It helps me to realize that feeling discouraged does not necessarily mean that we are out of touch with the Lord or living in sin. In fact, the Lord can use us and minister through us even when we are feeling discouraged. However, if we willingly continue to wallow in discouragement without seeking his way out, then it can become a sinful thing in our lives.
How to Defeat Discouragement
“Take heart!” That was Jesus’ cure for discouragement. Our question becomes, “How do we ‘take heart’?” What does it mean to “take heart”? First, it takes discipline to “take heart.” You and I must be willing to be disciplined mentally if we are going to defeat discouragement. Here are some biblical principles that show us how to “take heart”:
Identify the discouragement
In Psalm 31 David begins to defeat his discouragement by identifying it out loud to the Lord. He says, “Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief” (Psalm 31:9). He then goes on to describe his discouraged feelings in detail. There is no need to pretend it doesn’t exist, or to put on a face and act like everything’s okay. Until you get it out in the open and call it what it is, it will continue to fester there underneath. David is open and honest with the Lord and he says just what he feels. David talked to the Lord about his problems; that’s better than dumping our gripes and complaints on others and dragging them down.
Talk encouragingly to yourself
David doesn’t stop there. Unfortunately, we often stop there; we pour out our complaints, but we don’t encourage ourselves appropriately. Notice what David does next. He changes his focus from the negative to the positive and says, “But. . .” That’s a really important word for all of us when we’re pouring out our discouraged hearts to the Lord. Get it all out but don’t stop there. Always get to the “But. . .”, the focus shift. David says, “But I trust in you, Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me. Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love” (Psalm 31:14-16).
What do you say to yourself when you are discouraged? More discouraging words? That’s what most of us do, and we make a major mistake. Sure, you need to pour it all out, but once you get it said, then you must start saying the right things to yourself. David reminds himself of his trust in God. He reaffirms that God is in control. Then he presents his request for deliverance. When you are discouraged, it’s so important that you do that focus shift and start reciting out loud who God is and reminding yourself that he is in control.
One great way to do this focus shift is to start reciting all you have to be thankful for—out loud if possible. Sometimes I use the alphabet praise method—finding something about God to praise him for with each letter of the alphabet. It’s fun and it’s a great cure for discouragement. But you must set your will to do that. Your feelings will not want to come along; you must make them fall in line.
Another way to cure your own discouragement is to encourage others. Proverbs 11:25 says “…he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.” Instead of looking for someone to pick you up, look around and see whom you can pick up.
Thank goodness we can be encouragers even when we feel discouraged. I’m not talking about putting on a facade and being hypocritical, but there are times when we must simply “buck up” and do for others what is right to do. As you become an encourager of others, your own discouragement will be assuaged.
Get to work
I’ve also discovered that one way to get past that period of discouragement is simply to get to work. Start doing something you know needs to be done. If you will just start doing something worthwhile, it will help to break that chain of discouragement. Often when you’re discouraged, you’re unmotivated, so you do nothing. Then because you’ve gotten nothing done, you feel guilty, and that increases your feelings of discouragement.
Remember, you begin with the first step, so when discouragement seems to be overtaking you, find something that needs to be done, and start doing it.
Get some rest
Of course, there is some opposite advice we need to heed here, too. Sometimes you may be discouraged because you’ve been going too hard for too long, and your body simply needs a rest. Elijah discovered how vulnerable he was to discouragement when he was physically exhausted, so God put him in a spot where he could recuperate, where he could be refreshed with food and sleep.
If your body is constantly on the verge of exhaustion, you can’t expect to avoid discouragement. Your spirit and your body are part of the same whole; one always affects the other. Sometimes you just need to take better care of your body with exercise, eating right, and other things like that. Sounds very humdrum, but it makes a lot of difference in how you feel.
Ignore the discouragers around you
Are there people around you who are discouraging you with their negativism? Are you listening to others more than you are listening to God? Often people will discourage you and you must learn to ignore those people. Remember when Jairus found Jesus and pleaded with him to come and heal his little daughter? They started to Jairus’s house, but on the way some men came from his house and said, “Your daughter is dead. Why bother the teacher anymore?” (Mark 5:35) But we read in Mark 5:36, “Ignoring what they said, Jesus told him, ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe.’”
Others will discourage you if you allow them to. You must learn to listen to Jesus and tune out—ignore—the people who would discourage you. Avoid them if possible, or change the subject—whatever you have to do—but don’t let negative people discourage you. Don’t catch their disease. Think about what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable—the good reports, not the bad ones.
Find someone whose faith is strong
Romans 1:11-12 says, “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”
Spend some time with a person who will encourage you, whose faith is strong. Then be ready to be that kind of person to your friends when they are going through discouraging times. You need to share your faith with others during your days of discouragement. Someone else can have faith for you when you’re finding it impossible to believe, and their faith will bolster and encourage you.
Hebrews 10:25 says, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” You need to get together with others more often, even in the midst of your busy life, because you need others to stay encouraged. If you’ve been trying to go it on your own—without fellow believers and the times of worship that you have in a vital and alive church—you will find discouragement lurking at your door.
Stay in the Word
Romans 15:4 says “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” Make yourself get into the Word of God. Even if it seems dry and lifeless to you, keep reading. It was given to us as encouragement and, believe me, it will encourage you!
Focus on Jesus’ return
In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, we are told of the return of Jesus—how he will come down from heaven, how we will be caught up to meet him in the air, and how we will be with the Lord forever. “Therefore encourage one another with these words,” Paul tells us in verse 18.
When you think you can’t take this old world anymore, when it looks like there is no hope on the horizon, when you’re just fed up with the sin and struggle that are all around you, start talking about Jesus’ coming again. Refocus your mind on the end of the story!
How often do you say, “Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus!”? How often do you think, “It may be today!”? The more you think about his second coming, the more you will be encouraged. Put on your “Forever Eyes” and remember that you will not be here forever.
“Take heart,” Jesus said, because you don’t need to be discouraged. You have hope; you have a future; you have his presence and power. You are not alone or desolate. Take heart. I pray you will be able to defeat discouragement in your life. Remember, it’s not a sin to feel discouraged, but it is a sin to stay there and not do anything to move forward. These biblical principles will help you defeat discouragement if you will put them into practice. The blessing, as Jesus said, is in the doing!