How do you handle discouragement?
The third spiritual battle that can undermine our spiritual readiness is discouragement. Sometimes we become discouraged over a circumstance that doesn’t improve. We’ve asked God to intervene in our situation but for whatever reason His hand hasn’t moved in its midst. Our earnest prayers go unanswered. Perhaps the timing isn’t right or God is still orchestrating behind the scenes or His moving in our situation is dependent on the heart moving in another person.
We can also become discouraged over a physical condition, too. Maybe our illness is chronic and it pulls our spirits down.
And then there’s the all too common cause that can propel us into discouragement–when other people fail us. (see part 2 on disillusionment below). What we thought or believed about the other person turned out to be false. We were counting on this person and he or she didn’t come through. Who hasn’t had that happen?
Pastors can become discouraged, too, when someone gives their heart to the Lord, but later turned his or her back on God. This happened to Demas, one of Paul’s co-workers. In 2 Timothy 4, Paul is sitting in a prison cell and writes, “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica” (v.10 nrsv). Demas loved what the world offered and chose to leave his faith. This deeply discouraged Paul.
Believing God has let you down or that He broke one of His promises can also lead to discouragement. You worked hard to build a certain ministry but it wasn’t sustainable. You were convinced it had God’s blessing on it and can’t understand why it failed. And now you’re weary, discouraged, and not sure if you want to try something new for the Lord. You may even be disappointed in yourself. You were so sure that you were in the center of God’s will, but now you have doubts.
Do any of these sound familiar? All of us have probably experienced one or two of these examples. There is even an example of discouragement in the book of Ezra.
Ezra was a priest. In fact, his name means “help.”1 After Cyrus, king of Persia allowed groups of Israelites to return to Jerusalem, at the start of their release from captivity in Babylon. The first group was led by Zerubbabel. He encouraged the people to rebuild the temple that was previously destroyed. Unfortunately, wherever there is commitment to God and enthusiasm for a blessed project, not far behind are those opposed. Not unlike today, there are always going to be people in opposition to God’s work.2 Opposition to building the temple became so strong that a cloud of discouragement blanketed the hearts of God’s people.
Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah, and made them afraid to build, and they bribed officials to frustrate their plan throughout the reign of King Cyrus of Persia and until the reign of King Darius of Persia (Ezra 4:4-5 nrsv).
God’s people didn’t expect this kind of opposition and it totally stopped them in their tracks. They became discouraged and intimidated; rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem came to a complete halt lasting about sixteen years. But when God has a plan nobody and no earthly king can spoil it forever. What could be done to turn this bleak situation around? God sent two people uniquely suited with a gift of encouragement.
Two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah are attributed to reviving the temple rebuilding project. They not only encouraged the people to return to rebuilding the temple, but they physically got involved by working side by side other laborers. Despite continued opposition, the temple was finished in about four years. Their focus was reverted back to God and this enabled them to push through their discouragement.
When we feel discouraged it’s natural to turn our focus inwards. We fall into the “woe is me” mentality when we take our focus off God and turn it inward. Be careful of this–this is where Satan wants us. By focusing on ourselves, we have the propensity to become bitter, resentful, and doubtful. And our godly perception becomes skewed. Even if you initially don’t feel like turning to God, resist that urge and come before the Lord. When fighting mind and heart battles, we will fare better on our knees in prayer, acknowledging God is the source of all encouragement. Like in the story of the rebuilding the temple, God will send just the right people to encourage our hearts.
Push Through Opposition
If you noticed in the Ezra story, as soon as God’s people returned to rebuilding the temple, the opposition came out of the woodwork again. The Persia-appointed governor of Israel and his cohorts challenged them. Essentially, the Israelites were questioned by whose authority were they allowed to return to rebuilding the temple. Although this question may have been used to intimidate, God’s people continued to build while the matter was under appeal.
When faced with opposition it’s easy to allow others to discourage us from doing the Lord’s work. If we let their opposition intimidate us, our discouragement will cause us to become paralyzed with fear. If that happens we become less effective. To offset the burden of opposition, recognize we are workers for God.5 We should be faithful to God’s work first.
God Uses Others
God brought Haggai and Zechariah, two prophets to be encouragers for God’s people. God will send just the right people into your life to be Jesus with “skin on.” You know these people. They have a word from God or Scripture on their tongue to give you just enough encouragement to take the next step forward with God. Welcome these encouragers.
Get Back to God’s Work
A bad case of discouragement kept God’s people from working on the temple for many years. However, a few encouraging words gave them their courage and strength to begin again. It is the same with us, even if we’ve been away from doing God’s work. When God gives us a project after a long dry season He will also give us the encouragement and strength to do it, whether that encouragement comes from His Word or through people He sends into our lives. There is even encouragement inherent in the words we hope to hear someday, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Returning to God’s work is one of the best ways to send discouragement packing. Even simple tasks like sweeping the floors of a food bank, folding clothes at Clothes Pantry for those in need, or simply listening to a soldier telling his war story to start the healing process of a wounded soul. To overcome discouragement often means getting back into the mission field for God’s eternal kingdom.
Would you like to read another article about unanswered prayer called, “Are You Trusting God With That?” If so, click