Elder, Encourage Thyself
Encouragement is a commodity in short supply. While not alone in needing this, a leader of God’s people more than others can readily relate to David’s experience: “David was greatly distressed because the people spoke of stoning him, for all the people were embittered, each one because of his sons and his daughters. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God” (1 Sam 30:6 NASB). Hopefully, this is not the elder’s usual experience, but there are times when the task seems overly daunting.
The word translated “strengthen” in the NASB, is rendered in the KJV as “David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.” The underlying Hebrew word carries both connotations—“to encourage by adding courage or strength.” The great leader and motivator of God’s people, David, had his down times! In the context of our passage, his followers were embittered by the ransacking of their camp by the Amalekites and were ready to stone him! When bad stuff happens, blame the leader. Can you relate, elder?
When I think of discouragement (speaking from experience) I think of that state of being where enthusiasm for stepping into the future is nullified by present perceptions of opposition, failure, uselessness or ineffectiveness. This is often accompanied by a loss of hope for being a choice (or at least an acceptable) vessel of service for the Lord. So the question is pertinent, how does an elder encourage himself? Here are some helpful ways.
Look to God’s word
Scripture contains stories of Godly leaders, many of whom struggled with discouragement. We learn two things from reading about them: 1) we discover we are not unique in our struggles and 2) we can learn from how they dealt with emotionally debilitating circumstances. The book of Hebrews includes chapter 11, the “Hall of Faith” as some have termed it. These were godly men who endured many adverse situations and did not give up. Meditating on passages like this has a cathartic effect for the discouraged leader.
Review past working of God in your life
God often told Israel to look back at past rescues from oppression and failure. The Passover, for example, continually reminded them that God saves His people from hardship when they follow Him. Piles of rocks set up as monuments were constructed to remind future generations of great activities of God. So, as those who struggle to serve the Lord and lead His people, we do well to remember the many times when our God worked in our past situations.
Some make use of a journal that they can readily review. I personally like to keep what I call “an encouragement file.” This contains letters of appreciating, thanks or otherwise reminders of how God has used me in someone’s life. Such things are not kept for gregarious shows, as being framed and displayed for all to see. Rather they are simply private reminders of God’s faithfulness in using me in some small ways. They are simply reminders, like putting a stone monument by the river’s edge.
Sometimes, my wife and I will purposely reminisce. When she is discouraged I will remember for her by bringing up past victories in her ministry. And she does the same for me. Photo albums are helpful in this remembering, and can be a means of encouragement when the need arises.
Share your discouragements
Find a trusted friend or accountability partner with whom you can share your discouragements and disappointments. I am thinking here of someone who is a good listener and not too quick to provide a solution. This can be difficult for men because we seem programmed to always see problems as things to be solved. Discouragement is not always resolved like that. We often know the Scriptures that apply. What we need often is not a lecture but encouragement, someone who can come along side and add “courage” or “strength.”
However, this means becoming vulnerable on two fronts: 1) we must humble ourselves by admitting when we are discourage, which can expose us to the possible misguided condescension of other leaders, and 2) we need to accept the encouragement God brings through others, knowing that there will be a time when we may be called upon to encourage that other person. We need to develop the ability to trust and to be vulnerable with each other.
Talk to yourself
In the duplex of Psalms 42 & 43, David three times asks himself, “Why are you in despair, O my soul. And why have you become disturbed within me?” He wrestles through his thoughts and emotions, and each time he responds with a firm rebuke, “Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him. The help of my countenance and my God.” Sometimes we need to not only listen our thoughts and feelings, but we need to then rebuke ourselves with the right way to think. We need to choose to put our thoughts back on God and the hope He promises.
One of the best ways for dealing with discouragement is to actively, willfully go out of our way to encourage others (1 Thess 5:11). In the end, discouragement results from the introspective activity of focusing on our ourselves too much. The best cure is to focus on others (Phil 2:4).
I have not mentioned prayer until now because most Christians know its importance and probably do it instinctively. My sense is that most of us probably feel that to seek encouragement in any other way than prayer may be a sign of spiritual immaturity. If we have the Lord, why should we need these other things? My response, in all honesty, is that these “other things” are frequently the answers to prayer as I lay out my struggle before the Lord. If I believe He will answer my prayer, then I should set my heart on looking expectantly for His help in whatever way He provides.
Finally, discouragement is not a sign of spiritual immaturity, unless we are prepared to describe David in those terms. Actually, presenting ourselves as never needing encouragement means we want others to see us as self-sufficient and not needing the help of other believers. At best we are being inauthentic, at worst deceptive. We all struggle with discouragement at times. Maybe, just maybe, sharing our struggles may be the very thing that helps someone else live an authentic life!
Often, no one will encourage you. Like David you must learn to encourage yourself, to strengthen yourself. So I conclude, “Elder, encourage thyself!” You are the Lord’s Servant, you are called to be faithful. Do not sin by refusing to believe His word: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Keep looking up. Keep looking outward not inward. God still has a work for you to do, by His mercy. Keep doing it, by His grace.