Everyone understands discouragement. Discouragement is simply a feeling of having lost confidence or hope. Sure the Bible says that all things are working together for good (Romans 8:28) and that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:35). Yet, it is so common to feel otherwise. Discouragement is very real in the pastoral ministry. Sometimes I feel like I have a PHD in discouragement. I have, at times, been profoundly discouraged as well as, at other times, have had over-riding generalized discouragement. I write this article, not because I have conquered discouragement. But since this is a ‘ministry blog’ I figured that it will most likely scratch many of you where you itch. Maybe not itching there today (hopefully), but maybe will be a blessing at some point. Discouragement is very real and can bite us all from time to time. Plus I got it packaged in 5 A’s 😉
As a communicator, I realize that putting it in a specific experience will help explain the concepts. So I will use a very specific discouraging season in my life to show the process. For me, this was the first 18 months of planting Calvary North Bay in Mill Valley, CA. It was a challenging season as I was trying to get a church off the ground in the Bay Area, work a job, as well as a few other situations that caused much discouragement.
For all us, sometimes it is simply hard to acknowledge the reality of our own hearts. I have found that my discouragement tends to linger when I am unwilling to call it what it is. So much in life hinges on acknowledgement. So we can only begin to deal with discouragement by acknowledging that it is there and that God wants to tend to it.
In that season of my life, it took me awhile to acknowledge that I was simply discouraged. My wife knew it. But I was too proud and unwilling to admit that I was discouraged. When I finally was able to say, “Man! I am discouraged!” God was given room to move in my heart.
Once we can acknowledge that we are discouraged then we have to assess its causes. What is the root cause of my discouragement? Is it a holy or an unholy discouragement? An unholy discouragement is one that is rooted in my own heart issues. I am discouraged because God wants to change my heart. A holy discouragement is one that God wants us to change our circumstances.
In that season, there was a mix of unholy and holy discouragement. On the holy side of things, there were specific heart issues that were being revealed. I was struggling to persevere in ministry and in simply trusting God with the church. I was also being unteachable and prideful. On the unholy side, I realized that I had decided to put myself in some very stress-filled situations. It didn’t have to be but I chose to be there. One side of this was the blog sites that I was on. There was a lot of fighting, bickering and everything was generally negative. Another side was that I was trying to change some things that were completely out of my control.
Once we have assessed the root causes of our discouragement, then we need to make an action plan. What is God asking of us? Are there decisions that we have to make? If my discouragement is an unholy one, I often have to spend time in prayer and repentance. When it is a holy discouragement, I have to make tangible decisions to change my circumstances.
For me, I spent much time talking to my wife about what I seeing and feeling. She was incredibly encouraging and convicting in her assessments. I apologized for much and sought the Lord with much passion. I also had to discipline myself to stay away from discouraging situations online. I pulled myself off of blogs that were driven by arguments or by people always thinking the worst of each other. I also decided to stop trying to change things that are not my responsibility or calling. I needed to focus on what God had put in front of me.
This is all about making sure that I don’t have to re-learn a lesson by not following through on the things that I have learned. This is the thoroughness of keep checking back and ensuring that I wasn’t allowing myself to slip back into the same types of discouragements. In many ways, this is about valuing God’s lessons enough to really want to see them implemented.
I have to keep going back and making sure that I am still living out what I have learned. I have to remind myself that I get to chose what I involve myself in online. I have made a commitment to myself not to engage in endless debates on the internet (especially with people that I do not know). It is one thing to work out issues with friends or people who God has called me to walk through life with in the local body, it is another thing to have endless run arounds with people who you have never met and most likely never will. God has called me to love all people but that doesn’t mean that I need to be involved in every debate with every person sitting in front of a computer. There is to much important ministry to do to get sidetracked. I also need to make sure that I am always doing exactly what God has called me to. In ministry, there are infinite needs and infinite good things to do. But what has God called me to? And simply keeping to that.
Finally, as in all of life, it is all about seeing God’s grace at work. In my discouragement, God’s grace is at work. When the issue is in my heart, God wants to apply his grace afresh to my failings. When my chosen circumstances cause me to be discouraged, God’s grace is at work there as well (even if I am realizing that I am not supposed to be there). So in all of these situations, there is no judgment, there is only grace. And God’s grace is to be appreciated!