I recently found myself in the midst of a discouraging emotional funk. It started as an “off day” and the next thing I knew two weeks passed, full of negativity and discouragement, lacking hope and faith for the future, and I will be honest – even moments of wondering whether God could salvage anything good from my life and circumstances. Normally, I am rather even-keeled and not prone to bouts of negativity that last more than a day. I tried praying and worshiping and reading scripture but nothing seemed to change how I felt. I don’t even like giving my feelings that kind of power, preferring to lean on what I KNOW to be true, but I struggled to latch onto God’s truth about my present circumstances and my future. All I could see was failure and frustration, and I felt fear and doubt rising up, whispering their lies that nothing has changed and nothing would ever change and I would always miss God’s blessing and I will be left out, unable to find God and his plans and purposes, left to figure all of this out on my own (I mean can you get any more melodramatic?).
Has anyone else ever found themselves in a place like that? Of course, right? This current environment is a perfect breeding ground for discouragement and fear. We are bombarded in the news and social media with antagonizing and polarizing messages, seemingly surrounded by negativity – it is out there on repeat 24×7. Life and circumstances can be discouraging enough WITHOUT the added noise and confusion of negative media – Even the most stalwart of hearts can find themselves pricked by one of the enemy’s fiery darts from time to time. So what do we do if we find ourselves in a place of discouragement? When we feel down, depressed, discouraged, hopeless – how do we find our way back? I’m going to offer a few suggestions – not a formula, not an exhaustive list, but some suggestions you can keep in your quiver for such a time as this.
1 – An ounce of prevention:
The best way to deal with discouragement is to not allow it to take root in the first place. You may be thinking, “Thank you, Captain Obvious”, but hear me out. There is no 100% effective immunization for discouragement, fear, feeling down – we are human and we all experience the full range of human emotions. But you can prevent frequent occurrences (and extended bouts) by spending quality time in scripture, in prayer, journaling, fasting, etc. All the major spiritual disciplines. You may have heard the saying that the best defense is a good offense? This is true on the battlefield, the football field and even the spiritual field. In Ephesians 6, Paul tells us to put on the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the enemy. Don’t wait until you’ve taken a blow to the head before putting on the armor – you should already be wearing it. It’s part of being prepared as a believer. And I don’t mean symbolically going through the motions of putting on a helmet and a breast-plate, etc – there’s a place for that I’m sure. But you are wearing the full armor when you have fully invested in the journey set before you, and are being diligent with spiritual disciplines and actively engaged with God in the process of transforming you into Christ-likeness. Wearing the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, carrying a shield of faith to extinguish the enemy’s fiery darts, and swinging a sharp sword of the spirit, the word of God. It all speaks of preparation and discipline and readiness. Do the work. Train. Invest in scripture and prayer and fasting and worship and sitting and listening at the Lord’s feet and you will be a dangerous individual equipped in spiritual armor to advance the kingdom and withstand the enemy’s schemes.
2- Share the load:
Looking back over past seasons of my life, I see long periods of time where I lived under the weight of shame and discouragement and emotions I could not even begin to understand. This affected everything – work, marriage, spiritual growth and maturation. This is not uncommon when a person has unhealed wounded areas, in fact it is often a part of the process – When emotions get triggered we feel pain and discomfort and God can use that as a starting point for the healing process. But you need to COMMUNICATE those feelings and the things you are experiencing and not accept them as your new reality. First communicate with God, but also with trusted Christian friends, or your spouse, a counselor or pastor, etc. – Someone who can give Godly counsel and be a listening ear. We are not meant to carry these burdens alone. And we are certainly not meant to live in deception and bondage. Tell God how you feel, be honest with him – he knows already! But share that with him and then just lay it at the foot of the cross, and then take time to listen to what he might have to say about it. I like to write my “lament” to the Lord in my journal, it helps me to write it all out and then write his response (more on that later). It is equally important to have a trusted circle of Christian brothers and sisters who stand with us, and vice versa. As iron sharpens iron – We need people around us who can speak into our lives and pray with us, with whom we can share when we are discouraged, depressed, or otherwise in a place where we can’t see the truth in our circumstances. I had a long and productive conversation recently with a friend who just happened to be going through the EXACT same thing and it was so good to talk about it and we were a mutual comfort for each other. I know this is a bold statement, but I honestly believe that if I had taken a risk years ago and trusted a close friend or two with the deep and painful things I felt – it probably would have saved my marriage. I believed a lot of lies and let unhealed wounds run rampant, and did not understand why I felt the way I felt or where it came from – but there was a simple explanation. I just never opened up to get it until years later and it was too late. If you don’t think this makes a difference, you are fooling yourself.
3 – Encourage yourself in the Lord
In times of discouragement we need to shift our focus onto God – His nature, his promises, and all of the things he has done in the past for his people (and for us personally). It is easier said than done sometimes, in the midst of confusion, disappointment, disillusionment. 1 Samuel 30 recounts the story of what happened when the Amalekites sacked and burned David’s base of operations (before he became king). The camp was burned, their women and children taken captive, and the men were devastated. David’s two wives were among the captives. “Moreover David was greatly distressed because the people spoke of stoning him, for all the people were embittered, each one because of his sons and his daughters. But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God.” (1 SA 30:6 NASB, emphasis added). How did David encourage/strengthen himself in the Lord? I believe the answer is in the Psalms, where David and the other psalmists expose their hearts for all to see. I was recently drawn to Psalm 77 which perfectly reflected my own lament:
“Will the Lord reject forever?
And will He never be favorable again?
Has His lovingkindness ceased forever?
Has His promise come to an end forever?
Has God forgotten to be gracious,
Or has He in anger withdrawn His compassion?
Then I said, “It is my grief,
That the right hand of the Most High has changed.” (Ps 77:7-10 NASB)
I LOVE THAT. Because I was right there, in that same place. You know you’re in a bad spot when you feel like the holy, immutable, loving God of the universe has “changed” toward you! But the key is the SHIFT that this and many other Psalms shows us. They begin with the lament, and then there is a “but”. But I will remember the Lord, but as for me, but in spite of how I feel, etc. I WILL REMEMBER. We praise and we worship because he is worthy, not because of how we feel. Shift focus to God and his attributes and his exploits and all that he has promised.
“I shall remember the deeds of the Lord;
Surely I will remember Your wonders of old.
I will meditate on all Your work
And muse on Your deeds.
Your way, O God, is holy;
What god is great like our God?” (Ps 77:11-13 NASB)
For me, remembering involves being in my journal (as mentioned earlier) as well as being in scripture. If you do not keep a journal of your spiritual journey and encounters with God, I highly recommend it. I write all of these prayers, petitions, laments, etc, and also experiences and thoughts that come from the Lord. I went back through this journal and found very specific things the Lord spoke TO ME in the past which directly refuted the discouragement and negative thoughts I was having. To read the scriptures AND read personal notes from God is extremely powerful! I only started this journal in the last few years, but it has been a real treasure and tremendous blessing.
So if you are feeling discouraged, disillusioned or hopeless – Reach out to a friend or trusted brother or sister in Christ. Share what is on your heart and mind. Ask for prayer, and be in prayer. Be in the scripture and be encouraged in God. He is the same today, yesterday and tomorrow, and he is FOR you. Whatever you do, just keep moving forward – we pass through the valley it is not for building there (spoken from experience). Blessings on your journey.