Are You Living a Cruise Ship Lifestyle?

5-15-13 cruise shipWhat is a cruise ship lifestyle?

Let’s look at the book of Isaiah for a succinct description.

“Woe to those who rise early in the morning that they may pursue strong drink, who stay up late in the evening that wine may inflame them! Their banquets are accompanied by lyre and harp, by tambourine and flute, and by wine; But they do not pay attention to the deeds of the Lord, nor do they consider the work of His hands.” (Isaiah 5:11-12)

The pursuit of strong drink? Check. Staying up late? Check. Lots of food and music? Yep, those too. Neglect of God? Unfortunately, seems prevalent. If you’ve ever been on a cruise, you’ll recognize how Isaiah’ describes well what a cruise vacation looks like for most people.

Unfortunately, a cruise ship lifestyle seems to be becoming more commonplace as an overall lifestyle approach. But how might this look off a cruise ship? Since it would look different for every person, let me describe what it might look like in my own life if I did nothing to prevent it.

“Distress and affliction to she who gets up in the morning to pursue strong coffee because she stayed up too late the night before watching television. Her eating habits consist of potato chips and ice cream, and she does nothing but sit around and read novels all day long. She fails to pay attention to what the Holy Spirit wants her to do, and she completely ignores His direction on a regular basis. No exercise. No writing. No housework.”

Once I got rolling on how this lifestyle might look for me, I had to force myself to stop. And it was actually eye-opening for what could so easily happen should I fail to constantly renew my mind in a way that leads to a counter-cultural life directed by God’s Word.

While going on a cruise does not cause a permanent downward spiral away from a productive life, doing nothing to avoid this type of lifestyle will eventually lead one.

Preventing an Unproductive Life

Vacation Brain discusses the remedy of an unproductive life as being a renewing of the mind, and Understanding the Symptoms of Vacation Brain helps create awareness of the power of these symptoms to disrupt life. And while renewing the mind certainly needs to be a refocusing tool, another approach involves preventing the symptoms in the first place.

Refocusing and preventing can help one live a productive life on a consistent, long-term basis.
Prior to going on our first cruise, my husband and I set several goals that, if achieved, would equal a successful vacation in our minds. Likewise, having life goals also helps prevent the cruise ship lifestyle from impacting our whole lives. At the same time, working consistently toward goals helps get the most out of every aspect of our lives.

Setting goals and constantly creating an awareness helps maintain focus. Goals provide a status check that helps prevent being sucked into culture and away from God.

cruise

Cruises Are Not Evil

Please know that I do not consider cruises to be evil. I have been on two of them and am currently planning a third. In fact, I believe cruises provide a great way to disconnect as a way to reconnect. They give dedicated time to completely relax and put life on hold for a while.

However, existing in an atmosphere where the desires of the flesh are catered to can be a dangerous place. This lifestyle can be so appealing that adapting at least parts of it into real life becomes increasingly easy the more one refuses to resist that culture.

One can adapt a cruise ship lifestyle without ever stepping foot on a boat. Our culture, on land or at sea, caters to the desires of the flesh. And if we do nothing to prevent it, those desires become our focus and will eventually derail us spiritually, mentally and physically.

DISCUSSION: What do you recommend to prevent drifting toward a cruise ship lifestyle?

Stability Amidst Constant Change

Serenity Prayer

Strange Things Are Happening

Wrinkles. Slowing metabolism. Almost constant aches and pains. Physical changes resulting from aging.

Driving. Dating. Independence. Teen boys growing into adults. Life’s seasons usher in change.

Friendships fade. Marriages end. Busyness distracts. Life’s choices result in the rippling impact of change.

“Strange things are happening.” So goes the song in Toy Story to reflect the pain accompanying life’s inevitable changes.

Change brings new excitement along with nostalgic longing to relive moments and feelings. And of course, regret shows up in the process of change too.

My heart aches from change at times. I can’t keep up, and my comfort zone feels tight.

“They say that change is good, but it isn’t.” (Sheldon Cooper, Big Bang Theory)

Out of control weight gain. Families growing apart. Estrangement. No, change is not always good.

But it is inevitable. Sometimes we can shape the change as it comes. Sometimes, we simply have to choose how we let change shape us.

The only constant in life is change. At least, that seems to be truth when the focus lies with how change challenges our comfort and expectations. We must learn to expect the unexpected and deal with change as it comes at us. Right?

Fortunately, we have another option.

Change As A Catalyst For Transformation

My oldest resists change. He’d like the same meal routine week in and week out, and he’d also like to stay well within the realm of the known and expected at all times. Change visibly shakes him, but he eventually accepts and embraces it even if never becoming completely happy about it.

My youngest adapts quickly to change. He even seems to need it and to resist much structure. Change motivates him to activity, much like my morning cup of coffee wakes me up, but he fades quickly until more change comes.

Two extremes, yet neither fully functional. Expected, I suppose, in teenagers. Maturity will hopefully bring balance.

How do you react to change when it happens in your life?

While each of my sons reacts differently to change, both ultimately use it as a catalyst for progress and growth. They don’t stay stuck in their comfort zones.

Stability In The Unchanging

Though my boys respond to change in two very different ways, they both grow and mature through it because they also know stability. They have structure and consistency in their lives as much as two imperfect but being perfected parents can offer.

That stability only exists in our family because God provides it. My husband and I don’t. Our routines don’t. The presence of an unchanging, holy God gives the only real stability and consistency that can exist in a world where all else seems to live in the unexpected even with our desperate attempts at controlling everything.

  • Stability in a God whose character never alters.

“Whatever is good and perfect comes to us from God above, who created all heaven’s lights. Unlike them, He never changes or casts shifting shadows” (James 1:17).

  • Stability from promises that never fade or fail.

“For no word from God will ever fail.” (Luke 1:37)

  • Stability like a rock.

“My God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. He is my refuge, my savior, the one who saves me from violence. (2 Samuel 22:3)

  • The only light to guide in the storm of inconsistency and instability that is life this side of Heaven.

“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5)

Change is inevitable in this world. So too is God’s unchanging nature. Where do you place your focus?

Becoming A Defensive Christian

Defense Wins Championships

Game planSuperbowl 50 brought a lot of controversy and drama. Fortunately, a good game took place too. In fact, the game produced one of the best defensive battles I’ve seen since I started watching football the year of the Super Bowl Shuffle.

Denver prepared by studying tapes of Carolina’s offense, and then they developed their defensive game plan based on what they saw. Good strategy because guess what plays Carolina used during the Super Bowl? Exactly what they’d been using all season. Nothing new. So, excellence in preparation met with amazing talent, and the Denver Broncos pulled out a win few expected.

Our Defensive Strategy

Christian Armor Email SalutationThe championship difference made by the Bronco defense in Super Bowl 50 reminds  me of how a solid defense is crucial to victory in the Christian walk too. (I love how God uses everyday life to speak his truths into my life.)

The Bible certainly calls for a defensive-heavy strategy for success as Christians. Though offense stills remains important, defense certainly receives more options.

There are four specifically defensive weapons in the Armor of God listed in Ephesians 6: the breastplate, shield, belt and helmet. The footwear and the sword could be considered both defensive and offensive weapons.

Defense protects. It keeps the enemy — the opponent — from infiltrating and taking over. Defense keeps the opponent from gaining victory. As Christians, we must become defensive specialists.

Become a Defensive Specialist

While the opponent changes from game to game in football, it remains the same day in and day out for Christians. Since “we are not unaware of his schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:11), we can become defensive specialists too and keep the devil’s point scoring to a minimum. How do we do this?

“Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” (Ephesians 6:11)

Maybe you, like me, learned about the Armor of God in Sunday school but never really understood its application until much later in life. Not until I realized the value of a solid defense in other applications did I truly understand how it must also be a consistent focus in my life as a Christian.

Just as John Elway did with the Denver Broncos, I need to rebuild my defense and develop a strategy that will allow me to lead a more victorious life. I’m  tired of being defeated. I’m tired of feeling exposed. Time to fortify my offense through the strengthening of my defense.

What does a solid defensive strategy using God’s armor look like?

Balanced Goal Setting

DiligentGoal setting has existed in a variety of shapes and sizes for me over the years. I’ve attempted what others have recommended, and some of it worked… sort of… for a little while anyway. In that, I’ve personally experienced great success as well as epic failures with goal setting.

Traditional goal setting— taught via books, classes and websites — has never worked well for me. Bits and pieces, have, but not any approach as a whole. Yet, I cannot give up trying. Something inside of me propels me toward backward and present assessment for the purpose of forward planning.

Scripture about being prepared like the ant (Proverbs 6:6-11), counting the cost (Luke 14:28) and preparing your field (Proverbs 24:27) dominate my thoughts when I think of goal setting. Scripture also touts the importance of diligence…

“The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” (Proverbs 21:5)

But there are also Scripture indicating a futility in goal setting.

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:13-14)

Setting goals without a good dose of humility results in setting ourselves up not just for falling short of our goals but for not enjoying – not truly living in – the present process and moment.

The next verse in James 4 helps bring a balanced perspective to planning and goal setting.

“Instead you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” (James 4:15)

Proverbs 16:9 further emphasizes this balance.

“In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

This scripturally balanced perspective of goal setting gives me peace as I reflect backward and look forward because I can better see both the importance of setting goals and for leaving room for God to change my plans. Ultimately, this means His goals take precedence over mine.

To reach this balance, I find asking a couple questions to be quite helpful.

  • Do my goals make room for the unexpected?
  • Do I love God’s will more than my own?

The most effective mindset for goal setting involves having our own ideas and making our own plans but knowing God will ultimately accomplish His sovereign will.

DISCUSSION: Do you struggle with the idea of goal setting too? Does this more balanced way of thinking help in that struggle?

Gifts to Give Someone Struggling With Depression

Artistic Christmas Tree with GiftsWith Thanksgiving over and Christmas rapidly approaching, many people start to feel the opposite of what they’re supposed to feel this time of year. Instead of feeling joy and happiness, too many instead find themselves depressed.

Depression touches everyone. Most people either know someone who struggles with depression, or they have their own struggle. This comes as no surprise considering the that…

About 9.5% of the U.S. adult population suffers from a depressive disorder in a given year. (That’s about 18.8 million people.)

Depression has been a lifelong battle of mine, and those closest to me have struggled with what to do during my depressed times. For the past five years, though, depression has no longer held a choking grip on me. While still a struggle from time to time, I no longer feel as though I’m barely holding my head above water.

There are 5 gifts others gave that helped me reach victory over depression. At best, these gifts give a depressed person a much-needed lift out of the deep end, and at worst, they don’t do any harm.

  1. Acknowledge feelings. This does not mean to necessarily agree, but it does mean to acknowledge the feelings are real. To say someone who is depressed should not feel a certain way and then proceed to present a case as to why that is true only makes a depressed person feel worse. Simply acknowledge the feelings exist whether or not they are accurate.
  2. Keep advice to yourself. The worse advice I received was anything close to “Just be positive” or “Just cheer up.” My response was always the same: “Don’t you think I would if I could?!” When a person is seriously depressed, no amount of advice is going to bring them out.
  3. Value them and their ideas. To know my ideas and thoughts have value gives amazing encouragement. As with acknowledging feelings, this doesn’t necessarily  mean agreement. It does mean, however, acknowledging a person’s value and ideas even if their reasoning makes little sense.
  4. Listen. Sometimes a depressed person just wants to vent. Being able to vent to someone who listens without judgment takes off some of the heaviness depression creates in a person’s mind.
  5. Confirm loyalty. The person closest to me for most of my life stated more than once, “I will not leave you.” Knowing that no matter how low I got I would not be alone made a tremendous difference in my outlook. At times I didn’t believe it, and I tried to convince him staying was a bad idea. But he held true to his word, and I believe this is one of the main reasons depression no longer controls my life.

There are so many reasons for depression, and those reasons do need addressed in order to be victorious over depression. Along the way, giving the above gifts tells a depressed person he is not alone, that someone will listen and not dismiss his feelings and that someone believes he has value. These gifts can truly make a key difference in helping someone struggle through and find victory over depression… my life is a testimony to this fact.

DISCUSSION: What suggestions do you have for helping someone who is depressed?

See “Making the Church a Safe Place for Mental Illness” by Stephen Altrogge  for another perspective on this topic.

Cultivating Patience

sf_fruit_patience_07Some people seem more naturally patient than others. I’m not one of those people. But that’s not for lack of trying. Unfortunately, my “trying to be patient” never helped me maintain any consistent level of patience.

In Harry Potter Chamber of Secrets, Dumbledore tells Harry…

“It’s not our abilities that show what we truly are. It is our choices.”

Fortunately, this holds true for patience. We can make choices that serve to cultivate consistent patience. We can…

  1. Let the Holy Spirit cultivate patience in us. We do this by becoming increasingly aware of and following His convicting, guiding and encouraging us as well as His focusing, enabling and teaching us. (John 14:16-17)
  2. Make basic physical needs a priority. If I’m tired, hungry or overwhelmed, I have almost no shot at maintaining any level of patience for very long, if at all. (Genesis 25:29-34)
  3. Stop avoiding the difficult stuff. We cultivate patience by practicing it. If we avoid difficult situations and people, we simply won’t see significant growth with patience. (Romans 5:3)
  4. Look for examples to emulate. Spending time with patient people helps us see how patience is lived out. Twenty-seven years married to one of the most insanely-patient people I’ve ever met has drawn me toward patient habits.
  5. Live in forgiveness. Simply put, the quicker I forgive myself and others, the more patience I have with myself and others. (Colossians 3:12-13)
  6. Learn to control what you say. Talking about frustrations, especially when I’m emotional, decreases patience. The sooner I move on from the discussion, the quicker I get back around to patience. (Proverbs 25:15 & Proverbs 21:32)
  7. Stay aware of patience levels. Everyone has limits with regard to patience. We must stay aware of when patience is running thin and learn to walk away before it runs out much like Joseph did when Potipher’s wife continued pursuing him. (Genesis 39)
  8. Know what you can and can’t control. No matter how much I try, I cannot control other people. I struggle enough controlling myself. So, I’m learning to control what I can and to not let the rest eat at me so much. Knowing what I can and can’t control takes the stress off my patience muscle in a huge way.
  9. Wait for God’s timing. Now we come to the matter of faith touched on in Patience is a Virtue. Trusting in God’s timing, or “waiting” on Him, increases our faith as we learn that He handles a great deal of our lives if we simply let Him and refuse to get ahead of His will. (Psalm 5:3, Psalm 25:5, Psalm 27:14, Psalm 62:5 & Proverbs 20:22)

Wait on the Lord HD_mainKnowing I can partner with God and His Spirit to cultivate patience encourages me in tremendous ways because I realize that I don’t have to try and create and maintain patience in my own effort. Partnering in this way not only multiplies the tools available for cultivating patience, but it also helps me understand why patience is so important.

Why is patience important?

Personally, understanding “why” goes a long way in fueling my patience. But more important than asking why patience should be important to me, I want to know why it’s important to God. Here’s what He says…

We have to remember that we simply cannot consistently practice patience — or any of the other fruit of the Spirit — in our own efforts. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit partners with us to accomplish patience in and through us. And when we LET Him do this work in us, our Godly character becomes a testimony of patience to others.

DISCUSSION: How have you become more consistently patient over the years?

Patience is a Virtue

PatienceHeraclitus, a Greek philosopher who lived from 535-475BC, made the following connection between patience and character.

“Good character is not formed in a week or a month. It is created little by little, day by day. Protracted and patient effort is needed to develop good character.”

This quote connects well with one of my personal life philosophies.

“Small steps taken gradually and consistently add up over time to make a huge difference.”

The role patience plays in solid character brings to mind the phrase “patience is a virtue.” This well-known saying comes from the poem “Piers Plowman” written somewhere between 1360-1387 by William Langland.

A virtue is “behavior showing high moral standards.” So this statement, written almost 1000 years ago, equates patience to being a way we can show the state of our morality, or as Heraclitus calls it, our “good character.”

Patience exists as one of the biggest struggles of my life, and I don’t believe I stand alone in this struggle. For these reasons, I want to take a few posts to look at what Scripture says about patience. We won’t get to every point made about patience in the Bible, but we’ll go far enough for immediate and far-reaching impact.

What is patience?

Two different Greek words are used in Scripture for patience.

Galatians 5:22 (the list of the fruit of the Spirit) uses the word “makrothumia” for patience. This word focuses on love for and patience with others.

Romans 5:3 (part of a discussion about peace and hope) uses the word “hupomone” for patience. This word connects patience with hope, such as what we have through our salvation.

Both of these perspectives on patience get at the idea of long-suffering, forbearance, long-tempered, perseverance, constancy and steadfastness (all words used in various Bible translations in place of the above Greek words). Also, both call upon the mind to hold back before expressing itself in action or passion.

Both “makrothumia” and “hupomone” involve using self-control to refrain from letting emotions and feelings direct actions. As a whole concept, patience in the Bible drives home the idea of making choices that reflect our “good character” and our “high moral standards” even when we feel like doing quite the opposite.

One aspect of patience that I find fascinating involves how different it looks from one person to the next. Observing both my husband and myself in our daily lives illustrates this fact quite well, but so does a simple trip to the grocery store. Some people just seem to have an inner disposition toward patience while struggle is obvious for the rest of us.

What’s also interesting is that even though patience comes more easily for some, every person has limits. Those limits exist because of our humanness. Boxer Mike Tyson captured the idea this way:

“Everyone has a plan ‘til they get punched in the mouth.”

What is impatience?

Impatience, according to the Dictionary of Bible Themes, is “a refusal to wait for people or developments, frequently displaying a lack of faith.” Biblical examples of impatience include Esau, Moses, Israel & Saul.

Personally, I describe my history with patience as “consistently inconsistent.” Sounds better than saying I’m often impatient, don’t you think? However it’s said, my impatience shows up consistently when…

    • I lack control over a person or situation.
    • I’m uncomfortable or worn out physically or mentally.
    • My expectations go unmet.
    • I make false assumptions.
    • I fail to forgive someone.
    • I’m hungry.
    • I’ve neglected the other fruit (Galatians 5:5).

Even though patience exists as one of my greatest struggles in life, it also lives as one of my greatest victories. When I realize the progress made in uncountable small steps, I fully understand just how much protracted effort developing a patient character requires.

At the same time, I’m painfully aware of how inadequate I am at becoming consistently patient. On my own, I’m sporadic at best. While I’ve learned that patience comes gradually, I’ve also learned I need a lot of help in cultivating it. In the next post, we’ll look at what that help — really, a partnership — looks like.

DISCUSSION: What does your story of patience look like?

Mountaintop Experiences

Mountaintop1Skiing in Colorado always provides some pretty amazing views. The top of the mountain is the best, of course, and I often want to just stand there a while to enjoy the scenery and to rest. But the point of skiing is going down the mountain.

I’ve been hiking in Colorado too, and making my way to 11,000 feet took tremendous effort (getting to the top for skiing is easy) but was well worth the effort. For both skiing and hiking, though, getting to the bottom took effort.

Whether skiing or hiking, I simply could not stay on the mountaintop forever. Even though I kind of wanted to, and even though the view was amazing and I felt at complete peace, staying there indefinitely just didn’t make sense. The mountaintop is meant as a goal, not a dwelling place.

In Luke 9:28-36, we see that Peter wanted to capture his mountaintop experience and dwell there for a while too.

“…Jesus… took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters — one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what he was saying.)

Peter got caught up in the mountaintop experience just like I have on more than one occasion. He likely felt the peace of the moment and didn’t want to give that up for lesser views.

Mountaintop2Dwelling on the Mountaintop

When we have mountaintop experiences in life, we want to stay and enjoy the view for a while. We do this because…

  • We feel God’s total control of every aspect of life.
  • We feel certain about the reality of the supernatural.
  • We know the memories of the mountaintop tend to fade once we leave.

So we want to stay, and sometimes we do stay. We want constant reminders of who God is and the constant feeling of the peace He provides.

Unfortunately, we sometimes stay much longer than we should, and we end up missing God’s intentions when we dwell there too long. After all, the effort of life — of becoming holy and perfected — happens on the up and down and, of course, in the valley.

“… [with joy] let us exult in our sufferings and rejoice in our hardships, knowing that hardships (distress, pressure, trouble) produces patient endurance; and endurance, proven character (spiritual maturity); and proven character, hope and confident assurance [of eternal salvation]. Such hope [in God’s promises] never disappoints us, because God’s love has been abundantly poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5, AMP)

Leaving the Mountaintop

The mountaintop serves as a goal. It drives us forward. But once we reach it and experience the peace it brings, we must at some point return to the mission field. That’s why Jesus and his disciples had to leave. Jesus’ mission — His death and resurrection — could not take place if he stayed on the mountaintop. It was still before him. Likewise, the disciples mission, which Jesus gave them (and us) later at the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20), was still before them too.

What’s more, reaching a mountaintop does something inside us that can only work itself out in effectiveness as we traverse the side of the mountain and venture into its valley. That’s because mountaintop experiences…

  • Are a testimony to God’s work in our lives.
  • Continue to revitalize us in the valleys as we practice Active Remembering.
  • Point us toward ministry by helping us see God’s vision for what lies ahead.

We simply cannot dwell too long on the mountaintop trying to hold on to that experience if we want its effectiveness to spread to all areas of our lives. We can, however, take the feelings and lessons of the mountaintop experience with us as we journey down allow it to fuel the mission of our lives.

DISCUSSION: When have you dwelt too long on the mountaintop? When have you allowed a mountaintop experience to fuel your life’s mission?

BE Encouraged

God gives Christians a variety of ways to receive encouragement, including through scripture, through the Holy Spirit and through fellowship with other Christians. All of these provide consistent and bountiful resources of encouragement for His children.

Even in this abundance, we’ve all come across a brother or sister who simply refuses to be encouraged. They’re usually identified by the words “Yeah, but…” in response to any sort of verbal encouragement and often appear blind to any other sort of encouragement.

With total transparency here, I must admit I’ve been that person way too often. Not only have I refused verbal encouragement at times, I could hardly stand to be in an encouraging atmosphere (worship service, for example).

At its heart, failure to be encouraged through the ways God offers encouragement exists as an issue of obedience. We can’t escape the truth that Scripture does in fact command us to “be encouraged.”

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

“Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14)

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

What I notice most about these and the many other Scripture about encouragement is that the focus of an encouraged individual lies outside of the self. In fact, the focus lies specifically on the Lord.

During the times I’ve refused to be encouraged, my focus fell on myself — my feelings and my emotions — rather than on what God has done, what he’s doing, and what he says he’ll do. The first nine verses of Psalm 77 show this state of mind, the one we find ourselves stuck in when we are discouraged.

I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands, and I would not be comforted. I remembered you, God, and I groaned; I meditated, and my spirit grew faint. You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak. I thought about the former days, the years of long ago; I remembered my songs in the night. My heart meditated and my spirit asked: “Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”

When we choose to focus on God instead of our feelings and emotions, we’ll experience a building confidence for the present and the future. We’ll realize that experiencing discouragement is inevitable, but being encouraged is a choice. The transition in Psalm 77, verses 10-12, shows this switch of focus.

Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand. I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”

The rest of Psalm 77, verses 13-20, then take us through all there is to focus on with regard to God — His activity, His holiness & power, redemption and His creation. In doing so, we discover much-needed encouragement.

Your ways, God, are holy. What god is as great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples. With your mighty arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. The waters saw you, God, the waters saw you and writhed; the very depths were convulsed. The clouds poured down water, the heavens resounded with thunder; your arrows flashed back and forth. Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind, your lightning lit up the world; the earth trembled and quaked. Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

Turning our focus to God as Psalm 77 illustrates helps us find peace in chaos and to discover courage as we wait for God’s timing. Moving our focus from emotions and feelings toward God and His might, power and goodness, allow us to move forward in confidence because we know God goes with us as our constant source of encouragement.

DISCUSSION: If you dwell in discouragement, how can the encouragement God offers help you move forward?

Pursuing Encouragement

runnerDiscouragement, like people, comes in all shapes and sizes. Regardless of the shape or the size or the person, discouragement stinks. Deflated. Struggle without progress. Stuck. Directionless. Yep, stinks.

My discouragement with running really epitomizes my battle with discouragement in general. Sure, I’ve experienced periods of relative success. But overall, running exists as simply a 20-year struggle. One might ask, “Why keep doing it?” Well… I guess because it helps me stare discouragement in the face and tell it, “I refuse to quit. I refuse to let you stop me.” If I quit running altogether, that opens the door for me to give up in other areas… in writing, in relationships, in faith. In the midst of discouragement, I often don’t know what to do, but I definitely know what not to do… quit.

While my own discouragement leaves me lethargic and frustrated, my inner locus of control keeps me moving even in the absence of any perceptible progress. However, seeing those I love — my boys and my husband especially — in seasons of discouragement creates a whole new level of struggle and even gets me to believe the possibility of defeat. If I felt knee deep in miry clay before, I feel like I’m laying down in it now and letting the mud seep into my orifices.

When the ones who usually encourage you lack their own courage, and when the ones who you usually encourage can’t or don’t receive it, and when all of this happens simultaneously, life just feels frozen. Yet we continue about our days, continue on the treadmill of life, waiting for that moment when we see the upward path again and can jump off into progress.

If I’m not careful, debilitating loneliness creeps in when I’m discouraged. And if that isn’t held in check, depression usually comes next. I’ve experienced this process one too many times in my life, and I’m determined to not experience it again. Ever. And I don’t want my family to live in discouragement one moment longer than necessary either because I know all to well what comes if it lingers.

BeBold-Verse

Perhaps this battle with discouragement exists as an all-too-familiar place for you too. Perhaps you want to admit defeat and quit running, especially when the end seems hidden somewhere in the unknown depths of the mud. While I don’t know when this season will end for any of us, I do know where to go for encouragement within the struggle.

  1. Studying Scripture
  2. Pursuing the Holy Spirit
  3. Spending time in fellowship
  4. Allowing ourselves to be encouraged 

In our pursuit of encouragement, we must realize that truth often comes long before we believe what it’s saying — before the feelings take hold. Knowing this, I see discouragement as a struggle awaiting victory, and I believe encouragement happens in the midst of — not after — discouragement. What I also know is that the path to being encouraged, to becoming unstuck, lies right on top of the path of discouragement. In other words, struggling through discouragement is the only way I’ll find true and lasting encouragement. With that, giving up simply isn’t an option.

DISCUSSION: What testimony can you give regarding discouragement, struggle, encouragement and victory?