Discouragement and disappointment are normal emotions we all experience even as Christians, but it’s important to know how to make sure those debilitating emotions don’t get the best of us.
First, let’s look at four reasons why we get discouraged and disappointed.
Job felt discouraged with his wife and friends. They didn’t get it. In the midst of his suffering and questioning God, they tried to be helpful, but they ended up heaping more shame and blame on Job for his afflictions. We, too, can feel let down by our friends and family. They don’t understand what we’re going through or don’t offer to help as we wish they would. Our disappointment can turn to discouragement.
Elijah became discouraged with life’s circumstances. Despite our persistent and fervent prayers, things don’t turn out the way we’d hoped they would. Elijah hoped that after all the miracles the Israelites saw performed on Mount Carmel, Ahab and Jezebel would repent and put God first, but they did not. King Ahab and Jezebel were as stubborn and hard hearted as always, and Elijah felt discouraged, exhausted, and told himself that his entire ministry was a waste (1 Kings 19).
Jeremiah felt angry and discouraged with God when he believed God was against him, and because of that perspective, he temporarily lost hope in God (Lamentations 3). The disciples too felt discouraged after Jesus was crucified, before he rose from the dead. They said, “We were hoping that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). They couldn’t see the bigger picture and felt disappointed that Jesus did not fight for his kingdom.
Peter felt discouraged with himself when he realized that he wasn’t as courageous as he thought he was. Jesus had warned him that he would deny him, but Peter’s pride kept him from seeing himself clearly (Matthew 26:31 and 74, 75). We too can feel discouraged and even depressed when we fail to live up to our own or someone else’s expectations.
Discouragement happens, even to the strongest and best of people. Below are five (5) steps you can take when you start to feel the black cloud of discouragement swallow you up.
1. Be honest. It does you no good to pretend you don’t feel what you feel. You can’t take action against a negative feeling until you first admit you have it. A strong Christian is not someone who never experiences negative feelings. It’s someone who has learned what to do with them when he or she has them and how to process them biblically.
2. Take care of your body. If your body isn’t working, your mind, emotions and will are also weakened. I love how God tended to Elijah’s body first—before addressing anything else and provided ravens to feed him. Sometimes the circumstances of life drain us dry, and we need to press pause, stop doing, and simply rest and refresh.
All of us attempt to make sense of the things that happen in our lives. We try to figure out why they happen and what it all means. It’s crucial that we pay attention to what stories we are telling ourselves about ourselves, about others, about God or a particular situation, and whether or not those stories are actually true. For example, if you look at what Elijah was telling himself after he became discouraged, much of it was not true, yet because he thought it, it added to his misery (read 1 Kings 19).
Jeremiah was also telling himself things about God that were not true but because his mind believed his version of reality instead of God’s, he lost his hope. Read through Lamentations 3. Notice in verse 21 Jeremiah begins to have a change of mind and heart. He says, “This I recall to mind, therefore I have hope.” When his thoughts changed his negative emotions also lifted even though his circumstances stayed the same.
4. Train yourself to “see” life out of two lenses at the same time
When the apostle Paul counsels us to be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2), he is telling us that our mind needs to be trained to think differently than we have in the past. Part of this training is to learn to see both the temporal (life is hard) and the eternal (God has a purpose here) at the same time.
Paul speaks honestly of his temporal pain when he says he is hard pressed on every side, perplexed, persecuted and struck down. Yet he did not become crushed, despairing, abandoned, or destroyed. Why not? Because he learned to firmly fix the eternal perspective on his spiritual eyes. He says, “Therefore we do not lose heart.… So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:8–18).
Paul never minimized the pain of the temporal, yet discouragement didn’t win because he knew that God’s purposes were at work. (See Philippians 1:12–14 for another example).
5. Press close into God
The truth is life is hard, people do disappoint and hurt us, and we don’t always understand God or his ways. The prophet Nahum talks about a day of trouble and reminds us “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, he knows those who trust in him” (Nahum 1:7). If we’re not in close trusting relationship with God, life’s troubles can become unbearable. The psalmist cried out, “I would have despaired unless I had believed I would see God in the land of the living” (Psalm 27).
One final tip. The best way to chase out a negative feeling is with another feeling. The Bible teaches us “In everything give thanks for this is the will of God” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Gratitude is a powerful anecdote for discouragement. We may not be able to give God thanks for the difficult situation that we find ourselves in, but we can learn to look for things we can be thankful for in the midst of it.
Leslie Vernick is a writer for The Association of Biblical Counselors (ABC). ABC exists to encourage, equip, and empower people everywhere to live and counsel the Word, applying the Gospel to the whole experience of life.