When Discouragement Hits

“Faith sees the invisible, believes the unbelievable, and receives the impossible.” — Corrie ten Boom

I know a lot of people who are discouraged, some even depressed, stressing over financial setbacks, health issues, or relationships. Others have a more general anxiety about the world – political unrest, environmental issues, global conflicts.

Paul’s writings helped me to think more clearly about these things recently.

He begins by warning his spiritual son Timothy that things are going to get difficult, and people are going to continue to behave in sinful, ugly ways (2 Timothy 3:1-5). He then gives Timothy some instruction.

First, he says not to get caught up in the horrible condition of the world around him. Be aware, but not obsessed. Instead, he says Timothy should follow Paul’s example:  You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness . . .” (2 Timothy 3:10). Maybe we all need to look for those who are living God-centered lives in difficult times and follow their examples. They may be people we know personally or authors we read or teachers we listen to. Let’s find people with one foot planted in this world and the other in Scripture and listen to them.

Second, Paul tells Timothy to keep following what he knows to be truth: “. . . continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15).

Essentially, Paul says, turn your eyes to good role models and your heart to God’s truth. That advice will preserve us from discouragement when times are tough. I’m working on that. You, too?

May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.” – Psalm 25:21

Truth in Context

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” – 1 John 3:18

When a witness is on the stand and is told to answer only “yes” or “no,” you know you’re not getting the full story, and a yes or no answer could actually be misleading. Truth, to be understood as truth, has to have context. The witness has to be able to tell his story.

There are those who object to Jesus saying “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” But he made that claim after several years of public ministry in which he showed in other ways who he was. For Jesus the concept of “way, truth, and life” included his compassion for those in need, healing those who were lame or sick, teaching about his Father, and moving lovingly toward those who were sinful. For him, saying he was the “way, truth, and life” was a summary of what he had exampled among the people already. The statement was set in the context of his life.

There is a lot of skepticism these days about truth in just about every arena of life. If Christians want to be seen as people of truth in a world gone sideways on the subject, we need to remember Jesus’ model: live it first, then tell it. Intellectual truth is important, but it doesn’t have the impact of truth contextualized in a well-lived life. Live truth.

The people of God are not merely to mark time, waiting for God to step in and set right all that is wrong. Rather, they are to model the new heaven and new earth, and by so doing awaken longings for what God will someday bring to pass.” – Philip Yancey

Did you get it wrong?

“Bless the LORD, O my soul . . . who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy.” Psalm 103:2-4

We make decisions early in life that set a trajectory that’s hard to change. You know the kind I mean: Education, career, marriage, home, and kids. Often before we’re 30.

Wanting to get it right, we ask God for direction and then decide. Sometimes we make good decisions and sometimes not. If we realize, often years later, we’ve made some mistakes, is there anything we can do? The Bible gives some insight here:

God had been ruling Israel through judges. The people, though, noticed that other nations had kings, so they wanted a king, too. They persisted and, finally, God relented and gave them a king.

Some time later, Samuel reminded them they had been wrong to ask God for a king. The people seemed to realize Samuel was right, and they acknowledged their bad judgment. But what could they do? They already had the king they’d asked for.

Samuel said: “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart” (1 Samuel 12:20b). He says, essentially, just follow God in your present situation.

Have you ever made a big mistake? Or have you committed a sin you’ve regretted for years? God still says something like this, “Yes, you were wrong, but don’t be afraid. Just follow me, love me, serve me where you are today.”

He is the God of second chances. He still leads, heals wounds, and uses broken people who keep on following him no matter what.

“. . . the things about you that make you cringe most, make him hug hardest.” – Dane Ortland

Photo courtesy of a friend and neighbor. Thanks!

Just love him.

“Direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only.” – 1 Samuel 7:3

If you have made a commitment to follow God, you know you don’t do it perfectly, right? He doesn’t talk out loud to us. His Book can be hard to understand. We pray and believe, but sometimes we don’t know if he hears. We want to love others as ourselves, but know we don’t do that as well as we should.

When I was getting discouraged about these things recently, God placed this question in my mind: “Where is your heart?” That was easy to answer. My heart is with God. I love him. I want to serve him. You know what I then “heard” in my head? “That’s all I need.” Really? All I have to do is direct my heart toward him and he’s happy with that? Yes. Because if he has my heart, he can work with me, steer me, grow me, use me.

Where is your heart?” has become an encouraging question for me. Answering that a few times a day might be helpful for you, too. If our hearts are directed with sincerity toward God, we will find ourselves making decisions (time use, possessions, spending, sharing) based on our knowledge that we really do love God. That reassurance helps to guide our choices. We have to focus on only one thing – where is my heart? Our actions will follow as naturally as water flows toward the sea.

“Let a man set his heart only on doing the will of God and he is instantly free. If we understand our first and sole duty to consist of loving God supremely and loving everyone, even our enemies, for God’s dear sake, then we can enjoy spiritual tranquility under every circumstance.” – A. W. Tozer

Breaking Promises

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. ” – Hebrews 10:22

Did you ever make a promise and later regret it? We probably all have. We are people of our word and, no matter what, we’re determined to keep a promise we’ve made. But, should we?

Most of the time we should. But, the Bible teaches that, if keeping a promise leads to sin, it’s better to break the promise than to do something harmful or wrong. David’s an example of this when he vows to his 600 fighting men that they will wipe out the household of Nabal because Nabal refused to provide food for David’s men. David is on his way to do that when Nabal’s wife, Abigail, meets him, brings food, and talks him out of his foolish promise. David relents and then acknowledges that her intervention kept him from sinning (1 Samuel 25).

Herod should have been willing to go back on his promise when he told Herodias’ daughter she could have whatever she wanted, and she asked for John the Baptist’s head. Herod was too proud to go back on his word, and John was unjustly and immediately beheaded.

If keeping our word will have consequences that are harmful, sinful, or just plain unwise, it’s better to break that promise than to keep it (Leviticus 5:4-6). We will have to give explanations, apologies, and even restitution if we have hurt someone by backing away, but that’s better than doing the wrong thing.

We should not make promises lightly, but we should never keep a promise that leads to sin or harm. Speak carefully, correct thoughtfully, live wisely, and God will be glorified.

“Never do what’s wrong! Do nothing until it’s right. Then do it with all your might.” – Chuck Swindoll

Scars

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” – Romans 5:3-4

If you walk among the aspens, you’ll notice their scarred trunks. Many of the roundish blemishes are from branches that have fallen off, a natural part of the tree’s growth. Others, though, are more rugged. These irregularly shaped scars are usually the result of elk having chewed on the bark. Over time the wounds heal, but the scars remain as a testament of survival.

We all have scars. They are evidence of our past, and they make us unique. Our scars usually result from trauma – physical or emotional. For some it was abuse or neglect in childhood. Others of us carry scars from broken relationships, losses, accidents, illnesses, or threats. Many older people, looking back on their lives, acknowledge the pains they have endured, and still end up saying, “I wouldn’t change anything.” Why? Because they know they wouldn’t be the people they became over time without the events that sometimes wounded them.

We don’t have to be ashamed of our scars. They record our histories, they give evidence of our ability to survive, to heal. And they allow us to connect with those who recognize those scars as theirs, too.

Jesus was raised from the dead after a brutal crucifixion. He could have had any resurrection body he wanted, but he chose to keep his scars. They verified his identity to doubting disciples, and they still give evidence of his triumphant sacrifice for humankind.

Every scar we have represents pain that, by God’s grace, made us stronger, better, more like Christ. He didn’t hide his scars. We shouldn’t either.

Suffering is arguably God’s choicest tool in shaping the character of Christ in us. – Joni Eareckson Tada

Making a Difference

“. . . (The Lord) who redeems your life from the pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
 who satisfies you with good
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”
– Psalm 103:4-5

Life can be frustrating, discouraging. Sometimes we feel like we are trying our best, but not making a difference at all. We find ourselves asking if what we are doing today will matter in the long run.

Don’t give up. God works in ways we cannot see – at least not yet! I read recently about the life of David Brainerd, missionary to American Indians in the 1700’s. He kept a journal, so we have a window on his private thoughts. He was often discouraged. He was alone and lonely. He was sick (diagnosed with consumption). And his ministry was not very successful. But, even when he was depressed, he kept going. He prayed – sometimes for a whole day at a time. He fasted. He read and re-read his Bible.

And, listen in to the cry of his heart: “Lord, let me make a difference for you that is utterly disproportionate to who I am.” God answered that prayer. Though he had few converts and died at the age of 29 after only a four-year ministry, his devotion to God during tough times has inspired countless others to gives their lives to God in service as ministers and missionaries.

So, even when we are discouraged, we don’t quit. God is working something in us and through us that we don’t understand. Let’s pray, as Brainerd did, that God would use us to make a difference that is disproportionate to who we are!

” . . . God can and does use weak, sick, discouraged, beat-down, lonely, struggling saints who cry to him day and night to accomplish amazing things for his glory.” – John Piper

Don’t give up!

 “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you . . .” Psalm 63:1a

We are all working toward something. We have goals and dreams. Is God on your wish list? I heard a teacher say recently that we need to take God off any list. He stands alone as the one and only priority in our lives. When we make him that, he will become a part of and will invade every other aspiration we have. He’s not something to do. He’s someone to pursue.

We need to be patient in that pursuit because It takes time to get to know God. Don’t give up, though. He gives this promise, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13). It’s not that he’s hiding. It’s that he’s so great and beyond our understanding that he has to reveal who he is a little at a time. But his promise stands. If our hearts are right, we will find him. We will get to know him. We will find ourselves in his presence – a place of security, love, joy, and purpose. It’s a promise!

When we get discouraged with the process, we should remember that the Magi watched and studied the sky for years looking for the cosmological sign that would announce the coming of the Messiah. Then, one day, a star appeared. And, when it did, they followed it until they found Jesus, God in human form. So we keep looking, searching, desiring to find him, to know him, no matter how long it takes. We will never stop wanting more of him.

“Let all our employment be to know God: The more one knows him, the more one desires to know him.” ~ Brother Lawrence

Doing Hard Stuff

Has God ever asked you to do anything hard? I couldn’t help thinking of that question as I finished reading again the biblical account of Noah and the great flood. Here he was, a man who was favored by God, being as focused on his Creator as possible in a world gone bad. He was surrounded by sinfulness, yet still true to God. How did God reward his faithfulness? By asking him to do something hard – really hard.

First he had to build a huge boat in the middle of a desert land. We can only imagine the ridicule as he brought in logs, sawed boards, pounded nails and created animal enclosures. And, while he built, he preached, calling on people to repent of their sins. Obviously, by the time the flood came, he had no converts other than his own family. Discouraging!

Then, he had to endure the flood – more than a year on a boat with his family and animals of every kind. The work involved must have been never-ending, not to mention the noise and the smell. One whole year, plus. But, happy 601st birthday, Noah! Finally, the ground was dry.

The first thing Noah did when he left the ark was offer a sacrifice to thank God for saving him and his family. He could have complained about the how, but he didn’t. He picked up where he left off before the call to build an ark – worshiping and following God.

Has God asked you to do anything hard lately? If so, don’t run from it. Say, “Yes, Lord” and get to work. God knows how to take of those who are his!

Faith in God has not saved people from hardships and trials, but it has enabled them to bear tribulations courageously and to emerge victoriously.” – Lee Robertson

What are we building?

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” – 1 Peter 4:10

God’s original instructions to mankind were to have dominion over the earth. As his image bearers, he’s invited us to co-create with him, to organize and inhabit the earth in ways that are honorable, helpful, and pleasing to him.

It didn’t take long after creation until earthlings showed they had other ideas. They decided to build a city around a tower that would reach into the clouds (Genesis 11:1-9). Can you imagine all the skills required to do that? They had to have a plan, get everyone to agree, raise money, make building materials, transport supplies into their desert site, and engineer construction of a high-rise tower. These talents were given by their Creator. And how were they using them? To design a life that didn’t need him.

You and I have skills, too. Can we dream big dreams? Design or engineer? Rouse people to action? Raise money? Write? Make things? Organize? Make music? How are we using the talents we have in ways that help humanity to live creatively on this earth as God desires? Ways that serve him, honor him, and provide for ourselves and others? That’s what he had in mind when he gave us particular abilities.

And he gave compatible skills to others, too. So, we should look around and find those who have the same dreams we have and working together, we soon will find we are building into the lives of people we know, nurturing caring communities, and encouraging faith and trust in God. The self-serving Tower of Babel was destroyed. If we do things God’s way, what we build will last forever.

“Start by doing what’s necessary, then what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” – Francis of Assisi