There has never been a time more difficult than today. There has never been a society where men were more sinful and given to wickedness than our own. There has never been occasions where there was more reason for discouragement among God’s people than there is today. This may be the attitude of some—but it is wholly without merit (cf. Gen. 6; Acts 8). Though we may be disposed to believe that discouragement is unique to our time and perhaps even to our lives, a quick glance through the Scriptures clearly demonstrates that even the most admired men and women of the Bible endured very discouraging times. Consider that Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers (Gen. 37); Moses endured the murmuring of God’s people (Ex. 15, 16, 17, et al); Naomi lost both husband and sons (Ruth 1); Elijah was convinced he was the only one left faithfully serving God (1 Kings 19); Jeremiah became so discouraged that he decided to quit preaching (Jer. 20); Paul stood before the Roman Emperor defending the gospel—alone (2 Tim. 4:16).
From the youngest to the oldest—all experience discouragement. Discouragement can lead to anxiety and even depression. According to the ADAA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America) in 2016, 18% of the population of the U.S. age 18 and older were affected by anxiety (40 million adults!). One-third of the monies spent to treat mental health was used to treat anxiety ($42 billion). It is common for people struggling with anxiety also to suffer from depression. Depression, if left unchecked, can lead to alcohol/drug abuse, chronic aches, phobias, loss of production at school/work, family/relationship problems, social isolation, eating disorders, self-mutilation, and even suicide. There is no medical cure for anxiety only medicines for treatment, and in 2016, 10.7% of Americans were prescribed antidepressants—up from 1.8% in 1988! While there may be no prescriptive cure, there is a scriptural cure! Consider the following treatments for Overcoming Discouragement.
Look up rather than down.
After settling the dispute between herdsmen and separating from his family, Abraham was told by God, “Lift up now thine eyes” (Gen. 13:14). Have you ever considered that when we lift up our eyes our focus changes from worldly to heavenly? Life is meaningless without a heavenly hope. Some place their hope in worldly possessions but earthly treasures are temporary. Jesus instructed,
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal (Matt 6:19-20).
You will never see a U-haul following a hearse and there are no pockets in a shroud! Search the ancient tombs and one will discover the treasures of the Pharaohs remain. When man’s hope and focus is on this world disappointment and discouragement are a certain consequence, but our hope is in heaven and heaven should be our focus.
If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth (Col. 3:1-2).
The Hebrews writer posited that Jesus is our “hope” and “anchor of the soul” (Heb. 6:18-20) and Paul admonished Titus that we should be “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:11-13). To the Romans, Paul would write “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). When we lift up our eyes and focus on things above we will soon realize that any loss, disappointment, difficulty, or discouragement is easily overcome by a heavenly hope!
Count your blessings not your problems.
Everyone has problems. Focusing on problems produces an attitude of self-pity. A short phrase in the most well known of all the psalms reads “my cup runneth over” (Psalm 23:5). Why do we always seem to focus on the problem cup rather than the blessing cup?! Here is a novel idea, when struggling with discouragement we should sit down and make two lists — one list is our problems the other our blessings. Which list is longer? Which list is more positive? Which list draws us closer to God? Which list inspires us to help others? Which list helps us appreciate God’s blessings?
Consider the abundant physical blessings we enjoy daily: life and good health; access to good medicines; access to food; liberty and prosperity; freedom to worship God without fear; love of family and friends. And these pale in comparison to the spiritual blessings that we have in Christ: redemption and forgiveness of sins; fellowship with God; assurance of acceptable worship; knowing that God hears and regards our prayers. We often sing,
When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed;
When you are discouraged thinking all is lost;
Count your many blessings name them one by one;
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
By counting our blessings rather than our problems we can overcome discouragement.