Know Thy Enemy - Discouragement
Know Thy Enemy; Discouragement
By Nick McDowell
It wasn’t the first time, but it sure felt painful…
I had just been ‘dumped’ by a girl that I had been dating for a month or so and it completely blind-sided me. It wasn’t the first time I’d been on the wrong side of a romantic relationship gone bad, but this time it was different. It was my 5th year (5th!) attending a Christian University and I had myself convinced that if I didn’t find my wife at this particular school, then I would never find a Christian woman in the “outside” world. I know, I know…kind of a limited view of God, right?
It was this limited view that made the ending of another dating relationship so painful. Not just painful, but discouraging. The timing of it brought me to the terrifying realization that this meant closing the book on my wife being at this Christian University. My response was not simply anger, but it was a very long, drawn-out period of feeling depressed and discouraged. I had little motivation to do things, interact with others, or to push forward at school. By God’s grace I was able to move forward, but it was easily the worst of my 5 years of college.
Discouragement can hit us in a variety of ways. It can come as the result of a sudden event, an unkind word spoken to us, something not working out the way we thought, or simply a series of small, not-so-good moments that build up over time. However it might hit us, the enemy wants to use the challenging circumstances in our life to discourage us and keep us from serving God to the best of our abilities.
Here are a few ways the enemy uses discouragement to veer us away from God’s path:
Loss of perspective - Discouragement inherently focuses on the present circumstances and oftentimes will cause our thoughts and emotions to perceive a situation as being much worse than it actually is. In my discouragement from the above situation, I equated having a girl end a romantic relationship with me to never being able to find a wife. The enemy uses discouragement to cause us to lose a realistic perspective.
No motivation – Discouragement can bring us to a place where we have no motivation or drive to achieve, work hard, or move forward in life. We throw up our hands and think “what’s the point!?” and want to quit. The enemy loves seeing Christians sitting on the sidelines unengaged.
Cynicism – Eventually discouragement can give way to downright cynicism. A few things don’t go our way, we get down, and then we assume people (or even God) will always hurt you, mislead you, and lie to you. A cynical attitude is one that the enemy would like to keep you practicing.
Spreading the negativity – The above comic strip says it all (I love me some Calvin and Hobbes!) If we aren’t careful, our discouragement can become others’ discouragement. We can be tempted to think that by sharing our negative thoughts with others that we’re ‘processing’ or ‘venting’, but we must be careful. The enemy loves to take our discouragement and spread it to others.
Distorting our view of God – Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of discouragement is that if we allow our hearts and minds to remain in a place of discouragement, it will eventually bring us to a place where we no longer trust God. My “failures” in the dating world were used by the enemy to speak lies (another tactic of the enemy). God didn’t care about me. He didn’t love me. He wasn’t good. How could He be these things and keep me from what I wanted.
So what can we do to fight the enemy on the battlefield of discouragement?
In the book of Hebrews, the author spends time in the latter part of the book outlining some of the people from the past who served the Lord faithfully, but did not get to see the promises made to them by God come to fruition before they died. These individuals serve as witnesses for us to keep serving God faithfully. In addition to this, Jesus faced the ultimate suffering (and definitely experienced discouragement), but because He believed in the joy that would come after suffering, He remained faithful to His mission. Here is what the author writes:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
~ Hebrews 12:1-3 ~
Just as the witnesses of the past remained faithful despite discouraging times and just as Jesus remained faithful despite all His suffering, so too can we “not grow weary and lose heart” when we keep our eyes FIXED on Jesus.
So if you’re discouraged…
Keep an eternal perspective. Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill. Sometimes we have bad days, and remember that Jesus tells us in John 16:33 that we will have trouble in this world. But He is there by our side through it all and He understands being frustrated and discouraged. He overcame it and with His help, we will overcome it as well. Pain and loss in this world is temporary, but our joy will be eternal in heaven someday.
Surround yourself with encouraging “witnesses”. Just like we have the witnesses of the past mentioned in Hebrews 12, put people around you who will speak love, truth, and encouragement into your life. One of the things I love about my church (Countryside Nazarene) is our Connect Groups Ministry. It’s a great time to develop friendships and connections. We bear one another’s burdens and encourage one another. It is so important to have God’s family and community in our life.
Take another step. Life is full of seasons that are up and down. The author of Hebrews says to run the race with perseverance. We don’t quit. Even when it’s a rough season, we keep trusting a loving God that He is in control and we give it over to Him. We take the next step of the journey and we live out a daily faith that God is still there by our side.
I still have discouraging days, but God continues to provide what I need each and every day. And as for my concerns in finding a wife, let’s just say I’m a HAPPILY married man . God knows what He’s doing! Trust Him. Don’t be discouraged. Don’t grow weary and lose heart. Remember what Jesus endured for our sake and keep moving forward!