Rev. Kleyn is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan.
Every believer faces the unpleasant experience of being discouraged. There are times for every child of God when he feels disheartened and blue, and has very little or even no joy in life.
This is something God’s people have always experienced. We read for example of Jacob, who, thinking Joseph is dead, having Simeon in prison in Egypt, and now facing the prospect of Benjamin being taken away to Egypt, said, “All these things are against me” (Gen. 42:36). We are told concerning the nation of Israel, as they faced the hardships of the wilderness journey, that “the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way” (Num. 21:4). King David referred to discouragement when he said, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted in me?” (Ps. 42:5). Elijah also faced it, to the point even of feeling that life was no longer worth living. His cry of despair was, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life” (I Kings 19:4). And yet another example is the apostle Paul, who spoke of being “troubled on every side,” “perplexed,” and “cast down” (II Cor. 4:8-9).
We face discouragement in all areas of life.
Fathers and husbands face it in their daily work as they seek to earn a living to support their families. Their work is often difficult and either physically or mentally tiring. They do not always receive a good income. For many, the possibility of advancement does not exist. Some also have to work among unbelievers and be exposed to unrestrained ungodliness. Many work long hours and are still barely able to make ends meet.
Wives and mothers face discouragement in their calling. There are many demands placed on a Christian wife and mother. She must give of herself for the welfare of her family. She needs to be ready to help her children all hours of the day and night. The demands placed upon her can make her feel overwhelmed. Sometimes she finds she can barely cope with it all.
Parents often become discouraged in their calling. Although they work diligently in bringing up their children in the ways of God, yet the children do not always obey. In fact, some are very disobedient and stray far from the things they were taught. This causes much heartache and grief. The parents are convinced, at times, that all their labor is fruitless.
Young people and children become discouraged. It can seem to them that their parents are always reprimanding or restricting them. Other times they are discouraged because of the struggle to get good grades in school. They try hard, but the effort seems wasted. At times they also struggle to fit in with others and to find good friends.
Also officebearers in the church face discouragement. They take seriously their calling to serve the people of God and they work hard at doing so. They bring the Word of God to those with whom they labor. They pray often for the needy or erring sheep. But they quite regularly do not see the positive fruit they would like to see and for which they pray.
School teachers experience discouragement. They do, for example, when children show little interest in learning, and either learn nothing at all, or else very quickly forget the things they were taught. They also become discouraged when parents are cruelly critical of them and their work, or when parents defend a child’s misbehavior and blame the teacher instead for any trouble that arises.
These are just a few examples. Many more could be mentioned, and even these few could be expanded upon. The point is clear—discouragement is faced in every area of life. It is very real.
Though a reality, discouragement is not a good thing. It is not proper for us to be discouraged. While it is certainly understandable that God’s people often become disheartened and discouraged, doing so is wrong. In reality, discouragement is sin.
This is clear from the biblical examples mentioned earlier. Jacob was wrong when he said, “All these things are against me.” The truth of the matter was that all things were for him. God, in His sovereignty, was overruling everything to work for his good and salvation. Elijah erred as well when he wanted to die. He was forsaking the calling God had given him, not trusting that God was powerful to save His people even in those wicked times in Israel. In addition to this, he was being dissatisfied with the circumstances in which God had placed him. The same can be said of David when he spoke in Psalm 42 of his heart and soul being cast down and disquieted. David, as he himself acknowledged in that same Psalm, failed to trust and hope in God as he should.
These examples point clearly to what is a prominent sin in our discouragements: a lack of faith and trust in God. Whenever we face challenges in life, we very quickly take an earthly perspective. We look at and consider simply the earthly factors. We evaluate things according to earthly standards. And we lose sight of the spiritual. We fail to consider and keep before our minds the sovereign hand and will of our heavenly Father in what we are facing. We forget that He is directing all things for our eternal, spiritual good.
When facing discouragement, therefore, there are a number of things the child of God can and should do.
Most important is prayer. Prayer is a great help and blessing when we are discouraged. This is true, first of all, because prayer is the solution to worry. Often our discouragement involves being anxious. We worry about the future. We worry about where this or that will lead. We worry about how we will cope and how we will get through our problems. God’s Word tells us, however, to deal with all this by praying. Instead of worrying, we must bring all our requests to God in prayer (Phil. 4:6). In this way, we will have peace. Through prayer (as well as through attendance to the other means of grace) we come again to the realization that God is directing all things for our good.
Prayer is also the solution to discouragement because it turns our hearts and minds away from the earthly toward God. Through prayer we speak to God, and thereby acknowledge our complete dependence on Him. By praying we confess, not only that God is Lord over all, but that He is our Father for the sake of Christ. Through prayer, therefore, we become conscious of God and of His hand in the circumstances that would or could make us discouraged.
Another important help in times of discouragement is to work diligently in our calling. When discouraged, one is tempted to give up. As was true of Elijah, so also a parent or teacher or officebearer can be tempted to forsake his calling. One can feel there is no fruit on his work, and therefore all time and effort are wasted. But work is often the solution to discouragement on account of work. I am reminded of a seminary professor telling us that very thing. He informed us as students that there are indeed times in the ministry when a man can become greatly discouraged and not feel like doing his work. But the solution, he said, is not to quit working and to feel sorry for oneself, but to knuckle down and get back to work. That applies to all. When we are busy, and when we work diligently to fulfill our calling, the Lord encourages us by giving us to know we are doing the work He has called us to and thus what is pleasing to Him. Another benefit of working hard is that God uses that to give us a sense of accomplishment, which aids in dispelling the feeling of being useless and worthless. These things help significantly in overcoming discouragement.
One who is discouraged also overcomes this by thinking on positive things. It can happen that we dwell on the negative things in our lives, and lose sight of the positive. There will always be negative things to focus upon, and these can get us down. But the Word of God directs us to consider things that are positive and good. “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Phil. 4:8). There are many such virtuous and positive things in our lives, both physical and spiritual. There are countless ways in which the Lord has blessed us. And above them all is the immeasurable wealth of God’s grace to us in Christ. That alone outweighs all the negatives, and also brings those negative things into perspective. We do well to think on positive things.
Hopefully, too, those who are discouraged will receive encouragement from their fellow believers. Children need to be encouraged by their parents and teachers. Teachers need encouragement from their students and from the parents of those students. Husbands and fathers need encouragement from their wives and family, and wives and mothers need it from their husbands and children. Officebearers need it from the members of the church. Young people need it from adults and from each other. Every believer needs encouragement from fellow saints who face the same struggles and disappointments in life. God has placed us together in the communion of saints so that we might give such help and encouragement to each other. And it is not simply a matter of someone being there to give encouragement when we need it—we must realize that others need it from us. We ought therefore to be always looking out for this need, and seeking to fill it.
In all this, the Lord Himself gives us a word of encouragement. “My beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (I Corinthians 15:58). This especially should spur us on to continued faithfulness in serving our God in our various callings in life. May we take these encouraging words of our heavenly Father to heart.