“Now go out and encourage your men.” 2 Samuel 19:7
“You’re somebody!” I heard those encouraging words at the same time two strong hands grasped my shoulders and gently lifted me out of the dirt where I lay face down sobbing. I was fourteen years old and had lost a race in a track meet by a hair, a race I wanted desperately to win. Broken hearted I fell to the ground in tears. But one of my dad’s friends was on it. He had witnessed my determination, valiant effort, and heart-breaking defeat, rushing to my rescue with just the right words that would eventually lift my spirits and restore my confidence, and a message I’ve never forgotten. “You’re somebody.”
Just a few weeks prior, in a different athletic endeavor, we were competing in a junior high school basketball tournament in a tiny country school gymnasium (picture the movie “Hoosiers” except smaller). The opposing team consisted of players even younger and smaller than us, from a school half the size of our own. But they had a reputation, at least according to our coach, of being quick, crafty, and disciplined, besides having the home court advantage. That’s what he kept reminding us over and over and over. These guys will run you off the court, he warned again and again. And sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. At the end of the game Coach was furious with us for the way we played, allowing those little sixth and seventh graders to run us off the court. Truth be known, we were defeated before we ever set foot on the gym floor, due in part to his failure to encourage. (In all fairness to the coach, he was young and inexperienced, his first coaching job. And I suspect he did not realize how powerfully his negative message was impacting the team’s confidence. Yet, notwithstanding that experience, the students and athletes in our school loved and respected the coach. I’m sure it was a learning experience for him. Looking back, it certainly was for me.)
The story in 2 Samuel occurred following the death of King David’s son Absalom. So grieved was David that he recklessly failed to acknowledge his army’s valiant victory in battle. It was his general, Joab, who reminded the king what he must do. “Now go out and encourage your men. I swear by the Lord that if you don’t go out, not a man will be left with you after nightfall.” As all wise leaders know, discouragement deflates confidence, leading to failure and defeat. But encouragement builds confidence, leading to success and victory. My dad’s friend knew that, and the coach I suspect learned it.