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: https://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:
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.