INTRODUCTION. Thoughts on how to vanquish discouragement. My primary strategy is to stop “eating” discouragement, particularly in my mind.
I am very conscious of my diet and carefully watch what I eat. I have found that there is a direct and fairly immediate relationship between the number on my bathroom scales and what I have eaten in the last couple of days. Basically, eating certain things results in a bigger number on the scales. There is no surprise in this. This phenomenon is well known.
But recently I have completely eliminated from my diet a few specific foods and have been pleased to see a couple of stubborn pounds disappear from the bathroom scales. The lesson I took away from this experience is that even small changes can yield measurable results.
While my physical diet and the resulting weight are important to me, they are not nearly as important as my sanctification and my growth and usefulness as a disciple of Jesus. And I have found that, over the long term, one of the biggest obstacles to my growth and my usefulness as a disciple is discouragement.
THE BATTLE AGAINST DISCOURAGEMENT
Discouragement and depression have been my companions since I was young, long before I came to faith in Jesus. My parents divorced when I was eleven years old, and my father moved to California, leaving me with no male role model. Also, by personality, I am introverted and judgmental and hard on myself and others. These patterns set me up for discouragement, but more than these were the habits of thought that I developed. As a non-Christian, I had few filters, especially in my mind and thoughts, and I allowed discouragement to have free access into my head, saturating my mind with negative thoughts. Thus I perceived depression to be my normal state. The point is that my discouragement thrived by allowing my mind to dwell on discouraging thoughts. A steady diet of feeding on discouragement produced discouragement and depression. This was my mental cage as a non-Christian.
FOR MANY, DISCOURAGEMENT IS REASONABLE
Now, it should be acknowledged that there are many people who should be discouraged. Regardless of their thought habits, a state of discouragement is reasonable for many people in this world. People who fear the future, are discontent in the present, and regret the past should be discouraged. Those who believe their existence is an accident of impersonal random chance in a vast, indifferent universe should be discouraged. People who have no source of hope or joy should be discouraged. People who are afraid of death should be discouraged. It is entirely reasonable for those who have no purpose for their life to be discouraged. People who have no one to thank for the good things they receive and no one to help them through the hard things should be discouraged. Those whose security is their money and for whom pleasure begins and ends with their body should be discouraged.
In my own example, based on where I was in my life, it was entirely reasonable for me to be discouraged. Not good, but reasonable and expected. Objectively, I had reasons to be discouraged about where my life was headed.
And then, in an amazing act of God’s kindness and grace, when I was not seeking Him, but was instead content to wallow in my discouragement, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved me, even when I was dead in my transgressions, made me alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4-5). “My chains fell off. I’ve been set free. The blood of Jesus ransomed me.” The Lord opened the cage and the Son set me free, and I was free indeed (John 8:36)! And so, after my salvation, I never struggled with discouragement or depression ever again. Right? WRONG!
NEW CREATION, OLD HABITS
After my conversion, I passed from death to life (John 5:24) and became a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) and brought into my new life in Christ all the discouragement and depression that had marked my life as an unbeliever. My habits of feeding on discouragement were just as effective at producing depression as a born-again believer as they had been as an unbeliever. But now, everything had changed. Everything was new and the cage was gone. Now, as a follower of Christ, I could change! No longer was I a slave to the harmful habits of the past. Now, when I saw a habit that was harmful or sinful, by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit I could change and break that habit. And that included habits of thinking. My “old man” had bequeathed me the bad habit of letting my mind dwell on discouragement, but now my “old man” was dead and my “new man” desired to be useful to the Master and to be filled with joy and to be a bright light for Jesus, so dwelling on discouragement had to go. And so, a little more than thirty years ago I began to break the habit of discouragement, and I have been making progress ever since.
CHANGE MY DIET. ELIMINATE ALL SOURCES OF DISCOURAGEMENT!
But this morning, I had a breakthrough. As I was thinking about the effects of my changes to my physical diet, I saw the analogy with my mental “diet.” I realized that, as a follower of the Lord Jesus, I have no reason to be discouraged. In fact, it is dishonoring to the Lord for this redeemed sinner, who has received “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3), to be discouraged and depressed like I was when I wallowed in my sin as a rebel and as a spiritual orphan. And since allowing my mind to dwell on discouragement is the primary source of continued discouragement in my life, I resolved to FORBID MY MIND FROM FEEDING ON DISCOURAGEMENT of any kind. Feeding on discouragement is the trans-fat of my thought life, so I am determined to completely eliminate discouragement from my mind’s diet. Do not even snack on discouragement! As my body is to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul (1 Peter 2:11), so my mind is to abstain from discouraging thoughts, which wage war against fruitfulness.
ELIMINATING DISCOURAGEMENT IN PRACTICE
Here are some quick thoughts about how to put this into practice. First, become aware of your thinking and recognize those times when your thoughts are trending toward discouragement. In those times, consciously stop that thinking, ideally out loud. “No! Stop it!” Then second, consciously turn your mind immediately to rejoicing in the goodness of the Lord and giving thanks to the Lord for all of His goodness to you (Psalm 116:12). Replace the first hint of discouragement with songs of rejoicing. You are redeemed! He has rescued you from the pit! What possible reason can there be to be discouraged? And pour out thanksgiving to the Lord. You were thrown out in the open field (Ezekiel 16), but now you are seated at the King’s table as one of His beloved children (read 2 Samuel 9).
Discouragement is spiritual poison and allowing your thoughts to dwell there will drain you of zeal and life. Instead of dwelling there, which is nowhere commended in Scripture, be obedient. Obey 1 Thess. 5:16-18. When you detect discouragement, respond with praise. Become familiar with the psalms and pray them often. Refuse to feed on discouragement. Rejoice and praise the Lord!
SDG rmb 5/11/2022 #528