Let these two great saints help you deal with discouragement:
OK, confession time: I can easily get discouraged. I often think that I am doing nothing for the Kingdom, and I so easily want to just give it all up. I think that I am not having any sort of impact. Yet in various ways God brings encouragement – be it through other believers, through his word, or in my prayer time. Let me mention one such recent episode.
While in a patch of deep discouragement, I was reading a new expository commentary on Luke that I had just bought. Something said there really blessed me and encouraged me. It occurred to me that the American author would of course know nothing about me, but his words ended up being a real help to someone on the opposite end of the earth,
So I wondered if I might also be having such an impact. In my discouragement I felt like I could quit, and it would mean nothing to anyone else. But just as I was thinking this way, a gal from Texas who I knew nothing about sent in a comment to my website (on an article I had just written on Luke!) saying that she had been blessed by what I wrote. Wow, so that was a real encouragement to me – and it answered my question as to whether anyone would notice if I stopped doing what I was doing.
Here I want to draw upon two friends as I discuss the issue of dealing with discouragement. Actually, one of them I never met, while the other I did hear speak once or twice. I refer to the prophet Jeremiah, and a Christian apologist from last century who had a real prophetic-like ministry: the late great Francis Schaeffer.
In his 1969 volume, Death in the City he focuses on Jeremiah – the man and his ministry. The book is actually based on some lectures he gave at Wheaton College in Chicago in September and October 1968. This was at the height of the hippy revolution and the counterculture. How should Christians respond to such a situation?
Or as he puts it in the opening lines of the book: “We live in a post-Christian world. What should be our perspective as individuals, as institutions, as orthodox Christians, as those who claim to be Bible-believing? How should we look at this post-Christian world and function as Christians in it?”
He says this: “The church in our generation needs reformation, revival, and constructive revolution.” Our predicament is this: “Having turned away from the knowledge given by God, man has now lost the whole Christian culture. In Europe, including England, it took many years — in the United States only a few decades.” He goes on to say this:
Do not take this lightly. It is a horrible thing for a man like myself to look back and see my country and my culture go down the drain in my own lifetime. It is a horrible thing that forty years ago you could move across this country and almost everyone, even non-Christians, would have known what the gospel was. A horrible thing that thirty to forty years ago our culture was built on the Christian consensus and now we are in an absolute minority.
He says that because of this we are “under the wrath of God,” just as it was in Jeremiah’s day: “The book of Jeremiah and the book of Lamentations show how God looks at a culture which knew Him and deliberately turned away. But this is not just the character of Jeremiah’s day of apostasy. It’s my day. It’s your day. And if we are going to help our own generation, our perspective must be that of Jeremiah.”
He continues: “Jeremiah, you know, is called the ‘weeping prophet,’ for we find him crying over his people. And his attitude must be ours, we must weep over the church as it has turned away and weep over the culture that has followed it.” And the message of Jeremiah was not an easy one: his primary message was that of judgment. The negative news preceded the good news of possible renewal through repentance.
We must preach the same message: “If you are a Christian looking for an easy ministry in a post-Christian culture where Christians are a minority, you are unrealistic in your outlook. It was not to be so in Jeremiah’s day, and it cannot be so in a day like our own.”
Jeremiah and discouragement
It is in this context that the discouragement of Jeremiah is to be understood. But it is not just his discouragement, but his persistence in the face of this that is vital to keep in mind. And recall that God had even warned the prophet ahead of time that the people would not listen to him, but he must preach, nonetheless. And that he did for some four decades!
Schaeffer says this about the situation:
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.
Let me offer here this lament of Jeremiah 20:14-18:
Cursed be the day
on which I was born!
The day when my mother bore me,
let it not be blessed!
Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father,
“A son is born to you,”
making him very glad.
Let that man be like the cities
that the Lord overthrew without pity;
let him hear a cry in the morning
and an alarm at noon,
because he did not kill me in the womb;
so my mother would have been my grave,
and her womb forever great.
Why did I come out from the womb
to see toil and sorrow,
and spend my days in shame?
Wow, that is a real case of discouragement! But Jeremiah persevered. Says Schaeffer:
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.
Amen, and I must do the same. All Christians today must do the same. Yes, times of depression and discouragement will come our way. But God has entrusted us all with various tasks which we must faithfully perform. We dare not wallow in self-pity. We dare not linger in our pity parties.
There is important work that needs to be done, and each one of us has a unique calling which no one else can perform. So we need to be faithful and hang in there, just like Jeremiah. And even if we doubt that we are doing any good right now, one day when we stand before the Lord we will hear those wonderful words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
And on top of that, we will spend the rest of eternity bumping into other saints of God who will inform us that something we said or did or prayed had a huge impact in their life. That will also make it all worthwhile.