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.

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)

Get Back to Grace

Abundant Grace

Do you speak words of hope or condemnation? What about your thoughts? Do you, like me, sometimes find your words and thoughts gravitating toward the negative and critical? If so, maybe you need to get back to grace.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24)

The grace I’ve abundantly received from Christ drives my own refocus on grace. He gives more than enough for me to give to others.

Focusing on Grace

In my experience, the journey back to grace involves being deliberate in my thought life.

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

This refocus also means making gratitude a consistent habit.

“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)

Blossoming Hope

As you return to grace, you’ll discover hope blossoming in every area of life.

“Set your hope on grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.” (1 Peter 1:13)

This happens as we realize what grace makes possible.

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.” (Ephesians 1:7-8)

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourself, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Getting back to grace means getting back to the Gospel of Jesus. Return there often. Let your hope be continually renewed. As you do, you’ll find your perspective towards yourself and others transformed. You’ll find encouragement and joy in abundance.

Living Intentionally

Most of us want to live a well thought out life. We want to be deliberate about our choices and how we respond to life. Unfortunately, life gets so busy and overwhelming sometimes that we end up living far from intentionally.

No matter how busy we get, we can choose to incorporate certain activities that help us live more intentionally than not. Let me say it another way. If your life seems reactionary and out of control rather than intentional, there are some habits that can help flip that.

Intentional Habits

While the specific actions may look different from on person to the next, living intentionally does have some foundational aspects that every Christian can incorporate.

  1. Rest. Take time to be still at least every morning and evening.
  2. Listen. Pay attention to the people in your life, the face-to-face not electronic life.
  3. Experience God’s presence. Get outside and go for a walk or just sit and listen to nature. Let Him fill your thoughts.
  4. Partner with Jesus. Our effort alone won’t get us there; don’t be too proud to ask for help.

If you’re busy and overwhelmed right now, your first response/reaction is probably something like, “How? I just don’t have the time.” For now, let me offer the following Scripture by way of encouragement for making the time, for making these activities non-negotiable.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

“The Lord replied, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’” (Exodus 33:14)

“Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, [Jesus] said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’” (Mark 6:31)

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” (Psalm 37:7a)

“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.’” (Isaiah 30:15)

“He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted on the earth.’” (Psalm 46:10)

Busyness and overload continually draws us into reactionary mode. Learning to respond instead of react is important, but we can only do that if we deliberately decide to incorporate these habits no matter how busy we are. It’s sort of like telling the chaos it’s not in control of your life even if you feel like it is.

Ready to move back into intentionality?

Start with these Biblical principles. Be stubborn about consistently incorporating them, and you’ll find God’s peace, power and presence dominating your life more than busyness and overload.

Want more? The following posts can help you develop a more intentional life.

 

Respond or React

In an article on Psychology Today, Dr. Matt James differentiates between responding and reacting. Below is a summary of what he says.

Reacting and responding may look the same at times, but they certainly feel very different from one another. In review of my most memorable times of reacting and responding, I definitely find this to be true.

When I think of those times when I’ve responded instead of reacted versus those when I’ve reacted instead of responded, some patterns emerge. Before delving into those patterns, understand that everyone has reacted when they should have responded. To do so is part of what it means to be human.

It’s those times, seasons really, when we seem to live in reactionary mode that are cause for concern. During these seasons, the following are usually true for me and need dealt with in order for me to move back into respond mode.

Busy and Overwhelmed

When I have too much to deal with mentally or physically, my overall quality goes down in pretty much every area of life. Often, this happens because of Decision Fatigue when there’s just too much stress for me to process life with any clarity and focus.

Off Track

Being off track is basically a loss of focus. It means I’ve stalled and am no longer moving forward. It means I need to get back on track before I’ll be able to be consistently healthy and productive again. Essentially, since focus determines reality, this is a time to Reset Your Focus.

Reacting instead of responding has become a sign that something is off in my life. I now use it as an opportunity to take stock and see where I need to adjust or even reset in some way.

Sometimes, it means I need to simplify again. Others, it means I’m letting my feelings instead of the facts dominate my thinking. Whatever the root cause, a time of evaluation — usually accompanied by resting — helps me see what needs adjusted.

Always, this process includes lots of prayer. At the source of this prayer during these assessment times in my life are a few key Scripture that I’d like to end with and to encourage for meditation.

“A man’s mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”
(Proverbs 16:9)

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

Truth. Wisdom. Discipline. Discernment. (Proverbs 23:23)

A Godly Teacher

A Godly Teaching Philosophy

Recently, I had to write my teaching philosophy for a class I was taking. It’s actually something all teachers are supposed to create for help in finding a teaching job. For my philosophy, I tried to honestly focus on what was important to me as a teacher and on what I wanted students to take away from any class I taught.

Shortly after writing my philosophy, I revisited the end of Ecclesiastes and saw what reads like a teaching philosophy ordained by God.

“Because the teacher is wise, he taught the people everything he knew. He collected proverbs and classified them. Indeed, the teacher taught the plain truth, and he did so in an interesting way. A wise teacher’s words spur students to action and emphasize important truths. The collected sayings of the wise are like guidance from a shepherd. But, my child, be warned; there is no end of opinions ready to be expressed. Studying them can go on forever and become very exhausting!” (Ecclesiastes 12:9-12)

As a Christian teacher, regardless of the topic being taught, I certainly want to live out this philosophy. Doesn’t matter if I’m in the college classroom or a Sunday school class. In fact, these verses really reflect what God desires of every teacher, from a parent teaching a child to a trainer in the workplace to a formally-educated teacher.

8 Actions of a Godly Teacher

These verses provide a lot of practical application for any teacher, even if not formally one.

  1. Learn to be wise. Proverbs 1:5 says, “Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance.” Wisdom is a choice. No one has to remain ignorant.
  2. Teach what you know. I must deliberately tell myself to stick with what I know. In fact, I had to learn that it was okay to say “I don’t know. I’ll get back to you.” People respect that sort of honesty. I learned a lot following through with that response too.
  3. Teach the plain truth. Don’t need to be the most original or creative person. Just teach the necessary information. Don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be.
  4. Be interesting. For me, this means collecting stories to tell. It means connecting teaching points with the movies I watch and the books I read. Everyone has interesting applications they can make just from what is already going on in their lives.
  5. Spur students to action. This begins with being a person of action myself. Then, I try to encourage students to always do their best. We connect what they’re learning with their lives, and they hopefully leave with a motivation to apply what they learn.
  6. Emphasize important truths. With every lesson taught, there are certain “if they learn nothing else” sort of points. In other words, students must learn these truths even if they remember nothing else. Because they are so important, teachers usually emphasize these truths in multiple ways.
  7. Guide like a shepherd. A shepherd protects and leads his sheep to refreshment. He’s both gentle and firm. A teacher can find a lot of success simply from applying the approach a good shepherd takes with his sheep.
  8. Keep it simple. I tend to over-complicate just about everything and must deliberately tell myself to keep things simple. There’s even a sign on the wall in front of my desk says, “Simplify” to continually remind me to do this. Simple doesn’t mean easy or trivial, but it does involve focusing on clarity.

An Over-Riding Philosophy

If we take these ideas one step further, into the next verse in Ecclesiastes, we find an over-riding philosophy that brings focus to all these actions.

“Here is the conclusion of the matter; fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13)

When a person respects God and seeks to obey him, all his attitudes, actions and words line up with what God desires. And, we see that doing so is not even an option… it’s a calling and a commission… for all of us.

“What if we’re the aliens?”

In my eclectic article reading, I came across one that said the likelihood of the existence of aliens has not been ruled out by science. However, if there is intelligent, alien life like what we see in the movies, they likely wouldn’t bother with us. They would be so much more intelligent that it would be like if humans were to invade an anthill for the resources it would provide.

After telling my sons about this article, my youngest said…

“What if we’re the aliens? What if the meteor scientists say came 65 million years ago was really us coming to earth on a space ship from another planet?”

Of course, we don’t really believe this, but enjoy discussing creative ideas like this. The movies we enjoy watching together certainly fuel this activity too.

What’s coolest, though, is how talking about off-the-wall topics like this often fuels discussions about (or at least mentions of) Biblical topics too. It’s happened many times for us over the years.

“We actually are the aliens.”

After my son’s comment, I said something about how the Bible actually calls us aliens. Both my boys knew this already because I’ve said it before, but because they’re teenage boys, I repeated myself.

“Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.” (1 Peter 2:11)

Verses related to this topic include John 15:18-19 & 17:16.

These verses stress that we are not to fit in with the culture around us, living like those who have not make Jesus their Lord. They get at the idea that this world is not our permanent home, and we are not to give in to what the flesh desires because it is often not what the soul needs.

These verses encourage Christians to live Godly lives in a pagan (one that doesn’t adhere to the Bible) society. Such a timely message for two teenage boys, one wanting to finish out his high school years in victory and the other in the midst of adapting to the very worldly culture at college.

Now that I think about it, when isn’t it a timely message?

For more in-depth discussion and application points on this topic,
check out the post Aliens Among Us.

Fiction… Wisdom for Living

Benefits of Reading Fiction

Research shows that regularly reading fiction brings tremendous benefit. Those include…

  • Improved vocabulary
  • Reduced loneliness
  • Better understanding of self
  • Learning factual information
  • Increased brain activity
  • Slower memory decline
  • Increased empathy
  • Better listening skills
  • Increased focus & concentration
  • Improved communication skills

If those benefits aren’t enough to convince someone about the power of reading fiction, there’s more. And this more connects with our faith walk as Christians in an interesting way.

Wisdom for Living

“The best stories and novels contain wisdom for living that cannot be captured in any other way.” (Why Read Fiction?)

Fiction helps us see human nature in ways we sometimes fail to through history, nonfiction reading and even through our own observations and experiences. Maybe that’s because fiction helps us see truth from a safe distance. Or, maybe it’s because fiction isn’t really 100% made up anyway.

Look closely, and you’ll realize that the best stories are based on layers of reality within made up elements. For example…

Good fiction helps us view the complex layers of human nature in ways that benefit us psychologically and socially. Some of those benefits are obvious and applicable to all, and some are individualized. And some are so painful that we’ll only hear them through the lens of the fictitious.

Fiction in Scripture

Consider that Jesus made up stories — fiction — for these very reasons.

In telling these stories, Jesus got at some tough cultural and socially taboo issues. He addressed what might not have been otherwise received by direct teaching.

What are the issues and lessons in the stories Jesus used? Let me encourage you to investigate those familiar stories once again to find out. Only this time, push yourself to go a bit deeper. To help you get started, check out how GotQuestions.org discussed each of these stories.

Not Just for Entertainment

I love to read fiction, and much of my motivation is purely for entertainment and relaxation. At the same time, I’m mostly drawn to stories with depth because of the benefits they bring to my personal growth.

When I realized that Jesus used stories with layered meaning and understanding as a tool in much the same way that happens in the books I most like to read, my appreciation of and draw toward good fiction only grew.

I encourage you to find good fiction that stimulates you in ways beyond entertainment and relaxation. In addition to the books listed above, here are some of my other very favorite works of fiction to help you get started.