Summary: We all face discouragement. So how do we defend against it. This message helps.
Anyone who has served within the arena of Christian service knows that we are not void or excluded from the pangs of discouragement. It may not always be a problem, but there is always the potential for discouragement. I believe the devil sees to it that this is the case. Discouragement is more than a casual possibility, it is a weapon in the arsenal of the enemy. There are times that this universal weapon has been used against all of us.
I have found myself defending against its subtlety many times. At times, I have found myself a colander instead of a container, where my motivation and morale seemed to be draining away through a hundred holes. I wanted to quit. Pastor Robert Morgan shared that he will never forget his battle, as he lay in bed one night visualizing the devil standing over him, repeatedly plunging a knife labeled “Failure” into his heart.
Discouragement is the occupational hazard of ministry, and some of the most famous and faithful servants through church history struggled with billowing depression. Take Charles Spurgeon, for example. Despite being the most far-famed and successful preacher of his day, he was often so afflicted with depression that he could hardly function. He once delivered a lecture entitled “The Minister’s Fainting Fits” which he started with these words: “As it is recorded that David, in the heat of battle, waxed faint, so may it be written of all the servants of the Lord. Fits of depression come over the most of us... The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy.”
We may have no eternal reason to get discouraged, but we often can be. Most of us grow discouraged because of four things: The first is friction. You know, when relationships are strained, or facing crossroads, there arises a friction between hearts. *Friction occurs when two connected objects are moving in opposite directions at the same time. And when that happens with relationships, it incurs friction, and we can become discouraged. We often feel isolated and lonely, which usually leads to discouragement, and even depression.
The second cause is fatigue. Americans, in general, are the most exhausted people in the world. One minister said once, that he felt “like a goldfish swimming around in a blender two-thirds full of water. And someone’s finger is on the high switch,” he said. We’re supposed to be sheep in green pastures, but we’ve become goldfish in whirling blenders. Americans coast-to-coast are tired, tense, worn-out, over-extended, and under-funded. Thirty to fifty percent suffer some degree of sleep deprivation; whereas earlier generations were in bed about nine hours per night, the average adult now gets less than seven hours sleep. And when we’re weary physically, we become worn down emotionally, which leads to discouragement.
The third factor is feelings of failure. Notice I didn’t say “failure” but “feelings of failure.” For I genuinely believe: In God’s will there is no failure, and out of His will there is no success. But the perception of failure can dog us relentlessly. We work our fingers to the bone, we exhaust ourselves, but when we sink into bed at night, we aren’t sure we’ve really accomplished anything of eternal significance. One psychologist has asserted in his writings that the underlying cause of depression is the belief that our actions will be futile. A lack of perceived significance can cause us to get discouraged.
The fourth factor in discouragement, within the arena of Christian ministry, is fewness of number, or lack of perceived fruitfulness. Success nowadays almost always comes framed in digital terms. Everything is judged by numbers, by nickels and noses, and that philosophy has seeped into our view of church work. I have sat with many pastors and church workers, and felt discouraged as they spoke of their success, when at the time I was looking defeat right in the eye.
Many other factors, of course, can contribute to discouragement. Yet for what it’s worth to you, the same afflictions also befell the heroes of the Bible. Elijah and Moses and Jonah all grew so discouraged in the Lord’s work they prayed for death. Jeremiah spent his whole life in the throes of depression. John the Baptist asked, “Are you really the Messiah or should we look of someone else?” David said, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul, and why art thou disquieted within me?” Even the Apostle Paul said that he was once so weary and worried in ministry that he couldn’t preach the Gospel though a great door had opened to him.
Paul never had an easy time of ministry. He began his career by persecuting the wrong group. Then in the process of being converted, he lost his eyesight. After regaining his vision, he was almost killed in Damascus, escaping from the city like a fugitive. Coming to Jerusalem, he was treated by suspicion by the Christians and with hostility by the Jews. Returning to his hometown of Tarsus, he was rejected and beaten. He once testified, “I have worked harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked…”