In seasons of much blessings and strength, my friend would often say, “The Christian life is sweet!” Those are the seasons when things don’t seem so bad. When he can maintain his habit of daily Bible reading and prayer. When he enjoys the fellowship of the saints so much that his heart would almost burst for joy. But the Christian life doesn’t feel sweet everyday. Just as there are days of unspeakable joy, there are also days of bitterness and great discouragement.
Indeed, one might say that discouragement is not uncommon in the Christian’s journey this side of eternity. It does feel discouraging to be stuck in the same sinful habits after years of praying and seeking help. It is discouraging to be unable to stick to a Bible reading plan, to make resolutions that never come to pass. It feels discouraging to have the desire to share your faith but constantly failing because you don’t know what to say or how to say it. It feels discouraging to wish to give more to the work of the gospel, only to realize at the end of many months that your expenditures were usually selfish. (And, yes, it feels discouraging to try to gain some level of consistency on this blog, but failing to do so after many months!)
Discouragement wears many coats and takes different forms. For many of us, it surfaces because we don’t get the results that we desire. We try so hard. We pray so hard. We work so hard. We put our efforts into trying to get different outcomes. We try to act the miracle of sanctification (thanks, John Piper!) but fail many times. We often fail to lead lives worthy of our calling.
And failure often leads to discouragement. A lost battle brings so much disappointment that the soldier grows despondent. He stays down and feels no desire to fight again. He is downcast. He is tired. He doesn’t feel the urge to make renewed attempts to win. And discouragement leads to more discouragement, and the sad cycle goes on for too long.
What’s worse is that many of us think it is unspiritual to be discouraged at any point in our lives. After all, why should the man or woman who has the indwelling Spirit feel any discouragement? Why should the Christian feel any despair? Surely the Christian is meant to be above that! Or maybe that’s because we are just weak Christians. The real Christians don’t feel that. We are not strong enough. We are not good enough. Our minds wander, often to their own peril.
Discouragement then leaves us in a “better” position to be tempted. The sounds of the heathen army outside the camp become more appealing when we are tired of fighting. We might even consider giving up the fight. How Satan sends mighty weapons against God’s people when they are in despair! And how many of God’s people give in to his advances in such low moments!
I find the Psalms helpful in seasons when I battle with discouragement. There is certainly a lot of sadness and pain and discouragement in the Psalms. But the solution to discouragement, according to the Psalms, is always the same. To the question, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (Ps. 42:11, 43:5) comes the reply, “Hope in God” (Ps. 42:11, 43:5).
Hope in God. Remember the precious promises he has given you in his word. Remember his unchanging nature. When discouragement comes and you feel like giving up, don’t forget God’s past deeds. Matthew Henry probably says it better: “The way to forget our miseries, is to remember the God of our mercies.”
Discouragement will certainly come as we pass through different seasons of our lives. And the way to deal with them is the same. Look to God. Trust in God. Hope in God. He is your salvation and your God (Ps. 42:11, 43:5).