Although God is able to take the plans of the enemy and use them for our good, we must also see these as the spiritual attacks that they are. Therefore, we must keep our mind and heart in gear, ready to stand against our adversary and receive the promises of God.
I want to share a few thoughts on things that have helped me in times of struggle and discouragement. God has given us focus in the battle and weapons to fight with.
First, no matter the reason for the discouragement, think about the Lord. Hebrews 12:1–3 says,
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.
It is when we look horizontally that we get discouraged. When we let what people say or think and the expectations people have of us to influence us, then discouragement sets in. When we look to men (horizontal) rather than to God (vertical), we easily become weary.
These verses say, “Look unto Jesus” and “consider Him.” It is in bringing our lives before the Lord that we find encouragement. All our troubles and all our reasons for discouragement fade away when we look up and see Him.
When we do this, we realize that the difficulties we face are just another way for us to identify with His sufferings (see Philippians 3:10). He is able to turn them around into a means through which we become more Christlike. Discouragement simply becomes a way for His treasure to shine out through the broken clay vessels that we are (see 2 Corinthians 4:7). In our weakness, He is made strong. “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV).
Second, think about the good things in life. Come before the Lord in praise. Philippians 4:8 tells us,
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.
Let us not make a list of all the reasons why we are in trouble or to stay discouraged. Don’t think about the negative. Scripture says to think about things that are lovely and wholesome and of good report. Think on these things.
One of the reasons why people become cold and cynical is because they forget the place from where the Lord has brought them. They forget His goodness toward them in times past. They forget that He is faithful.
That is why throughout the Old Testament, God seemed to continually remind His people saying, “Don’t forget. Celebrate the Passover year after year. This will remind you of Egypt and how I brought you out to freedom” (paraphrase, see Exodus 13:6–8). “Collect a jar of manna and save it to remember how I fed you in the wilderness” (paraphrase, see Exodus 16:32–33). “Take twelve stones out of the Jordan and make a place of remembrance. Then someday you can explain to others what I did for you” (paraphrase, see Joshua 4:5–7).
Likewise, we must keep ourselves in remembrance.
I encourage you to take some time now to write out a list of all the good things God has brought into your life. There are so many reasons to thank Him, and there is power and victory when we praise Him.
Consider this remarkable story of one man who chose to see the good things in his life rather than the bad.
As a recently retired man was sitting on his porch down in Kentucky, his Social Security check was delivered. He went to the mailbox to retrieve it and thought to himself, Is this all my life is going to be from this time on? Just sitting on the porch waiting for my next Social Security check to arrive? It was a discouraging thought.
So he took a legal pad and began to write down all the gifts, all the blessings, all the talents, and everything that he had going for him. He listed them all, even small things. For example, he included the fact that he was the only one in the world who knew his mother’s recipe for fried chicken in which she used eleven different herbs and spices.
He went down to the local restaurant, and asked if he could get a job cooking their chicken. Very soon the chicken became the most popular item on the menu. He opened his own restaurant in Kentucky. Then he opened a string of restaurants and eventually sold the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise to a national organization for millions of dollars. He became their public representative and continued in that role until his death.1
Third, pray. Come before the Lord in prayer. You do not have because you do not ask. You do not find because you do not seek. The door doesn’t open because you don’t knock (see Matthew 7:7–8). Please pray. God really answers prayer. Please believe me. He does! It is a great encouragement to see God work in answer to prayer.
Remember 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
When we pray, our attitude is transformed. It is through prayer that the Lord changes our hearts and His peace is able to enter in, lifting us above the circumstances we may be facing.
Fourth, remember the Lord has good plans for you. He is faithful to you no matter what. We must remind ourselves of this truth continually, especially when things become difficult and unclear. Remind yourself and say, “God loves me. He called me for a purpose. He is always good, always faithful. I can trust Him.” It is because of the assurance of who He is that we are able to continue on, never turning back or walking away from Him.
Fifth, live by faith, not by sight or feelings. Faith, by nature, is based upon what we cannot see. Things happen and we can’t understand why. But we can believe that God will work it out for the best. We can cling to Him in depression, hurt or sorrow, knowing that these things are for a reason and that He is strong enough to carry us through.
Only by faith can we look to the Lord in every situation. We may not know the solution yet, but He can give us peace as we trust Him to work all things together for our good. By faith we come to Him with whatever life brings—joys and sorrows—knowing that He is “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).
Listen to this cry of faith in Habakkuk 3:17–19:
Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls—
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
The LORD God is my strength;
He will make my feet like deer’s feet,
And He will make me walk on my high hills.
Sixth, know that no matter what, you are forgiven. Sometimes that is the hardest thing to believe. All the sins you have ever committed, all the sins you are committing now and all the sins you will ever commit until the last second of your life are forgiven. They have all been taken care of. All you need to do is acknowledge that work of God and live by it. Don’t hold things against yourself. Live with forgiveness for yourself and others on a constant basis. Because of the blood of Jesus, we can “come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
Finally, have patience with yourself. Philippians 1:6 says, “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (emphasis added).
Sometimes we get so discouraged and so impatient with ourselves. We can’t see any good fruit being produced in our lives, and it tempts us to just give up. But we must remember that it takes time to be molded into the image of Christ.
Godliness, maturity and spiritual depth do not come through reading books and acquiring information. Often our problem is that we know so much. We know about what it means to be a good husband, a good father and a hard worker in the ministry. We know about being burdened by the Lord and about humility and brokenness. I know so many things in my head, yet still I long in many areas of my life to be the message I am preaching.
Rather, it is God working in us that brings maturity. The problem is in here, on the inside. I need to let the Lord work on me. I cannot do it, but God has a plan and a perfect way. He is the potter; I am the clay. With this understanding, I don’t have to get all bent out of shape and be unforgiving with myself. I can know the Lord is working with me.
Keep in mind how Jesus responded to Peter after he denied Him. Jesus did not focus on Peter’s mistake, but He saw beyond that, knowing what He was going to make him. Jesus was patient with Peter.
And just as God has patience with us, we must have patience with ourselves. We need to be objective and honest about our real condition, dismal as it may be. Yet we also must be willing to live with that truth and accept God’s grace to change us instead of trying to correct ourselves (see Isaiah 45:9).
© 2004 by K.P. Yohannan, the president and founder of Gospel for Asia. It was written with the intention of encouraging and edifying the Body of Christ. To learn more about Gospel for Asia or to receive additional free resources, visit Gospel for Asia’s website.