Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Don't Lose Heart

Don’t Lose Heart

It is easy to get discouraged in our walk with God and our ministry for God.  We are daily in a battle with the world, our flesh, and the Devil.  The state of the church is not good.  Terrible things are happening all around us.  Tragedy often strikes.  Our emotions are quite unpredictable.  And sometimes it can feel like God is asleep.  All of these factors can cause us to get discouraged. 

God knew this when He warned us to not lose heart.  To lose heart means that we get discouraged to the point where we are tempted to throw in the towel.  We tend to isolate ourselves and drift into depression.  We begin to believe that the good we are doing is not making any difference.  And we start questioning whether God is really in control.

Let’s examine a few scriptures about losing heart and see what practical lessons we can gain from them.  This is so important because every Christ-follower will at some point in his/her life struggle with losing heart

Eph. 3:13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.

Paul did not want others to lose heart over his suffering, because through his suffering others were going to benefit.  When we go through hard times, though it seems like God has abandoned us, He actually is working new things in us that will benefit others.  This is the price we pay in ministry to others.  Those serving God must go through hardship in order to better minister to others who are suffering.  One develops credibility to minister to hurting people when having gone through tough times yourself.  God comforts us that we might be able to comfort others (2 Cor. 1:3-8).

2 Cor. 4:16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self his being renewed day by day.

Outer pain and hardships is what God uses to develop inner character.  No one likes this.  The process is not fun at all.  However, inner character is more valuable for eternity than temporal difficulties.  The key in maturity is to actively have your “inner self … renewed day by day.”  Listen closely:  doing that which renews our inner self is the key to not losing heart!  Here are some suggestions for having your inner self renewed:

a.    Meditate on the Word of God every day. 
God’s Word will encourage us.  God’s Word will speak to us.  God’s Word will give us hope.  Sometimes we have to force ourselves to read God’s Word, but when we do, He does speak to our heart and gives us hope.  The Word of God is living and active and able to show us where we are living from our soul or from God’s Spirit (Hebr. 4:12).  Sometimes our hardships are to wean us from living out of our flesh to that of God’s Spirit!

b.    Be in community with Godly, mature believers. 
When we are discouraged, our flesh often wants to isolate from other believers.  We tend to only see the negative in the body of Christ.  But our spirit needs the input and fellowship of godly, mature Believers.  Again, sometimes we have to force ourselves to get this fellowship, but when we do, God uses it to give us hope and encouragement.  Mature Believers can speak into our lives the truth we need to hear.  We particularly need to spend time with those who have ministered for many years, and in so doing, have endured great hardships.

c.    Read the biographies and stories of those who have gone before us. 
Read about suffering missionaries who had a great impact for God.  Read about those who have persevered under trial.  Read the wisdom of pastors and servants of God who have endured hardship but stayed true to the Lord.  Hearing from some of that “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebr. 11) can be very inspiring.

d.    Resist the Devil.
Don’t underestimate the spiritual warfare involved in discouragement.  Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy.  He wants to steal your joy, kill your motivation, and destroy your walk and witness for God.  Your enemy, the Devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, but resist him standing firm in the faith (1 Pe. 5:8).  Those who are truly seeking God and expanding God’s kingdom, will come under severe attack.  Don’t be ignorant of his devices.  Put on the full armor of God (Eph. 6).  Pray against him by pleading the blood of Jesus over your life. And don’t be too proud to ask others to pray for you and over you.  Ask God to strengthen you for the battle you are facing. 

e.    Choose to focus on the positives. 
When we are discouraged, it is often because of circumstances that are negative (e.g., state of the church, decline in support, unexplained tragedy, decline in morals in our world, lack of fruit in our ministry, etc.).  Though we can’t ignore these negatives, we have to take time to equally focus on anything positive we can think of (e.g., look back at how God has used you; rejoice in churches/ministries that are making a difference; dwell on how God has always had a people; etc.).  This is why Phil. 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”  And the promise for doing this?  “And the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:9).  We certainly need peace when we are losing heart.

f.     Keep an eternal perspective.
It was probably an eternal perspective that helped to place you on the field of ministry.  Knowing what lasts and what doesn’t is likely a major motivation in your service for God.  Be careful not to lose this perspective.  When the things down here aren’t going well, it is easy to lose sight of what will last.  Take time to once again renew that eternal perspective, and pledge to God your willingness to endure difficulty for the sake of eternity.  If you remain true and faithful to God, you will be able to look back from heaven one day and give praise to God that you did not throw in the towel!  “For this light and momentary struggle is producing an eternal weight of glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17).

Luke 18:1 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.

It is easy to lose heart in prayer.  Prayer is such a mystery.  Why do some prayers get answered quickly, while others take years?  When you pray for something you know is God’s will (e.g., salvation of a person), how do you not lose heart when you see nothing happening?  The parable Jesus tells in Luke 18 is about persistence in prayer.  He speaks of how we must be persistent and exhibit faith.  The unjust judge responds to the repeated request because the widow wears him out with her asking.  Wow.  Are we to wear God out with our persistence?  Maybe.  I don’t know, but that is what the parable seems to teach, among other things.  Clearly persistence in prayer is one way to keep from losing heart. 

One aspect of persistent prayer that is important is listening.  In other words, don’t do all the talking in prayer.  Listen to God.  Believe that He will speak to you.  When discouraged, listen to God’s still, small voice of encouragement.  You might be surprised at what He lays on your heart.  As a loving Father, He wants to put courage and confidence (i.e., encouragement) into His people.

Discouragement is a normal part of the Christian life.  This is why God’s Word tells us things we can do to avoid losing heart.  Don’t lose heart.  God is in control.  He loves you and wants to build you up.  He is using you.   He wants to use you more.  He wants your walk to be full of joy and purpose.  He is not mad at you for losing heart.  But He is sad, and wants to encourage you in Him.  He wants your number one joy to come from just knowing Him.  Look to Jesus.  Focus your eyes on Him.  Focus on the blessings of your salvation.  Leave to God those things you don’t understand.  Rejoice in the Lord always.