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.” That great leader and motivator of God’s people, David, needed encouragement during his down times! The people were bitter and ready to stone him. Some reward for faithful leadership! Can you relate?
When I think of discouragement (speaking from experience) I picture 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 many stories of godly leaders who at times struggled with discouragement. We learn two things from reading about them: 1) We are not unique in our struggles and 2) We can learn from how those godly men dealt with emotionally debilitating circumstances. Chapter 11 of book of Hebrews, the “Hall of Faith,” as some have termed it, is included for a reason. These were godly men who endured many adverse situations and did not give up. Meditating on passages like that can have a cathartic effect on the discouraged leader.
Review past working of God in your life
God frequently instructed Israel to look back at past rescues from oppression and failure. The Passover, for example, served to continually remind them that God saves His people from hardship when they follow Him. Piles of rocks set up as monuments reminded future generations of the 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 appreciation, updates from those I once mentored or discipled, and other reminders of how God has used me in someone’s life. Such things are not for ostentatious show, 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—putting a stone monument by the river’s edge so that I can remember and be encouraged.
Sometimes my wife and I will purposely reminisce. When she is discouraged I will bring up past victories or accomplishments in her ministry. And she does the same for me. Photo albums are helpful in this remembering, and can be an uplift during down times. The encouragement does not come from what we have done, but from remembering what God has done through us.
Share your discouragements
Find a trusted friend or accountability partner with whom you can share your discouragements & disappointments. I am thinking here of someone who is a good listener and not too quick to provide a solution. This can be difficult because most men seemed programmed to see problems as things to be solved. Discouragement is not resolved like that. We often know the Scriptures that apply, but what we need is not a sermon, but someone who can come along side and add “courage” or “strength.” This can be simply a listening ear, or a time of prayer.
However, doing this means becoming vulnerable on two fronts: 1) We must humble ourselves by admitting when we are discouraged, which can expose us to the possible misguided condescension of other men. 2) We need to accept the encouragement God brings through others, knowing that at other times we may be called upon to encourage that other person.
Talk to yourself
In the duplex chapters of Psalms 42 & 43, we find David three times asking himself, “Why are you in despair, O my soul. And why have you become disturbed within me?” He talks to himself while wrestling through his thoughts and emotions. And each time, he responds to his question with a firm but constructive challenge, “Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him. The help of my countenance, and my God.” We need to choose to put our thought back on God, and the hope He promises. This will help us shore up courage in the face of opposition and difficulty.
One of the best ways of dealing with discouragement is to actively and willfully go out of our way to encourage others (1 Thess 5:11). Since discouragement results from the introspective focusing on ourselves., the most effective cure is to simply focus on others (Phil 2:4).
I have not mentioned prayer until now, because most elders 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 might be a sign of spiritual immaturity. If we have the Lord, why would we need these other things?
My response is that while discouragement may be a symptom of spiritual weakness, it is not a symptom of spiritual immaturity. Yes, we all get weak spiritually at times, and as such we need help in tangible forms. In fact, the “other things” mentioned above are frequently the very answers to our prayer poured out before the Lord.
So, Elder, encourage thyself! Actively look for the Lord’s encouragement through the many avenues He provides. No one else is going to do it for you.