When we think about encouragement, we normally think of it as something one person does for another. The Old Testament book of 1 Samuel provides a story about a person who encouraged himself in the Lord.
David is one of the most intriguing people in all of Scripture. We have as much information about him as anyone in the Bible. He is first described as a shepherd boy, out with the sheep because he was the youngest and therefore the “least important” of Jesse’s seven sons. Then, God shockingly chose him and Samuel anointed him to be the king of Israel after Saul. Next, he was the boy warrior, confronting and defeating the Philistine giant Goliath with what could have been considered toys – a slingshot and a rock.
King Saul was initially grateful for David’s bravery and effectiveness in battle, but his gratitude turned to jealousy. He couldn’t stand it when the people celebrated David’s heroism above his leadership. He turned against David, chasing him out of the kingdom of Israel and eventually into exile among — yes, the hated Philistines. Finally, the Philistines realized that David was among them and kicked him out. (1 Samuel 29 contains the whole story.)
Immediately after being asked to leave Philistine territory and returning to the town of Ziklag, David and his men were hit with a devastating blow. The Amalekites, another enemy of Israel, had invaded Ziklag and taken everything in the camp, including the women and children. They had not killed anyone, but they had taken David’s family and the families of all the men with David. 1 Samuel 30 describes their overwhelming grief – “They wept until they could weep no more” (v.4).
David had a huge problem. In addition to losing his family, he now had to deal with a group of men who were on the verge of turning against him. 1 Samuel 30:6 describes the situation – “David was now in great danger because all his men were very bitter about losing their sons and daughters, and they began to talk of stoning him.” They had chosen to follow David and their loyalty had been rewarded with the apparent loss of their families. In their minds, someone was responsible and they saw that someone as David.
Can you imagine the pressure that David felt? He was a leader of men. Good leaders feel responsible for their followers. On top of his grief (which must have been substantial), he was dealing with the grief and bitterness of his troops. The last part of verse 6 is remarkable — “David found strength in the Lord his God.”
A Crisis Presents Choices
The first thing to consider is that, in the moment of trial, David had choices. He could have run away. He could have chosen to look to his own wisdom for a solution. He could have gotten some guys together and talked. He could have sulked. He chose a different course of action.
At the moment of truth, David did not turn to or on himself. He turned to God. He “found strength” in his God. The King James Version says that “he encouraged himself in the Lord his God.” It is a turning point in the story and it is worth examining to see if we can learn something about what to do in difficult times.
The Relationship Predated the Crisis
Why did David turn to God for strength? Why did he believe that God had the wisdom to handle the situation? Because he knew God and God knew him. And they had known each other for a long time. When David was tending sheep as a boy, there was probably a lot of time when it was just him and the sheep…and God. He learned God’s voice the way the sheep learned his voice. He spent time listening to God. He spent time thinking about what God said to him.
If you think it is a stretch to believe that God started working on David when he was tending sheep, look at what happened the first time the prophet Samuel came face to face with him. Samuel had been sent by God to Jesse’s house to anoint the successor to Saul. He met all of Jesse’s sons, but the Lord did not instruct Samuel to anoint any of them.
Samuel asked about other sons and was told that David, the youngest, was tending sheep. Samuel insisted on meeting him. As soon as he saw David, the Holy Spirit spoke to Samuel – “This is the one; anoint him” (1 Samuel 16:12). Samuel was God’s representative. God had Samuel anoint David because He had been preparing David.
The next thing that happened to David was that he was ushered into Saul’s presence to soothe him during times of depression and fear. David was recommended because he already had the reputation that “the Lord was with him” (1 Samuel 16:18). During his time of tending sheep, God had worked in David and developed a close relationship with him. He prepared him to minister to the King during peaceful times. He prepared him to lead men during peaceful times. God knew David and David knew God.
Previous Victories Fueled the Confidence
In addition to his long-standing relationship with God, David had another resource with which to encourage himself – God’s help in previous times. 1 Samuel 17 tells the story of David’s defeat of Goliath, one of the most familiar stories in all of Scripture. That situation had looked hopeless. Goliath, the nine-foot champion of the Philistines, had mocked the army of Israel for forty days. No one was willing to take him on until David came along. David’s thinking was, “When I was tending sheep, I had to fight off lions and bears. The Lord always took care of me. He will take care of me now.”
When he was face to face with Goliath, David said, “This is the Lord’s battle and He will give you to us.” Then he put a rock in his slingshot and sent it flying toward Goliath with the confidence that came from experience and faith. Goliath caught the rock in his forehead and went down. The victory was won. Goliath and the Philistines were defeated.
Years after Goliath, as David stood between the rock of his own grief and the hard place of his men’s bitterness toward him, David could have thought back to his own words before facing Goliath – “The Lord always took care of me. He will take care of me now.”
Faithfulness Is Its Own Reward
David had known God, and had been known by God, for a long time. David had seen God win great victories. As he considered his situation, he could have had another thought about his previous experiences — he had been faithful and God had taken care of him. When he soothed Saul, he was faithful and God took care of him. When he faced Goliath, he was faithful and God took care of him. When Saul became jealous and sought to kill David, David was faithful and God took care of him. On two separate occasions, David had the opportunity to kill Saul – once at En-Gedi and once at Ziph. Both times, David refused to harm Saul because he was God’s anointed leader (1 Samuel 26:9-11). David honored God and God took care of him.
At that point, David’s safety was not guaranteed. The men could have turned on him. He faced the situation the same way he faced lions, bears, and giants. “God is with me and the battle is His. Whatever happens is in His hands.” He might have said something similar to what Paul said in Romans 8:38 – “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.”
All of us are going to face difficult situations. We’re going to be tempted to panic, or act in our own strength, or run away.
God doesn’t want us to do any of those things. He wants us to look to Him. He wants us to encourage ourselves, like David did.
First, seek Him all the time. Don’t wait for a crisis. Get to know Him, His Word, and His voice in the “tending sheep” times – when there’s not too much going on. It’s a lot easier to recognize His voice when the bullets are flying if you’ve really learned what it sounds like when it’s quiet.
Second, remember how faithful He’s been to you along the way. If you are His child, you’ve known His help. You’ve experienced victories. Focus on them and face the crisis.
Third, stay faithful. You can never be wrong when you are living in God’s will. God may remove the problem. He may not. Whatever happens, the battle is His. It, and you, belong to Him.
“Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault. All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time!” (Jude 24-25).