Dealing With Discouragement

Psalm 42:1-8

How can we conquer discouragement? Let me suggest nine specific tips:

1. Look within. Examine yourself for the underlying cause.

2. Admit that you are discouraged. This is something that’s easy to avoid, ignore, or lie about, but denial doesn’t help you grow.

3. Identify precisely what you are discouraged about. Name it—then face it.

4. Recall the nature of discouragement. Disappointments will come and go, but discouragement is a response, and we can respond in other ways.

5. Begin meditating frequently on Scripture. God’s truth can help you accurately evaluate what you feel.

6. Take your area of discouragement to God in prayer. Ask Him to reveal what He wants to teach you in this area of your life.

7. Focus on the Lord, not your situation. Ask Him to help you see this disappointment and its lessons from His perspective.

8. View the cause as coming from the Lord. If we understand that He allows disappointments, we can find meaning in trouble.

9. Confess three things: The Father is with me in the pain; He’s in control of my life and has allowed this for a reason; He is a good God, who will not let this disappointment be in vain. Try speaking these truths out loud.

Discouragement may sound harmless enough, but don’t underestimate its power. By keeping watch, you can avoid its deadly trap. So write down these nine steps on an index card, and then review the list whenever disappointments start to consume your thinking.



The Nature of Discouragement

Psalm 16:7-11

Discouragement is a powerful, destructive force. Before we can understand how to rid our life of this common temptation, we must recognize its harmful nature.

Understand that discouragement…

Is something we choose. While it’s a natural response to difficult circumstances, we have the power to choose a different response. No one else is responsible for our discouragement.

Is universal. At times, everybody will face periods of disappointment and discouragement because we live in a flawed world filled with flawed people.

Can recur. Sometimes we think we’ve settled an issue, which later resurfaces when we least expect it. Or we may have old emotional wounds triggered by something a person says or does.

Can be temporary or lifelong. Refusing to face discouragement head-on can open the door for it to influence our decisions, actions, and relationships as long as we live.

Is conquerable. With the Father’s help, we can get through seasons of discouragement. He wants His children to have a rich and fulfilled life. If we trust in His promises and His character, our feelings of discouragement will slowly be replaced by hope.

Are you stuck in the throes of discouragement? If so, the Lord wants to lift your spirits. Let Him help you out of that lowly state: Start by believing that the Father wants to encourage you and get your life back on track with Him.



Left Here To Minister

Ephesians 2:8-10

Why do you think God has left you here on earth instead of immediately taking you to heaven the moment you were saved? Think of all the hardships and heartaches you’d have escaped. Imagine the joys you’d be experiencing with Christ in heaven. But then again, who would be here to tell others the gospel of salvation if all the believers were taken out of this world?

If you are living and breathing, then the heavenly Father has a purpose for you, a ministry to fulfill. Don’t think of ministry as something done only in a church building by a select group of people. Service to God is the responsibility of every believer. It’s a matter of doing the “good works, which God prepared beforehand” for each of us to accomplish (Eph. 2:10).

Although the way we serve may change over time, we are never called to retire and do nothing. Even a bed-bound saint can pray for others or offer encouraging words to visitors and caregivers. A believer’s goal should not simply be to attend church, listen to a sermon, and receive enough spiritual food to get through the coming week. The goal is to serve God with our whole being, reflecting the love of Jesus through who we are. Our worship of God and instruction from His Word is what edifies and equips us to serve one another and go into the world to share the gospel.

Your entire life is meant to be an act of service to God. If instead you are living for your own happiness and goals, you will eventually be disappointed. But when you walk in the good works God has prepared for you, you’ll have the satisfaction of doing exactly what you were created to do.



God’s Loving Outreach

John 4:1-42

The story of the Lord’s encounter with a Samaritan woman is a wonderful example of His loving response to those who hurt. Jesus is always reaching out in love, even when we do not recognize His extended hand.

Although this meeting may have appeared accidental, it was really a providential appointment with the Messiah. As the woman reached the well, Jesus initiated conversation by asking for a drink of water. His direct approach surprised her and opened the door for a dialogue that would change her life forever.

Throughout the exchange, Jesus’ goal was to help the woman recognize her greatest need so He could supply the only gift that would meet it: salvation and the forgiveness of her sins. She had spent her life trying to find love and acceptance in all the wrong places. The Lord offered her the living water of the Holy Spirit—the one thing that would quench her spiritual and emotional thirst.

Like the Samaritan woman, we can at times be so intent on getting our immediate needs met that we fail to see God’s hand reaching out to us in love, offering what will truly satisfy. Only Christ can eternally fill our empty souls and provide for our essential emotional needs now.

This world is filled with “wells” that promise to provide love, acceptance, and self-worth but never fully satisfy. When your soul is empty and the well runs dry, look for Jesus. He has a divine appointment scheduled with you, and He will quench your thirst with His Spirit—if you let Him.



Has Your Get-Up-and-Go Got Up and Gone?

I have times when I get tired of doing what I am doing. We all do. No matter what your position is in life, there will be days when you will not feel like doing it. You might even go through a longer season in which you feel listless and uninterested in almost everything.

There may be underlying reasons that you will need to prayerfully search out, but often we just need to stir ourselves up and get going again. We need to do it purposely instead of waiting for a feeling to show up and motivate us to action again.

Gratitude helps me do that. When I recount all of my blessings, I am amazed at the goodness of God in my life. It makes me thankful, and that always stirs me up and makes life look brighter. Having great expectations also energizes and motivates me.

We don’t have to wait and see if something good happens in our lives; we can aggressively expect something good to happen. David indicated that if he failed to believe he would see the Lord’s goodness, it would affect him in a detrimental way. He said, [What, what would have become of me] had I not believed that I would see the Lord’s goodness… (Psalm 27:13 AMPC).

The third thing that energizes me is getting my mind off how I feel and on something I can do to be a blessing to someone else. When I do, it works every time. Before long, I find myself enthusiastic about life and excited to resume my service to the Lord.

Prayer Starter: Father, I want to live life to the fullest. I want to live with passion, zeal, and appreciation for every opportunity that You give me. Help me approach this day with enthusiasm and do everything as unto You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.



Making Wise Decisions

Galatians 6:7-10
Much of our life can be summed up by the decisions we’ve made right until the present. This is why it’s so important to learn to make wise choices that lead to the life God wants for us. And the foundation for doing so is a firm conviction regarding the truth of God’s Word, which will ground us in every area—relationships, finances, work, church, and the use of our time. 

The unchanging principle of sowing and reaping is one that should guide every decision we make, because a harvest will eventually result from the action we take. Paul contrasted two different ways Christians can sow—either to the Spirit or to the flesh. 

There is a battle raging within us between the desires of the Holy Spirit, who has come to live within us, and the desires of our flesh—those sin patterns and self-serving tendencies remaining in us even after salvation (Gal. 5:17). Our goal should be to put our sinful, selfish desires to death so that we can follow the Spirit as He directs us according to the Scriptures. Therefore, the better we know and understand God’s Word, the more we will be able to discern the Spirit’s leading. 

To make this practical, remember that every time you rehearse a wrong done to you, complain with regard to your situation, gossip about a friend, or indulge an addictive desire, you are sowing to the flesh and will reap more of the same later. But if you let the Spirit lead and empower you, you’ll be able to forgive others, be content in every situation, and acquire holy desires and the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).



Prayer Makes A Difference

1 Timothy 2:1-8

When we observe the godless condition of our nation, we readily recognize the need for change. But the biblical solution for our predicament is surprising. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul instructed his protégé to establish some priorities in the church, including prayer “for kings and all who are in authority” (1 Timothy 2:2). Our petitions help us live tranquil and godly lives and thereby provide opportunities to tell others about the Savior (1 Timothy 2:2-4).

Paul would never have given this command to Timothy if he didn’t believe that the church’s prayers made a difference in achieving God’s purposes for their nation. Our problem is not with the Lord’s promise or power, but with our doubt. By focusing on the enormity of the problems or the power of those in office, we lose sight of our sovereign God, who listens for our pleas that He intervene.

Political policies and legislation are not ultimately determined in conference rooms and governmental chambers, but in prayer closets. The voices that shape the direction of a nation are not necessarily those that loudly ring out in legislative halls, but those that approach the throne room of the heavenly Father with bold faith (Heb. 4:16). As the church believes and prays, the Lord will respond.

Knowing that God can change a country, you may be wondering why He has waited so long. But He is likely already working in ways we don’t recognize or understand. Every authority on earth can be touched by the power of prayer if we are willing to ask and believe God.



Your True Colors

Live life, then, with a due sense of responsibility, not as men who do not know the meaning of life but as those who do. Ephesians 5:15, Phillips

SOME SPORTS TEAMS’ emblems or logos make sense. For example, the symbol for the New York Yankees is Uncle Sam’s top hat on the end of a baseball bat. The Chicago Bulls’ mascot is a red bull. The Dallas Cowboys have a lone star (Texas is the Lone Star State) on their helmets.

Other team traditions seem strange, to say the least. Penn State University’s colors are blue and white, but Nitanny Lions-their teams’ names-are neither blue nor white. The Detroit Red Wings? Their emblem is a red automobile tire with wings. And what does a Los Angeles Dodger dodge?

And, of course, some teams have strange mascots. You’ll find everything from a gorilla in Utah (the only one not in a zoo) to a fish in Florida to a creature known as a “Phanatic” in Philadelphia.

But the most interesting thing about many sports teams is not their names, emblems, or mascots, but their fans. They wear hats, wigs, and jerseys. They carry towels and Styrofoam hands with upraised index fingers indicating, “We’re number one.” (How many “Number Ones” can there be?) They paint their faces and their bodies. They wave team pennants. They wear team pins. They sing team songs. They are clearly identified with the team they cheer for, the team they follow closely.

How closely are you identified with God? How do people know you love and serve him? After all, he doesn’t have “team colors” or a team mascot. Oh, you might wear a T-shirt. You may listen to Christian music. You might even carry this book around. (Buy a hundred copies for your friends!)

Those things are OK, but they’re not the main way God wants us to identify with him. He wants us to show we worship him, not by waving pennants or painting our faces, but by the way we live. He wants our behavior to show that we worship him.

That’s why self-control is important to God. When we exercise self-control instead of getting angry, we admit that some things are more important than our petty resentments. When we exercise self-control instead of using profanity, we show that we submit to an authority that’s higher than ourselves. When we exercise self-control instead of using drugs or drinking alcohol or pursuing sexual immorality, we show that we worship God, not our own desires.

That doesn’t mean a Christian T-shirt isn’t OK; it just means that the person inside the T-shirt is what really matters to God.

REFLECT: How closely are you identified with God? How do people know you love and serve him? Do you show, by your self-control, that you’re on his team?

PRAY: “God, let me show I worship you by demonstrating self-control, especially in __________.”



Growth Through Suffering

1 Peter 1:3-9

Yesterday we saw that when we focus on God, we are in a better position to grow in maturity and godliness. When our suffering persists, the Lord may also have other purposes in mind:

To increase our trust. You might think the happiest people are the wealthy or famous. But the truly contented are those who are at peace with God because their faith has been tested—and they know He has only their good in mind.

To strengthen our dependence upon Him. The apostle Paul testified about how his persistent thorn taught him reliance upon the Lord’s grace and strength (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Instead of believing that we can handle things on our own, we likewise learn to depend more fully on God when our circumstances leave us powerless.

To manifest Christ’s life in us. God wants us to be a living example of the conduct and character of Jesus Christ. For this reason, He uses suffering to sift, sand, and prune whatever doesn’t belong in our life. But in those hard seasons of change, He also sustains us, providing all that we need in order to persevere.

To purify our hearts. During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that the pure in heart are blessed, for they will see God (Matt. 5:8). The purification of our heart is an ongoing process. Sometimes it takes difficult situations to identify the things that keep us from delighting in our relationship with God.

Do you trust that God loves you and wants the best for you? Decide to be more open to the work He wants to do in your life through the hard times.



Why Does God Allow Suffering?

1 Peter 4:12-19

At some point, you’ve probably been asked why a loving God would allow suffering in the world. Though He is able to stop it, He often doesn’t. And while we can acknowledge seeing Him at work during certain difficult situations, at other times it looks as if nothing is happening despite our many prayers.

We live in a sinful world, so the potential for anguish is great. Sometimes we’re troubled when people are driven by the evil within. Other times the cause is our own weakness or God’s discipline in our life. Still another reason might be persecution or simply the consequence of ignoring good principles. But whatever the origin of our distress, we can be sure that if God allows it, He has a purpose. He may want …

To get our attention. The psalmist realized affliction brought him back within God’s will (Psalm 119:67; Psalm 119:71). In times of distress, we often turn to Him for help.

To develop personal righteousness in us. God wants us to mature, so He will reveal areas of our life that we need to address.

To prune us. John 15:1-2 paints an excellent word picture of how God eliminates attitudes and actions that are not godly or fruit-bearing.

To teach us obedience. Jesus, who always did the Father’s will, is our perfect example (John 4:34; Heb. 5:7-9). As we are conformed to His image, we will increasingly learn to obey God (Rom. 8:29).

Over the next two days, we’ll look at other reasons God may allow painful seasons in our life. Until then, ask Him to show you how He may be using suffering for your good.