Discouragement is a problem that needles many people. Every day one either personally struggles with discouragement or encounters someone who is struggling with discouragement
Is this what God had in mind when he said “Fear not, neither be discouraged (Deut 1:21)”; or “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world (John 16:33)”?
I doubt it. The Bible is full of promises and admonitions that speak otherwise
In the Old Testament God was continually trying to encourage His people:
When Joshua was being commissioned to lead the Hebrew armies, God said, “Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest” (Joshua 1:9).
Later, after an ignominious defeat had been incurred, when there would have been reason to be discouraged, God said to Joshua, “Fear not, neither be thou dismayed: take all the people of war with thee, and arise, go up to Ai: see, I have given into thy hand the king of Ai, and his people, and his city, and his land” ( Joshua 8:1).
David waxed eloquent regarding His God: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my ï¬‚esh, they stumbled and fell. Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be conï¬dent (Ps. 27:1-3). God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1).
In the book of Isaiah there are continual encouragements to look away from the problems of daily life: “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation” (Isa 12:2). “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” (Isa. 41:10). “But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overï¬‚ow thee: when thou walkest through the ï¬re, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the ï¬‚ame kindle upon thee” (Isa. 43:1,2)
Jeremiah had the same confidence: “But fear not thou, O my servant Jacob, and be not dismayed, O Israel: for, behold, I will save thee from afar off, and thy seed from the land of their captivity; and Jacob shall return, and be in rest and at ease, and none shall make him afraid” (Jer. 46:27).
When Paul was bound in the castle against his will, God stood by him saying, “Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testiï¬ed of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome. (Acts 23:11)” He didn’t have lots of reasons to be encouraged but God was encouraging him just the same. When death seemed imminent, Paul encouraged the people saying, “Be of good cheer, for there shall not be the loss of any man’s life (Acts 27:22). Paul had been encouraged, and now he was encouraging others. Later he asserted: “The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me” (Hebrews 13:6).
Writing on discouragement in her book, Living in the Sunshine, Hannah Whitall Smith suggests that discouragement is really faith in evil, and speaking against God. The causes she lists are many, and include our inadequacies, difficulties that seem insurmountable, an illegitimate fear of people and mistakes we have made in the past, for all of which she cites many Bible examples of people who did not allow these kinds of dispiriting elements get them down. Moses was warned against feeling inadequate; Joshua was encouraged when facing the task of overcoming the imposing walls of Jericho; Paul was to face Roman inquisitors; Jeremiah was told not to be afraid of the people’s faces; and David certainly had plenty to mourn when considering his past, but it did not stop him from praising God. All of these people were told to be of good cheer!
She also points to two outcomes of discouragement: it leads to complaining and murmuring against God, and it is highly contagious. I fear I have been guilty of the first at times, and certainly acknowledge that I have encouraged people to do likewise.
How can we overcome discouragement? She rightly points out that it is awfully hard to talk oneself out of discouragement. The best thing is to trust God and believe His promises, and then turn from the discouragement. Regarding the latter, I don’t know of anything better than cultivating a grateful attitude and choosing to say “yes” and “thank you” for whatever is going on in my life. I would also add, doing something good for another person.
A final precious thought coming from her chapter on discouragement is the thought that mistakes are not to drive us FROM God, but TO God. She reminds that the condition of a soiled table cloth doesn’t lead to it being thrown out, but to it being cleaned; and the joy and confidence a housewife could have if she knew there was a highly skilled laundress caring for her tablecloth. We of course know the one who is able to clean better than any other person, and we can have conplete confidence in Him.
Finally, Satan specializes in discouragement, for he knows that discouragement causes us to look at our circumstances and our inadequacies more than at God, and so long as that goes on he has the upper hand.
You may want to read all of Hannah Whitall Smith’s chapter on discouragement at path2prayer.com. You will many helpful articles on discouragement at path2prayer’s Practical Christianity section. Also, I send out a newsletter from time to time with encouraging thoughts on how to walk with Jesus, pray, and know success as a Christian. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to be on the mailing list.