When Discouragement Catches Up to Us
Last week discouragement found me. After several months of packing and selling a home in one state while buying one in another, helping my husband close our church plant, and then moving our family of seven into a new state, home, and church body, all the exhaustion caught up to me and I finally came face to face with my discouragement.
I’d scheduled a virtual work meeting weeks before the move. But by the time that specific Monday morning rolled around, I’d completely forgotten my commitment until five minutes before when my husband happened to see the calendar reminder and alerted me. Not only had I not read through the preparatory emails, I also hadn’t showered or put on makeup. Begrudgingly and looking completely disheveled, I joined the call from the corner of my cluttered room, surrounded by moving boxes.
I doubt anyone on the call that day would have noticed my own lack of inner peace. It was my response to the moderator’s simple question that sounded the alarm. When she asked, “Lindsey, how are you doing today?” I emotionally collapsed into a weeping puddle of tears. My heart was filled with discouragement.
Because the tears flowed at the most inopportune moment, I was forced to stop and take a good look in the mirror and notice how “not good” things actually felt. I actually needed to publicly acknowledge my discouragement in the presence of other believers in order to remember how bad it feels to strive by my own strength. By showing up to the meeting weak and in need, even when I didn’t want to, God helped me work through my existing discouragement.
The Look of Discouragement
The truth is, most of us don’t like the look of discouragement. It feels embarrassing. Why? Because discouragement by definition–the lack of courage–is indeed a form of weakness. Rather than confess or confront it, we’re tempted to ignore or overlook and certainly to attempt to conceal it from others who might correct or condemn us. But when we avoid areas of our own insufficiency, we also avoid finding the help we so desperately need.
Followers of Jesus are exhorted to confess our weakness in times of discouragement, in order that we might find God’s strength in the midst of our need. As Christians, we are a people of hope.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary states that to be discouraged is to be deprived of courage or hope; to be disheartened, hindered by disfavor, or dissuaded from doing something. When Christians face discouragement, we behave as though we are a people who have been deprived of the ability to hope or trust in God. When we fail to see the hope set before us, we need outside help. But if we have long since trained ourselves to ignore discouragement in order to avoid embarrassment, how will we humbly seek encouragement in times of need?
Just as Christians aren’t immune from trials or suffering, we aren’t held back from encounters with discouragement. We are made of flesh, which God informs us is like grass; vulnerable to strong winds, heavy rains, and scorching sun. We are broken and fallen people living in a broken world, surrounded by other broken people. It only makes sense that we would all share in the experience of growing weary and discouraged.
Discouragement doesn’t always announce its presence like mine did through tears or cries of exhaustion. Sometimes it manifests itself in other ways. Discouragement may begin as a small, unwitting annoyance or a minor frustration you simply can’t shake. Maybe a job interview didn’t go the way you’d hoped. Maybe God closed a door on a relationship or on a ministry opportunity you desired. When God answers your prayers differently than you expect, you may initially be able to shrug off the disappointment and move on in your own strength. But as you are continually let down or as your sorrows multiply, you may notice that you’re more tempted towards frustration or even anger. Irritability is often an early indicator of growing discouragement.
Discouragement may manifest as anxiety. You grow increasingly nervous, experience racing thoughts, or struggle with a lack of concentration. Perhaps you worry more about how to pay the bills, or manage a marriage conflict, or about the particular details of how to disciple a wandering child. The litmus test is whether or not you feel pressed to the place of losing courage or hope in the way forward.
As you attempt to look for and confess discouragement, you might need outside help as you piece the clues together. Thankfully, the Lord surrounds his people with a loving body of believers who are tasked with caring for one another by encouraging one another.
Following the Lead Toward Encouragement
When Nehemiah returns to the Promised Land after Israel is released from Babylonian captivity, he surveys the damage. God’s enemies had breached the city walls, destroyed the temple, and burned the city. It was a devastating site to those who’d lived through the good old days, back when it was initially constructed. Now, Nehemiah must encourage the people to confront the brokenness, confess their need for God, and get back to work God has called them to. Consider Nehemiah’s exhortation in Nehemiah 2:17-18:
“You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision. And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, ‘Let us rise up and build.’ So they strengthened their hands for the good work.’”
God didn’t just deliver the discouraged Israelites to Jerusalem. He asked them to survey the damage, weep and repent over their sin, and then to stand up and get back to the work he’d called them to. But knowing their weakness and lack of courage, he sent the prophet Nehemiah to exhort and encourage them to rebuild the city together by taking their strength from God. Nehemiah’s words of encouragement led God’s people to hope by providing the good promises of God.
If we have long since trained ourselves to ignore discouragement in order to avoid embarrassment, how will we humbly seek encouragement in times of need?
In the New Testament, we see Jesus leading his followers to strength by way of encouragement. First, Jesus warns his followers in John 10:10 that though the thief comes to steal and kill and destroy. But then, he extends the promise that he is the good shepherd who comes so we might have life and have it abundantly. If they will believe Jesus, his promise will grant them greater courage that leads them to peace. Christ renews their hope by securing their way forward.
Discouragement threatens your ability to believe the promises of God. It tempts you to doubt the truth of Christ’s words of assurance, spoken so you might believe and enjoy life and peace. When you are too weak and disheartened to believe that you can “take heart” or that you will indeed “look upon the goodness of God in the land of the living,” you need to be led to encouragement, just like the saints of old.
Therefore, Encourage One Another
We live in an age plagued by discouragement. But it is the church who stewards the message of healing. Today, as Christians we live under Christ’s new and better covenant of grace; we are already recipients of extraordinary consolation in discouragement. We have more hope than the wandering Israelites or the perplexed disciples because we’ve seen God fulfill each and every one of his very good and precious promises through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. The assurance of our salvation grants eternal hope! What better, stronger encouragement could there be than the hope of being forgiven, cleansed, made new, and one day resurrected to new life with Christ in the age to come?
When the Apostle Paul instructs believers to “encourage one another with these words,” he does so in order that we might be fully refreshed and strengthened in the days to come. Paul understood that the Christian’s greatest comfort in affliction is the hope of eternity and resting in the peace that “we will always be with the Lord.”
When I broke down and cried in the middle of my Monday morning meeting, Christ’s grace met me online. One of the women on the call recognized the look of discouragement in my eyes and took the opportunity to speak specific words of wise, Biblical encouragement. She encouraged me to take heart and to persevere in faith. And from what I know of her, she knew how to do so because she had previous experience with a similar grief and discouragement. Because she knew weariness firsthand, she could articulate the pain and point the way to hope.
I’m so thankful this sister took the time to pause and care for me in my discouragement. By encouraging me to look to Christ in my weakness, she helped me to Christ who faithfully renewed my hope. As Christ strengthened me to stand, his Spirit enabled me to get back to work. And in doing so, I finished this article.
Are you facing discouragement today? Pay attention. Ask for discernment as you humbly seek the Holy Spirit’s wisdom. Then, ask the Lord to encourage you through his word and his people so that you might be renewed in spirit, strengthened to stand by faith, and labor diligently for the kingdom.
Lindsey Carlson is the author of A Better Encouragement: Trading Self-Help for True Hope.
A goal for all of us is to be able to say Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth I desire besides you.
The Apostle Paul remembered who he was in Christ. He remembered that beating within him is none other than Christ himself—the indwelling Christ with all his resources of power and love and joy.
Spiritual growth in seasons of languishing is more about persevering through the struggle for belief than it is about arriving at a settled conclusion.
Lindsey Carlson talks about the discouragement we all face and where to turn for true encouragement that won’t let us down.