Brian Zahnd: Encourage Yourself in God

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Make God Bigger Than Your Trouble

Refuse to magnify the devil. Refuse to magnify the trouble. Refuse to magnify the present negative circumstance. Don't analyze your trouble with a magnifying glass--this will only lead to deeper discouragement. Magnify the Lord! Speak of His greatness, His power, His might. Talk about how big and powerful God is! My Nigerian preacher friend Bishop Goddowell Avwomakpa is in the habit of saying, "When you make God bigger, you make your trouble smaller." It's simple but true.

A thousand years earlier, the young but wise Elihu reminded Job (who was facing his own worst day) that God gives songs in the night (see Job 35:10). That is an encouraging word. In the dark night of the soul, God will give you a song that, if sung, will bring a dawn of faith and encouragement. So in the dark night of his personal anguish, David sang a song of praise to the God who can make a way where there is no way.

Paul and Silas did the same thing a thousand years later. They had been arrested for the good deed of casting a spirit of divination out of a young slave girl. After a sham of a trial, they were beaten with rods and imprisoned in the innermost dungeon with their feet in stocks. How did they respond? In a most remarkable way. At midnight, instead of despairing and crying themselves to sleep, they sang hymns of praise to God. Paul and Silas made the exceptional choice to encourage themselves by praising God. Luke tells us that while Paul and Silas sang, the other prisoners were listening to them. No doubt they were! I'm sure the prisoners were amazed at such surprising behavior. Truly these men were different--they had something the other prisoners didn't have. They possessed a remarkable faith in their God, and God responded to their remarkable faith by delivering them from the dungeon of despair through a miraculously timed earthquake. "The foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were loosed" (Acts 16:26).

Paul and Silas were simply following in the tradition pioneered by David when he encouraged himself with songs of praise. Indeed, as David sang his songs of praise, a change came over him. A spark of faith had brought a glimmer of hope, and David could feel himself becoming encouraged. His men noticed the change also. An encour­aged man among a multitude of discouraged men will stand out. That's why David was the leader. The leader will always be the one who can encourage himself when everyone else is discouraged. Had someone else encouraged himself instead of David, that man would have become the new leader. The ability to encourage yourself when everyone else is discouraged is an essential attribute of leadership. In the most desperate times, the ability to summon strength through encouraging yourself is the greatest act of leader­ship. It's the leadership of Abraham Lincoln ... of Winston Churchill ... of David.

Encouraging yourself in the Lord is part of how you go about recovering your joy--not the shallow, mercurial feeling of happiness, but deep, abiding joy, which can be present even in the midst of sorrow. I know the idea of having joy in the midst of sorrow may seem paradoxical, but truth is in the paradox. If you are going to recover from the worst day of your life, among the ?rst things you have to recover is your joy. In order to defeat you, the devil knows he must steal your joy. Satan is quite aware of the spiritual truth concerning joy revealed in Nehemiah: "‘Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength'" (Neh. 8:10).

What the devil is after through excessive grief and lingering depression is your strength--the strength that is found in the joy of the Lord. Peter talks about the devil utilizing a stalking strategy analogous to a lion stalking its prey. The devil "walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Pet. 5:8). The devil may be like a lion--not as a metaphor for majesty but as an opportunist seeking to prey upon the weak and feeble. Satan does not want a confrontation with strength; he seeks to exploit weakness.

Understanding that the joy of the Lord is the strength of the believer, the devil seeks to steal your joy, thereby reducing you to weakness. This is a primary strategy utilized by the devil to defeat believers. The believer who can retain his joy is destined to triumph in the end. This is a powerful principle. If the devil cannot steal your joy, he cannot ultimately defeat you. The moment David began to encourage himself in the Lord and recover his joy, he placed himself on a trajectory to turn his whole situation around. Joy is not just a preferred emotional state; it is a necessary element in attaining full recovery.

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