Years ago I heard a youth pastor, in the middle of something else he was talking about, comment, “the books of Chronicles don’t have anything interesting in them.” The man was an idiot. Obviously he had never actually read the books of Chronicles. Admittedly, the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles are a snooze fest: a bunch of genealogical lists. But even the boring sections have a use (see my post, The Boring Stuff). But there are plenty of good stories after that, including a section that has been a comfort to me time and time again. I learned of it from reading about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. His favorite verse was the second half of 2 Chronicles 20:12: “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” That sentence occurs at the end of a prayer that Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, offered to God. A vast army was coming against Judah from Edom and Moab. He admits to God that “…we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us”: the first half of 2 Chronicles 20:12.
It is a common occurrence in life to face vast armies: our problems, whatever they may be. It is also common to have no clue what to do about them. Sometimes, as in Jehoshaphat’s case, God gives a solution that we like. The armies that attacked Judah fought among themselves and never attacked, leaving behind enormous spoils for Judah to plunder. In contrast, Bonhoeffer faced his own death—the ultimate crisis that every last one of us must face—and there was no escaping from it. Some of the vast armies facing us are like that, unfortunately.
In both cases, however, we can still look to God and know that he will be with us as we experience whatever outcome he has chosen for us. We can have confidence that he will see us through, and understand that even if we don’t like what happens to us, God is still with us and still dependable.
Not long before he was arrested, convicted, and executed, Jesus told his disciples “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) Sometimes people give us encouragement in the middle of our bad times and we think “easy for you to say.” But given Jesus’ context, knowing what he was about to face, his words carry added force. They were not easy, they were not cliché, and they were not flippant. He believed them even though he faced the ultimate crisis.
Earlier in his life, Jesus told an audience, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?” (Matthew 6:25)
It is hard to believe words like that if we’re facing the loss of our jobs, income, or house, because we wonder how we can live at all without those things. It seems impossible, facing a vast army, to feel that peace Jesus talked about.
But look back at Jehoshaphat again. In 2 Chronicles 20:2 he is informed about the crisis. His reaction, according to the very next verse, is “alarm.” Hardly seems like he felt any peace. But wait, what did he do in his alarm? He “resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah.” He immediately thought to turn to God. And he didn’t face the problem by himself. Verse four goes on to say that “The people of Judah came together to seek help from the Lord; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him.”
Too often in the middle of a crisis our first instinct is to isolate ourselves, or to pretend to those around us that “everything is fine” even when it most assuredly is not. Instead, when the bad times roll, we need to run to Jesus, and we need to seek out our friends and family. Some comfort in dark times comes from simply being with other people. And sometimes, those other people may come up with solutions that we, in the middle of the crisis, can’t see.
The vast army facing us may fade away. Or it may not. In either case, it is easier to endure it with our eyes on God, surrounded by those who love us.