CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

On Dealing With Discouragement

May 17, 2020

Are you easily discouraged? Here is some help:

I suspect most people get discouraged at times. Indeed, if you are like me, you will often be discouraged, deflated, demoralised, and dispirited. Some folks are more prone to this than others, and that includes Christians as well. And here I wish to speak to the Christian angle on all this.

Discouragement can come from at least two main sources: internal and external. We can have internal doubts and questions and worries and fears that keep us discouraged. And we can also have external opposition and enmity and resistance from our enemies – or sometimes even from our friends.

I was reminded of all this once again in my rereading of the book of Ezra today. There we read about how the people of God were allowed to return from exile and were given permission to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. But the enemies of Israel soon set about to discourage them from completing the task.

And it was not just them. We read that some Israelites also became part of the problem, with their own opposition to the work of God. So they had both internal and external sources of discouragement to deal with. Lessons can be learned here in learning how to deal with discouragement.

One key matter is knowing that you are fully in the will of God. If God has clearly called you to a work or ministry, that should be of great help in dealing with opposition and discouragement. Of course the trick is to have such assurance. The Israelites had that clear word from God about rebuilding. Divine guidance for believers today can sometimes be less certain.

And much of this has to do with our temperament. If you tend to be all rather melancholic and given to bouts of depression – as I can be – then discouragement may well hit you harder. The extreme result of such discouragement can be suicide.

I was often depressed and suicidal as a youth before I came to Christ. But like many servants of God (think of Spurgeon for example) I can still be plagued by depression. We are not alone as believers if this is the case. See here: billmuehlenberg.com/2019/10/02/on-depression/

Some of you, like me, might be easily tempted to give up what we are doing for the Lord. Of course there is nothing amiss in periodically putting your ministry back on the altar, and asking God if this is still what he wants of us. I do that now and then.

Just last night I again offered the work of CultureWatch and what I do back to God. I said to him that if it is time for me to let it go, I am willing. In some ways, that might be a selfish prayer of mine! After all, to give up this ministry would in many ways be a real blessing: just think, no more haters, no more attacks, no more abuse, no more mud slung at me, no more strident opposition, etc.

I could just as easily go back to house painting, which I used to do. Not only does it actually bring in an income (CultureWatch is a faith ministry with no regular income), but I have yet to have a house get into an argument with me, accuse me of all sorts of things, constantly pick fights with me, and in general treat me like dirt! Hey, I could get into that sort of lifestyle again!

But if you have a sense that God has led you and called you to do something, that helps to deal with all the opposition – and all the discouragement. Still, I can sometimes wonder if what I am involved in is really doing any good. Sometimes in my gloomier moments, I think that maybe life would be little different for most folks had I never been born.

Yes that is some gloomy thinking, but at the very least, when I contemplate such things, it does help me to focus in on and pray for those Christians who I know really are quite easily depressed, and even suicidal. It reminds me to pray more for them and seek to encourage them along the way.

And at times like this my mind will turn to that old classic 1946 film, It’s a Wonderful Life. You know the story: a guy (James Stewart) is about to commit suicide but his guardian angel comes along and shows him all the lives he has touched, and how others would have been adversely impacted if he went ahead with this.

So last night as I tossed and turned in my bed – as I always do – I thought about how many people I may have impacted for good – for Christ. Yes, a handful of folks have become Christians as a result of me getting saved. And a handful of folks may have been discipled and have grown in their Christian walk because of things like CultureWatch.

But I will not fully know how much impact I have had until the next life. That is true of all of us. Many folks may well benefit from what you do, but many may never tell you. Meanwhile, the hordes of critics will always be more than happy to tell you how much they dislike you and what you do.

So we all need to persevere and try to stand against discouragement. We need to strengthen ourselves in the Lord. We need to realise that if he is leading us in the work that we do, then seeking to obey him and please him is all that really matters.

Ignore the critics. And Scripture makes it crystal clear that if you are in the centre of God’s will and doing his work, you WILL have plenty of critics, opponents and persecutors. That is guaranteed. So you must press on nonetheless. By God’s grace we will prevail.

I was going to close this piece with a few neat quotes on discouragement, so I looked up what I might have saved on this. I have on my computer a folder full of many thousands of quotes on several hundred topics. I had a look and, yes, there was a file on ‘discouragement’.

But when I opened it there were no quotes there – instead, only these words: “Francis Schaeffer, Death in the City. IVP, 1969, pp. 67-70.” So I ran to my bookcase with all of his works, grabbed the volume, and opened it to those pages. Sure enough, stirring stuff, and well worth sharing here. He writes about Jeremiah and the need of persistence:

Image of Death in the City
Death in the City by Array Amazon logo

It’s no small thing to stick with the message. It’s easy to opt out. Both hippies and evangelicals easily can opt out into their own little ghetto, saying nice things to themselves and closing their eyes to the real situation that surrounds them. One can opt out in many ways. But if one really preaches the Word of God to a post-Christian world, he must understand that he is likely to end up like Jeremiah.

We must not think that Jeremiah’s trials were merely physical. They were psychological as well, for Jeremiah never saw any change in his own lifetime. He knew that seventy years later the people would return, but he didn’t live to see it. Jeremiah, like every man, lived existentially on the knife edge of time, moment by moment; and like all of us, he lived day by day within the confines of his own lifetime.

Jeremiah was not just a piece of cardboard; he had a psychological life just as you and I have. How then was he affected? There were times when Jeremiah stood in discouragement, overwhelmed by preaching the message of God faithfully to this culture and ending up in the stocks, the prison, and the dungeon.

In Jeremiah 15:10 we read, “Woe is me, my mother, that thou hast borne me a man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth! I have neither lent on usury, nor men have lent to me on usury; yet every one of them doth curse me.” I am glad Jeremiah said that, because I get discouraged too. And if you are being faithful in your preaching and not just opting out, in a culture like ours you too will experience times of discouragement.

And you say, how can a man of God be discouraged? Anybody who asks that has never been in the midst of the battle; he understands nothing about a real struggle for God. We are real men. We are on this side of the fall. We are not perfect. We have our dreams, our psychological needs, and we want to be fulfilled. There are times of heroism as we stand firm and are faithful in preaching to men who will not listen. But there are also times when we feel overwhelmed.

In Jeremiah 20:14–18, we read of one of the great cries of discouragement in the Bible, parallel to some of the cries of Job. But the intriguing thing is that neither Job, nor Jeremiah, nor David in the Psalms (where David often cried out to God, saying, “Have you turned away your face forever, O God? Where are you?”)—in none of these cases does God reprove His people as long as they do not turn from Him, nor blaspheme Him, nor give up their integrity in their attitude toward Him. There is no contradiction here. It is possible to be faithful to God and yet to be overwhelmed with discouragement as we face the world. In fact, if we are never overwhelmed, I wonder if we are fighting the battle with compassion and reality, or whether we are jousting with paper swords against paper windmills.

He quotes Jer. 20:14-18 and then says this:

Jeremiah was discouraged because he was a man standing against a flood. And I want to say to you that nobody who is fighting the battle in our own generation can float on a Beauty Rest mattress. If you love God and love men and have compassion for them, you will pay a real price psychologically.

So many people seem to think that if the Holy Spirit is working, then the work is easy. Don’t believe it! As the Holy Spirit works, a man is consumed. This is the record of the revivals; it is the record of those places in which God has really done something. It is not easy!

As I stand and try to give a message out into the world—at the cafe tables and in the universities, publicly and privately—it costs a price. Often there is discouragement. Many times I say, “I can’t go up the hill once more. I can’t do it again.” And what is God’s answer? Well, first it is important to know that God doesn’t scold a man when his tiredness comes from his battles and his tears from compassion.

Jeremiah, we recall, was the weeping prophet. This has psychological depth as well as historic meaning. He is really the man weeping. But what does God expect of Jeremiah? What does God expect of every man who preaches into a lost age like ours? I’ll tell you what God expects. He simply expects a man to go right on. He doesn’t scold a man for being tired, but neither does He expect him to stop his message because people are against him. Jeremiah proclaimed the message to the very end.

Thank you Jeremiah. Thank you Francis Schaeffer. That helps me to keep on going, despite all the discouragement and opposition along the way. I hope it helps you too.

[1943 words]

37 Responses to On Dealing With Discouragement

  • Thank you, Bill for your encouragement over what is now decades. Your resilience & courage ‘under fire’ is inspirational.
    God bless you and you family!

  • Bill I really appreciate what you do very much. I can’t always comment due to some serious ongoing adverse life events the past six months but I do appreciate your work. Thank you.

  • Many thanks Michael and Jo.

  • Dear Bill

    I am extremely grateful for your ministry. I have gleaned – and been both challenged and encouraged in the Lord – from your Ministry over the last 15 years or so. You will never know until eternity how much richer my life has been for your ministry, and how my prayers have perhaps borne Godly fruit in the world around me.

    I am grateful to the Lord that He has given me your ministry, especially when I lacked people speaking into my life the way you have. You are like a friend who chatters away because you care, and have great Experience, wisdom and insight. I ponder… I pray…. I converse with others… it prompts me to do more research myself… the fruit is endless..

    I liken it to when we pray for healing for someone. We pray. Then leave it with the Lord. Sometimes they are healed. Sometimes not. Sometimes it takes time to bear fruit. But no matter what result or feedback we get, … Or what we do or don’t see, the Lord has moved.

    What He purposes, He enables. And what He enables will not return void to Him. And that is our bread. Doing the work He has called us to do. And that’s really the key.

    None of us who are blessed by your Ministry can know what it is like to live as you do, depending on the overflow of people’s gratitude in financial terms… for yourself and your family. Perhaps there is another form Culture Watch can take if there are particular concerns that are pressing there.

    The times are heavy with panic and discouragement all round, … and all around the world at the moment. It is a time of great uncertainty. I pray that you will receive the direction you seek, and that you will find a peace about it. We are all at a bit of a loss with the “what’s Coming next!?” And need to really tuck in and pray for one another! I will be praying for you.

  • Thanks Sue. Bless you.

  • Dear Bill…please do not give up on your ministry….please continue to do as you have been doing….I am a disabled person in Singapore and have benefited a lot from your perspectives and the thoughts you have shared…it helps me to have a balanced things and interpretation of issues and seeing them in God’s lenses…keep up the good work and keep on pressing on! Janet Puah

  • While reading this article I was listening to some new music I’ve added to my worship playlists.
    Worshipping is one way of dealing with the despair.
    The prophets have told us there is a new sound being released from heaven to empower our worship.
    Bill, please listen and enjoy these two videos.
    God’s immeasurable love and blessings to you.
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Oq-c5vQl854
    https://www.elijahlist.com/words/display_word.html?ID=23621

  • I am a new reader of your column and find your writings so informative I can see you love the Lord. We as readers are so blessed to have your Ministry I have given up purchasing a daily newspaper. I know all I need to do is follow Culture Watch which gives an honest commentary you have taught me so much on so many topics. I live in Western Australia and praying earnestly for a Revival in the Western World. I want everyone to Know and Love our Heavenly Father. I tell whoever listens to talk to Jesus as you would do with a friend.
    I pray your Ministry will continues – but understand your decision will be made between you and God.
    Praise the Lord. Amen

  • Thank you Susanne. God bless you.

  • Dear Bill,

    A message to you on behalf of very many, and, perhaps truly also from our King:

    Be encouraged – the Lord is with you, mighty warrior!

    You are much valued and appreciated, and also respected, honoured and loved by many.

    Continue forward with courage in the vital work the Lord has equipped you to do for Him in the furthering of His Kingdom.

    We pray He strengthens, blesses and protects you today and every day.

    Bill, know for sure that you have many friends!

  • Thanks Susanna. Blessings.

  • Be encouraged mate, you probably minister to a lot more people than you imagine. I for one have used excerpts from your writings many times to bless others. I would love to contribute to your ministry, and I will one day of that I am convinced, but being an artist who loves the Lord (and art with a purpose) is not always being in the right ‘camp’ so to speak. But again I would stress that your impact is greater than you think.

  • Hi Bill, Appreciate this article and your honesty and openness about the struggles you go through in the ministry. Speaking in a naturalistic way, I have sometimes wondered how you continually manage what you accomplish in researching, writing and presenting truths from the bible about issues and events in life and then have to face the opposition and unkind reactions from people. Wouldn’t blame you at all if you wanted to have a rest from it all!
    From a spiritual viewpoint though, I think you provide the answer in the latter part of you article with the excellent observations about Jeremiah – so true and encouraging.
    I honestly believe you have planted many seeds and influenced and helped thousands of folks – so encourage yourself with this thought too!
    Your writings have been of a great help to myself so I thank you personally for your commitment to others.
    The Lord bless you in whatever path you may take.
    David West

  • Hi Bill
    Though l do not suffer depression l hear you and will pray for.
    Be assured you have been a blessing to me over a number of years, strengthening my faith and building up my knowledge of our mighty God and Savior and social issues.
    I think that you questions about whom or how many may have been saved my your ministry will mot be uttered when you stand before God because you will be silent when you see His magnificence. The question will pale into insignificance.
    Be strong in The Lord and keep on keeping on. He alone knows the plans He has for you…. as He said to Joshua!
    Bless you Bill
    In Christ
    Julyan Sumner

  • Dear Bill,
    It is perfectly natural to get depressed at times especially deep thinkers like yourself. Also as we get older we can succumb to depression more easily because doing ordinary things are so much harder especially if you have always been fit and active.

    Years ago an old priest who died a long time ago told me that it seemed as if he had achieved so little in his many years as a priest. He achieved more than he realised because I remember him for his courage in speaking out on controversial issues such as abortion and homosexuality which is unheard of these days from the pulpit. It will be the same with you. Some things you have written over the years will stick in people’s minds and make a positive difference to their lives even though you will probably not know the whole of it in this life.As for your critics there are none so deaf as those who don’t want to hear. Remember, sticks and stones will hurt your bones but calling will not hurt you because you speak the TRUTH and it is sorely needed these days. Keep up the good work!
    .

  • Hi Bill I found you 26 years ago when I became a Christian and I used to get the Salt shakers newsletter. I was always amazed at your ability to write so eloquently and with such depth on many matters … I have trouble writing 3 lines … I was praying for you the other day after reading that you were being attacked again … Your ability to help me see things from a Christian perspective has been such a blessing. God bless.

  • Hi Bill, again an honest piece no hiding the discouragement we face in God’s service, but we are alway drawn back by the Holy Spirit. The god of this world will alway stir up trouble to distract us, to discourage us from the work God has set us into, we can receive this from those we least expect it from. In your words you always provide enough to create in us the challenge in your writing. I have experienced this when I entered full time service with a Sydney Mission, I was filled with assurance God had set me the tasks within the mission, but, then, I realised the god of this world had his agents only too keen to discourage, to be fair, I think they didn’t know this at the time. When I am upset now, and little discouraged at the events happening today around us, my wife, will say, remember who is in control. The one who called us, and leads us, He is in control. Thank you again Bill for ministry to your fellow believers, you are valued as a faithful servant of our Lord Jesus, Blessings to you Bill, be encouraged as you are an encouragement to us.

  • Bill, Anyone who hasn’t experienced some level of discouragement has never accomplished very much! Be assured that your ministry is not only current in it’s effect but I often go back to a topic from the archives.
    Your impact is not only measured by those who are converted but by those whose own ministry has been impacted by the immeasurable wealth of reference material that continues to enlighten and impower.
    In the words of an old gospel song:
    Oh my Brother do not waver,
    When the battle tide is strong!
    The reward is to the faithful,
    It will not be very long.
    Then when all of life is over,
    And we’ve reached the other shore.
    We can sing it as we never sang a song before.
    Tis the old time religion
    and it’s good enough for me!

    An old mentor of mine used to say:
    God’s payday doesn’t come every Friday, but it comes, and when it does it is Glorious.

  • Hi Bill
    At the start I wondered if you were going to quote Psalm 55 v 12 and 13; dealing with betrayal. Clearly, there are times when reassessment is required. I have learnt through very difficult times, that others, closest to us have a profound effect upon our perceptions and view of reality. People who give the most often make themselves very vulnerable. For example, consider the fact that the highest rates of suicide are among psychiatrists. We should not think this fact strange.
    I agree with what Bev Genat was alluding to. We cannot do without a regular personal experience of hearing God (Matthew 4 v 4). Bill you appear to have gained something of this personal experience through Francis Schaeffer’s teaching on Jeremiah. These quotes were indeed very good.
    Bill, you have been like a rock over the past 16 years, since I first discovered your writings. You have also been like a loud trumpet consistently giving warning. It’s funny how I can feel so close to someone I have only met a couple of times. Thanks Bill.
    Chris

  • Goodness Bill! You certainly generated interest with this piece on being discouraged and sometimes even depressed. Seems many of us can relate! I would be very sad to not be able to read your daily contributions. That said you must of course go where and when the LORD leads. When I met you in Bunbury, I thanked you for ‘being our church’ when our fellowship in our small country town was shut down suddenly. For a few months we were like lost sheep without a shepherd before we happily settled in to a new fellowship. There was uncertainty and times of discouragement but we were always buoyed and encouraged with your daily messages and just so grateful for the spiritual food you fed to us. So thank you good and faithful servant. As it has been said you will never know the impact you have had on so many people over so many years but be assured there are many of us who are grateful to GOD and thankful for the blessing you are with the GOD-given gifts and talents you use to inspire, teach, encourage and yes even correct! Your articles are always scriptural, balanced and thought provoking – a breath of fresh air – and gratefully received. GOD bless you. From Cheryl – your fellow melancholic!

  • Many thanks indeed Cheryl.

  • Bill, I am a recent reader of your ministry articles. You and your writings are a blessing – much trial, and work I can see has gone into them as you’ve stayed with true Christian and biblical convictions in your insights. I pray the Lord will continue to work in and through you. I am 40 year almost Christian – and know these bouts of depression when staying committed to the LORD are real and evidence we are in His will. Great reminders from Jeremiah and Schaeffer.
    In Christ Jesus.

  • Yes Bill, we are very encouraged by how the Lord uses you in this ministry!
    The Lord has really gifted you in helping us make sense of what’s going on around us in our communities and in the world. Like the sons of Isssachar (2 Chronicles 12:32) you understand the times and link it to God’s word, guiding us in how to respond and put our faith into action. May God bless you as you keep perservering, and keep helping us to perservere!

  • Dear Bill,
    In the spirit of old Barnabas I would like to send you the sincerest encouragement I can from the states. Sir you have helped me SO MUCH with His Scriptures filtered by your practical theological applications. Been reading Culture Watch just a few years at best. It would be such a loss for so many of us if you ceased writing. I always have several questions and so wish that you were my next door neighbor that I could just pop over. But since that’s not possible your articles inspire me to be more Berean-like and search the Scriptures for myself. Don’t under estimate what God is doing through your efforts. Keep fighting the good fight of faith. This virus mess has all of us suffering in one way or another at this time. You have helped make SOME sense as to where I should stand as a Christian vs. govt. mandates over COVID for one lately. So I’d like to end by “boomeranging” your encouragement that I often receive from you. I hope you accept returns. 🙂 Your voluntary sufferings, as you described above, are not in vain my friend. I put your face and pen to this letter in place of Paul. I think he would like that for Christians in like places as he was.

    “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.
    Blessings and too many thanks to mention,
    Keith

  • Hi Bill,
    I read your work a lot but rarely comment.
    And I am not really sure how this article triggered the following thoughts, but they are important to share.

    There are many people that make life choices based on the phrase;
    “If it is easy , it must be right (or meant to be)”

    Now at times, God does allow a time of ease, but this just does not fly when you have a enemy like satan to deal with, and all the more one doing Gods bidding.

    Thanks for sharing this article on dealing with discouragement, another subject really covered in Church.

    God Bless

  • Bill, I consider your messages a link to what is really happening in the world, and how we can face it as Christians! I believe your ministry is meant to be there for us believers, who aren’t sure what is truth in our media these days. I appreciate your wisdom, and encouragement in your daily messages, and the research that you do to provide it. Culture Watch is just that- an eye on what is happening around us, and a word to know how to respond!

  • Many thanks guys – greatly appreciated!

  • Dear Bill
    Thank you for your faithfulness. I only got to reading this today, and how that would grieve the one who inspired you to write it.
    I have done what you did not, and will now struggle with the consequences of that decision.
    I still needed to read it the day it was penned and at my age continue to learn and grow.

    I too need to accept as Jeremiah , you and countless others have done and push on to the prize that awaits the good and faithful servant.

    For give me Lord and lead me where you would have me go now, Amen

    You, Bill Muehlenberg speak words that point to The Father, Son and Holy Spirit always.
    Many Blessings to you Bill
    Mark Bryant

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