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Spiritual Recipe for Overcoming Discouragement
The source of discouragement
Do you ever get disheartened and discouraged? I have felt that way a lot lately, particularly in the last year. Racism and riots; mass shootings; violation of constitutional freedoms; all the hot button issues that tear at the moral fabric of our country and divide even the Church; the constant, daily barrage of fiery arrows being shot between political and ideological factions; and next year's presidential campaign has already began a hostile volley of accusations, allegations, and suspicions between candidates, parties, and pundits; add to the terrorizing threat of ISIS. There is mud and fire being slung about, and turning on the computer, television, and radio has become a dread.
The world just seems to be a dismal and foreboding place. People facing personal tragedy, challenges, or trials during the midst of all this have an even greater struggle. The glass doesn't just seem half empty, it seems empty, with a nasty gob of unidentified gunk at the bottom of it. That nasty gob of gunk is Satan, the real source of our discouragement. It's his favorite weapon, because it leads to despair. Despair is hopelessness. If you know God, you know that hopelessness is a lie. So let's talk about the truth.
Encourage your own soul
During times like these, sometimes we need to preach to ourselves, encourage ourselves, and give ourselves a talking to. I believe the Holy Spirit works in this way. Take, for example, the writer of Psalm 42. He begins by expressing his deep thirst for God with the beautiful word picture of a deer panting deeply for water. He goes on to tell God about his continual state of tears, so much so, that his enemies are taunting him with "Where is your God?" (vs. 1-3). It becomes painful to think of joyful times in the past:
My heart is breaking as I remember how it used to be:
I walked among the crowds of worshipers, leading a great procession to the house of God, singing for joy and giving thanks
amid the sound of a great celebration! (vs 4)
I have to be honest and say that when I hear the words "singing for joy," "giving thanks" and "celebration" today, it is kind of like being rubbed with sandpaper. A girlfriend called today and was so cheerful, I physically, mentally, and emotionally recoiled. So I need a bit of encouragement today. I don't want to walk around one more day sinking deeper into the mire of doom, gloom, and hopelessness.
My remedy for today is threefold: Open the Bible, remember God's goodness, and and speak it out, to you and myself. Several passages come to mind.
The first passage is Psalm 42 (which I started with above), in which the writer has a little talk with himself.
"Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise Him again - my Savior and my God" (vs. 5).
I think this writer got so sick of being in the pit, that he had to make a choice, surrender and succumb to despair, or place his hope in God. He goes on to say,
"Now I am deeply discouraged, but I will remember you...I hear the tumult of the raging seas as your waves and surging tides sweep over me. But each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life" (vs. 6-8).
Offer up the sacrifice of praise
Singing praise to God when the world seems so bleak is very difficult. In Psalm 137 some Israelites have been taken captive by Babylon. They are in deep mourning, weeping as they think of their city of worship, Jerusalem. They are so full of despair that they hang their harps on the tree branches, a sign that they no longer have a reason to play or sing songs of joy. Life as they once knew it was over. To rub it in, their captors demanded they sing a joyful hymn. Their response was, "But how can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a pagan land?" Have you ever felt this way? I have.
In contrast to the Israelite captives in Babylon who just could not offer up praise to God, look at Acts 16 where Paul and Silas received a severe lashing, their backs shredded like raw meat, unbearable pain and bound in stocks in a dark, dank, filthy, wretched prison, and they prayed and sang hymns of praise. The whole prison population, including the guards, listened. They had to have been moved by the holy sound of praise from suffering men. By the end of this dramatic story, a prison guard and his whole family became believers in Christ and were baptized. Paul and Silas offered up the sacrifice of praise. It had to have been a sacrifice to sing praise and pray at a time like that. The wonderful thing is, it didn't just work out for their good, but for the good of others as well.
Heb: yachal - trust, and towcheleth - To trust with expectation
Gk: elpis - to expect or anticipate with pleasure.
Remember God's faithfulness
Like the psalmist in Psalm 42, Jeremiah, known in Christendom as "the weeping prophet", remembered God's goodness in the middle of a very bitter and sorrowful lamentation, and spoke it out loud in Lamentations 3:21-23:
"Yet this I recall to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassion's never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness" (see Remember God's Faithfulness).
So far, in each scenario, not only did these men of God remember God's unfailing goodness in their suffering, but they spoke, sang, or prayed it out loud. It brought encouragement to themselves and any who were near, and it brought honor and glory to God. The foul, despairing situation they were in didn't even get an honorable mention.
An allegorical tale of Much Afraid's journey to the high places with the Shepherd where she overcomes her paralyzing bondage of fear and despair.
Acceptance and gratitude
A passage that has always been able to lift me in times like this, is Habakkuk 3:17-19. I love it first, because it is a prayer in song, sung by the prophet himself; a psalm if you will. Before getting into 17- 19, read the whole chapter (only 19 verses). To set the stage and put the verses in context, David Malick, in his Introduction of Habakkuk, fills in a few details:
"The crisis internationally was serious. But of even greater concern was the national corruption. Great unrest stirred within Judah. Josiah had been a good king. When he died, Josiah's son Jehoahaz rose to the throne. In only three months, the king of Egypt invaded Judah, deposed Jehoahaz and placed his brother Jehoiakim on the throne. Jehoiakim was evil, ungodly, and rebellious (2 Kings 23:36--24:7; 2 Chron. 36:5-8). Shortly after Jehoiakim ascended to power, Habakkuk wrote his lament over the decay, violence, greed, fighting, and perverted justice that surrounded him. No wonder Habakkuk looked at all the corruption and asked, 'Why doesn't God do something?' "
"Decay, violence, greed, fighting, and perverted justice," the very things we struggle with today in America, among many other things. But Habakkuk sees hope in God despite the realities of his time. For in verses 17-19 he says,
Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
and the cattle barns are empty,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
The Sovereign Lord is my strength!
He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
able to tread upon the heights.
This is no small statement. No crops or vegetation, cattle and flocks dying and dropping like flies indicating drought and famine, their livelihood was gone, and they were in financial ruin. Whether these are figurative or literal, to turn around and say "I will be joyful in the God of my Salvation" is not just looking on the bright side, it is accepting life as it is, but trusting and hoping with expectation in God.
I feel renewed, and hopeful, and rejoice in God, because though the world changes, from bad to worse, God does not. He remains the same - glorious, marvelous, full of lovingkindness and mercy. God is faithful to the end. He holds us up and walks us through the dark valleys, flood waters, and fires in our lives, and we come out on the other side, stronger, and with a clearer understanding of God's sovereignty and unending mercy and love.
Acceptance with Joy
In closing, I want to share this excerpt from Hannah Hurnard's book Hinds Feet on High Places. The main character is Much Afraid, who lives in constant fear and despair because of the dismal circumstances of her life. To find hope and victory, she follows the Shepherd, whom she has been serving, up to the heights, a very treacherous journey. In this passage, she is in a desert region, a place we have all experienced spiritually.
In all that great desert, there was not a single green thing growing, neither tree nor flower nor plant save here and there a patch of straggly gray cacti.
On the last morning, Much Afraid was walking near the tents and huts of the desert dwellers, when in a lonely corner behind a wall she came upon a little golden-yellow flower, growing all alone. An old pipe was connected with a water tank. In the pipe was one tiny hole through which came an occasional drop of water. Where the drops fell one by one, there grew the little golden flower, though where the seed had come from, Much Afraid could not imagine, for there were no birds anywhere and no other growing things.
She stopped over the lonely, lovely little golden face, lifted up so hopefully and so bravely to the feeble drip, and cried out softly, “What is your name, little flower, for I never saw one like you before.”
The tiny plant answered at once in a tone as golden as itself, “Behold me! My name is Acceptance-with-Joy!“
Much-Afraid thought of the things which she had seen… Somehow the answer of the little golden flower which grew all alone in the waste of the desert stole into her heart and echoed there faintly and sweetly, filling her with comfort. She said to herself, “He (the Shepherd) has brought me here when I did not want to come, for His own purpose. I, too, will look up into His face and say, ‘Behold me! I am your little handmaiden, Acceptance-with-Joy.’”
I cannot change most of the things that bring me down. They are totally out of my control. So I choose to accept that God will take care of them in his own way and time, and focus the rest of my day on the marvelous blessings that are happening around me; numerous weddings, births (my new granddaughter Lola Rose as one of many), God's provision for my needs, my circle of friends and family, Christ' sacrifice on the cross for us all, and the sure hope of heaven. I see a little flower in the desert. Excuse me, now, while I tread upon the heights with acceptance, gratitude and hope.
© 2015 Lori Colbo. All rights reserved.
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© 2012 Lori Colbo