Elder Neil Phelan, Jr.
"And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the Lord his God" -I Samuel 30:6
Here we find one of the greatest battles of David's life, a battle that every Christian will face: a battle against discouragement. David's plight is not so different from our own, for we, as David, face many, many, discouraging circumstances in our lives; circumstances in which there is no earthly help. God has so preserved David's experience to teach us a lesson we should never forget: our greatest source of encouragement comes not from this world, "David encouraged himself in the Lord his God".
NONE ARE EXEMPT FROM DISCOURAGEMENT
It might seem strange for a man such as David to become discouraged. After all, David had gained many signal victories in his life. David, as a young lad, stood before the Philistine giant, Goliath, of Gath, and won a great victory with only a slingshot and a stone. He had heard the encouraging chorus of his people: "Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands." David had become well known for his courage in battle as well as his victory over the Philistine giant. But this battle was different. When David engaged Goliath, he did so with his eyes open; it was a battle of his own choosing. Here was a battle that David did not choose nor anticipate: a surprise attack. These are the most difficult battles the Christian will face, those battles which are least expected, those that lurk around the next corner.
Indeed, life's battles are amazing. It seems at times we can face great giants with slingshots and stones. But along comes a battle of a different flavor, a battle unexpected, and all of our props are knocked out from under us and we become discouraged, even to the point of surrender. No soldier who has enlisted in God's army is exempt from this plague, not even David. We must all learn the lesson of David; to focus our attention to David's greatest source of encouragement: "the Lord his God."
Consider David's plight. Saul, driven by jealousy, had pursued David to strange cities, even out of the camp of Israel. David and his companions had made their abode in Ziklag, a city of the Philistines, Israel's persistent enemy. David had not only moved to Ziklag, he had also sworn allegiance to the Philistine leader, Achish, and marched off with Achish to battle against his own people......without enquiring of his God. It seems that David's life was changing for the worse. He was growing cold towards his God and bitter towards his people.
As David marched off to battle with Achish, it is indeed encouraging to know that God was still watching over him. By His divine providence, the Lord moved the princes of the Philistines against David. They said to Achish, "Make this fellow return, that he may go again to his place which thou hast appointed him, and let him not go down with us to battle, lest in the battle he be an adversary to us: for wherewith should he reconcile himself unto his master? should it not be with the heads of these men? Is not this David, of whom they sang one to another in dances, saying, Saul slew his thousands, and David his ten thousands?" -1 Samuel 29:4-5. God reminded them of David's valiance and David is commanded to return to Ziklag. When David and his companions returned, they found that their city was, "burned with fire; and their wives, and their sons, and their daughters, were taken captives."
How discouraging! Ejected by Israel's king; rejected by the Philistine king; and spoiled by the Amalekites! There seemed to be no place for David. To make matters worse, David was blamed for their calamity, "for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters". At this point in his life, David had no earthly king and no earthly companion. To David, he was alone, forsaken, discouraged and "greatly distressed".
Perhaps David drew from this experience when he penned the 61st Psalm, "From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I" -Psalm 61:2. David's words, "from the end of the earth", tell us that he is beyond all earthly help. He is hunted by friends and foe. He looks to the rock that is mightier than David, a rock that towers above his troubles, "David encouraged himself in the Lord his God."
GOD IN OUR MIDST
In the midst of all of this chaos in David's life, something amazing and wonderful is unfolding that David can not see at this moment. Even though it might seem to David that his God has forsaken him, we find the opposite to be true. God is always present and in control, even though we may not see Him or realize His hand upon us. Even that great patriarch, Job, diligently sought the Lord during his great trial of affliction. He sought the Lord before, behind, on the right hand and the left, but found him not. But Job's faith was strong, and even though he could not perceive the Lord during his affliction, he knew God was present, "But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold" -Job 23:10. By life, or by death, Job knew he would come forth for the better. Yes, Job found encouragement in knowing that the Lord his God was present even during his greatest distress. Job, too, "encouraged himself in the Lord his God."
Even though David did not see the Lord moving in his life at this time, the Lord, through these series of events, is molding the heart of a great king. God is preparing David. What seems to be a battle that will defeat and destroy David is, in reality, a turning point in his life. God has neither forgotten nor forsaken David nor will He forsake the least of His chosen. It is through this great time of discouragement that David's life will change for the better. It will bring David back to the source of his courage and will prepare him for his future which only God could see at this moment: Israel's greatest king. Oh, that we might view life's battles in this way!
It is here, that many a battle is lost; lost in not knowing that God is "our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah" - Psalm 46:1-3. Just to know that God is present, even though we may not see Him, can give us strength to go on. Just as we know that the sun is shining behind a cloudy sky and that one day it will reveal its joyful rays of warmth and brilliance, we must remember the Lord is ever present. At times, God hides his face from us while He observes our behavior through the clouds of affliction. We may not see His sentinel angels standing by, but we must take courage and remember that God is ever present, even when dreadful clouds hover over us:
"Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head."
"Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning Providence
He hides a smiling face."
Many times God uses such battles to burn away the dross and refine the silver, to shape and mold each vessel of honor for their particular place of service in God's kingdom. Perhaps, even today, God is using a trial of affliction as a turning point to bring another of His beloved servants back to the house of the Lord whose heart has grown cold and bitter. In the midst of discouragement let us remember that God is always with us. Let us retain our integrity as Job did and follow David's example as he, "encouraged himself in the Lord his God."
Although distressful to David, God's faithful presence and divine act of providence blessed David two fold. First of all, David was hindered from fighting in the very battle that would result in the death of Israel's king and his covenant friend, Jonathan. How difficult it would have been for David to serve as king with this blood upon his heart and his hands!
Secondly, David was forced to return to Ziklag in time to rescue his family. Do you think David knew all of this when he was forbidden to ride off to battle with Achish? David could not see the blessing that God was preparing for him. It was only a few days after this great time of chaos and distress that David would return to Judah to be anointed king. We can only imagine what would have occurred had David been permitted to march off with Achish to battle.
This, in itself, should be of great encouragement to us all, to know that God is watching over us, even when we are marching in the wrong direction. From this great spiritual battle David learned many valuable lessons which he would draw from in the years to come. Not only would David draw from these experiences in future battles, but he would also write about what he had learned for others in like circumstances. David remembers God's omnipresence as he writes: "Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me" -Psalm 139:7-10. David learned that no matter where he might find himself, whether heaven, hell or the uttermost parts of the earth, his Lord was leading him and holding him in His hand.
Oh, Christian, how often have we forgotten to look for His face and acknowledge His presence when all was well? How often have we taken for granted our richest blessings? When things were well, we retired to our bedchamber, night after night, and neglected to acknowledge this "fount of every blessing"! In the day of prosperity we forsook His house; we neglected our service; we ignored His presence. Then we looked for Him in the day of adversity! Did we think we would find joy without Him? Did we think those days of prosperity would carry us along in mirthful pleasure without the Lord? Did we think that adversity would never show its face at our doorstep again? Did we forget: "In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him" -Ecclesiastes 7:14. Did we think we would find anything "after him?" Can we not look back and see God's presence in our lives, see His face behind the clouds, especially in the moments of greatest chaos and say, "those moments of greatest chaos broke my affections for worldly things and brought me back to my Lord. Where would I be today if God had not .....?" My Lord was with me every step of the way, even during my worst moments. We must take encouragement in knowing that God is with us every step of the way.
Many a pilgrim has drowned in the waves of discouragement because their eyes were fixed upon the circumstances rather than the God that can conquer every circumstance. As long as Peter had his eyes fixed upon Jesus, "he walked on the water, to go to Jesus." When his vision turned away from the Lord and Peter beheld the fretful waves, Peter lost his courage, "he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me." We might criticize Peter, but many of us would not have done so well. Rather than looking back to Jesus, we would go it on our own and dog-paddle back to ship. Peter regained his vision and returned to the source of his strength and called upon "the Lord his God." How many of us have forgotten this lesson in the midst of our chaos?
It is true, where our eyes are fixed, that is the direction we shall follow; that is the harbor where we shall dock. Last year, we bought our youngest son his first bicycle. As with our other children, it was fun to teach him how to ride without training wheels and watch his first shaky moments around the house. Upon one of his first circles, I pointed to his only visible obstacle, a big bush I had recently trimmed. I warned him, "be careful and don't ride into the bush". As he made his first round, his eyes were wide and fearful, focused upon the bush. His course was charted, he rode right into the bush. It would have been better if I had not pointed out the obstacle. But it is true. We travel in the direction we focus our attention. That is why the Lord put our eyes in the front our head. Let us direct our attention in a forward direction and keep them focused upon Jesus. What would have happened to David and his companions if there had not been at least one among them whose eyes were upon the Lord? These were the eyes of a great leader. While David's companions were preparing to stone, David was preparing to pray. While they were blaming David, David was inquiring of the Lord. While their eyes were fixed upon earthly things, David's eyesight was fixed upon the heavenly, to a world which lies above and beyond the problems of this life. While the eyes of David's companions were fixed upon the dreadful circumstances prevailing in their lives at that particular moment, David's eyes were fixed upon another object: "the Lord his God."
Have you noticed the word "courage" found within the word "encouraged". The word "encouraged", is translated from the old Chaldean word, "chazaq", which means to "be strong, courageous or to conquer". In Numbers 13:20 and Joshua 23:6, this same word is translated into the word "courage". Is this not what David needed, strength and courage? Is this not what many of us need today? Not that strength or physical prowess which would come from man, for this had dissipated in the moment of adversity. But rather, that strength which can only come from through the unction of the Holy Ghost, "to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man" -Ephesians 3:16. David must tap the source of this kind of strength and courage and this he did as he "encouraged himself in the Lord his God."
Courage is the resource that the cowardly lion requested in the movie, "The Wizard of Oz". But all through the movie, it was apparent that he had this courage when the need arose. God's people have the courage they need for every battle. But they must remember the source of such strength and courage. David found courage and strength from the Lord.
Paul tells us the same, "Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might" - Ephesians. 6:10. Paul does not tell us to be strong in ourselves and the power of our might. We are to lean upon the arm of our beloved, for He is mighty in battle. We must learn the battle cry of Zion, that there, "They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God" - Psalm 84:7.
The soldiers of Zion gather strength from two places. They gather strength from "the Lord", and strength from one another: "from strength, to strength." The strength that is drawn from others originated from the Lord our God. None had it on their own. Some must be drawing from this overflowing source to supply others. Some must "be strong in the Lord, and the power of his might"; some must follow the footsteps of David as he, "encouraged himself in the Lord his God." Here will be munitions from which all of Zion can draw from: THE LORD OUR GOD.
THE SPIRIT OF ENCOURAGEMENT
The spirit of encouragement is a priceless attribute in God's kingdom. When it prevails, the cause prospers. When it is overshadowed by unbelief, by fears and doubts, the light of the candlestick flickers. Can we say that we are encouragers in God's kingdom? Are we drawing from the mother lode of strength so that we might be strong and that we might also strengthen the hands of our brethren? If we are honest, too many times we find ourselves dog-paddling back to the ship.
This spirit of encouragement is displayed by many of God's people throughout the scriptures. Nehemiah was a great encourager. When his brethren were afraid and discouraged to rise and build, Nehemiah encouraged them and said, "Ye see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lieth waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire: come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach. Then I told them of the hand of my God which was good upon me; as also the king's words that he had spoken unto me. And they said, Let us rise up and build. So they strengthened their hands for this good work" -Nehemiah 2:17-18. How powerful this spirit of encouragement can be!!
Throughout the ages, the precious commodity of encouragement has been a determining factor in many a decision. When the twelve spies returned from searching out the land of Canaan, the people received a mixed signal: they received encouragement from two and discouragement from ten. Perhaps, here, we observe a trial for the leadership of Israel. Who would be an encourager; who was courageous; who would lead them in to possess the land that God had promised them.
All twelve had searched the land and agreed that, "surely it floweth with milk and honey." It was everything that God had promised. But here, as always, there were those who would focus their attention on the negative; the discouragers were on hand. They said, "Nevertheless the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great: and moreover we saw the children of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the south: and the Hittites, and the Jebusites, and the Amorites, dwell in the mountains: and the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and by the coast of Jordan" -Numbers 13:28-29. How discouraging! But notice the spirit of Caleb as he "stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it" -v30. Here are words of encouragement to weary travelers: "let us go", "we are able." How different this spirit is from those who responded with, "We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we." And here we find a very sad statistic: the discouragers outnumber the encouragers. What an impact these words of discouragement had upon a people who had personally witnessed the parting of the Red Sea and the destruction of mighty kings before their eyes. How susceptible we all are to words of discouragement! How easily we are prevented from doing that which we know to be right when we are confronted with the spirit of discouragement.
These people were only days away from great and mighty blessings. But instead they "murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in the wilderness!" Ultimately, God gave them their wish! All of those that should have known better, from twenty years old and upward, save Joshua and Caleb, died in the wilderness when they could have enjoyed great blessings. Why? Because they did not encourage themselves in the Lord. Where were these people looking? Where was their eyesight fixed? Caleb remembers the promises of God that they "shall" inherit the land and remembers the past victories gained by the arm of God. The ten are looking at the circumstances from an earthly vantage point. They were looking at their numbers, their own strength, the enemy, the walled cities, rather than encouraging themselves in the Lord. What a difference the spirit of encouragement makes in the camp of Israel!
ENCOURAGERS IN THE CHURCH
Encouragers in the church are church builders. When Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica he knew they were in need of encouragement for they "received the word in much affliction". But not only did Paul encourage the church at Thessalonica, he also taught them the value of encouraging one another. Paul told them to "comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do" - 1 Thessalonians 5:11. The word comfort means to "exhort, call near or encourage" while the word edify means "to build". Paul was telling them to comfort one another and build each other up and by doing so they would be building up the church. What a difference this kind of spirit will make in a church; in a home; or even at work. This should really be a way of life: to be an encouragement to others.
This past year I enjoyed the privilege of coaching a basketball team of twelve year old boys. The first part of the season I noticed our team had a couple of discouragers on it. When one of them would make a mistake, it was quickly pointed out. When the official made a call they didn't like, they would fuss about it. Towards the middle of the season I called them all into the dressing room before the game and told them that from now on we were going to be encouraging to one another and to the officials. When someone made a mistake, rather than complaining, we were going to tell them to shake it off and go on with the game. It was amazing how this changed the attitude of this team. They began to beat teams that had previously beaten them. And it was all because they became encouragers and builders. What category do we find ourselves in when it comes to the Lord's house? Let us all become encouragers!!!!
HOW TO BE AN ENCOURAGER
Why do we find it so difficult to encourage others around us? Perhaps we feel that if we encourage others too much they might get a little high-minded and think of themselves above what they ought to think. But have we noticed that Satan uses this tool of discouragement upon God's people more than any other. And what about ourselves? Could we not all use a little encouragement from time to time? Satan would not have us to become an encourager. He would prefer that we possessed not the land.
When we speak of becoming and encourager, we are not suggesting that we flatter people with untruths or stroke their ego. But rather, look for those good fruits; look for those labors of love and let people know that we appreciate them. Oh, how often we have neglected to do that. Will Rogers said, "I never met a man I didn't like." We might not go so far as Will Rogers, but we can find some good in every heir of grace and we can certainly encourage them every step of the way.
How can we become an encourager? First, by prayer, by asking God to show us how to become an encourager; by looking for those who need encouragement; by telling people that need our prayers that we are praying for them and actually perform the task; by visiting the sick and afflicted; by coming to God's house with words of encouragement and prayers in our hearts; by letting people know that we notice their labors and appreciate them. We don't have to look for anything elaborate. We can just let our brethren know that we appreciate their presence at God's house. Each of us need to be encouraged in the Lord.
Of all the encouragers that we find in scripture, our Lord was the best. He always had an encouraging word to say to those who were afraid and troubled. His eye looked not for perfection from His beloved as He always encouraged them to do their best. This perfect and spotless One, able to look into the hearts and souls of sinners and see their faults; one who knew that we deserved nothing; could still have compassion and let gracious words drop from His precious mouth such as: "Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee"; "Daughter, be of good comfort"; "Be of good cheer; it is I"; "be not afraid"; "even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows"; "Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom"; "In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world"; "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." By examining the life of our Lord we can learn a lot about the spirit of encouragement. When discouragement knocks at our door, let us remember our greatest source of encouragement and let us become encouragers to those around us as we follow David's example as he, "encouraged himself in the Lord his God."