If you are over forty, you have heard the voice of discouragement in your head and are familiar with it’s painful sting. Some of us have heard it before then, but I reckon by age forty everyone has heard it sooner or later. Discouragement is something that I think all of us have to deal with sooner or later. To be discouraged is to be disconnected from courage. That sums it up for me: because when we are discouraged we become blind to what can be, we can’t see beyond our current circumstances and thinking.
If faith is seeing with spiritual eyes that which cannot physically be perceived now, then discouragement is a killer of faith, passion, vision, creativity, motivation and strength. Think of how discouragement breaks down anything that is future orientated. With extensive discouragement we become spiritually blind to the possibilities of the future and with time, paralysed by discouragement.
John Bunyan who wrote Pilgrims Progress was familiar with discouragement, he writes: “I had my temptations attending me…Sometimes I would be assaulted with great discouragement therein, fearing that I should not be able to speak the Word at all… at which times I should have such a strange faintness and strengthlessness seize upon my body that my legs have scarce been able to carry me.”
I think that discouragement can display itself in our bodies physically with a huge lack of energy, even depression or sleeplessness. It is not something that just happens in one day, I think it is a slow creep of a loss of courage that infiltrates every area of our lives.
What causes us to become discouraged?
- When we have not been as successful as we hoped for. This is an obvious one and can plague one at any age, but I think this becomes very real when we start to feel older, or we come to an end of a project. In Elijah’s case he had just slaughtered all the priests that belonged to Jezebel as well as called upon God to make it rain. He saw great power of God revealed. However, now Jezebel is threatening his life and he does not feel so successful anymore because he knows that the people have not yet returned to God.
- When we feel that the prospects for our future are looking bleak and we are “never going to get through this thing.” Our hope begins to waver, or becomes slowly eroded. Here, Elijah’s future is not sure, Jezebel wants to kill him and he runs for his life.
- When we feel that life and God has been unfair to us. We say things like “I have been a good person; I have worked hard for God and look at where I find myself.” When Elijah finds himself under the broom tree in 1 Kings 19:1-20, he says in verse 10 “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty…I am only one left…”
- We feel that people are untrustworthy and are probably going to hurt us. Particularly with age, we develop a type of cynicism towards people. Elijah expected the Israelites to return to God, but instead they “rejected your covenant, broke down your altars and put your prophets to death with the sword.”(verse 10). He even says that “…now they are trying to kill me too.”
- We become introspective, self centered and even self promoting. We constantly look at who we are, what we are doing and how we have been wronged. Elijah says: “I have been zealous for the Lord, but they have….I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
- We become fatigued from the fight and have not been replenished. We find ourselves tired, weary, needing time to ourselves, wanting to get away, to separate ourselves from people. Elijah finally finds that space under the broom tree, has no capacity left and is willing to die.
As we become more and more discouraged, our faith turns to fear and we start to run away, physically and spiritually. We separate ourselves, and then isolate ourselves. We slowly give into negativity, opting out of what we are doing, reducing our commitments. We start complaining, seeing problems in everything and we become spiritually suicidal, killing what faith we do have. We see Elijah who despite killing priests, becomes afraid, runs away, and leaves his servant behind, goes further to a place all by himself. He comes to a “broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, I am no better than my ancestors.”
It is a reality of the world we live in that there are people so discouraged that they would rather die. Or they wish they could die. They no longer have vision for their lives, or purpose. They are tired, fatigued and would rather opt out of life altogether.
Even believers can be discouraged. Here was Elijah, a servant of the Lord, who had done great things in the name of the Lord, discouraged. When we allow discouragement to take hold of our lives, even those of us that have a strong faith can lose touch with God. Like David, even the strongest amongst us can say “Why so downcast oh my Soul? Why so disturbed within me?” (Psalm 42:5)
All of us are prone to discouragement.
God however does not abandon Elijah as Elijah has abandoned him. God always knows where we are and He understands that the “journey is too much for you.”(Verse 7) He sends help in the form of an angel and starts the process of restoration.
But I am hoping that identifying the symptoms and process of discouragement may have helped you to identify what it is that is ailing your faith, your lack of vision. I personally didn’t believe that Christians could be discouraged, until I found myself deeply discouraged with a broken heart before the Lord. There are many of us that walk around with our Christian smiles and our discouraged hearts. As Charles Spurgeon said: “There are dungeons beneath the castles of despair.”
Father, thank you for showing me what discouragement looks like and how it can totally destroy vision, hope and purpose in my life. Help me to look to You as the One who does not abandon me, but is always faithful to draw me back to a place of restoration again. I look to You as the One who cares for me and will restore me to my path again. In Jesus name I pray.