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  • Rev. Dr. Billy Burch

Spreading it all out.


I just sat with a friend who needed to talk over a few things.


Heavy things.


The feeling in his gut constantly reminded him that little good could come of this. I really felt for him. I’ve been there. Even recently, I have tasted the bitterness of seemingly impossible situations. There is a reason the old slang term, ‘gut-wrenching,’ became the popular description of that unwanted feeling. I was heavy for him. I went home and looked through the Scriptures to a familiar place, the place of a gut-wrenched king. The Old Testament is full of stories that the modern day person can hang their hat on. Here’s one that directly relates.


Trouble mounted for the people of Judah. And they knew it. You see, the northern kingdom of Israel had just fallen when King Shalmaneser from Assyria laid siege to the capital city of Samaria. Now their successor, Sennacherib, set his sights on Judah and it’s capital city of Jerusalem. The Assyrians were ruthless, murderous and used torture as a scare tactic. It worked rather well. A message from the Assyrian King Sennacherib to King Hezekiah, ruler over Judah, warned them of his attack.


The letter from the Assyrian king made a few basic statements meant to generate fear and uncertainty. “What are you trusting in that makes you so confident… Who are you counting on… But perhaps you will say to me, ‘We are trusting in the LORD our God… Don’t let your Hezekiah deceive you. He will never be able to rescue you from my power… Don’t listen to Hezekiah when he tries to mislead you by saying, ‘the LORD will rescue us’… Did any god rescue Samaria from my power...” (2 Kings 18)


The people of Judah were privy to this message, for Sennacherib demanded that the letter be read in Hebrew. Everyone heard. Everyone feared. The most powerful and cruel army in the world was headed toward Judah with bad intentions. King Sennacherib defeated everyone he encountered. If the northern kingdom could fall, what makes us think we will stand? That was their reasoning and there was justification for that.

And then there was King Hezekiah in the middle of all this. If you were King, what would you do? I mean, a vast enemy army is breathing down your neck. The people are frightened, even hopeless. The threats mounted.


Do you feel that way today?


Whether by surprise or timed inevitability, maybe you are under a heavy weight. Maybe you are staring at an impossible situation. No matter how many ‘pro-con’ lists you make, there seems to be no good outcome. It’s about to go down, and the results will be catastrophic. Maybe something is so pressing against the front of your mind, something you so badly want to escape from even just for a few hours. But you can’t. If so, I think you may be feeling the same way King Hezekiah felt.


What are you to do in these situations? You will do well to follow the example of Hezekiah. He did two things that changed the outlook. These two things brought him a level of peace even in the midst of the chaos. And they brought him a level of confidence and hope in spite of the chaos. We find both of these in 2 Kings 19.


1) First, he humbled himself before God.

2 Kings 19:1 says, “When King Hezekiah heard their report, he tore his clothes and put on burlap and went into the Temple of the LORD.” Tearing clothes was an ancient Jewish tradition signifying mourning, grief or loss. Clothing oneself with burlap, or sackcloth, meant you were entering into a time of repentance. The material was usually made of goat hair, making it very uncomfortable.


This was often, but not always, accompanied by the action of sitting on and covering oneself with ashes. Humility is the first step King Hezekiah took. He showed grief, and he showed repentance. What might this mean for us? It has to do with posture. Posture, for us, usually has to do with admitting something. When things get this overwhelming, you might want to say something like this to the LORD, “Oh LORD God, I begin by admitting my heaviness, my sins and and my need for you. It’s why I am here.


So, I want to start by reciting Psalm 139:23-24 which says, ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.’” That Psalm is key in this process, as it reflects in words what Hezekiah brought to the temple in actions. Start there. Ask God to enter into your worry. And then ask Him to point out your wrongdoing, whether related to this situation or not. You just need a clean slate.


2) Second, he spread the whole thing out before God.

2 Kings 19:14 says, “After Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it, he went up to the LORD’s Temple and spread it out before the LORD.” That’s really a great mental picture. He took the impossible situation and brought it before the God of the impossible. What better thing could he do? The question is the same for you. It is simply the best thing you can do.


The real gift in this passage is the prayer itself. Hezekiah begins his prayer, not with a request, but praise. “O LORD, God of Israel, you are enthroned… You alone are God of all the kingdoms of the earth...” (2 Kings 19:15) He then entreats God to listen to the problem, rescue them with His power, so that everyone will know that God is the only God. The Scriptures have just given to us a powerful formula for spreading situations out before the LORD. You can look it up in 2 Kings 19:14-19. Praise Him. Spread it out before Him. Ask Him to show His power. Desire Him to be known.


So, next time you are in a situation like this, think of Hezekiah. He humbled himself, then spread it all out before God. It’s not only the best step we can take, it is a necessary step. Then watch God work. See Him do what He does so good. He takes the impossible and shakes it all up, puts it back together and we sit in amazement. Just like this story ends. “That night, an angel of the LORD went out to the Assyrian camp and killed 185,000 soldiers… Then Sennacherib of Assyria broke camp and returned to his own land.” (2 Kings 19:35-36)


Wow.

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