“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.
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?
- THE DISCIPLINE OF PRAISE
I 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.
- REMIND YOURSELF HOW BIG AND CLOSE GOD IS
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.
- 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!
- WAIT ON THE LORD FOR INSTRUCTION
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?
- 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.