by guest blogger, Bill Allison
David’s Discouraging Dilemma
In I Samuel 30 we read of the horribly discouraging day David and his men experienced. While David and his men were away from home (Ziklag) fighting their enemies, the Amalikites (not to be confused with the Hittites, Canaanites, or the Mosquito-bites), burned Ziklag and took all the women and children captive. When David and his men arrived home in Ziklag, they were shook to the very core of their hearts as they realized their loss. The Bible says that at this point, “David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep” (I Samuel 30:4). Can you relate? That, my friend, is discouragement in all its ugly glory. And just when you think things can’t get any more discouraging, in comes another heart-rending wave of fresh discouragement that takes a big bite out of your soul. Things go from bad to worse for David when his men started “talking of stoning him: each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters” (I Samuel 30:6). All of this caused David to be “greatly distressed” (v.6). Have you been there recently? Have you recently experienced a mother of all bad days?
David’s Divine Deliverance
What David did next is what separates those who end up as ministerial road kill from those who rise and continue walking (limping?) down the narrow road. With his heart securely held by the sharp talons of discouragement, we read these amazingly insightful words pregnant with leadership lessons for the observant reader: “But David encouraged himself in the Lord his God” (v.6, KJ21). It’s critical to note that dealing with discouragement is a self-leadership issue and skill — for David encouraged himself in the Lord. Did you get that? Everyone else was talking of killing David (talk about a bad day), but “David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.”
First Samuel 30:7-8 shows us the secrets to David’s success in defeating discouragement, lessons that we as leaders today must take careful steps to apply to our own lives lest we be another statistic at the devilish hands of discouragement. I want to highlight four lessons that we need to apply to our lives when we are battling discouragement. These four lessons, when we apply them to our lives, can help us learn the skill of encouraging ourselves in the Lord.
The Self-Encouragement Cycle
LESSON #1: Do what you know to be right, whether or not you feel like it.
The first step David took out of discouragement and into self-encouragement was that he asked the priest to bring him his ephod (v.7). An ephod is an article of clothing worn by priests and in this case is indicative of David’s intent to seek God. Simply put, I believe the first step out of discouragement is when you and I do what we know is right (i.e., seek God) whether we feel like it or not. The context of this story gives every indication that David probably did not feel like doing what was right. Remember: David wept until he had no strength left (I Samuel 30:4)! He probably felt more like giving up and having a pity party. But David makes the choice to do what is right, not what he felt.
If you allow your wounded emotions to control your behavior, you will never be able to rise above that which is discouraging you. David made a choice, made a proactive decision, to not let his feelings control his behavior and ultimately bring about his ruin. David’s heart began to come up from the bottom the moment he made the choice to seek God, though he still had a long way to go out of the labyrinth of despair.
As trite and worn out as it may seem, it’s absolutely essential that I point out that when we are in the depths of despair and discouragement, we should seek God. Obvious? I know we know this, but I’m not so sure that we do this! (See John 13:17 and Matthew 7:24-27.) Don’t we have a tendency to go to other people first? Or just shut down, beat ourselves up and play martyr? If discouragement can keep us in the bondage of our negative emotions and from seeking God, it will ultimately bring us down. So, like David, I challenge you to rebel against your feelings of discouragement, take a step of faith and seek God whether or not you actually feel like seeking Him. Call for your ephod!
LESSON #2: Ask God to help you in very specific terms, whether you feel like it or not.
The next step David took on the way out of discouragement and into the light of self-encouragement was that he “inquired of the Lord” (v.8). Allison translation: David said, “Help me, God!” I love non-pretentious and gut-level prayers. And this is precisely how we see the discouraged David pray! No flowery eloquence required when you are discouraged — David directly addresses his specific heart’s concerns: “Shall I pursue this raiding party [the Amalekites who ravaged his home and carried off his loved ones]? Will I overtake them?” This is bottom line praying from a desperate man. So whatever it is that’s currently breaking your heart and weighing you down like an anchor around your soul, address those specific issues in a straight shooting prayer to God. Cry out to God about it and be totally honest with Him.
“This Day Stinks God!”
Once I got a call from the parents of one of my students who was really struggling with life and, consequently, was very discouraged. I sat in my car with this student for about an hour. I just listened to this guy pour his heart out. He was hurting, depressed and discouraged in a big way. At the end of our time together, I asked him if he would pray to God about the sources of his troubles. He agreed to pray. We bowed our heads right there in the car, and he prayed, “Heavenly Father, thank you for this beautiful day…” I broke in immediately. I calmly objected, “Dude, if what you have shared with me for the last hour is really troubling you as much as you said it is, this day is anything but beautiful to you right now.” He smiled and laughed at himself. Then he paused, bowed his head, and said, “God, I’m hating my life right now…” and went on to ask God for specific help to his specific problems and the sources of his discouragement. The point is that when you are discouraged, you, like David, must honestly ask God to help you in very specific terms, whether you feel like it or not.
Oxygen for Your Gasping Soul
The last thing I want to do in this article is to insult your spiritual intelligence, especially if you are one who is discouraged right now. I can hear the almost angry thoughts racing through some of your discouraged minds. “Come on, Allison, is that the best you can do? I’m totally discouraged and you just tell us to pray about it? Is that all you have, worn out Christian clichés and pious platitudes? How simplistic can you be?” I admit that sometimes when I pray about things they get much worse and that’s even more discouraging. Sometimes, many times, nothing on the outside changes. However, there is something profoundly significant that happens on the inside of us when we “inquire of the Lord” in the midst of our darkest times of discouragement, though we may not even be able to see or feel it at the time. What happens? Little by little, the power of God is unleashed into our lives. Through prayer, a little oxygen is poured into our gasping souls. It may not seem like much at the time, but it’s that little bit of prayer-generated oxygen for the soul that keeps your spirit breathing, alive and hopeful. What is the alternative? A slow suffocating death by discouragement.
LESSON #3: Listen to what God says to you, whether you feel like it or not.
God did not seem to be put off by David’s direct, specific plea for help. Amazingly God answered David’s specific straightforward requests with very specific straightforward answers. God told David, “Pursue them. You will certainly overtake them and succeed in the rescue” (v.8). Perhaps even more amazing is not that God responded to David’s specific requests, but that David heard what God said.
My own experience and journey has taught me that the process of hearing what God is saying takes much time in quiet, reflection, prayer, the Word and in godly counsel of a few trusted mentors. It’s in this stage of recovery that God turns up the heat to cook our character and that makes this part of the process very painful. But it’s absolutely critical that we try to hear from God when we are discouraged rather than just giving up in the process. Furthermore, we need to listen to what God says to us no matter how painful it may sound at the time. God wants to give us specific instructions about the specific sources of our discouragement. We must work at listening to him.
So when you are in the depths of discouragement, pray your heart out, but don’t be so distressed that you can’t hear what God may be saying to you. Be sure to listen for a response from God. Search his Word. Quiet your heart and be still. Listen to the counsel of people who are Spirit-controlled. Check everything you think you are hearing against the Word of God. If what you think you hear God saying to you does not jive with the Word of God, then go back to listening. However, if there is congruence between what you think God is saying to you and the Word of God, whether you like hearing it or not, then move on to lesson #4.
LESSON #4: Obey what God tells you to do immediately, whether you feel like it or not.
When God responded to David, David quickly responded to God by obeying. David took action. There is a time for prayer, but once God has given the clear marching orders it’s time for action! When you take action on God’s directions, you allow God to step into your life and the sources of your discouragement. William H. Murray puts it this way: “The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. A whole stream of events issue from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would come his way.” When you obey God, whether you feel like it or not, you allow God to unleash his power into your life and encourage your heart and soul.
However, if God shows you what you need to do and you refuse to take action (i.e., you allow your feelings of discouragement to control your behavior) you will not experience a lift in your spirit. You may experience the pains of divine discipline. When David put immediate action to God’s marching orders, God’s power was unleashed into his depressing situation and, before the day was over, David came home with all that was previously lost and more (I Samuel 30:18-20).
Who is Bill Allison? When he became a youth pastor, Bill Allison (center in picture below) had six keys to effective youth ministry. Now, twenty-five years later, Bill has six kids of his own and no keys. His kids are ages six to sixteen, including two in junior high and two in high school, so pray for him. Some of Bill’s lifetime goals are to drive in a smash-up derby, ride a Harley on Route 66 from Chicago to LA, and chase a tornado. He’s madly in love with his wife, Stacy, and dates her every week, even after 20 years of marriage. When Bill is not dating his wife or doing life with his kids (and their friends), he is the Executive Director for Cadre Ministries, a faith-based missionary team (with almost 100 years of combined youth ministry experience) who pour their lives out to help churches equip students and volunteers to do ministry in Ephesians 4:11-12 fashion. Cadre has trained and certified many youth pastors to take training back to their students and volunteers. For information on becoming a certified trainer, or to bring Cadre training to your ministry, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. By the way, even as an old guy, Bill continues to serve as a volunteer in the high school youth ministry of his church and wants to spend the rest of his life training, coaching, and mentoring the next generation of volunteer and vocational youth workers.