It may surprise you to discover that the Bible is full of discouraged people. Let’s examine some of the reasons they were discouraged, because they’re very similar to the things that discourage us today.
Common Causes of Discouragement
David said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm” (Psalm 55:6-8).
David was discouraged because of an enemy—King Saul—who was jealous of him and trying to destroy him. Saul made David’s life miserable for quite a long time because of his own insecurity and jealousy.
Do you have some people in your life who are consciously trying to do you harm? Are there some people close to you who are jealous or mean or vindictive? That can be very discouraging.
Elijah was discouraged because of exhaustion. After a great spiritual victory—where he called down fire from heaven and destroyed all the prophets of Baal—one little woman scared him to death because she threatened to kill him. He was ready to give up: “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors” (I Kings 19:4).
I find that I am often discouraged after spiritual victories. How about you? Do you sometimes find yourself discouraged soon after God has done something wonderful in your life? It’s not unusual.
Hannah was discouraged because the deepest desire of her heart had not been given to her. It was a good and worthy desire—to have a baby that she could give back to the Lord. Downhearted, discouraged, and in bitterness of soul, Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord for a baby (1 Samuel 1). Why would he keep her womb closed? Why did she have to suffer the disgrace of being childless?
Perhaps you are discouraged because of unfulfilled desires. Maybe it’s the desire to be married, but the right one hasn’t come along. Maybe, like Hannah, it’s the desire to have a baby, but that hasn’t been possible so far. Maybe it’s your dreams of serving God in some special way, but the door hasn’t opened yet. It can be discouraging.
Naomi was discouraged because of financial difficulties and terrible loss. Her husband and two sons had both died, and she was left penniless and homeless. “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara [meaning bitter], because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me” (Ruth 1:20-21).
It’s easy to understand her discouragement—she was a widow and she was broke. The terrible loss she had suffered and the financial difficulties she was facing were most discouraging. That could be where you are today.
- The Children of Israel
The children of Israel were continually discouraged because they kept living in the past and longing for the way things used to be. They were on their journey to the Promised Land and, even though God had promised them this land flowing with milk and honey, they grumbled in the desert and said, “‘If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?’ And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt’” (Numbers 14:2-4). Somehow, in wishing they were back in Egypt, they seemed to forget that they had been slaves in Egypt and sorely mistreated there.
I think many of us are discouraged because life has taken a strange left turn. We want to turn back the clock and go back to the way things used to be.
- Mary and Martha
Mary and Martha were discouraged because they lost someone they loved, and they had really expected Jesus to save him. After all, Jesus had been all over the countryside healing many other people, raising people from the dead, and doing incredible miracles. Surely he would come and save his beloved friend, Lazarus, they reasoned. And when he didn’t, they were very discouraged. Jesus had disappointed them. They had watched their brother die before their eyes, and could not understand why Jesus had not come to heal him. “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21).
Have you ever set out an agenda for the Lord, expecting him to work on your timetable, and then been disappointed when he didn’t come through? That can be discouraging.
Peter was discouraged because of his own failure. After he denied the Lord three times, Peter went out and wept bitterly. I imagine he felt that he had blown it for good, and he was discouraged with himself. How could he deny the Lord he loved—the One he promised never to forsake or deny?
This discourages me probably more than anything else. When you look at yourself and you see how inadequate you are, how often you fail, how you go back and do the same things over and over that you know you shouldn’t do—do you get very discouraged because of yourself?
Jesus fought discouragement when his friends failed him; when he was misunderstood; when he tried to help and his help was refused. This really hurts, doesn’t it? When you have totally good and righteous motives but people don’t approve, understand, or support you, it stings. In fact, they may even reject you, as they did Jesus. It’s easy to be discouraged then.
We are told that Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are (Hebrews 4:15), which undoubtedly means he was tempted to be discouraged. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate” (Matthew 23:37-38). He must have been discouraged to realize how much he could do for his people but they would not accept him.
The disciples often caused him discouragement as well. Many times he said “O you of little faith” to his followers when they doubted him—when they were worried about food to eat, storms on the sea, what they were going to wear, or when they couldn’t cast out demons. Can’t you just hear his discouraged voice saying, “You unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?” (Matthew 17:17).
Symptoms of Discouragement
What are some of the typical symptoms of discouragement? When I’m discouraged, I feel very unspiritual, very hypocritical, and totally unmotivated. My productivity is down, my face is long, my thoughts are jumbled, and my perspective is very limited and poor. Things look a lot worse to me than they really are when I’m discouraged. I view the world through negative glasses, and nothing looks good.
I don’t want to read my Bible or pray; I don’t want to be nice to people; often I don’t want anybody around me. And then I throw lots of pity parties. Don’t you love pity parties? Nobody comes, but we keep having them anyway.
I daydream about quitting and running away, about finding a new place where no one knows me and starting all over again, about leaving all my responsibilities behind me, and about how everyone will miss me when I run away!
Fear is also a common symptom of discouragement. Usually when we are discouraged, we’re fearful about something. We know that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of faith and a sound mind. Fear will quickly cripple and discourage us.
I’d like to be able to tell you that as soon as I feel discouraged, I talk to the Lord and everything is okay right away. Just one quick application of Romans 8:28 and I snap right out of it! But that wouldn’t be the truth.
I surely do talk to the Lord, but it feels like the words bounce off the ceiling. I read my Bible, but no lights flash. I sit at a computer and try to write, but the well is dry and I feel I just don’t have anything else to say.
Now, I hope it doesn’t shock or disappoint you to learn that about me. Just in case you thought I lived in a different world than you do, I can assure you that I don’t! But I want to share with you how you and I can defeat discouragement through biblical principles.
God’s Word is relevant to this issue. We’ve already noted that discouragement started way back in the beginning of time, so it doesn’t take God by surprise to discover that we battle discouragement. And since he understands and knows us better than we know ourselves, it should come as no surprise that we find victory over discouragement through his Word.
Discouragement Is Not Necessarily a Sin
I think it’s important to emphasize that being discouraged is not a sin. God uses people who are discouraged. God understands discouragement. Discouragement is a normal and unavoidable emotion that we must all deal with. It comes to us in different ways, for different reasons, and at different times, but none of us escapes discouragement.
However, wallowing in discouragement—that’s a different story. Jesus warned us that “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Discouragement becomes sinful when we refuse to “take heart” as Jesus told us to do.
Are you discouraged today? If so, I want to encourage you to take heart, because Jesus has overcome all the things and situations that are getting you down. He has victory for you, too!