Dealing with Discouragement

Dr. Brian Allison

Are you discouraged about anything – failure, rejection, criticism, loss? Recently I attended a graduation ceremony; and after the service, with many people conversing and interacting, someone came up to me and put an envelope in my Bible. Later that evening, I opened the envelope and found an encouragement note. At the bottom of the note, the writer referred to a Scripture. I found the verse uplifting and inspiring. The verse is Galatians 6:9, "And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary" (cf. 2 Th. 3:13). Notice the structure of this text. First, we have an exhortation, "And let us not lose heart in doing good." Then we are given the reason why we are not to lose heart, and it is in the form of a promise, "...for in due time we shall reap." Finally, we have a condition placed on the promise, "...if we do not grow weary."

Discouragement tempts everyone

First, we have the exhortation to refuse to be discouraged – "And let us not lose heart." I am encouraged that the apostle Paul included himself in this exhortation. He did not write, "And don't you lose heart," but rather, "And let us not lose heart." No one is completely exempt from discouragement. No doubt, there were many times in the apostle Paul's life in which he was tempted to lose heart, having to deal with various perplexing issues, various difficult situations, and various Church problems. No doubt, there were times when he was overwhelmed with the task of giving leadership to the people of God and fulfilling God's will on behalf of the Church. For instance, we read, "I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the Churches" (2 Cor. 11:27,28). In addition, the apostle was often confronted with fierce opposition and hostile conflict – "For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life" (2 Cor 1:8). The apostle Paul had first-hand experience of losing heart. He had experienced the pressures and stresses of life. And thus, he pastorally exhorts, "And let us not lose heart." And Paul endeavoured to follow his own counsel. In 2 Corinthians 4:1, he writes, "Therefore, since we have this ministry [in recognizing our calling, and the grand privilege of serving Christ], as we received mercy [God lovingly giving the needed help], we do not lose heart."

Discouragement is like a deflated balloon

When you think of losing heart, what do you think about? What comes to your mind? When someone has lost heart, he has very little drive and ambition. His determination or resolve is lacking. He or she is like a balloon that was once blown up and now most of the air – that which provides form and firmness – has been released. Someone who has lost heart is like a deflated balloon. When you have lost heart, you have little, if any desire to go on; you feel no necessity to press on. When our Lord was instructing the disciples on the matter of prayer, He provides us with some understanding of what it means to lose heart. Losing heart is contrasted with defeatism or loss of confidence. So, we read in Luke 18:1, "Now He [Jesus] was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart." Christians are not to be defeated people. They are not to be so overwhelmed that they say, "What's the point? Things will never change. Why even carry on?"

Generally speaking, it is when we are faced with difficulty and hardship that there is the tendency to say, "What's the point? I don't care any more." Hence, Ephesians 3:13 reads, "Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory." Accordingly, as we experience problems crowding in upon us, as we feel the pinch of numerous stressors, as we are relentlessly dogged by difficulties, as we become enmeshed and overwhelmed with pressing issues, as we suffer various afflictions and tribulations, we are encouraged not to lose heart.

Are you on the verge of 'going under'? Are you now saying, "What's the point? I have had it. I cannot go on any more." Is that where you are right now? Have you lost heart? Are you like a balloon out of which all the air has escaped, and you have nothing left to give? The Spirit of God can inflate you again. You need to press on.

Fruitlessness occasions discouragement

We can lose heart in reference to many things, but the primary reason for possible discouragement, according to our text, is spiritual. Galatians 6:9, parallels and extends the thought of the previous verse 8. You cannot accurately understand verse 9 apart from the backdrop of verse 8 – "For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit [feeds the Spirit, plants seeds in the Spirit] shall from the Spirit reap eternal life." And thus the passage continues, "And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap [from the Spirit these spiritual blessings]." Consider more closely the context and activity in which we are not to lose heart – "And let us not lose heart in [or better, 'while'] doing good." We are exhorted not to lose heart while expressing the love of Christ and serving God, while seeking to please God by how we live; while endeavouring to demonstrate righteousness and holiness. We may be engaged in a worthwhile ministry, we may be helping others in different ways, we may be serving God faithfully, and yet not see any fruit from our labours. We may be giving our time and energy in order to enhance someone else's situation or condition, believing that it is God's will, and doing it for His glory alone and in the name of Christ, and yet not see any significant change in the lives we are seeking to touch; it may seem that our 'good' work is in vain. We may labour day in and day out, and still have nothing to show for it; and we thus may be tempted to lose heart, and say, "What's the point?"

Reasons for becoming discouraged

Now, this exhortation assumes that we are engaged in doing good; that we are serving, that we are ministering, that we are trying to positively touch people's lives and improve their state of affairs. Paul, in effect, says, "While you are doing benevolent service toward others [with the implication that you do not see any fruit or benefit], do not get discouraged." There are various reasons why we might lose heart, why we might become discouraged, why we might say, "What's the point?" Everyone has his or her own peculiar reasons for possibly becoming discouraged. One reason may be that nagging, besetting sin. Apparently, you just cannot seem to get victory over it. You have prayed about it; you have wrestled with the Lord concerning it; and yet still you have not conquered it – the anger still comes, or the lust still comes, or the impatience still comes – and it seems to defeat and deflate you daily. Another reason may be little progress in spirituality. As you consider your spiritual walk, you may be discontent with your level of growth and maturity. You want to be more holy, more righteous, and more godly. You are praying more and meditating more, and you are even coming out to Church more, but there seems to be no significant change – and it seems to defeat and deflate you daily. Another reason may be relational conflict. You continually think of that particular strained relationship with a fellow believer. You have incessantly prayed about it; and yet conflict, misunderstanding and suspicion remain – and it seems to defeat and deflate you daily. Another reason may be Church disunity. You may be part of a group in which there is continual unrest and disharmony. You do your best, trusting in God, to improve relations, to be a peacemaker, to promote togetherness and love, and yet nothing seems to change – and it seems to defeat and deflate you daily. Another reason may be few, if any, new converts to Christ. You are faithfully witnessing and evangelizing, and there seems to be no visible fruit. In your mind, you have been faithful to the Lord, you have been obedient to His Word, you have done what He asked you to do; you have prayed and fasted and sought Him relentlessly, but still there is no fruit – and it seems to defeat and deflate you daily. Another reason may be the absence of God's presence and power. You pray to the Lord, spending three or four hours a day in prayer to Him, seeking Him with your whole heart, wanting to know His power; and for all that, there still is no spiritual visitation – and it seems to defeat and deflate you daily. Yes, there are many reasons why God's people may lose heart.

You, no doubt, may have your own reasons why you may lose heart. I am sure the reasons are endless; and it is particularly painful when you are actually endeavouring to do good, according to the grace that God has given you. It is in our doing good, and seeing absolutely no change or fruit, that God says , "And let us not lose heart."

Practical ways to overcome discouragement

How do we not become discouraged? Practically speaking, first, we need to continue to pray. Again, Jesus says, in Luke 18:1, that we ought always to pray and not lose heart. Admittedly, often when we lose heart or get discouraged, we stop praying. We may say, "What's the point? God is not listening anyway." And we may turn our backs on the Lord and blame Him for our problems. We may engage in a distorted logic, saying, "Well, God is sovereign and He can do whatever He wants, and obviously He does not want to help me. He sees the pain in my heart. I am desperately crying out to Him, and He is not listening to me. He is playing games with me. God is fickle." And in desperation, one may even say, "God, You have a problem, and I do not feel like praying to a God who has a problem. You obviously do not care about me and what I am going through. God, You are not worthy of my worship because I cannot depend upon You. You are unreliable. I have prayed again and again, and obviously You have not heard me, and I do not want to pray to You any more." But we ought always to pray and not to lose heart.

Jesus did not say that there would not be times that we would not be tempted to lose heart; and it is at those times that we demonstrate the reality of our faith, and whether we really love Him for who He is, rather than for what He can do for us. God may be pleased to strip us of all our spiritual comforts – His felt-presence and His peace, His joy and His nearness – to see whether we want Him more than His blessings. Do you want Jesus more than His blessings? It is during these times of barrenness and wilderness experiences, when the heavens are like brass, that the reality of our desire and commitment to Christ Himself will be revealed – whether we will lose heart because we are not getting what we want.

Second, we need to remember the promises of God. God is faithful. Those who trust in Him will be delivered. God will not forsake the righteous, nor allow their descendants to beg for bread (Ps. 37:25). He shall supply all our needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19). We need to remember the promises of God when we are tempted to become discouraged. These promises will buoy us up in order that we might press on. Third, we need to reflect on past blessings. All of us can testify to the manifold blessings of God; how time and time again, God has 'come through' for us, and has manifested Himself and revealed His goodness. We have all tasted of His lovingkindness. God has been pleased to meet our needs in the past. He has provided for us abundantly – that encouraging word, that unexpected gift, that caring friend, that timely support, etc. What God has done for us in the past, He is able to do for us in the future; He is the same God.

Fourth, we need to focus on the positive, and not the negative. Quite frankly, my Christian brothers and sisters, we have too many negative people around – people who are always criticizing, always fault-finding, always so petty, always finding something to complain about. It is so easy to develop a really negative mind set so that we see the whole world through dark glasses; and not only does such a person lose his own peace, but he disturbs the peace of others. We transport our own misery, as it were, because of our negative mind set. For instance, a group from this Church (Unionville Baptist Church) has been going door to door in the neighbourhood since January, and still no one has come out to the Church. And as a result, someone may bemoan, "What's the point? Why do we do this? No one is responding;" rather than saying, "God has called us to do this; it is His command. We do not know what He will be pleased to do and bring about; but we do know that He has called us to go out into the highways and byways, and to compel sinners to come in; and His Word will not return to Him void. So, let us faithfully plant the 'seed' of the Word." Some who have gone door to door can testify how God has used them in ministering His Word, even though these people have not come out to Church. We just do not know what God is doing, and how He is speaking to the heart. Recently a Church member and I visited a young man who was in a very sad state. He couldn't even come out of his house because of fear. He was on medication and was receiving psychiatric help. By the providence of the Lord, we were led to his home, and we spent about 25 minutes sharing with him the Good News. We assured him that there really is an answer to his desperate situation. Now, that young man may never come out to our Church, but we shared the Good News; and it was clear that God was speaking to him as we ministered. Though that young man may not come out to our Church, we may eventually see him in heaven, counted among the redeemed. So, we need to focus on the positive, and not the negative. Do not tell everyone all that is going wrong. Encourage people. Instill hope. In faith, tell people everything that God is doing right.

Fourth, we need to keep company with those people who are encouraging and not negative. This is important. If you are losing heart, fellowship with someone who is encouraging, who is uplifting, who can communicate to you something of the grace of God. It is important with whom you fellowship. Critical and judgemental people can drag you down. If you hang around negative people, you will become negative. If you hang around discouraging people, you will become discouraged. This principle of 'infectious influence' is found in 1 Corinthians 15:33, "Do not be deceived: 'Bad company corrupts good morals'." So, seek out encouraging fellowship.

God's promise should counter discouragement

Notice the reason why we are not to lose heart while we are doing good – "For in due time we shall reap." God promises an eventual spiritual harvest. At the appointed time – God's time (and God does have a calendar) – by God's grace, we shall garner in a crop of blessings. Some do not believe this truth; and that is why they want to 'throw in the towel'. But there will indeed be a harvest. Are you wrestling with that nagging, besetting sin? In due time there will be a harvest. You will overcome. Are you wrestling with the need to experience the presence and power of God? At His appointed time, you will reap. Are you travailing in soul until you see new converts come to Christ? In due time you will garner in new believers. With faithful spiritual sowing, there will eventually be glorious spiritual reaping. That is our confidence. That is our assurance.

Notice the condition for actually securing the spiritual harvest. You have heard it said that when we say, "God, let it be at 11 o'clock," and He says, "No, at 12 o'clock," that we then have an hour to wait. The spiritual blessings will come at His appointed time – and it may not be next week, or next month, or next year; but we have the confidence that we will enjoy the harvest "if we do not grow weary;" that is, if we do not get exhausted and give out. In Matthew 15:32, we have an illustration of what it is to 'grow weary'. With the account of the feeding of the four thousand, we read, "And Jesus called His disciples to Him, and said, 'I feel compassion for the multitude, for they have remained with Me now three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not wish to send them away hungry, lest they faint [same term] on the way'." To grow weary is to become enfeebled, to lack strength, to lack energy. Of course, in becoming weary, in lacking the strength to go on, one may become discouraged that he or she will ever succeed.

Persevering in the face of discouragement

Only those who persevere shall receive the blessings. Admittedly, we may get tired as we are waiting for the harvest, crying out, as the Psalmist, "How long, O LORD? Will Thou forget me forever? How long wilt Thou hide Thy face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart all the day? How long will my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; enlighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death" (Ps. 13:1-3; see also Ps. 60:10; 74:10; 79:5). If we get too exhausted in doing the good, and thus give up, we not only will have lost heart, but also will have lost out. It is like running a marathon race. We may experience great fatigue, and thus may drop to the back of the pack, which could be very discouraging; and we may say, "I will never win this race. There are too many people in front of me. I will never catch up. I'm getting too exhausted to even try to win." And the more you run, the more tired you become; and the more tired you become, the more tempted you are to say, "What's the point?" But, in continuing to run, you may get a second wind; and through that second wind, you may eventually win the race. Similarly, in pressing on, in continuing to persevere, God is pleased to give us a second wind. He will supply strength and help. By trusting in Him, we shall overcome. We will win the race, even though we may find ourselves at one point at the back of the pack. Do not forget the fable of the tortoise and the hare.

Maybe you have been waiting a very long time for the blessing to come; and perhaps you have become exhausted. Maybe you have said, for instance, "This relationship is never going to change," or, "This power is never going to come," or, "This community is never going to be reached for Christ," or, "That sister is never going to warm up to me," or, "That brother is never going to stop pestering me," and you have grown weary. It is obvious that if you sit down, because of your weariness, you will never win the race, you will never gain the prize, you will never know spiritual blessing. Receiving the blessing is conditioned on our continuing to persevere in doing good.

We should learn from, and be inspired by, the example of our Lord. It is because He did not lose heart, as He moved toward Calvary, and because He did not give up in the agony and struggle against the powers of darkness, that we have salvation. Hebrews 12:3 reads, "For consider Him [Jesus] who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart." We are to focus on and contemplate our Saviour and be motivated to emulate Him. He persevered and overcame, and we are to follow in His train. Of course, our struggles will never be of the magnitude of His struggles. We will never have to experience the opposition, the hostility, the pain, the difficulty, the hardship which He experienced. But let us consider the Captain of our faith, the Champion of God, and let us press on, remembering that "for the joy set before Him [He] endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hb. 12:2b). And joy awaits us too, if we persevere in doing good, if we remain faithful in serving God and sharing His love. Let us follow Christ, remembering His words, "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world" (Jn. 16:33).