When I am discouraged, obedience is difficult

INTRODUCTION. Another post (see #530 on May 13, 2022) on the subject of discouragement and how the believer can and should fight to be free of this condition.

I have posted two articles recently on this idea of fighting discouragement. My purpose has been to help believers see that, of all people, we have the most reasons to be encouraged, and that discouragement should be a place where we spend very little time.

The first article (post #528 on May 11, 2022) was on changing our mental diet. The idea is that the main contributor to being a discouraged Christian is not being careful about your mental diet. Therefore, starve your mind of dwelling on discouraging thoughts. Do not allow your mind to eat any mental food that discourages, but rather train your mind to remain fixed on God’s goodness, on the blessings He has bestowed on you and promised you, and spend large amounts of time in God’s Word, the Bible.

The second article (post #530 on May 13) was about how many of the ideas that would lead to discouragement for the unbeliever should not affect the believer because of the promises given to the believer in the Bible.

In this article, my main idea will be to show that it is difficult for the discouraged Christian to be an obedient Christian. Now, this may sound strange at first. How would discouragement make me less obedient as a believer? What is the connection between obedience and encouragement? Well, consider the following situations.

  • The Scripture commands us in many places to be thankful and the believer has uncountable reasons to thank God no matter what the circumstances, but when you are discouraged, how can you be thankful to God? Are you going to thank God for the things that discourage you? No, you are not. So, the discouraged person is not a thankful person. But the believer knows that not being thankful is a sin. It is disobedient to not be thankful. The fact is that discouragement hinders or stops thankfulness, so discouragement must go! So, when you are discouraged, even for a moment, begin thanking God for all His goodness and provision to you. Soon you will not be discouraged!
  • Jesus Himself gives His disciples a “new commandment” in John 13:34, that we are to love one another. This is a direct command from the Lord Jesus. The believer is to focus on loving others and not focus on himself. But when a person is discouraged, they are usually focusing on self, not on others. Being self-centered and selfish is a sin (Phil. 2:3-4).  Instead of being focused on self and feeling sorry for yourself, immediately begin praying for someone you know and consider how you can do a better job of giving yourself away for others (2 Cor. 12:15).
  • The Bible gives us many commands to rejoice, but how can you obey those commands when you are discouraged? Rejoice always. (1 Thess. 5:16). Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord (Phil. 3:1). Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I will say rejoice (Phil. 4:4). It is difficult to obey the command to rejoice if your heart is heavy and you are discouraged. On the other hand, it is hard to be discouraged if you are rejoicing in the Lord! Will you be obedient and rejoice, or will you be discouraged and disobedient? Sing! Rejoice! Praise the Lord!
  • The obedient believer is content in all circumstances (Phil. 4:12), and the believer’s contentment testifies to God’s generosity toward His children. But when the believer is discouraged, it is very easy also to be discontent. Your discouragement will poison your contentment and will often lead to grumbling about what God has not provided or to coveting what others have and you want. Discouragement endangers your contentment. So, deliver yourself from your discouraging thoughts and you will see contentment return. The Lord provides!
  • We have been “created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Eph. 2:10). We are to be a “people for Christ’s own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:14). The believer is “to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed” (Titus 3:1), and “to be careful to engage in good deeds” (Titus 3:8). Every believer has been created in Christ Jesus (born again, saved, converted, redeemed, etc.) to be a witness for Christ (Acts 1:8) and to accomplish the work God has given us to do (John 17:4). But when we are discouraged, we are not available for good works. The discouraged believer lacks the joy or the energy to accomplish the work they have been given to do. The discouraged believer is not a zealous believer. So, to engage in good deeds the believer must shed the clothes of discouragement and be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18) and press toward the goal (Phil. 3:14).
  • The believer is to let their light shine before men so that God is glorified (Matthew 5:16), but the discouraged believer has a dim, flickering light that does not shine before men. The encouraged believer shines forth a bold, pure light which attracts people to the light and hopefully to the Light of the world, but the discouraged believer’s light is not attractive. People are attracted by vigor and joy and life and light, and so the encouraged believer gives them a reason to draw near. On the other hand, the discouraged believer seems to feel the same heaviness the rest of the world feels, and so the world passes by. The obedient believer will let their light shine, and that means discouragement must go.
  • The believer is to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Although this verse is worded as a declarative statement (i.e., a fact, not a command), it is certainly intended to be an expectation for all believers, and thus has the force of a command. The obedient believer is to proclaim God’s excellencies. But once again, we find that the discouraged believer has no voice for proclaiming the gospel and has no courage for telling of God’s excellencies. Thus, the discouraged believer is not able to obey the Lord’s command, and the primary reason they cannot obey is that they remain in a state of discouragement. Christian! Get rid of discouragement! Sing praises to the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord. Rejoice!

In conclusion, then, I offer these thoughts to encourage the discouraged to shake free of those thoughts and habits that are robbing you of the joy and vigor of the vibrant life in Christ. Change your diet to feast on the riches of Christ and the encouragement that every believer has in Him (Phil. 2:1). Give thanks! Rejoice! Proclaim! Give yourself away to others!

SDG                 rmb                 5/17/2022                   #531

For the believer, the sources of discouragement are gone

INTRODUCTION. Another post (see #528 on May 11, 2022) on the subject of discouragement and how the believer can and should fight to be free of this condition.

EXPECT TO BE DISCOURAGED

A few days ago I posted an article on “discouragement” (see #528 on May 11). In that article, I made the statement that discouragement is the expected state for many people in this world just based on their discouraging state of mind. For example, if you fear the future, and are discontent in the present, and regret the past, you should be discouraged. If you believe your existence is an accident of impersonal random chance in a vast, indifferent universe, you should expect to be discouraged. If you are afraid of death, then expect to be discouraged. If you have no meaningful purpose for your life, you will be discouraged. Sooner or later, even the most optimistic person will be crushed by these ideas and will become discouraged, then depressed, and then probably will feel hopeless. Bottom line is, if this is you, you should expect to be discouraged.

Now, I want to think some more about this phenomenon of a discouraging state of mind. There are two things to observe about the discouraging thoughts that I listed above. First, these thoughts can occur to anyone, regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity, physical health, monetary status, marital status, national origin, or any other natural distinction. Because these are thoughts and concepts in the mind, they can occur to anyone. That’s first.

BUT NOT THE BELIEVER!

But second and more profound, these thoughts should not be present to any great measure to the follower of Jesus. Here’s why I say that.

  • Fear of the future. In this life, “all things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28), so there is no need to fear the future in this life. When I die, I will go to heaven (Phil. 1:23) and at the resurrection, I will receive a glorified body and will forever be with the Lord (1 Thess. 4:17), so there is no need to fear the future after death. The believer should not fear the future.
  • Discontent in the present. The believer is to give thanks in everything (1 Thess. 5:18) and is to be content in whatever circumstances they are (Phil. 4:11-12; Job 1:21; 1 Timothy 6:6-8), so there is no reason to grumble or be discontent.
  • Regret the past. “Forgetting what lies behind, and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize” (Phil. 3:13-14). The Bible says that the believer can forget what lies behind, so no regret. The “body of sin” from my past is gone (Romans 6:6). “I have been crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20), so there is no past sin remaining to be regretted. I am a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), and as a new creation, I have no past to regret.
  • My existence is an accident of impersonal random chance. One of the great benefits of being an atheist or an evolutionist is that you believe that, in your very essence, you are an accident of impersonal random chance. This points to the fact that your existence (or non-existence, for that matter) cannot be of any significance, because it is impossible for the results of impersonal random events to have any inherent meaning. For the follower of Jesus, however, who knows that he has been formed in His mother’s womb by the living God (Psalm 139:13-14) and has been chosen before the foundation of the world for salvation (Ephesians 1:4) by the maker of heaven and earth (Genesis 1:1), his life has immense significance. He will pour out his life to God as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1).
  • Afraid of death. The natural man, regardless of his futile attempts to deny it and disguise it, is afraid of death. Death is God’s judgment on sin, and as such, causes fear in the depths of man’s soul. It is fear of death that has motivated man to create his demonic religions, but these will do him no good on the day of judgment. The natural man has no answer for death, and yet death relentlessly approaches with each passing day. But for the follower of Jesus, death has no sting (1 Cor. 15:54). For the Christian, “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). It is after death that the believer receives the crown of life (Rev. 2:10). Because Jesus is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25-26), the one who believes in Him will never die.
  • No meaningful purpose in life. The vast majority of people spend their lives without a mission or a purpose. Even people whom the world evaluates as “successful” are simply better at doing what the world values than other people but ask them to describe to you their mission and they are at a loss. The best most people have is a worldly idea to gather together more stuff. But the follower of Jesus has been given a mission by the Lord Jesus Himself. Part of the birthright of the born-again is the Great Commission. “Go and make disciples” (Matt. 28:19-20). Also, I am to be Christ’s witness (Acts 1:8). I am to glorify God and enjoy Him forever (Westminster Confession). Whatever I do in life can be measured against these great mission statements. The Christian should not be discouraged because there are always more opportunities to be a witness for Christ. My purpose and my mission have been given to me by the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Jesus Himself has given me personally my mission and my purpose. And so, the believer should not be discouraged because their life is full of purpose. The mission is clear, and it is exciting.

So, brothers and sisters in the Lord, let’s shed the grave clothes of discouragement and let’s put on the robe of Christ’s righteousness (Isaiah 61:10) and rejoice!

My next post on this subject will describe why it is so difficult for the discouraged believer to be obedient to the Scriptures.

SDG                 rmb                 5/13/2022                   #530

Change your diet. No longer feed on discouragement.

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