The Christmas tree and decorations were all put away the Saturday after Christmas.
The house felt somehow bigger, roomier, more clutter free.
I felt no after Christmas let down,
after all, there was still a whole week of celebrating the New Year with friends and family to look forward to.
Our church calendar was purposely left blank those two weeks, except for Sunday services,
so families could relax and enjoy the school holidays.
I love unscheduled, empty white calendar pages!
It wasn't until this week that reality hit, with the calendar filling up with appointments,
and Portland's gray skies and rainy weather returning after an unusual dry spell.
In truth, I still haven't felt let down or discouraged or depressed,
but, trust me, that hasn't always been the case.
The "bleak mid-winter" can become a bleak time of the soul as well.
In 1 Samuel 30:6 King David is facing the fact that all of Ziklag had been raided and burned and the women and families had all been taken captive by the Amalekites.
David's own wives had been captured.
His men blamed David, their leader, for this situation and threatened to stone him.
This is the setting when the Bible says that David encouraged and strengthened himself in the Lord.
Those are some pretty horrific circumstances that David was facing,
and some of you reading this are facing some pretty horrible circumstances as well.
I'm not minimizing what anyone may be going through right now,
or tritely, glibly telling you to just go encourage yourself in the Lord.
But whatever you are facing, whether it be the biggest trial of your whole life,
or simply a case of the bleak mid-winter blues,
the answer is not found in expecting others to carry you.
Should others be helping to bear your burden?
Should you ask for help and prayer support.
Again, the answer is yes.
But sometimes, like David, you're left to face your trials alone,
and that's when you need some weapons to do so,
that's when you need to know how, in simple and practical ways, to encourage yourself in God.
The word for encouraged used in 1 Samuel 30:6 is "chazak", to strengthen, prevail,
become strong, restore to strength.
The word also denotes that this is a constant strengthening, an ongoing strengthening.
I like to think of it like the name of one of my favorite websites (in)courage.
I imagine myself breathing in courage and strength from the source,
from God Himself.
Some practical ways I do this are...
1) I immerse myself in God's Word...
God's Word should be our daily bread, but when you are going through any type of trial,
from inward depression to external trials and testings,
think of God's Word like a life jacket or life saving medicine.
You've got to keep it on and take it in at all times if you don't want the waves to overcome you,
the circumstances to destroy you.
Read it, listen to it, keep it open on your kitchen counter or desk, print and post scriptures around your house or in your car or as the screen saver on your phone or computer.
Personally, Psalms and Isaiah have some chapters that have been life savers to me over and over again.
Psalm 119:54 says that God's Word or statutes were David's songs in his pilgrimage on this earth.
I tend to take the Bible literally, so I think David literally sang the Word to God and to himself.
Which brings me to the next tip...
Listen to uplifting worship music as often and as much as you can.
When you are going through the deep valley, the last thing you want to do is sing,
but sing anyway!
Take your soul, (your mind, will and emotions), by the nap of the neck with your spirit,
(the inward part of you in which God's Spirit dwells), and sing in spite of how you feel.
I remember so clearly a time when we were going through the worst Job season of our life.
It felt as though daily we were being assaulted by some new trial.
Every area of our life was being shaken.
It was Christmastime, and we were having our church Christmas service in the depressing little strip mall sanctuary that was our new church home after losing our big, beautiful, new church building through an awful storm of circumstances.
After the service, Joy to the World, the Whitney Houston version, was being played over the sound system.
I felt so discouraged, depressed and hopeless...anything but joyful.
But I felt God tell me to begin to dance.
Yes, right there in front of God and everybody He told me to dance, to make a choice to physically participate in worship, though it was the last thing in the world my soul wanted to do.
But, when I obeyed, when I danced with tears streaming down my face, the heaviness broke.
Worship is a powerful, powerful weapon, friends that you need to keep in your arsenal of spiritual weapons.
3)Encourage someone else...
Ever been in a pit and no one seems to notice?
And it's easy to get resentful and bitter that no one is there to encourage you,
yet you seem to be expected to be there to encourage others.
However, I've found out, over and over and over again, that when I help someone else, God helps me.
As a pastor's wife and pastoral staff member at our church,
I don't know how many times I've been counseling and praying with someone else
when I felt like I was personally hanging on to hope by a thread,
and yet, somewhere in the middle of the session I feel God breathe new courage in to me...
He encourages me as I encourage others.
4) Give thanks...
1 Thessalonians 5:18 (Amplified Bible) says,
"Thank God in everything, no matter what the circumstances may be, be thankful and give thanks, for this is the will of God for you who are in Christ Jesus."
Ann Voskamp calls this the "hard eucharisteo", giving thanks even in the hard times.
I've been writing down and counting my blessings, thanks to Ann's encouragement,
Trust me, from 2009 to 2014, life has not been all sunshine and roses, but there hasn't been a day, not one day, where I haven't found something to thank God for.
Opening my eyes to the goodness of God in my life has most definitely been a life-changing way to encourage myself.
5) Feed your spirit with something beautiful...
It's gray outside right now, and sometimes that gray matches my mood.
But there's a park right on the river that's beautiful even in winter and sometimes, when I feel overcome by the gray days, I like to go buy a coffee, grab my Bible and journal, and sit there in my car and have a little Jesus date in that beautiful place.
It lifts my spirits.
So, do Trader Joe's flowers...for under $5 I can enjoy some beautiful flowers in the middle of winter.
God created the beauty of this world for us to enjoy.
Our spirit thrives on beauty.
I remember being astonished that in the midst of the poverty of Ghana, West Africa,
I saw someone try to plant flowers in the hard, red, clay soul,
I saw someone decorate the windows of their home with strings of pop bottle caps,
I saw women curling one another's hair outside the door of their mud house.
I believe that craving beauty is God given.
Beauty is food for the spirit,
the beauty of nature,
the beauty of art and music,
the beauty found in human relationships,
feeding your spirit with beauty is definitely an encouragement to the soul.
Am I saying that doing these five things will magically make everything change for you?
Not at all.
What I am saying is that these things will help to strengthen and fortify you for what you are facing.
Give it a try.
Breathe in some courage today.
Also joining THOUGHT PROVOKING THURSDAYS
at 3-D Lessons for Life