Pastor Luis shows us how our, "cave moments," can lead to a refined focus on the Lord.
Each time I’ve been given the privilege of sharing with you this summer, I’ve gotten to share a Psalm of David. David easily, hands down, is one of my favorite characters in all the scriptures because of the breadth of his life and the variety of experiences that he has had. He had the highest of highs. He’s regarded as the most celebrated king in Israel’s history. He also had points of extreme failure and disappointment in his personal doing. There were also points in which they were factors outside of his control. Yet when the scriptures described the person of David in the book of acts, he is described as a man who had a refined focus. David modeled resilience through the ups, downs, and plateaus of his life. He’s described as a man after God’s own heart. His ability to adjust himself no matter where he was at or what he walking through, he would adjust himself. He continually used whatever situation he was in as an opportunity to refine his focus. That ended up becoming the point or thread that became the defining marker of his life.
What we’re going to see here together as we explore one of his Psalms is that there are moments in our lives that can help us refine our focus. There are moments that can help us adjust the lens by which we are viewing what we are walking through. If we allow God to be a part of our situation, invite Him in, and allow Him to do what He wants to do in us, then they become opportunities for us rather than points of discouragement. This is a choice. These moments are much more common than we might recognize. I’m going to call them “cave moments” because we all have cave moments in our lives. Sometimes throughout our day, week, and month, some of us might be in a cave moment, even as we share here together. These cave moments can be defined as if they have a variety of different definitions. One might say, they can be moments of relational turmoil between people we love, ourselves, and those we love. They end up causing us to feel isolated and could lead us straight into a cave.
The moments might be ones of frustration with our career in which we are not happy. We’re not content. We’re not satisfied with the way things are going. We see others are thriving and moving ahead. Somehow we’ve been the ones who are marginalized and missing out. There might be moments in our lives because of the circumstances we’re in. Or how we are feeling internally. We feel under siege because of the anxiety we’re under. We have a desire to hide and escape. These can all be a cave moment. These moments are opportunities for us to invite God in and to refine our focus on Him. These moments could be produced by our own actions or factors outside of control. In fact, one person who was an early 1900’s preacher of the Methodist church was W. E. Sangster. He was renowned.
Sangster wrote and in his memoir that he came ‘over the arc’ of his life. He came to recognize that there were certain indicators. At first, he didn’t like them, but over time, he learned to see them as indicators. They were a reminder to refine his focus. I thought I’d share them. He said there are four factors. One would be like lights on the dashboard. It was his way of saying this is the reminder. He says, “I’ve noticed I have to refine my focus when I’ve lost peace. When the thoughts that envelop me are of great unrest and personal uncertainty invades my heart. When I lose peace, I need to refocus. I need to refine my focus. There are moments when I have lost joy and waves of depression sweep over me and life seems a heavy burden. That’s an indicator. I need to refine my focus. Moments when I have lost the taste for my work, we would say passion.” He uses his language, you can see where he was writing from, and what context. He says, “I have had to lash myself to it instead of going willingly and gladly into my work.”
He says, “I’ve noticed I need to refine my focus when I find myself in a place, despite encouragements of one sort or another, where there is this underlying sense of failure.” We would call those cave moments. It’s how we respond in those moments, how we choose to step into them and walk through them that determine whether or not we are able to take advantage of the opportunity or whether we allow it to unravel something within us and have its way with us. So how we respond is very, very important. This is where David modeled what it was like, to be honest, and yet be able to refine himself in the midst of his trial. One moment, in particular, is found in Psalm 142. David found himself. We’re told this is a maskil of David. This is a prayer of David when he was literally in the cave. In verse one he says, “with my voice, I cry out to the Lord. With my voice, I plead for mercy to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before Him. I tell my trouble before Him. When my spirit faints within me, you know my way and the path where I walk, they have hidden a trap for me, look to the right and see, there is none who takes notice of me. No refuge remains to me. No one cares for my soul.” You could sense the agony, pain, and hurt of David.
In David’s case, he is literally in a cave. He’s describing what a cave feels like. He’s saying, “I am in this place in which I am isolated and marginalized. I am completely alone.” David is describing what loneliness truly feels like. He is saying, “I’m in this place where there are those who have set traps for me,” almost a sense of paranoia. “I’m under siege. There are those who are chasing me.” He is describing how it is both real and metaphorical. Life has put him in a place in which he feels completely alone. He’s crying out to God and you can see it. His focus from the get-go is on his pain and complaint. There’s no doubt about it. It starts there. As he progresses you hear his agonizing cry.
In verse five David says, “I cry to you, oh Lord. I say you are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living. I’m in this place, hiding in the cave where I literally have no one. My possessions are nowhere to be found. I have nothing to hold onto.” You can sense the habit he has trained himself into. He begins by addressing where he’s at. He is not pretending, he is not hiding. Yet his ability to refine his thoughts adjusts how he’s viewing things. He says, “but in this place of true isolation and loneliness of being misunderstood, being on the run, I have recognized something. I’ve recognized that you are my refuge. I have nothing else but you. What I have is far more worthy of my focus than what I don’t have. You are my portion in the land of the living. You are my treasure. I can be stripped of everything, but I can never be stripped from you. It’s your presence with me. I tender my cry. I am brought very low. I’m not in a good place, deliver me for my persecutors.” In David’s case, they were real. They were too strong for him. If his focus started to move towards a place of fixing himself on the guide, then it ends up moving him towards a future that he knows is very real. He says, “bring me out of my prison, that I may give thanks to your name. I feel incarcerated by my situation. I am being faced with a situation that has no way out.
It’s a lose-lose proposition. I am trapped but you can bring me out of this. You can bring me out of this. You can show me the way. The righteous will surround me. Right now, I feel like those who are not right are inclined toward my harm are all around me. You will surround me with good people. You will deal bountifully with me.” It’s almost as if he’s saying my present is not permanent, but my future is bright because you are with me. That was how he described one of the lowest points in his life. You could see how he stepped into this cave. This cave ended up becoming the place where he was able to practice what he had long created as a habit of life. He refined his focus. He adjusts how he was perceiving things and how he was going to walk out of them. At this point of being settled, where he was both anxious, hopeful, and aware of the struggle, he found himself in despair. Yet able to know God is able to meet him and do something amazing through this situation, both were present. This is what makes David a remarkable model for us. Because some of us lean one direction or another. He was able to hold both intentions.
Somehow his despair didn’t overshadow the ability for God’s goodness to prevail. Just so we understand what led to him being in the cave, I thought it’d be good for us to look at the account that’s shared in one of his passages. We’re told in 1 Samuel 21, that what led David to this place is an interesting situation. In verse 10 we’re told, “David rose and fled that day from Saul and went to Achish, the king of Gath.” We may not know what this exactly means. But Saul would be the king of Israel who was hunting him down like an animal. Saul saw David, not as an ally, but as a threat to his own power. He allowed his insecurity and jealousy to treat David like an adversary. He caused David to flee for his life. We’re told that he goes to Achish to the king of the Gaths. This would be the king of the giant who propelled David to national fame. He would be in the country of his enemy, Goliath.
David’s on the run, as he steps into this region, moving into the territory of his enemies. In verse 11 we’re told that the servants of Achish said to him, “Is not this David, the King of the land?” They did not sing to one another of him and dances, a king being metaphorical. Isn’t he the one who actually has ultimate power, whose fame is renowned throughout all the land? Remember that song? It went viral. We heard it. It went something like, Saul has struck his thousands, but David is ten thousands. Remember how they celebrated David when he entered and we heard it, who was that? Oh, that’s David. David, the one who conquered Goliath, our champion. Remember how they elevated him to this point of preeminence? They grabbed David and bring him before the king. Thankfully, this is for David’s sake. This is long before any form of visual identification. There are no photography or sketch artists to be able to identify him. All they had was his reputation. They bring this man who was celebrated by his own people. For one of the first times, his reputation didn’t help him. We’re told in verse 12, “David took these words to heart and was much afraid of Achish, to the king of Gath.” This is a very different disposition. The one he had when he was facing Goliath long ago was the courage he exhibited was now covered with nothing but fear.
David changes his behavior before them. He pretended to be insane, made marks on the doors of the gate, and let his spittle run down his beard. You can sense the imagery. We might read this and it might rub us against our own social sensibilities. We have to understand that David ended up in a culture and time in history and in a region of the world where decorum is extremely valuable for status, self-respect, and dignity. These are things that you just do not surrender. David was brought to the palace. This is why people say this was the lowest of lows for him because he was a man without a country, home, and safety. He was now a man in the land of his enemies. He had to strip himself of his dignity and self-respect simply to take in more oxygen and assure that he would survive. You can see the contrast because a man of his stature would never dare do what he did. To behave as though his mind was no longer with him was unheard of. The king looked at him and said to his servants, “Behold, you see this man. He is mad. Why then have you brought him to me? Do I lack madman that you’ve brought this fellow to behave as a madman in my presence? He’s not fit to even be in my presence.” That’s the subtext as a culture he is in.
David is stripped of his dignity just to survive. The humiliation he must have felt was deep. We’re told in the next chapter, verse one, that is the circumstance by which David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam. In the cave, alone, abandoned, forgotten, remembered by the wrong people, hunted, at a loss of his dignity, feeling depressed, waves of discouragement, and completely isolated in that place in the cave is where he decided to refine his focus. That became one of the biggest hinge points for the remainder of David’s life. It is a remarkable story. A story that I think has much for us to learn from as we walk through whatever challenges we might be facing. Whether we’re in one or not, there are a couple of things that are worth considering. A couple of thoughts up there for us. Cave moments simplify our lives by loosening the grip of the less important. They force us to become agile. If we allow them to. If we invite God in, we are much more open to letting go of the less important. We are much more able to be satisfied with the things we have, what is in front of us, and what is truly important. These moments in our lives can elevate what is more worthy of our attention. They can loosen us from being beholden to the things that honestly, at the end of the day, don’t add any value to our lives.
My parents are immigrants from El Salvador. They came in the late ’70s. In many ways, they were running from a civil war that threatened their livelihood. They made their way here. My grandfather joined them and they were married here a year later. I was born SF general. I’ve been here my whole life in this city I love and know. My grandfather became my caretaker as my parents worked long, hard hours working full-time jobs. I remember many times I would find myself in a situation in which I would be corrected by my parents. This happened a lot. I would have a bad attitude or want something they didn’t want to provide or could not provide. My response would not be good. I would deserve the correction they would give me. They would give me what I wanted. I would inevitably, after these moments, find myself in the room. They would leave and grandfather would enter. Looking back, it’s almost as if they had a system. My grandfather would enter and have these conversations with me. What I would always say to him was like a ritual. “Grandpa, it’s not fair.” I had the habit of saying that. It’s not fair. It’s not right. He would say, “don’t do that.”
My grandpa doesn’t have a filter. He still doesn’t have a filter. Back then I was a little boy he would describe things to me. Looking back, there’s probably a little bit too much detail. He would start talking to me about what it was like to be raised in El Salvador. He was an orphan and didn’t have much. He would tell me his story. He wouldn’t even correct me. He would just say, “oh, you know what? I remember when I was…” He would just start talking about his childhood. That would always lead to, “Luis, you don’t understand how good you have it. You have both your parents, your mom, and dad. You have a pair of shoes. You have clothes, food, shelter, and a nice bed.” I would think, “really? That’s the standard? That’s why I got it made?” He would describe what life was like for him. I always felt like that was extreme until my parents took me to where they were from. We would go through the streets. I saw children without shoes, clothing, and homes fighting and scrounging for food. It was normal. He described in truly horrific detail the kind of violence he had to watch on the streets. The amount of pain that erupted in the streets when civil war invaded his country. I said, “oh, you should focus on what you have, not what you don’t have.” These cave moments.
David was in a little cave running for his life, literally in danger. There are many people all over the world in that situation. They are experiencing it. I’m going to take a leap here and say that it’s not going to be the situation for most of us. It’s not to belittle what we are walking through or put us in those caves. I don’t think that’s our problem by and large. Most of the time our affliction can be a different kind of affliction. It’s the affliction of pleasure and comfort. It’s the affliction of abundance and affluence. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but it has a different type of trial. We understand we’re in danger. The other one slowly suffocates us. All of the trappings of life and the pleasures, technology, and everything that we can take full advantage of and enjoy have the ability to squeeze us. Our attention and focus can become afraid. All of a sudden passion starts to leak. The reason for which we are created starts to become something on the back burner. We start losing the very life we are made to live.
We allow our focus to be encumbered with so many other pursuits. This is why I believe the writer of Hebrews said this journey of faith. It’s like a race. We need to run it well. Running means agility. Agility means being light on our feet. We are surrounded by a huge crowd of witnesses to a life of faith. Let us strip off every weight that slows us down. This is how we are supposed to live; Light. We are supposed to live it light on our feet. It’s not only every weight that slows us down, but it’s the sin that so easily trips us up. This is why it’s not just to live an aesthetic life that inflicts pain and discomfort. It’s not that. It’s so that we can run the race with endurance that God has set before us that each one of us was meant to run a unique race. In order to run it, there is a requirement to simplify, let go, and be willing to release.
Bill Hybels, a renowned pastor, author, and prolific writer in Chicago, wrote a book that I thought was worth us sitting with called, Simplify. He says this is the best way to describe what we’re talking about. A refined focus. Simplified living is about more than doing less. It’s about more than just letting go. It’s being who God called us to be with a wholehearted single-minded focus. It’s walking away from innumerable lesser opportunities in favor of the few to which we’ve been called and for which we’ve been created. It’s a lifestyle that allows us, when our heads hit the pillow at night, to reflect with the attitude that our day was well invested and the varied responsibilities our lives are in order. This is the life we’re meant to live. A lot of times, if we don’t and we’re not careful, the rhythms of our life won’t wake us up or alert us to the reality that we have an encumbered soul. It’s the cave moments that can give us the opportunity to say, “oh, okay, maybe I need to adjust my expectations. Maybe I need to let go, forgive. Maybe I need to be okay. Maybe I need to remind myself what’s actually important.”
If it does that, then it can help us focus our attention on God’s presence. Cave moments help us focus our attention on God’s presence. When we find ourselves in the place where we feel isolated, alone, and without anyone to care for our soul like David said he did, then it is there that we discover we may have nothing, but You are my portion. We may not be that in that place right now. But the practice of entering God’s presence is a habit worth cultivating when we are not in the cave. David didn’t do that for the first time in the cave. David had been going to the gym of God’s presence because his instinct kicked in. It had to have. It’s those moments that give us the opportunity where loneliness can become solitude with God. Feeling forgotten can be remembered by Him and remembering Him. What does this look like?
We’ve been walking through the book of Psalms. Tim Keller wrote this devotion in which he takes pieces of a Psalm for every day. He’ll give you a portion of the Psalm and some thoughts on it. Then some points of reflection application to read. Take five minutes out of our frenetic lives to cultivate God and say “you are my portion. Refine my focus, bring me to what really matters.” We could do that. We could read His word. We could do a variety of things. I just want to give you a couple of basic things. I know these are basic. James says we draw near to God. He draws near to us. This looks like one, we begin with worship. No matter what situation we are in, we declare His worth. We may not know His worth yet. We read what the scriptures say His worth is. You declare it. Many words go through our mouth throughout the day, but to train ourselves to speak words that are holy, lovely, beautiful, redeeming, and gracious has a cleansing effect. We should try to do that every day to the best of our ability. That’s a great way to begin our day and it involves prayer. Learning how to write our own prayer.
It could be writing someone else’s prayer. Prayer would be the second way we devote and refine ourselves and our focus. We cultivate this habit of enveloping His presence. Then we discover there is something to be grateful for. No matter what situation we are in, we can express thanksgiving that there is something we can say, “Lord, I thank you. In this cave, I thank you, on this mountaintop, I thank you.” Wherever I’m at to express gratitude, it does something to us. It forms us. To be able to reflect upon what we are hearing from Him as we are inviting Him into our lives, we’re reflecting on His word. We’re thanking Him for things to write down. Write down a couple of sentences that say, “For my life, the uniqueness, the framework of what you are doing in my life, this is what it looks like to be able to reflect on this.” It’s a beautiful thing because that becomes the point in which we discover for ourselves what this life with God is all about. I remember a little while ago feeling a bit frustrated with all the activity going on in my life, desiring a more peaceful, less active one, bemoaning my situation. I know I feel so grateful. We get into these moments. I was in a cave. I remember reading that Hebrews passage. I remember for me it caused me to reflect.
To say, “I thank you for giving me a race to run. Thank you for giving me a race that is my own in your plan. Thank you for helping me learn how to run it well. I ask you to help me not compare myself or my race to someone else’s. Help me not desire someone else’s race. Help me learn how to run this one, faithfully with endurance, as you direct me to.” That word carried me. When we reflect on what we cultivate, this presence gives us focus. It gives us the ability to know, “oh, this is what you’re asking me to do. This is how you’re asking me to move forward.” When we get to that place of cave moments and invite Him in, it helps us develop a trust anchored in God’s promise for a brighter future. This is what David landed on. He says you will deal bountifully with me. I’m in this cave alone, but you are my portion. I look into the future and it’s bright. My present will not be my future, because you’re involved. When you’re involved it is good.
We might say, David, didn’t do anything wrong. His conscience didn’t accuse him. He didn’t feel any shame. He was unjustly being persecuted. Of course, he can declare that type of trust. That’s why I love the gospels. In the first four books of the New Testament in the gospel of Luke, there’s a man who is known as a criminal. He lived a life of crime. He came to the end of his life being justly executed by crucifixion. He happened to be crucified that day next to Jesus. He witnesses Jesus express forgiveness for the ones who are nailing Him as He gives His life up as an atonement for all the wrongdoings of anyone who would embrace Him and those who were killing Him. He witnesses how gracious and loving Jesus was even in this hour of extraordinary pain. This criminal who had got it wrong for so long uses his final breath to get it right.
“ Will you remember me when you get to your kingdom?” Jesus said to him, “this day, I assure you, you will be with me in paradise.” Your future is going to be far brighter than you could ever, ever imagine. The grace of God is so extraordinary that we can be in a cave. It does not matter how we ended up there or what kind of cave it is like. When we invite Him in, our future in an instant becomes brighter than our present. A man who lived a life of crime is not known as a criminal. He’s known as the man who is in paradise because he reached out to Jesus in his final moments. We don’t get redos, we get remade. We get to change the future narrative of our story when we refine our focus. May that be the case for us.
Lord, I thank you. I thank you that you are able to meet us exactly where we’re at. I thank you, God, that there is not one point of pain, struggle, affliction, or trial that is ever wasted when you’re invited in. I pray that you would help us, Lord, be people who refine and adjust what and who we focus on. That you would have your way in our soul. That our future will be a future that is written by Your grace be far brighter than our past, or perhaps even our present. We ask for your blessing. We pray for this in Jesus’ name. Amen.