Battling Against Discouragement

 Photo by Annie Spratt

Photo by Annie Spratt

Discouragement is something we've all experienced. Maybe life just isn’t what you thought it would be. Maybe it’s a difficult relationship. Or maybe you spilled coffee on your brand new white blouse and you were just done. As in, day over. 

Whatever the reason, we all feel deflated and disheartened at times. We lose our motivation and cave in. We let our circumstances dictate our emotions and we. give. up.

And we forget that God is on the throne.

Although discouragement is a natural human response to the pain and frustration of life, it can quickly overwhelm us if we don't fight against it. It will drain our faith fast.

Because the truth is, life is often discouraging and it's not just a matter of retaining a positive attitude to ward of the negative emotions that come our way. Having a positive attitude can be beneficial to a point, but it's not the cure.

Isaiah, writing 700 years before the birth of Jesus, says this:

He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice on the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.
Is. 42:4

Jesus experienced human weakness in this life. He reacted emotionally to hard situations. He cried out in agony to the Father while he hung on a cross. But in all of this, his steadfast trust in God never wavered. He didn’t become dispirited or react in cynical unbelief. His faith didn’t rest on what his eyes could see, but on the revealed character of God the Father, who he knew to be true despite his circumstances. He knew that in all things, God’s justice would prevail, and his purpose would stand.

When you give into discouragement, you give into unbelief and fear. But the hard situations we find ourselves in don’t define God or limit his power towards us. The mountains in our life are in no way insurmountable to him and the power that is at work within us.

The only way to battle against discouragement is with God's truth. No matter how hard things get, God's promises stand. His word is a steadfast bastion that we can run to, always. It doesn't mean that the discouraging events in your life will change, but as you learn to hand those things over to God, your heart most certainly can. 

But even then there will be moments when God is seemingly silent. It may feel at times as if he's left you. The Psalms are full of these laments, and give voice to these emotions. Jesus himself quotes from Psalm 22 while hanging on the cross, his darkest moment.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.
Psalm 22:1-2

It’s nothing new for God’s people to suffer, but suffering is never in vain. God has a purpose for it all, and he promises to walk with us through the pain and give us the strength to keep going, putting one foot in front of the other. Some days, that’s literally all we can manage.

And whatever he withholds, it is for our benefit. Paul’s thorn was not taken from him, because it was for his good. It kept him from growing conceited, and God was glorified in his weakness (1 Cor. 12:7-10). There is always a reason that God tells us no, and only God sees the full picture.  

For those of you who like practical takeaways, here's some bullet points for when discouragement hits:

  • Read the Bible. You can't fight against discouragement if you don't know who God is, and the Bible is the primary way he's revealed himself. Memorize scripture, and tell yourself what is true. 
  • Pray. Lots. Keep going to Jesus and clinging to him. Ask others to be praying for you, get hands-on prayer, and pray through those verses you're memorizing.
  • Be vigilant with your thoughts. Sometimes we have to retrain our brain, and it takes effort. It doesn't happen passively. One way to do this is to meditate on Scripture, letting it transform your mind.
  • Be active. Serve the church. Get outside of yourself.
  • Surround yourself with God's people. Dig deep into relational community. Work on building solid friendships within the church with those who will lovingly speak truth to you when you need it.

And one more thing. 

If you are someone who has the gift of encouragement, it is a highly valuable gifting. You are vital to the church. Ask the Holy Spirit to empower you in that gifting and actively seek opportunities to build others up. Listen to what Proverbs 12:25 says, "Anxiety in a man's heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad".

The church needs encouragement all the time. If God gives you an encouraging word to say to someone, be obedient. So much of the time, we don't think our words will really matter or we worry about what people will think, but they are essential to the well-being of the church. So encouragers and exhorters, speak up.

As I'm writing this, I know people in the church who are suffering tremendously and I want to repeat this-battling against discouragement does not mean putting a positive spin on your situation. It doesn't mean that you have to be happy all the time, and that you can never experience negative emotions. Jesus didn't go to the cross with a smile on his face.

At the end of the day, a victory against discouragement looks like trust in God, believing him to be true despite the sorrow you are experiencing. It really just looks like faith. And believers who display steadfast faith and trust in God during trials are bright and shining lights in a dark and discouraging world.