Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What To Do When Discouraged

Discouragement is a common experience in our journey with God. We will all get discouraged from time to time. It may come and we aren’t even sure why (“why are you downcast oh my soul?” – Ps. 42:5); it may be due to very difficult circumstances (“I am greatly afflicted” – Ps. 116:10); sometimes other people attack us (“my enemies have increased” – Ps. 25:19); we may feel mistreated by others; fear and anxiety may hit us (“when I am afraid...” – Ps. 56:3); or other physical and emotional issues can cause us discouragement. We begin to loose heart and can even fall into depression. More than you know, I write this blog from my own experience.

I so admire the Apostle Paul. If anyone had it difficult, it was Paul. Just read 2 Cor. 11 to appreciate all the trials he faced. He writes, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Cor. 4:8-10).

Do you feel hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted, or struck down? I want to suggest 8 biblical principles that may help. When you are discouraged be sure to:

1. Allow God to search your heart.
There may be sin or other issues in your life that God wants you to get in touch with. Your emotions just might be the vehicle He is using to get your attention. Therefore, beware of medicating your pain away, giving in to your fleshly desires, or wallowing in self pity. Instead, pray this passage and open your heart to God: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23-24).

2. Stand on the attributes of God.
Affirm to yourself some of God’s wonderful attributes such as: goodness, mercy (new every morning!), faithfulness, love, grace, forbearance, immutability, and omnipotence. When discouraged, we easily loose perspective, especially on God. It takes faith to believe in His goodness even when we don’t feel like it. Be sure to stay in the Word of God so as to be reminded of who He is.
“I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living” (Ps. 27:13; NASB).

3. By faith, praise and worship God.
Once you have done #2, the proper response is to praise and worship God for who He is. Many of the Psalms begin with pain and discouragement, but they almost always end in praise. I don’t think this is because the psalmist always felt like praising God. Instead, he chose to worship God for who He is in the midst of discouraging situations and emotions.
“Though You have made me see troubles, many and bitter… I will praise You” (Ps. 71:20, 22).

4. Give thanks for everything you can think of.
When we are emotionally discouraged, everything can feel dark. We start seeing the cup as ½ empty even if it is ¾ full. Make a list of everything you can think of to give thanks for (i.e. your 5 senses, food on the table, transportation, free country, your Bible, friends, etc.). This may seem trivial, but it is very important and biblical to give thanks in all situations: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:18). “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Phil. 4:6).

5. Cover the spiritual warfare base.
We have an ultimate enemy, Satan. He is seeking whom he may devour. Sometimes discouragement is a demonic attack. Be sure to do James 4:7: submit to God and resist the Devil. Bind him in prayer and command him to flee from your presence. Praise and worship will also help to cleanse the spiritual atmosphere.

6. Share your burden with a godly friend (of the same gender) and ask for prayer.
“Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). We need each other, especially during times of despair. Even Moses needed someone to hold his arms up when he was tired. By the way, if you are on the receiving end of this call, be sure to listen, offer little advice (unless you have clear leading from the Lord), and pray for the person over the phone or in their presence.

7. Be on guard against your flesh and other temptations.
When discouraged, we are particularly vulnerable to our fleshly appetites. Temptation will likely increase when we are discouraged. Our flesh will whisper such things to us as: “You deserve to have your needs met, so go here to get what you need. God is not meeting your needs, so you are justified in sinning.” Remember how Jesus overcame temptation: by quoting Scripture!
“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Rom. 13:14; NASB).

8. Hold fast to Romans 8:28.
God promises us that “all things work together for good.” All things mean all things. However, all things work together for good only to those who “love God and are called according to His purpose.” This means we must hold fast to God, remain in His will, and trust Him … or else all things will not work together for good.

This promise is not for those who do not love God or for those who get out of His will by sinning or resorting to the flesh. One more thing: what does it mean for all things to work together for good? Romans 8:29 tells us: being conformed to the image of Christ. God’s ultimate goal is to make us like Jesus. Often the process of becoming Christ-like is trusting God in the midst of hardship.

If you are discouraged, go through each of these steps. Hold fast to God. Don’t let go. Don’t resort to the flesh. Stay on the Word. Resist the Devil. Guard your heart with all diligence because from it flow the issues of life. Wait on God’s provision. He will bring you through! “Though weeping may last for a night, joy comes in the morning” (Ps. 30:5).

If you do all of the above and the discouragement continues for a prolonged period, then consider seeing a professional counselor and/or medical doctor.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

“I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; Be strong, and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the LORD” (Ps. 27:13-14; NASB).