I have lived a life of violent extremes: outcast and king, shepherd and warrior, betrayer and betrayed, a man of song and a man of blood, the worst of sinners and the beloved friend of God. What have the mountains and valleys of my life taught me? One thing and one thing only: patience.

Author’s Introduction: Imagine if Homer, Virgil, Dante, Chaucer, and the other great poets of ancient Greece, Rome, and the Middle Ages had been given the gift, not only to peer into the twenty-first century, but to correspond with us who live in that most confusing and rudderless of centuries. Had it been in their power to do both of those things, what might they say to us? How would they advise us to live our lives? What wisdom from their experience and from their timeless poems might they choose to pass down to us?

David: On Patience

I have lived a life of violent extremes: outcast and king, shepherd and warrior, betrayer and betrayed, a man of song and a man of blood, the worst of sinners and the beloved friend of God. What have the mountains and valleys of my life taught me? One thing and one thing only: patience.

I have seen the hand of the Lord do mighty things, and I have felt the aching pain of his absence and silence. I have praised him to the highest heaven, and I have cried out to him in anger and despair. I have received all the desires of my heart, and I have known the rejection of those I love. And through it all, I have learned one simple thing.

Wait on the Lord.

I am a man who makes plans, big and small, short-term and long-term. I am a dreamer who would build great monuments and do great things. But I’ve had to let that go and trust in the Lord’s timing.

Wait on the Lord.

You who will walk this earth three thousand years after I am gone, I cannot imagine what wonders you will see. I am sure that your plans and your dreams and your ambitions will far exceed my own. But you, too, must learn to wait on the Lord.

I have known him as my friend, my shepherd, and my guide. But he is altogether not like me. Or like you. What is time to one who dwells in eternity? What are the little schemes of men to one who knows the beginning in the end and the end in the beginning? What is the size of a palace or the borders of a kingdom to one who is not bound by space, to one for whom the vast heavens themselves are but a footstool?

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I was so very sure that God would smile when I offered to build him a majestic home, a great temple to house the Ark of the Covenant. I had it all planned out in detail: the builders, the materials, the cost. But he said no, that I was not to do this deed.

But then he said something else: said that it would be he who would build me a house, one that would endure for generations. There I was, self-assured and self-satisfied in my puny little plans when God had something far more wonderful in mind.

Wait on the Lord. Be patient and trust that he, not you, is the one in control.

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Earlier, much earlier, the Lord took me from the sheepfold and brought me to the court of King Saul. He even helped me to slay the dread Goliath with my slingshot. Well, immediately, I started spinning glorious scenarios of what the next few years would bring. I saw just how the story would unfold, with Saul giving me his daughter, making me his son and heir, and praising my name before all the people.

It didn’t quite go the way I had mapped it out in my head. I confused the Lord’s plans with my own. I would do that quite a bit in my life.

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It’s so hard to trust, to be patient, to hope when you are surrounded by enemies on all sides. I cannot tell you how often I felt lost, forsaken, forgotten. I cried out again and again to the Lord, but I was never sure if he heard me.

But I kept crying out. Those were my good days, when I turned my complaints into song and lifted them up to the one whose face I couldn’t see. The bad days were those when I stopped crying out, stopped asking, stopped singing.

And still I waited. There were times when I demanded a timetable from God, but those were my bad days. I was at my best when I told him all that was on my heart and then left him to sort out the times and the seasons.

Wait on the Lord. It’s so simple, yet so terribly, terribly difficult.

It always ends up being there: that table laid out by God in the presence of my enemies. But he always places the table in a valley, so I can’t see it until I’ve struggled over the top of the mountain.

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I pray for you, my friends of the future, that when you are in distress and you call on the name of the Lord, he will hear you from his Temple and comfort you. I pray that he will grant your requests and establish you in a good land.

But be forewarned that it will not always be like that. For sometimes the Lord says “yes” and sometimes he says “no,” but more often than not he says “wait.”

And the waiting is the hardest part: hard for slaves as well as kings. He will not be rushed but will accomplish his purposes in his own perfect time. You could as soon lift the holy mountain of Zion and cast it into the sea as move the Lord to act before he is ready. And woe to you if you could, for to be outside the Lord’s will is to be truly alone.

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Oh, I know how you feel. It seems, while you are waiting, that you cannot bear it a day longer, that you will perish before the Lord comes and covers you with his wings.

I really do know how you feel. Twice I spared Saul’s life when the Lord delivered him into my hand; yet still, Saul distrusted me and sought to kill me. When I danced with joy before the Ark of the Lord, my own wife saw it and despised me in her heart. And later, when I was in distress, she abandoned me for another. Even my own son, Absalom, led a rebellion against me.

Yes, my dear friend Jonathan stayed true to the end, but he was killed in battle along with his father and was taken where I could no longer see him.

Still, I waited, as you, too, must wait.

Wait on the Lord. He will come.

—David

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Editor’s Note: The featured image is “David” (1865) by Frederick Leighton, 1st Baron Leighton (1830-1896), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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