Get up! Encourage yourself

“Wherever you go, there you are.”  Grin or laugh about the silly statement, but it is a truth with significant consequences.  The older we get the more we realize that we cannot run away from ourselves – the painful or shameful memories of past failures and disappointments with oneself, our emotions or our own shortcoming – because “wherever you go, there you are.”  Sadly we can’t outrun ourselves.  Where you go, these aspects of your life follow you.

wherever you go there you are

But we also realize that the people in our lives come and go because we move on, because we hurt or get hurt, or because inevitably our loved ones pass away.  So apart from the constancy of God in our lives, only “you are wherever you go” – no one else.  Good or bad – this truth requires some reflection and response.

Sooner or later in life you will find that you are left to face a big, troubling situation all by yourself.  With no-one else to spur you on, you will need to encourage yourself in God.

ENCOURAGE YOURSELF IN GOD

Although he did not live an isolated life, David had to face many critical situations alone with his God.  In 1 Samuel 30 we find David at a very vulnerable position in his life: he and his group of mercenaries (all refugees from Israel) just returned to their refugee-town of Ziklag after being rejected by the Philistines to participate in war on Israel.  As this agitated group of warriors returned to their hometown they found it plundered by a band of Amalekites who left with all their possessions and loved ones.  The historian records that David and the people who were with him wept until they had no more strength to weep… And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters.” (v3-5)

David was at the end of himself, and so were all the soldiers with him.  They have been living with the Philistines for the last 16 months as foreigners far away from family and familiarity.  They were tired and without income.  The last bit of comfort were their homes, family and community – now this too was taken away.  They worried what those savages would do to their loved ones.  The anguish was great and brought David to an all-time low – it seemed as though God had rejected him.

But our shepherd-king knew his God, and strengthened himself in the LORD his God.” (v6) David knew he needed courage to go on, and he knew where he would get it.  Better yet – he knew from WHOM he would get courage – “the God of Encouragement and Endurance.” (Romans 15:5)

How did David encourage himself in the Lord his God?

  1. THE DISCIPLINE OF PRAISE

worship_1I bet that this psalmist sang a song that he wrote just over a year earlier, after God had delivered him from Abimelech the Philistine King (Psalms 34).  In that song David vowed to “bless the LORD at all times (verse 1) – in all circumstances, good or bad.  Why? Because the Lord is always God, always good.  Then he vowed “his praise shall continually be in my mouth” (verse 1) – leaving no space for negativity, grumbling, complaining, fearful or hopeless confessions.  David’s mouth was dedicated to speaking of God’s power and goodness – he therefore his heart was encouraged to move on in faith.

  1. REMIND YOURSELF HOW BIG AND CLOSE GOD IS

who-is-god1

This discipline of praise lead David to magnify the LORD, and …exalt his name” (verse 3).  Is it possible (or even necessary?) to make God bigger than he is?  No.  God’s magnitude will not change with David’s praises – but when you tell God of his rehearse his great attributes and benevolent, righteous character, your perspective of our circumstances does change.   By making God bigger, you make your problems smaller.  You see life from God’s perspective, and that makes your troubles seem smaller.  When we praise God we remind ourselves that God can make a way where there seems to be no way – even in this hopeless situation we now face.  That reminder stirs hope, the confidence that this troubling situation will “work together for the good” (Romans 8:28) and that God “will make a way” where it seems impossible (Isaiah 43:19).  Hope stirs courage – it gives strength to the heart.

  1. REMIND YOURSELF OF WHAT GOD HAS DONE

Then, in the praises, David reminds himself of how God answered and delivered (verse 4) him in the past.  He probably recalled how the Lord saved him from the lion and the bear while he was watching his father’s sheep, and how the Lord gave him victory over the giant Goliath and later as captain in Israel’s army. He probably recalled how the Lord had delivered him many times from the hand of the jealous King Saul and the barbarians he fought as mercenary.  David truly experienced how the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (verse 18)

This gave David strength to get up from the pit of despair, to get out of his raided house, face the angry mob of mighty men outside and encourage them to pursue their enemies!

  1. WAIT ON THE LORD FOR INSTRUCTION

wait_on_Lord

But David was wise enough to not act in presumption.  David knew how to wait on the Lord [to] strengthen your heart” (Psalm 27:14), and that it requires patience and discipline until God gives the go-ahead. The historian records that before David got up to pursue the band of Amalekites he inquired of the LORD, ‘Shall I pursue after this band? Shall I overtake them?’ [God] answered him, ‘Pursue, for you shall surely overtake and shall surely rescue’” (1 Samuel 30:8).  Only then did David encourage the men with this prophesy of success, turning their hopeless frustration into hopeful fortitude.

David and his men were so invigorated by this encouragement from God that they pursued the Amalekite army for two days and then engage them in combat from twilight until the evening of the next day” (verse 17).  A promise from God gives one strength to go on.

A NEED FOR ENCOURAGEMENT

Had David not leaned the discipline to encourage himself in God, his story might have ended in this chapter.  But he gained the necessary courage to press on in the presence of God.  Not only did David himself benefit from his self-encouragement: his army of mighty men got turned around from self-pity to strength, their wives and children got rescued, and everyone was prospered through this pursuit to such an extent that David even had wealth to share with the tribal leaders in Israel – the very thing that turned their hearts and attention to him and invite him to return from exile and receive his kingship.  All because David could encourage himself in the Lord his God.

Can you identify with David’s feelings of frustration, loss and despair?  Then follow his example: shut the door to all the noises and demands, praise God and remind yourself how powerful and close he is, and what he has done for you and others1 in the past. Then wait patiently on him for direction, and see how the Lord “encourages your heart and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” (2 Thessalonians 2:17)

You’ll be surprised to find that – like for David – self-encouragement not only changes your mood, but your circumstance and the lives and destinies of those around you.  After all, what else would you expect from a meeting with Allmighty God?

 

Footnote

  1. When one is in despair it is often difficult to remember good times and breakthroughs of the past. I find it helps to rehearse and reflect in prayer on what God had done for others as recorded in Scripture. I would recall Gods saving intervention in the lives of Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Samson, Gideon, David, Daniel etc… Their life stories as recorded in the Bible give me courage in my times of difficulty.  This is what Paul referred to when he wrote “whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”  Try this.
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Encourage one another

Have you considered what your legacy will be?

What will you be known for one day?

What will your colleagues remember you by?

What will your kids imitate (either intentionally or unintentionally)? Or what are they learning from you now?

What is your influence right now? When you leave the office today, or the dinner party tonight or the Bible study group this evening, what do people say of you after you’re gone?  What are you known by?

I WANT TO BE A BARNABAS

St-Barnabas-cropped
St Barnabas “Son of Encouragement”

Imagine being known and remembered primarily for being an encourager.  I want to be that guy!  Joseph, a Levite of Cyprus, got the nick-name “Encourager” (“Barnabas”) by the apostles and the early church (Acts 4:36-37).    His ability to encourage was so influential that he is still remembered today by that name.  What a legacy!  This Encourager had much influence in the early days of the church and missions.  For instance after the zealous persecutor Saul of Tarsus had his life-altering encounter with the Lord Jesus and became Paul, the Encourager was the one who went to look for him, encouraged him and brought him to the Apostles in Jerusalem (Acts 9:26-28).  When the believers fled from Jerusalem after Stephen’s martyrdom and resulting authority, witnessing as they travelled, they “accidentally” established a big church in Antioch with Gentiles (Acts 11:19-24).  The Encourager was delegated by the Apostles to discover what was going on; he saw God was at work and encouraged them to continue what they were doing.  Afterwards he went to look for Paul, and encouraged him to join him in Antioch and to pursue the ministry he received from the Lord – the ministry among the Gentiles (Acts 11:25-26).   Years later, while the church was praying, the Holy Spirit set apart two people for missions to the Gentiles – Paul and the Encourager (Acts 13:1-3).  Again we read of the Encourager when he and Paul had an argument over John Mark (Acts 15:36-40); Paul considered him to be fickle and untrustworthy, but Barnabas could see God at work in and through him, so he encouraged him and took him along on his ministry trip. It seems whenever there was a new thing or a big change about to happen, God positioned the Encourager right there in the middle of the crisis, to put strength in the hearts of his people so they might press on amidst uncertainty and difficulty.

PUT STRENGTH IN THE HEART

To encourage literally means to PUT STRENGTH INTO THE HEART (en = into, courage = strength).  Fear does the opposite; it takes away the will to fight.  So in times of uncertainty or hardship with much opposition, people lose the will to press and as their hearts close up or cower away.  In times such as this people need to be strengthened in heart, they need to be encouraged to press one.

See how encouragement can produce strength and endurance in a very practical way in “Death Crawl Scene” from Facing the Giants: [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-sUKoKQlEC4]

Everyone needs encouragement at times.  And a need for encouragement is not a sign of weakness just a desire for water is not a sign of weakness.

SCRIPTURE AS ENCOURAGEMENT

It is helpful to keep in mind that the Old Testament history, poetry as well as prophesies were written during times of tremendous uncertainty and hardship.  The intent of the writings is to remind the reader of God’s promises, God’s power, God’s proximity and God’s personal commitment to his people.  Every book in the Old Testament is very encouraging.  That’s why Paul referred to it when he said “whatever was written in former days was written for our learning, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)

Bible
The Bible: an encouraging record of God’s power, promises and proximity.

Likewise most of the New Testament was written during the three periods of most severe persecution of the first century (around AD 45, 60 and 92).  Many of these communities also suffered from internal conflict, so understandably the Apostles wrote with the intent to encourage the believers to remain faithful to Christ in their worship, witness and works.

Thus the New Testament is a great place to learn about this skill much-needed ministry skill of encourage.  So how do you encourage another?

  1. DELIBERATE INTENT IN MEETINGS
We come together to encourage on another.
We come together to encourage on another.

When the author of Hebrews moves from orthodoxy (right belief) to orthopraxis (right practice) in the 10th chapter, he encourages the scattered, persecuted church to maintain “full assurance of faith” (10:22) in Christ while “holding on in hope” of eternal reward (10:23).  These instructions come as no surprise, but he goes on to instruct this fearful group to “not neglect to meet together” (10:25).  These believers may die when they meet together openly in their hostile environment!  Why should they risk the public association as Christians?  He writes says believers should meet together to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (10:25).  He says “think about ways to encourage one another to greater love and more good works!”  Continue to come together so that you may effectively encourage one another!”

  1. VERBAL CULTURE OF UPLIFTMENT

We look for gold within the dust.

Such a deliberateness requires a disciplined community that – amidst personal hardship – have trained itself to only speak words that are encouraging and leads to the edification of another (Ephesians 4:29-31). Therefore there is no room for complaining, criticizing, slander or gossip in their communal verbal culture.  Rather, the tone of conversation is always one of affirmation, thanks, recognition, exhortation – always encouraging, even when correcting.

Our verbal culture is always uplifting.
Our verbal culture is always uplifting.

Notice the way the apostles start and end their New Testament letters with affirmation, thanks and encouragement.  Jesus speaks the same way in Revelations to the seven churches around Ephesus, starting and ending each message to these congregations with affirmation and praise, and ending each letter with hope – a promise of reward.  What an example of verbal encouragement!

  1. ALWAYS LOOKING FOR THE GOOD

The verbal encouragement obviously stems from eyes that have been trained to be “light” and not “dark” as Jesus taught (Matthew 6:22-23), in other words they have trained themselves to recognize whatever is good and godly, and not to fixate on what is negative and evil.  As a pessimist sees the glass “half empty” an optimist sees the same glass “half full”, so one who has trained his eyes to see good can see goodness in great difficulty and thereby become an exceptional encourager when everyone else complains.

We look for gold within the dust.

Eugene Person’s paraphrase of Proverbs 11:27 (MSG) sums up this disciplined attitude well: “if anyone can find the dirt in someone, be the first to find the gold!”  An encourager always seeks what is good and Godly in someone, and when he finds it he praises it, drawing attention to it so others can also see and celebrate it.  Because, as Andy Stanley puts it, “whatever gets celebrated gets repeated!” 

  1. RELAYING GOD’S MESSAGE OF ENCOURAGEMENT THROUGH PROPHESY

New Testament Prophesy is exactly that – a message from the Lord that reveals and affirms what is good and even praiseworthy, meant for “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Corinthians 14:4).  Prophetic words from the Lord – whatever the message – communicates to the receiver that “I, the Lord know who you are, what you are going through. I care and I am for you!”  Indeed very uplifting, encouraging and comforting! That’s why Paul encouraged this very charismatic but persecuted church in Corinth to earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy…” (14:1). Everyone needs encouragement, and the Lord wishes to encourage His church (also) through prophesy!

  1. LET NO-ONE SUFFER ALONE

One of the best ways of encouraging one who goes through hardship is by simply being with them in their times of hardship, and to encourage them to not give up.   Paul wrote to the Galatians that they ought to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2), or more literally to “stake yourself to” the one suffering, using the imagery of strengthening an injured leg, to prevent it from folding under the load.  Whatever the hardship, your presence with one suffering is encouraging and helps preserve the person’s spirit.

We encourage one another by our support.
We encourage one another by our support.

The affirmation that “you are not alone, you are not forgotten” is an extremely powerful motivator to press on through hardship.  Community, love and a sense of belonging is in itself a reason to live and not give up.  Jesus knows that, and therefore, in various forms we find these words of comfort to persecuted congregations “Behold, I am with you! I will never leave you or forsake you.” (see Hebrews 13:5; Matthew 28:20 etc).   May times our presence and ministry to hard-pressed people reaffirm this encouraging truth: “God knows about you and He is near to you.” 

  1. ENCOURAGED TO PRESS ON THROUGH HOPE

One of the primary ways in which believers are encouraged within the New Testament writings is through hope – the certain promise of reward that give sense and meaning to the current suffering.  As for the athlete, the student, the pregnant mother and fighting soldier, anyone who undergoes suffering will hold on if they know that what they go through is rewarded in some way.  Like Paul says “these light afflictions do not compare with the glory that awaits us” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Encourage through hope to press on.
Encourage through hope to press on.

The most common hopeful encouragement in the New Testament is the promise of rewards on “the Day of the Lord” – Judgment Day or the Return of Jesus, where the Lord will reward faithfulness and obedience amidst suffering, and judge the wicked. (See 1 Thessalonians 5:2-14 as example).  But even temporal hope is a strong encouragement, and the Bible abounds with examples of encouragement to push on with the promise of reward in this life, such as David’s prayer “I would have lost heart unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen [encourage] your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord!” (Psalm 27:13-14) 

THE GOD OF ENCOURAGEMENT

Just as long-distance runners need water and cheers throughout the race, so the people around you need encouragement to go on.  God is “the God of Endurance and Encouragement” (Romans 15:5) who wishes to encourage his children, cheering them on as they do good, comforting them with his presence, promising that their efforts are worth it.

You and I have the privilege to imitate this loving, encouraging God who cheers his children on.  You and I have the privilege to put strength into the hearts of fatigued, faithless and fearful people.  And for that, you will also have your reward!

So look up.  Chances are the first person you meet now will need a cool cup of encouragement.  Be ready!