experienced God’s rescue and deliverance. The point I want to drive home here though is about God’s delight for His people. As human beings we are made in God’s image and each of us uniquely reflects God’s likeness. Sin entered the word and that image became marred but God loved us so much that He sent His one and only Son into the world to save and redeem us. God continues to delight in His people and that means both you and me. Because He delights in us He longs to bring us into His spacious place but where exactly is that place?
3. So where is the spacious place?
Thinking back to Gods promise to us I had always imagined that the spacious place was a place that was free of trials. The verses above can certainly be read to imply that God’s deliverance will free us from whatever was getting us down. David certainly reached places where particular challenges came to and end but we know that there was always another challenge further down the road.
Job’s friend Elihu said that God was wooing him from a place of difficulty to a place of lavish blessing. At the end of Job we do see him reach a place of lavish blessing but he still had to live with the grief of having lost everything first time around. Throughout the conversations with his friends the big question being asked is ‘why’. Yet the only explanation God gives to him is not about the ‘why’ but about the ‘who’ (more here). I think Job finds the spacious place when he experiences God and everything is put into perspective. That comes before the later blessing!
In my own life, over the past few years I have come to see that the spacious place is not about breaking free of the challenges that we are facing (though sometimes that may well be true) but primarily, it is a place of finding new perspective and a place where we can trust God. He never promises us a trouble free life but He does promise that He will always be with us. There is huge freedom to be found in coming to a place where we can face whatever challenges come our way.
James taps into this thought as he encourages us to consider it pure joy when we face trials of many kinds. He also gives us a hint of the ‘why’ as he explains how trials produce perseverance and maturity.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.James 1:2-4
4. Remaining in the Spacious place
This blog is already too long (sorry for that) but I want to finish with a comment on remaining. This is a term Jesus uses in John 15 about remaining in Him (the vine) and in His love. This idea helps us to see that the spacious place is not a final destination but a place that we must proactively look to remain in. It is not a given that we will either reach or remain in the spacious place. When we do manage to make camp in the spacious place we will find greater stability to life. Rather than being thrown around by the constant challenges and trials of life (which I have been trying to say are inevitable), we can instead begin to see those trials in a very different perspective. Knowing that God is with us and trusting Him for whatever life brings really does change everything. The final image sums this up for me. Mountain summits are often spacious places but they also serve as vantage points to get fresh perspective on all that is going on in our lives. Perhaps today you need to spend some time taking stock and letting God refresh your perspective for all that life brings your way.