Battling Discouragement

Life can be discouraging. One area of persistent discouragement for me involves lack of apparent progress. That lack can be in myself or in those closest to me, but it also can be in general with how I see people living as a whole.

The only way I’ve found to keep discouragement from turning into depression is by replacing my thoughts, which focus on my feelings, with God’s thinking, which focuses me on him and all he’s done for me.

Reading the Bible is the best way I know to make this switch. During a recent struggle with discouragement, this verse served to refocus me.

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Breaking it down helped to defeat my discouraging thinking and to replace it with hope.

Therefore…

What initially stands out is the “therefore.” Whenever I see “therefore,” I know that the author is basically telling me, “Because of what I just told you about… here’s what should happen/what you should do.”

In this case, the “therefore” refers back to the two verses immediately before it:

“The stink of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

In other words, because Jesus conquered death — because of His resurrection from the grave — here’s how we now should live. See how the focus is on Christ? That’s a key with overcoming discouragement. Get the focus off yourself and on Christ.

Steadfast. Immovable. Abounding.

Now that my focus is on Christ, I can now see my way through discouragement.

  1. Be Steadfast = be fixed and firm in purpose; changeless, dedicated, dependable and faithful.
  2. Be Immoveable = steadfast in purpose; not influenced by feelings
  3. Always Abound = let it exist in great quantities; let it be well-supplied.

No matter how I feel, no matter my circumstances, no matter whether or not I see progress … if I focus on Christ, I can keep doing the work He directs me to do because I know none of it is without significance.

Significance

“…knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

For something to be in “vain,” it is ineffectual, unsuccessful, futile, baseless and worthless. All very discouraging states. But because of Christ, I find motivation to be steadfast, immovable and abounding. Any work I do for him has significance.

A Go-To Verse

This is a great verse to go to when you feel like you’re spinning your wheels. It’s great encouragement for those times when progress feels absent. It reminds us to keep our focus on Christ and to keep doing the work he calls us to do.

For me, I am reminded that discouragement is often just a distraction to slow me down or stop my work. Focusing on Christ allows me to push through those feelings and to know I there is progress even if I don’t always see it or feel it.

Be Teachable: Taking Advice

Learning From Mistakes

One of the biggest mistakes I made when I was young (teenager up to age 30) was failing to be teachable, especially in the area of taking advice. I remember my mom encouraging me once to learn from her mistakes. My response, “I want to make my own mistakes.” I know… stupid.

I’ve since realized the immense value of learning from others, of taking advice forged in the depths of consequences. I see reminders of this value throughout the Bible, and they always encourage me to stay willing to receive advice from others.

Taking Advice

Let’s look at a few verses in Proverbs 13 for insight into how taking advice is beneficial. By no means is this all the Bible has to say about taking advice, but it’s a good start.

“Pride leads to arguments. Those who take advice are wise.” (v. 10)

“People who despise advice will find themselves in trouble; those who respect it will succeed.” (v. 13)

“The advice of the wise is like a life-giving fountain; those who accept it avoid the snares of death.” (v. 14)

“If you ignore criticism, you will end in poverty and disgrace; if you accept criticism, you will be honored.” (v. 18)

My initial observations/thoughts/application points after reading these verses are:

  • Notice the role pride plays in distracting us from receiving advice.
  • We are to respect advice, not necessarily follow every piece of it.
  • Who we receive advice from is important.
  • Advice sometimes comes in the form of criticism.

When I combine these reflections with my experiences in receiving advice along with other Scripture on the topic (Proverbs 11:14, 12:15, 19:20 & James 1:5), I realize the importance of listening to the advice that comes my way. It’s not always accurate, but it is always worth hearing out and storing for future reference.

As a young person, I failed to listen to the advice of those older than me and instead relied on my own feelings or on the advice of those my age who also acted mostly based on feelings. As a result, I ended up making the same types of mistakes that Rehoboam made (1 Kings 12:6-8). Age isn’t always important when it comes to the source of advice; however, experience does matter and can play a tremendous role in the value of advice.

Be Teachable

Taking advice and learning from the experiences of others is just one example of how to be teachable. Being teachable also involves listening, asking for help, and pursuing wisdom.

Are you good at receiving advice from others? In what ways are you teachable? How can you become more teachable? I encourage you to spend time prayerfully considering these questions and determine to cultivate a teachable spirit.

Be Determined

Biblical Examples

Determination can be good or bad depending on your focus. It also lasts or fades depending on the approach we take to maintaining it. As Christians, our goal is to maintain a God-focused determination.

Let’s look at three individuals in scripture from whom we can learn a lot about a God-focused determination.

  • Ezra’s determination teaches us that we must be hearers, doers and teachers of God’s Word. (Ezra 7:9-10)
  • Daniel’s determination shows us that resisting the surrounding culture is not only possible but necessary. (Daniel 1:8)
  • Paul’s determination illustrates the need for complete focus on the finish line. (1 Corinthians 9:26)

These men teach us a great deal about staying determined, and they set examples we can and should follow.

Biblical Instruction

Through Ezra’s, Daniel’s and Paul’s examples, we see that staying determined is possible. In addition, the Bible clearly indicates where our determination should focus.

We are to be determined to…

  1. Obey God: Simply make up your mind to do it. (1 Samuel 7:3)
  2. Avoid sin: Know your convictions before you are tested. (Job 31:1)
  3. Stand firm: Stand in faith, and you will be protected. (Isaiah 7:9)
  4. Follow Christ: Let Him lead you in every area of life. (Mark 8:34-38)

How to Be Determined

How do we obtain and maintain an enduring God-focused determination? Let’s again look to Ezra, Daniel & Paul for answers.

  • Ezra praised God for giving him favor. He also went to the Lord with concerns. (Ezra 7:27-28; Ezra 9)
  • Daniel had a habit of prayer that he maintained even when facing death. (Daniel 6:10)
  • Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, often included prayers filled with thanksgiving, prayers for others, as well as prayer requests for his ministry. (See a list of Paul’s prayers on Scripture Zealot.)

Habits of prayer, praise and thanksgiving are keys to constant God-focused determination. Also, never forget that God promises to help us stay determined.

“For the Lord God helps Me, therefore, I am not disgraced; therefore, I have set my face like flint (a stone), and I know that I will not be ashamed.” (Isaiah 50:7)

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Talk Less. Listen More.

Live at Peace

Doing your part to Live at Peace with others is highly contextual. Specific situations and people require certain and different actions and words. The right response varies from one context to the next. At the same time, there is one approach that applies in almost every situation.

“The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18)

“Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity.” (Proverbs 21:23)

“Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down.” (Proverbs 26:20)

In a nutshell, take care with the words you use. If possible, don’t use them.

All About Balance

The theme of watching what we say is clear throughout the book of Proverbs. The rest of Scripture is not silent about the importance of the words we use either. In fact, considering the balance of what we say to what we do not say is better for everyone involved.

“Turn your ear to wisdom and apply your heart to understanding.” (Proverbs 2:2)

“Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is the rebuke of a wise judge to a listening ear.” (Proverbs 25:12)

“Much dreaming and many words are meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 5:7)

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens… a time to be silent and a time to speak.” (Ecclesiastes 3:7)

In other words… Talk less. Listen more.

Simple, but not easy.

Ask for Help

Sometimes, not saying something takes all the self-control I have, and there’s little left for engaging in listening. Yet, truly listening is often what’s necessary to understand another and to establish a peaceful relationship.

On my own, I fail to keep quiet and to listen all too often. I need help.

“Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.” (Psalm 141:3)

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him.” (1 John 5:14-15)

God never let’s me down. He faithfully leads me to fulfilling his desires for my relationships. I promise He’ll do the same for you too.

Fore more on the impact of what we say and how we say it, read James 3.

Live at Peace

 

Do Your Part

We live in a time when taking personal responsibility is happening less and less. That means what the Bible says about taking responsibility stands more and more in contrast to our surrounding culture. Let’s look at one example of this.

“Do your part to live at peace with everyone as much as possible.” (Romans 12:18

When I read this verse, I immediately ask, “What’s my part?” The specific answer to this questions varies from one situation and person to the next, so it’s important to continually seek the answer.

Each one of us also has to realize that we are each responsible only for our own efforts. We cannot force anyone to act peaceably toward anyone else. Also, we must face the hard truth that living at peace with everyone isn’t always possible even if it’s always the goal.

Guiding Principles

The Bible has a lot to say about how to live at peace with others. Many verses offer guiding principles for doing our part in every situation to continually “live at peace” with others.

“Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:14)

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matthew 5:9)

“But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” (Matthew 5:39-41)

“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)

“Live in peace with each other.” (1 Thessalonians 5:13)

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15)

Some of these verses give specific instructions for living at peace with others, such as turning from wrong and doing good and not retaliating when someone wrongs us. Others simply restate the command. All of them cement the truth as integral in the lives of Christians.

Inescapable Truth

We simply cannot escape that God wants us to do whatever we can to live at peace with others. That doesn’t mean we compromise convictions and values to keep the peace. We must, however, exhaust our efforts to live in peace with others through personal responsibility and sacrifice.

Only through the transforming power of God as His Holy Spirit works in us is this possible.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

Did you notice that everything we need in order to live at peace with others exists as fruits of the Spirit?

Keep It Simple

What does God want me to do on a day-to-day basis?

How does he want me to live?

What is His will for my life?

 

The Bible certainly provides much detail in answer to those questions. Sometimes, though, I just want (need) a simple answer.

Some days get so overloaded I feel overwhelmed and like I’m barely keeping up. On those days, I want a basic answer to help me refocus. Fortunately, we can find those in the Bible too.

“Always be joyful. Keep on praying. No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

This verse comes at the end of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. So, it’s part of his final instructions. I always look at the end of Biblical letters, verses like this one, as “if you remember nothing else of what I said, remember this.” Or, “if you want a starting point, here you go.” That’s how I usually take those instructions.

In other words, I see final words like these as ways to not over-complicate God’s will for us. Yes, there are more details we can and should delve into. At the same time, instructions like these help me keep a simple focus, something I need help with when life feels overwhelming.

Be joyful.

Keep praying.

Be thankful.

 

Even on my worst days, simple instructions like these serve to refocus me on God’s will. Even the slightest turn of my focus more fully on him serves to encourage my spirit and lessen the burden of overload.

What is Hope?

Fear vs. Hope

“The only thing more powerful than fear is hope.” (President Snow in The Hunger Games)

There was a time in my life when fear controlled me. Fear over what others thought. Fear of failure. Then hope took over.

Hope that what the Bible said about Jesus was true.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith — more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:3-6)

Hope that He would bring me out of the pit.

“I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord.” (Psalm 40:1-3)

Hope that flourished as I returned again and again to grace and let God work in my life for His glory.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-15)

When I struggle still today and feel the pull of the pit, I remember the hope that saved me years ago. Hope always returns and encourages me.

Confident Hope

Hope has a forward focus. It is remembering what I have been through only to remember again what God has done for me. This refocuses me on what He’s going to do in my life in places, people and events where hope seems dim or even absent.

“For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)

Always Be Ready

The Questions Will Come

“Honor Christ, and let him be Lord of your life. Always be ready to give an answer when someone asks you about your hope.” (1 Peter 3:15)

When you live your life for Christ, others will notice. Many won’t say much, if anything. Eventually, though, someone will say something. They may not specifically use the word “hope,” but the asking will likely still be obvious.

“Why are you always so positive?”

“Why doesn’t anything get you down?”

“Why are you always so nice?”

Why do you help others so much?”

When the ask comes, you can bring in the word hope. You can tell them that Jesus changed your life and gave you hope.

Some won’t know what to say. They’ll likely feel awkward, and so will you. One of you might change the subject. At some point, though, someone will want to go further with the discussion. They’ll want to know why you believe the Bible and why the Gospel directs your life.

Are You Ready?

I trust the Holy Spirit to give me the words to say when I need to say them (Luke 12:12). But I also know God wants us to choose to prepare, learn and grow.

“Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge.” (Proverbs 23:12)

“Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18)

“Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1 Peter 2:2-3)

I’ve also learned through many mistakes that considering ahead of time what to say helps me tremendously in being confident when the time comes. As I considered this recently, three words came to mind that reflect this process in my life.

1. Examination.

This involves time spent reading the Bible and in prayer with the goal of getting to know God more and more.

2. Evidence.

As I learn more about evidence in areas such as science, archeology and history, my faith grows stronger. Fulfilled prophecy alone is a tremendous boost of faith.

3. Experience.

Remembering is emphasized throughout the Bible to teach us to acknowledge what God has done in our lives. We don’t want to dwell on our past, but we do want to praise him for how he’s transformed, protected and redeemed us.

Regular Review

When I think about these three words and place my own spiritual walk within their structure, I find myself more ready to talk about my hope. But this is something I need to review regularly simply because I am, hopefully, still growing and learning.

A Passion for Seeking Wisdom

As Christians, we believe the Bible gives us all we need for right living. As God’s inspired word, it tells us all we need to know to love God and love others (Mark 12:30-31). The Holy Spirit is our partner in this and helps us understand and navigate God’s word (John 16:13).

Sometimes, though, the answers to life’s questions don’t obviously appear in Scripture. We know we need to pray and let the Holy Spirit work in us for understanding, but that understanding often takes longer than we’d like. We also have to admit that sometimes, even after seemingly endless study and prayer, the answer remains, “I don’t know.”

There are many clear answers in the Bible. Some answers aren’t as clear as we’d like. Either way, we know we have what we need to live and think as God desires. The book of Proverbs is a great example of this mix. Much of its content and application is clear. Others, not so much. Some, it often seems to me, is both. And there’s good reason for this mix.

The Pursuit of Wisdom

Take Proverbs 2 for example. My study Bible titles this chapter as “The Pursuit of Wisdom Brings Security.” Essentially, the chapter’s main ideas is that pursuing wisdom will lead you to the right course of action every time.

Here’s my summary of the first half of the chapter.

“If you receive my words and store them up… if you turn your ears to wisdom and apply your heart to understanding… if you seek insight as much as you seek the things this world values most… then you will understand how to respect God and find the wisdom of God… He will give you knowledge and understanding and success and protection. You will know every good path to take because wisdom and knowledge will be a part of who you are. Discretion and understanding will protect and guard you.”

What I hear God telling me is to make seeking wisdom through His word a habit. He’s telling me to let His Holy Spirit reveal wisdom to me through the Bible and through other people. When I do this, not just when I’m struggling but also when I’m not, He promises to show me the right steps to take just. He promises to direct my steps (Proverbs 16:9).

God is saying that we should expect to hear wisdom and gain understanding when we make seeking it from Him a habit. We need to look for it continually and make an effort to understand what He’s revealing to us (meditate on it). We must ask for insight and understanding. He promises to give it to us.

Application

If you’re still not sure how to get the wisdom of God and what it means for your life, read the entire book of Proverbs. While there are a lot of specifics in it, focus just on the directives specifically about wisdom. Consider listing them in a journal. I promise you’ll come away with a greater understanding of the wisdom of God along with a greater passion for seeking it.

Hope in Aging

Revisiting Aging

Maybe it’s because middle age is bearing down. Maybe it’s because my youngest is now a senior in high school. Perhaps the struggles of my aging parents are the reason. Or, maybe it’s simply the increase in body aches and inflexible muscles. Could also be my going back to school and wondering if it’s crazy to do so at my age. Probably, it’s all of these combined.

Whatever the reason on any given day, aging and the fleetingness of time has become more of a focus for me. I can easily get overwhelmed and even depressed about it. To prevent that, and further, to embrace what lies before me in the second half of my life, I turn to what the Bible says about aging and time and purpose.

It’s a topic I revisit more frequently with every passing year. Fortunately, the Bible offers much in the way of wisdom about aging. In my revisiting, then, I find tremendous peace.

Startling Aging Facts

Statistics tell me that a lot of people struggle with aging:

  • The highest suicide rate is among adults ages 45-54.
  • The second highest is adults over 85.
  • Younger groups have consistently lower rates.

Even worse, they show that many give up on that struggle. They simply lose hope.

The Bible and Aging

Fortunately, the Bible offers a lot of hope for those at any stage in this struggle.

“Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness.” (Proverbs 16:31)

“Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?” (Job 12:12)

“Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits — who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desire with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 103:5)

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

These verses remind me that, as a Christian, there is honor and blessing in growing old. They tell me that while my body may be weakening, I am growing in wisdom and my spirit is being renewed every day.

God, through his word, focuses me on hope. He focuses me on Him.

“But the godly will flourish like palm trees and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon. For they are transplanted into the Lord’s own house. They flourish in the courts of our God. Even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green. They will declare, ‘The Lord is just! He is my rock! There is nothing but goodness in him.’” (Psalm 92:12-15)

Looking Ahead

There are circumstances beyond our control that contribute to decline as we age. Physical decline and possibly even mental decline will happen. Spiritual decline doesn’t have to happen though.

Doing what I can to age gracefully in the temporary dwelling of my human body, I grasp what God’s word says about how he wants me to flourish in old age. I hold on to the fact that my spirit will live on into eternity and never grow old.