Discouragement is devastating to our spirit. It is like an acid that eats away at our foundation of faith and causes our eyes to drop away from the heavenly things and to focus mainly on ourselves. It is like a suffocating blanket that becomes harder to cast off the longer we allow it to cover us. It has a more damaging affect on a Christian than any persecution of faith could ever hope to do. It is true that it is a great tool of the enemy but there are also some natural causes that we need to be aware of and to be on guard against.
The thing we need to remember about the enemy is that he usually only takes advantage of the weak among us. He knows he can't come against someone who is fixed on Jesus, who is strong in their faith, who is in constant fellowship with God. Instead, he is like the predator that hangs back in the shadows and watches the herd. He waits for a weaker member to wander off becoming separated from the herd and out of sight of the shepherd. Why fight for a meal when he can simply pick off the weak? This is what our enemy does, he preys on our weaknesses and he gets us when we are at our lowest. Haven't you ever noticed your tendency to separate yourself from other believers when you are feeling weak? In your experience what happens then? People who are discouraged usually suffer alone, separating themselves from others, ashamed and depressed. So if the enemy only preys on these conditions how can we avoid them?
Discouragement often occurs because of false expectations. Sometimes we can be a silly people and we base our hopes more on fantasy then on a good understanding of God and people. Many who come to Jesus come with a false expectation that God will make everything right. The reality is that he will give us new eyes to see what is important and what isn't. He will also show us how he uses difficult things to build a better character and that by faith he will give us the strength and determination to go all the way. Often the "mountain" that needs to be removed is ourself. I could fill this blog with examples of how God often changes us instead of other people and situations. To avoid discouragement we need to see our life with our Father's eyes instead of being limited to our petty perspective.
Another reason for discouragement is when we get distracted from the heavenly things and we allow more and more of the world and that attitude into our life. We lose our spiritual priorities. With it comes worries and fears that do not belong to us. When our priorities are right we are willing to lose and gain anything to see the Father's will done in and through us. When our priorities are wrong we become more focused on ourself, what our need is, what we are lacking. I won't lie to you, this time of year can be very difficult. Where some Christians are worrying about the size of the gift or gifts for their children this year, there are other servants who are praying they will have a meal on their table. It is important that those without do not allow their poverty to become the focal point just as those with plenty cannot allow the plenty to become their focal point. We must be thankful for what we have and realize the priority is the Kingdom of God. That is not an easy thing but it is an act of submission and one that will fend off discouragement as we keep our priorities right.
Yet another source of discouragement can come out of the previous two. It is when we allow the world to dictate to us what life is suppose to look like. The disciples had certain expectations of Jesus, that he would become king of Israel and restore that nation to greatness. The Father's plan was quite different and far more encompassing. If he had allowed himself to be limited by the limited expectations of the disciples we would still be lost today. We have allowed the world to put limitations on God in us. We have taken in this image of how life is suppose to be and we work towards that. We all want to own a home, a nice car, have two or three children, build up a nice retirement fund and end our life comfortably. It seldom turns out that way when we follow the Father's will.
I wish I had time to share my story with you but it would end up being a book. Suffice to say I have learned the hard way what Paul was saying about knowing what it is to be in need and to have plenty. I have often had to pay the price of other people's failings both financially and emotionally and the only way I have not been devastated by discouragement is by allowing Jesus to reshape me and my life according to his design. Instead of fighting against him I have learned that it is best to trust him. His purpose for me is to continue on in his will and his calling. I am learning to be content with Jesus even when everything else is failing around me. Contentment is the only real defense against discouragement. We need to discover what Paul discovered:
I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11-13)
Without this contentment in Christ we could arrive at a point in our life when we wonder if we have wasted it. That is a sad place to be, filled with regrets and wondering if we have done anything right. Perhaps friends have left us. Maybe our kids are heading in the wrong direction. Maybe even the spouse of our youth has walked away. These are all devastating things. We may even look at it and wonder if anything we have ever done has been effective for Jesus. It comes down to whether we have followed his direction, remained faithful to him and have kept him as the center of everything we have done. There is no formula for how life is suppose to look when you are serving the Lord. The only thing we have is what our relationship is suppose to be with him, what our character is suppose to look like and the mission we are on. We can't allow anything else to distract and discourage us. Keep this verse close to your heart:
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)
This is our hope! Do not be discouraged. Trust God and be content.