DEALING WITH DISCOURAGEMENT:
In a fairly large Sunday school class, I once asked if there was anyone who never got discouraged. One man raised his hand (and I knew him well enough to believe that he was being truthful). Everyone else sat on his or her hands, including the teacher. Virtually everyone is attacked byvdiscouragement at some time, and some appear to find it almost a way of life. It can range from nagging to paralyzing. It hinders our work, makes us irritable, interferes with our effectiveness, makes us miserable to be around and sometimes causes us to make poor decisions. It has even apparently driven some people to take their own lives. In plain words, it’s a beast.
But what can we do about it? Several Scriptures speak to it, but one impreses me especially,. It appears to be unrelated until right at the end. Romans 15:4 says ,”For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of Scriptures we might have hope.” Discouragement is loss of hope, either temporarily or permanently, and that’s the theme on which Paul concludes this verse.
What is it that makes us discouraged? You likely have your own list, but I have found that four aspects almost always turn up in any attempt to deal with this negative monster. The first is disappointed expectations. It is likely that we all started out with dreams, some larger, some smaller. We went to work on making cloudy expectations into genuine realities, but something happened (or is happening) on the way from our dreams to our destination. I never wanted to conquer the world, but I easily become discouraged if I focus on how little of that I world I even touched, much less conquered.
Then there is the weight of overwhelming circumstances. I have watched a couple, very dear to me, go through some incredible circumstances. Yesterday I heard of a relatively young man who waited three years for a liver to become available for transplant, who then died during the transplant surgery. My mother’s mother died when mother was six, and unwanted by her father, she lived with a succession of relatives until she finally landed with one who loved her, cared for her and really wanted her. Such stories are all around us, and it takes an incredibly strong person not to be discouraged either by experiencing them or even hearing about them.
Unbroken routines can have their effect as well. I preached at a college commencement several years ago, and took as my sermon title, “Much Ado About Nothing.” My point was that we usually do fairly well in the midst of challenges, successes, excitement, etc., but we are most vulnerable when we are just plodding along day-by-day with nothing really happening (check our David and Bathsheba). Beware of the ho-him and the hum-drum of life; they will wear you down quicker than you can believe. A friend of long-standing told me just this week that he struggles with retirement because, although he can find enough to do to keep him busy, none of what he is doing appears to really make any difference. It’s not without reason that I often have people come up to me and say, “You preached at my commencement, ad I remember what you preached about! Nothing.” There is nothing worse than to be taken down by nothing.
Finally (although you can likely come up with twice the reasons I have listed here) there is the drain of continual inadequacy. There is never enough money, time, energy, resources, strength, etc. to do what needs to be done. The offerings aren‘t adequate, the people appeas dead in their seats when the need of workers is presented, the work to do outstretches the time available in which to do it and so on. Inadequacy is usually intangible, but you surely can feel it.
All of these – and virtually every other cause for discouragement that you can come up with – has special significance for pastors and other Christian leaders. I have mentioned before that I once heard Jerry Falwell say that God never blessed a discouraged man. Loved you, man, but you were wrong. There are numerous examples in Scriptures that teach the oppositive, and if what you said were really true, there wouldn’t be much, if any, blessing in today’s church of Jesus Christ in general.
So what can we do about it? The Romans passage had one enormous suggestion wrapped up in a word we’d rather not hear – endurance. The word in the original has the idea of keeping going rather than just hanging around. Discouraged? Hang on and stay where you are unless or until another door is opened. Keep doing what is right to do whether or not the results are visible – they will be someday (and quite possiby still here on earth). Seek earnestly to discover what the Lord may be trying to teach you through what’s got you so down. Don’t make a lot of hasty changes unless the Lord shows you to do so. Most of all, don’t doubt in the darkness what God has given you in the light. Negatives all? Yes and no, but true whichever.
A second emphasis of the verse is also designed to lift troubled spirits. These things (the Scriptures) have been written for us so that we can larn from them. Take a look at Abraham, Moses (forty years in nowhere?), Joseph, Daniel, Elijah and Jonah (we can learn from negative examples as well). The writer of Hebrews says, “Seeing we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witness (the people I just mentioned), let us run with patience the race that is set before us (did you catch that?), looking unto Jesus….” and those last few words about say it all.
Suffering from ADD and struggling with bouts of depression throughout my entire life, I may know quite a bit more about discouragement than the average. I always thought my afflictions made me poorly qualified for what the Lord called me to do, but He evidently thought otherwise. Four times the Apostle Paul said some form of “faint not!” The verse that really summarizes what I am trying to communicate is, “Be not weary in well-doing for in due season we will reap if me faint not.”