Discouragement happens. This world is not our friend. It is not our home. We are pilgrims & outcasts. We take one step forward only to be pushed 2 steps backward. We pour energy into a project or a person only to see little return on our investment.
Discouragement is so prevalent & so dangerous. At best, it cools our love for God and distracts our gaze from focusing on Him. At worse, it can take that love completely away, leaving us unmoored in the angry sea of our circumstances.
We fight against an enemy who would love to take one of God's children & make them doubt God. That enemy hasn't changed tactics since the Garden of Eden. It worked then & it still works now.
So, what do we do? We can't "self-care" ourselves out of spiritual warfare. All the self-help books & all the self-affirming mantras won't defeat an enemy who is dedicated to our demise.
As Christians, we have an amazing resource for combatting these feelings of failure & disappointment & discouragement - the Bible! The words of our good & loving God.
Now, picture this, you're playing in a game (or we can picture you working at a puzzle or tending your garden if you're less athletically inclined than even me), and I'm standing on the sideline. I'm decked out in a brightly colored cheerleading uniform & I'm calling out encouraging cheers for you! Don't laugh too hard - I once was a cheerleader. OK, OK, it was at a small Christian school, & my culottes (yes, i said culottes) were down to my knees. (If you stick with me long enough, I might be brave enough to share a picture of the wondrousness of that uniform.) But, boy, did we cheer our hearts out for our teams. We had all kinds of chants & cheers to encourage our teams to keep going.
Think of these verses & truths as those little cheers that are encouraging you to push toward victory. I narrowed it down to 4 passages because I want to dig into them a little bit so we can see just how God uses these truths to pull us out of discouragement.
John 14:1 - "Let not your heart be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me."
Imagine finding out that not only is this Man that you've been following is going to die soon, but that His death would be set in motion by the actions of one of your closest companions. Oh, and one of your other friends would deny ever being associated with any of you. That's where the disciples were. I can only imagine the discouragement that plagued their hearts. The situation seemed hopeless. Hours away from death, Jesus comforts them by speaking of the hope that is before us - eternal life in the presence of God. "And you know the way to where I am going." (v.4) Thomas pipes up. He sounds a lot like my oldest because he wants to make sure he knows the exact right answer. Jesus answers with, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (v. 6)
Who's been here? Thinking God isn't keeping His end of the deal. Or maybe watching the failures of people you admire. Unfortunately, people will always fail us because we are all sinful human beings. We all fall very short of God's standards. On the flip side, God will never fail us. We can trust Him. Even when we don't understand His ways, we can trust His goodness. Hear the words from our Savior - "Let not your heart be troubled."
Even when we don't understand His ways, we can trust His goodness.
Isaiah 25: 8-9 - "He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of His people He will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, 'Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, that He might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for Him; let us be glad and we rejoice in His salvation.'"
This is one of the passages that Paul quotes from in his discourse on the Resurrection to the Corinthians that we'll look at a little later. Of course, Isaiah is speaking here of God's special nation, Israel. But, as joint heirs with Christ, we get to rejoice along with them. I mean, look at these beautiful promises:
Despite ALL the waiting (yep, he mentions the waiting twice), we can praise & we can worship the God of our great salvation. Think about how long Israel waited for the Messiah & now we're waiting for His Second Coming when our faith will be made sight. It's been A LONG time of waiting. But we rejoice while we wait because we wait with confidence "for the LORD has spoken."
Maybe you're in a season of waiting. Waiting for God to provide a job. Waiting for God to save your loved one. Waiting for a precious baby to hold. Friend, I am praying for you. I am cheering you on as you wait. But most importantly, our God WILL NOT waste this waiting time. He know it's hard & discouraging. But He calls on us to look at the end of the story & rejoice with hope in Him.
Isaiah 41:10 - "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
To me, Isaiah can be a really intimidating book, full of prophecy & bits of historical details. However, alongside the warnings of God's coming judgement, Isaiah shares so many beautiful verses of encouragement. We already looked at one & here's another. Here, God is reassuring His people that, yes, there will be scary things that they will walk through. Yes, they will get weary & discouraged. But God has not & will not leave them to go through those times alone. He is right there with them, strengthening, helping, holding them upright.
Friend, He upholds you, too. When you are weak & weary from walking the narrow path, He is there to strengthen you. When you are not sure which way to go, He is right there to help you & guide you. When you are battered by the temptations & sin of this world, He will uphold you with His righteous right hand.
1 Corinthians 15:58 - "Therefore my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain."
Paul is wrapping up a chapter-long discussion on the Resurrection, culminating in the words "Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" (v. 54-55) I don't know about you, but I feel like I'm at a pep rally & we're roasting the other team. We're yelling out chants about their impending demise. But it's even better because we're not talking about a sports team that has a 50/50 chance of winning (or whatever the people in Vegas say the odds are). We're on a team that has a 100% chance of victory. For those of us who are better at English than math (or is that just me?), that means there's absolutely no way we can lose. Because of the Resurrection of Christ, we have a sure victory over death & sin. "But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (v. 57)
In light of that truth, Paul is telling them not to let the trials & distractions of this world shake them from doing good. He's encouraging them to keep going, keep obeying, keep putting one foot in front of the other. Why? Because that "labor is not in vain." Even when you feel like your obedience in small things doesn't matter, it does! Even though you feel like your service or work isn't getting noticed or making an impact, you can know for sure that "it will be worth it all when we see Jesus." (Anyone else remember that old hymn?) As my good friend says, "God will use it."
Discouragement is part of life in this sinful & broken world. Even our best efforts can seem to go to waste. The people we admire or love let us down. Our health, our financial security, our marital status - when our expectations aren't met, disappointment grows (thanks Lysa TerKeurst for that thought).
Discouragement isn't an easy thing to escape. That's why we need to make sure we're abiding in the One True Vine - feeding on His word, connecting with His people, communing with Him.
We can have joy in the midst of sorrow because of what Jesus has done for us.
Discouragement is a chance to dig deep roots into the Gospel & find hope in the Truth found there.
Now if you've stayed with me this long, I have a treat for you...
Yep, I was crying because I was an angsty teenager. Yep, my hair was spray painted blue. Yep, those are culottes. Yep, I can't believe this was 15 years ago. (To anyone else who was in this photo who happens to come across this blog, you're very welcome for cropping you out.)
So, picture that girl but less angsty. With pom poms. Maybe a big poster that says, "Believe in God!" or "He will uphold you!" Because I'm cheering you on!
But more importantly, we have a good God who loves us.
"But now thus says the LORD, He Who created you, O Jacob, He Who formed you, O Israel: 'Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior... Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you...'" (Isaiah 43:1-4 - emphasis mine)
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