I had planned to blog from Proverbs this week but over the weekend I began to think about discouragement. Discouragement is a feeling of despair in the face of obstacles. The sad truth is that many people suffer discouragement in silence. They withdraw and become isolated. They appear to be indifferent and distant. They are filled with dismay and despair. Their energy is gone. Their passion has dwindled and they wonder “what’s the point in trying.” We can become discouraged in all kinds of areas but tonight I want to focus on spiritual discouragement. There are several different things that can cause us to become spiritually discouraged. Let me give a few.
Unmet or unrealistic expectations. I heard Pastor John MacArthur talk about discouragement and he said it was usually caused by unrealistic expectations. I think he is partially right but I also think that it can also be just unmet expectations. Certainly there are times when our expectations can be unrealistic. There are also times where we expect realistic things to happen and they don’t. We pray, we believe and yet things still don’t turn out as we expected. This can be devastating.
Spiritual attack. We don’t often talk about this but discouragement is one of the most effective tools Satan has to keep us from doing God’s will. People that he could never tempt to commit adultery or embezzle can get so discouraged that they give up on doing what God wants done. In his mind that counts as a win. He doesn’t have to get us to sin. He just has to get us to stop actively serving Jesus and if discouragement will accomplish this then so much the better.
Sin. Discouragement doesn’t always have to be caused by sin but it certainly can be. I think this will be especially true for those who genuinely want to live a pure life. To constantly fail in the same area can cause us to think that there is just no way we will ever get out from under sins grip. It will also cause us to doubt God’s ability to work through us to accomplish His will in the world.
Physical and mental exhaustion. I say physical and mental exhaustion for two reasons. One is that extended periods of exhaustion depress us. The other reason is that when we are truly physically and mentally exhausted our time in the Word and in prayer will be diminished. Not only will we not do it because we are so tired but even when we do pray and read our Bible exhaustion keeps us from really getting anything out of it. A lack of prayer and Bible study and extended periods of ineffective prayer and Bible study certainly can cause us to become discouraged.
Feeling ineffective. This might fall under the heading of unmet expectations but there is little that will discourage you faster than thinking that what you do doesn’t matter. I think this will be true in any area of life but there is something especially devastating about serving the Lord and not being able to see any noticeable fruit from it.
I’m sure there are more things that can cause discouragement but these are the main things that came to my mind. No matter what the cause there are three characteristics of discouragement that make it such potent enemy.
It’s universal. In other words, discouragement strikes everyone. None of us are immune to discouragement. I feel pretty safe in saying that every one of us has been discouraged at one point in their lives. I doubt there is anyone who has completely avoided discouragement in his or her life. Young or old, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, Christian or non-Christian, everyone gets discouraged.
It’s recurring. Being discouraged once does not give you immunity to it. You can be discouraged over and over again. In fact, you can even be discouraged by the fact that you are discouraged a lot. There is no antibiotic that can be injected to give you immunity from discouragement.
It’s highly contagious. Discouragement spreads by even casual contact. People can become discouraged because you are discouraged. You can become discouraged because other people are discouraged.
So how do we fight against something that can steal our will to fight or even to care? My posts this week are going to come from a sermon I preached on how to encourage the discouraged.