One day you’re smooth-cruising through the halls, high-fiving random strangers and yourself and soaking in the standing ovation, and the next minute you’re in the valley of a fresh oozing wound inflicted by the ugly, brutal weapon of words. You’re playing the endless loop of that three-second sentence, a fishing knife scooping out your guts, forcing your chin down like it weighs the size of the world. At any moment, in any place, discouragement can uppercut your soul and keep you down way past ten.
The occupational hazard of ministry, a wise pastor once said, is discouragement. That’s true for all of us. It’s unavoidable. It’s a fog that seeps into all our work, our words, our interaction, even the taste of food and the vibrancy of colors. There’s really no dancing around it, so we must deal with it.
At the center of this fog are truths and lies that fight for our sanity, and that war will be brought to the battleground of our emotions. We must, kicking and screaming, bring that fight up to the doorstep of our mind and in light of God’s Word. Regardless of how we feel, there’s a truth that exists. We press into it, or don’t. Press in.
Truth: Discouragement never, ever, ever comes from God. He may allow it, but it’s not so that discouragement can ruin our thinking, make our decisions, and eat our soul. The purposes of God in allowing this is to strengthen our character, wake us up from shallow living, and deepen our reliance on Him. There may be more, but there are not less.
Lie: Discouragement says this is who you will always be, how you’ll always feel, who you really are. While a kernel of truth might exist in pointing out something about you, it never means you cannot change. You can get stuck here, or you can rely on God to lead you out of this.
Truth: Self-condemnation is never the final word on you. We’d like to think so sometimes because self-pity is easier to deal with things: it makes you the victim and gives you permission for false sympathy. But bad habits like this one begin to rot you from the inside-out. It will be necessary to push through it, like running through a giant stocking until you can rip through the other side. Get Philippians 3:13-14 all over it.
Lie: Most people will tell you to deny it, dismiss it, ignore it, or “stop thinking about it.” Of course, this is impossible, and I commend the opposite: confront discouragement head-on. We usually play the loop in our heads because we don’t know the purpose, end goal, or sharpening role of discouragement. Philippians 3:14 is clear about our destination amidst sin. And Psalm 139:23-24, the theme verses of this blog, tells us to dig through all our anxious ways. Though knowing this doesn’t make the loop stop, it does give a course where we bleed it out until it’s become a tool in our growth.
Truth: We will vacillate between the truth and the lie. There’s no easy way or simple formula or magical pep talk for it. We can remember not to lead with our emotions, not to follow our frivolous feelings, and that we are not our latest, loudest hurts. Like a treasure map, the truth is there regardless of how it feels. The terrain is tough but the treasure is greater.
When you’re just about to walk off the edge of that abyss, it’s not wrong to seek encouragement. Some of us think so because we’ve been trained in church to call that humility. But the body of Christ has the unique function of selfless, non-agenda, sacrificial fellowship. We use big words like edification and exhortation. When you feel the least like being with people, that might be when you need it the most.
And the hardest part but most necessary is to be encouraging. Most people are starving for it and will never show it. So I can drink the sand of self-pity or I can go out there and serve some lemonade. It’s awesome how quick that serving others puts me back into right spirits. That’s the one strategic move Satan hates, and if he hates something, I’ll suit up that armor of God and do it.
In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
— Ephesians 6:16
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.
— 2 Corinthians 1:3-4