In Seasons of Discouragement, Remember God Is Still with Us
If you’ve turned on the news lately, it is easy to be hit with discouragement. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the bad news that seems so commonplace. But we must keep in mind that even in the best of times, the enemy whispers lies, playing on our insecurities and fears, and casting discouragement in order to keep us down. And he doesn’t just target the weak or insignificant, like a predator going after a frail straggler in a herd. He also attacks those spiritual giants we look to for inspiration. Indeed, discouragement strikes everyone, including leaders on the spiritual front lines, achieving great victories for the Kingdom of God.
Everyone must deal with discouragement and understand that regardless of how our current circumstances may appear, the truth is, as the Apostle Paul stated, we “can do all things through Christ!” (Philippians 4:13).
So, what makes some people more resilient than others in the face of such discouragement? When all around you says you can’t get over this hurt or forgive that wrong, you can’t get ahead financially, lose that weight or have a happy marriage. It appears that those most able to bounce back have a plan for dealing with discouragement when it inevitably tries to stop them. That plan begins by agreeing with God and shouting in the face of the enemy… I can!
The Little Engine That Could!
When I was growing up, there was a famous children’s book called “The Little Engine That Could.” As the story goes, a little train engine faced a daunting hill to climb and struggled mightily to climb that hill. But the little engine didn’t give up and eventually, the little engine did make it up the hill by famously saying and believing “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” This children’s book has become a classic and has lasted the test of time because it tapped into an eternal truth – the power of having an “I can” attitude.
Of course, as Christians that I can attitude is rooted in our relationship with Jesus Christ.
Keep on Rocking!
Indeed, it is a concept well-known throughout Scripture. We can do all things through Christ, because of His strength in us. That is, if we keep going, press through, and don’t give up! We only need to follow the writings of the Apostle Paul, who defeated discouragement in his missionary journeys by pressing on, regardless of difficulties that came to discourage him. As he wrote:
“Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).
Paul began his journeys with a stop at Cyprus. He preached to a lot of people, but only two got saved. Fortunately, one of them was the Roman Proconsul Sergius Paulus. So, while the trip was ultimately profitable, one of his close friends, John Mark, deserted him.
And surely the voice of discouragement whispered in his ear – you can’t even have a thriving relationship with friends who are close to you, let alone teach strangers how to have a thriving relationship with God!
But regardless, Paul determined to keep on rocking.
On he journeyed to preach Christ at Antioch of Pisidia. At first it seemed he’d received a good response, and the people would receive the Gospel. But then Jewish leaders stirred up conflict and set the people against Paul. As he and Barnabas were expelled from the city, the enemy whispered…you can’t be successful.
But Paul kept on rocking.
On to Lystra, where the God of miracles showed Himself alive and strong. People were amazed, and confused, first trying to worship Paul and Barnabas, then suddenly turning on them, stoning them, and leaving them for dead. You can’t win, you can’t defeat the powers that be…
But Paul kept on rocking.
In all his journeys, Paul’s resiliency and reliance on Christ in the face of discouragement was tested:
“In labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness — besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).
Nothing the enemy whispered to the Apostle Paul could stop him. He had learned the power of Christ within, the power that defeats difficulties and silences discouragement. You might not feel like fighting any more, or see light at the end of the tunnel. God’s word encourages us that, Yes, you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you! Just keep on rocking!
Manage the Expectation Gap
Have you ever noticed why disappointment sets in? When what we experience is different than what we were expecting, we encounter an expectation gap. Most of life is lived here.
We meet someone, fall in love, get married, and expect it to be happily ever after, but instead it becomes a war zone. In that expectation gap, we experience disappointment.
We start a new job expecting that we will love it and be the company’s most valuable employee, but when the annual review comes around we are told something very different. And we experience disappointment.
We give a masterful, compelling sermon, but no one responds to the altar call – disappointment again. We diet without cheating all week, get on the scale, and the needle has not moved. Disappointment!
This gap between our actual experiences and our expectations is something everyone must deal with, including Bible heroes like John the Baptist. Fortunately, he mastered managing the expectation gap during great trials, and we can take a few lessons from him.
John in the Gap
“Now it came to pass, when Jesus finished commanding His twelve disciples, that He departed from there to teach and to preach in their cities. And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, ‘Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?’” (Matthew 11:1-3).
This is a stunning account because the one speaking is the same man who in Matthew 3 declared of Jesus This is the one! But after his experience is not what he expected, John then asks Are you the one?
Jesus was out astonishing the crowds with healing and miracles and talks of a coming Kingdom, and yet John the Baptist remained rotting in prison. Disappointment is in the gap. Jesus, this is not how I envisioned it!
And in the darkness and isolation of John’s prison cell, surely the voice of discouragement whispered its lies:
- God wouldn’t let you go through this if He loved you.
- This wouldn’t be happening if you had more faith.
- If it were possible for things to change by now, they would have.
So how did John manage this expectation gap to overcome his discouragement?
Bring It to Jesus
From prison, John sends a messenger to Jesus with a question. Are You the One, or should we ask for another?
When you are confronted with discouragement, you could mull it over in your mind. You could talk it over with a friend, or your spouse. You could ignore it or pretend it never happened. However, there is only one way to successfully manage the expectation gap. Like John the Baptist, you must bring it to Jesus. Only Jesus has the words of eternal life.
God can handle your doubts, your frustrations, your questions and yes, even your disappointments.
Never let the enemy turn you away from God. Rather let your discouragement push you toward God. He will share with you what you need to hear to overcome your discouragement and successfully manage getting out of the expectation gap.
You Are Doing Better Than You Think
“Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me’” (Matthew 11:4-6).
John was not where he expected to be after faithfully preparing the way for Jesus’ ministry. But even in his disappointment and his prison cell, Jesus affirmed him. John may not have realized it, but he was doing better than he thought he was. John didn’t realize the impact he was having because discouragement tends to distort reality and blur our vision.
“As they departed, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. For this is he of whom it is written: ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.’ Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:7-11).
Because John had prepared the way for Jesus, people were getting healed, and miracles were taking place. The blind were seeing, the lame were walking, the lepers were being cleansed, the deaf were hearing and even the dead were being raised to life. Because John had prepared the way of the Lord.
The Way Out
John never made it out of that prison cell, but he landed a place in the Kingdom of God Hall of Fame. His ministry marked the end of an era and the ushering in of a new and greater covenant though Christ. Most certainly, John joined the great host of heavenly witnesses, the heroes of our faith to watch the unveiling of this magnificent mystery called the Church.
Sometimes the discouragements we encounter can feel like a prison of sorts, with no way out. But God promises to strengthen us to endure, and to provide a way out.
“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
In fact, God has already provided a way out of every situation.
“Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name” (Psalm 100:4-5).
Do you need to leave the prison of discouragement? The way out is thanksgiving! God has given us an exit plan – gratitude. Gratitude ushers you into the presence of the One who is the glory and the lifter of our heads. In God’s presence it’s impossible to stay discouraged, because God begins to remind you… you are doing better than you think you are, and you can keep on rocking!
Photo credit: Unsplash/Jude Beck
Frank Santora is Lead Pastor of Faith Church, a multi-site church with locations in Connecticut and New York. Pastor Frank hosts a weekly television show, “Destined to Win,” which airs weekly on the Hillsong Channel and TBN. He has authored thirteen books, including the most recent, Modern Day Psalms and Good Good Father. To learn more about Pastor Frank and this ministry, please visit www.franksantora.cc. Photo by Michele Roman.