Lesson 3 - Overcoming Discouragement


2 Corinthians 4:16, "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.


Introduction

John Bunyan was born in England in 1628. He received little schooling, but became a deacon in a Baptist church when he was 27 years-old and immediately saw success as a preacher. Because at that time it was illegal to preach without a license from the government and Bunyan belonged to an illegal denomination, he spent a total of 12 years in prison before dying at age 60. Bunyan wrote his most famous book, The Pilgrim’s Progress, while in prison. It is an allegory meant to illustrate the difficulties faced by Christians.

The Pilgrim’s Progress tells the story of a man named Christian who is on his way to the Celestial City. In their travels, Christian and his companion are captured by a giant named Despair and locked away in a castle called “Doubting Castle.” The giant starves his prisoners and beats them every day, trying to make Christian and Hopeful commit suicide. Finally, Christian remembers he has a key tucked in his clothes. The key is called Promise. Christian and his companion use the key to unlock their chains and escape the giant and his castle. In this episode, Bunyan shows how Christians can be captured and imprisoned by discouragement and doubt, but that they can overcome discouragement by remembering who God is and what He has promised.

What is discouragement?

Discouragement is the lack of courage or confidence. It’s easy to become discouraged when we are disappointed or tired. At such times, we feel we cannot or do not want to go on. 1 Kings 19 tells the story of how Elijah became extremely discouraged after things didn’t turn out the way he expected. God had just helped Elijah win a huge victory over the priests of Baal, and now Elijah expected that the idol-worshiping king and queen of Israel would repent. Instead, the queen swore that she would kill Elijah. Elijah ran for his life.

We also become discouraged from time to time, just like God’s great servants in the Bible. James 5:17 says, “Elijah was a man just like us.” Everyone has emotions, vulnerabilities, and physical limits.


What causes discouragement?

We become discouraged for many reasons. Oftentimes, the cause of our discouragement is a combination of emotional, physical, and spiritual challenges that make the situation seem impossible. Like the character in The Pilgrim’s Progress, we are held captive by despair and doubt. Some of the challenges that can cause discouragement include:

  1. Emotional challenges such as feelings of loneliness and abandonment, lack of self-confidence, fear of persecution, and personal loss and grief.
  2. Physical challenges such as illness, lack of sleep, a gloomy environment, and clinical depression.
  3. Spiritual challenges such as lack of prayer and unrepented sin.

But we can overcome discouragement in our lives because of God. No matter what obstacles we face in our lives, God is bigger than those obstacles. In Elijah’s case, God led Elijah back to Mount Horeb (also known as Mount Sinai where God met with Moses). Elijah met God face-to-face and then obeyed God’s direction to go back and continue what God had called him to do. In the same way, God can help us overcome discouragement in our lives by finding the reasons to continue doing His work.

How to overcome discouragement

1. Remember there are seasons to everything


Abraham Lincoln told a story about an ancient king who asked his wise men to find a saying that would always be applicable, no matter the situation. After much searching, the wise men presenting the king with a simple sentence: “And this, too, shall pass away.” The king paused to think about the statement, and then rewarded his wise men for discovering a truth that was relevant in both good times and bad.

When we are discouraged because of difficulties in life, we need to remember that the trouble will pass. God allows us to go through difficulties in order to help us grow as Christians, but He also gives us times of rest and refreshment. God can use any difficulty to teach and train us.


Hebrews 12:10-11, "Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."


2. Remember God will never leave nor forsake us

God will never leave nor forsake us in the midst of our trial. There is a popular Christian poem titled “Footprints in the Sand” that beautifully illustrates this truth.


One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord.
Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.
In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand.
Sometimes there were two sets of footprints,
other times there was one only.

This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life,

when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow, or defeat,

I could see only one set of footprints, so I said to the Lord,

"You promised me Lord, that if I followed you,

You would walk with me always.
But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life,
there has only been one set of footprints in the sand.
Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?"

The Lord replied,

"The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child,

is when I carried you."


God is faithful to us and will be with us as we go through the storms and low points of life. He will never leave us or forsake us. We need to realize He is there, giving us support and protecting us, even in the midst of trials.

In 2 Kings, the Bible tells the story of when the Arameans, who were enemies of the Israelites, came to capture Elisha, the prophet of God. The Aramean army surrounded the city that Elisha was staying in during the night. Read the story below, then consider how Elisha trusted God when others might have been discouraged.


2 Kings 6:15-17, "When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. "Oh, my lord, what shall we do?" the servant asked.

"Don't be afraid," the prophet answered. "Those who are with us are more than those who are with them."

And Elisha prayed, "O LORD, open his eyes so he may see." Then the LORD opened the servant's eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha."


3. Repent of our sin

Sometimes, when we are discouraged or feel distant from God, it is because there is something in our life that is hindering us spiritually. If you read Isaiah 30, you can see how Israel relied on human wisdom to solve their problems, but God told them to repent and make sure they are right with Him first—then He will save them from their enemies.

Isaiah 30:15-16, " This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says:

In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it.

You said, 'No, we will flee on horses.'
Therefore you will flee!
You said, 'We will ride off on swift horses.'
Therefore your pursuers will be swift!"


In the same way, when we are worried and looking for help, we need to make sure there is nothing separating us from a right relationship with God. If we try to take care of things on our own but ignore our relationship with God, things will only get worse.

4. Focus on Jesus

To overcome discouragement, you need to look to Jesus. It’s easy to get discouraged when we put our trust in people or focus on our troubles. But if we keep our feet planted on the solid rock of Jesus, we can remain steady in the midst of life’s storms.


Remember Psalm 23: “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Throughout the psalm, the writer keeps the focus on God and not the blessings, difficulties, or enemies. God is the one who leads him and feeds him, who guides him in paths of righteousness, who protects him in the valley, and who promotes him in the presence of his enemies. In the same way, when we are discouraged or face trouble, we need to keep our hope fixed on God.

Paul basically said the same thing in his letter to the Corinthians, where he explains how he and his companions can carry on in the ministry despite such difficulty.


2 Corinthians 4:16-18, "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."


5. Fan the flames

Everyone faces discouragement, but we can overcome discouragement through the power of God. Christians have the Holy Spirit that lives inside them and works in them, to change them to become more like Jesus.

We can think of the activity of the Holy Spirit like a fire that burns inside of us. When we feed the fire and fan the flames, it burns brighter. The increased activity of the Holy Spirit inside us will give us boldness and courage to love people, speak the truth, deal with difficult issues, and persevere in our mission. But if we ignore the Holy Spirit and aren’t careful to consume spiritual fuel, our fire will die down so that just embers are left.

How can we feed our spiritual fire? The following activities are examples of how the Bible says we can build ourselves up spiritually:

  1. Edify your spirit by speaking in tongues. 1 Corinthians 14:4.
  2. Read the stories of great Christians who set an example for us. Hebrews 12:1.
  3. Gather together in Christian fellowship. Hebrews 10:25.


1 Samuel 30:6, "And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God."


Conclusion

Christians will experience times of doubt and discouragement, but we can overcome by remembering and trusting in the promises of God.

Discussion Questions


1. What are the emotional, physical, and spiritual causes of discouragement?
2. Why do you think God allows us to go through periods of discouragement? What are the benefits of going through these experiences?
3. Why do you think unrepented sin can cause discouragement? What is the effect of unrepented sin?
4. How do you feed your spiritual fire?