April 10, 2013

How To Encourage Yourself in the Lord

There are seasons in life, it seems, when the world is closing in and all hope seems lost, times of utter loneliness, almost irrational in nature. What is going well? What am I doing right? Nothing, as far as my emotions can see. We got no food, no jobs, our pets' heads are falling off. That's the kind of language I use to convey my state of mind to my husband, because he can instantly relate to Dumb and Dumber quotes.

I make light of it, but there really is no lightness to times like these. It's all darkness and confusion and heaviness, times when you just need to know that you're on the right track, that your kids will actually learn to love anything other than video games, that you have a friend in the world, and that you matter.
Before my offline friends start beating a path to my door with meals and concerned faces and tissues (because that's how wonderful they are), I'm not in one of those times. But I have been. And I find that in those times, I crave encouragement from other people. I'm not talking the healthy, Christ-community kind of encouragement. I'm talking an almost insatiable desire for approval, for someone to say something to me that proves my worth and value as a person.

I know this isn't healthy, and I also know that God is dealing with me in this area because He continues to withhold what I desire in times of discouragement, and He continues to show me that no amount of human encouragement will meet the deepest needs of the heart. He is my only hope. His words are the true words of life. His approval is all I need.

Knowing this struggle of mine, I am amazed every time I read this verse: "But David encouraged himself in the Lord his God" (1 Samuel 30:6). Do you know the story? David and his men have come back from battle to find that their homes have been burned and their wives and children taken. The men turn on David, preparing to stone him. If anyone could quote Lloyd, it's David: We got no food, no jobs, our pets' heads are falling off. But David seeks no man's encouragement about the type of leader he has been. He runs immediately to God for wisdom, his worth, and encouragement. He asks for direction from the Lord, for some discernment in the midst of the grief and confusion. And God gives it to him.

This has given me a framework for learning to encourage myself in the Lord. Of course, it begins for me with recognizing that I must allow God to kill any unhealthy desires for words of approval and worth from others, even my husband. This is always the beginning: confessing sin, confessing when I am frustrated by unmet expectations, and confessing that God is enough. When I recognize and acknowledge that my hope is in God and acknowledge what He's done and doing in my life (that all hope is not lost), I find that He urges me to ask for what I need. What is at the root of what I'm feeling? What truth from the Word speaks to what I'm feeling or thinking? What characteristic of God do I need to recognize and apply to the situation? Do I need to share my struggle with others who will pray for me and speak truth to me?

This process typically has to happen over and over and over for days until the light of hope and grace and truth start to shine in my heart again.

Until, yes, there it is...

I am encouraged in the Lord.

How do you practice the discipline of encouraging yourself in the Lord?