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 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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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.

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)

Learning to Be Wise

Drawn to Wisdom

Some people seem naturally wise to me. Since they seem to always know how to act and what to say and do in every situation, I’m drawn to these people. I want to be like them.

A friend recently told me about celebrating her 70th birthday in between two major hospital stays. She said that what she’s realizing most of all these days is that so much of life is not in our control, but we can choose to become wise. In other words, she reminded me that wisdom is learned.

How to Learn Wisdom

The book of Proverbs talks a lot about wisdom. Here are just a few verses from chapter 9 that specifically talk about how to learn wisdom.

“Leave your foolish ways behind, and begin to live; learn how to be wise.” (Proverbs 9:6)

“Teach the wise, and they will be wiser. Teach the righteous, and they will learn more.” (Proverbs 9:9)

“Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10)

Wisdom, then, is learned by focusing on it and by choosing to neglect foolishness. It’s learned by humbling yourself under Godly teachers. And, it’s learned by respecting and revering God.

Acquire Wisdom

No longer do I simply wish to be like my wise friends, though I still am drawn to them. I’ve read these verses before, but they’ve clicked for me in a new way because now I’m choosing to pursue to acquire — wisdom.

The word “acquire” helps me understand what this choice to pursue wisdom actually means.

“Acquire wisdom! Acquire understanding! Do not forget nor turn away from the words of my mouth.” (Proverbs 4:5, NASB)

When you acquire something, you gain it for yourself through your actions and effort. You then possess or own that something. It becomes yours.

With that, I’m determined to do what is necessary to acquire wisdom. I want to possess it, to own it. Let it become a part of who I am, Lord.

Surrounded

The song “Fight My Battles” by Michael W. Smith annoyed me the first several times I heard it. I mean, it’s the same wording over and over and over again.

“This is how I fight my battles…”

“It may look like I’m surrounded, but I’m surrounded by you…”

Then there’s a Groot-like change up to give us the song’s only other line.

“This is how we fight our battles…”

Then one day I rediscovered some scripture that helped me connect with the song in a new way.

“You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.” (Psalm 139:5, NIV)

“Just as Jerusalem is protected by mountains on every side, the Lord protects his people by holding them in his arms now and forever.” (Psalm 125:2, NIV)

“The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever.” (Psalm 121:8, NASB)

The idea of being surrounded by an enemy (trouble, stress, depression, whatever…) is overwhelming. But then I realize that between me and that whatever is God. The Matthew Henry Commentary describes the idea this way.

“Wherever we are, we are under the eye and hand of God.”

These verses brought the song, “How I Fight My Battles,” alive for me. Now, it exists as a soul chant when life gets rough, a repetitious remembrance of these verses and how God promises to exist in my life.

I invite you to grab onto the words too and let them breathe life into your weary soul as you realize that you are surrounded by a Holy God, and He’s fighting for you.

Capturing Thoughts

Continual Drawing

There’s sometimes little rhyme or reason to how my mind works. I just don’t get how I dwell on certain things but let others go easily. Frustrating, especially when nothing I do can get me off a specific thought track at times.

Some days more than others, my thoughts seem to control me. They distract me from what matters most and focus me on what matters little.

Years ago, this distraction sometimes lasted months. It often led into the pit of depression. Now when it happens, I sooner rather than later end up wandering in Scripture until the focus on what matters most returns. That speaks not to any effort on my part but instead to the continual drawing of the Holy Spirit in my life.

Parsing it Out

Especially when I struggle with errant thoughts, I spend some time parsing out this verse:

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

When I do this activity, I usually start by going to Bible Hub where I can get a verse listed in several translations one after another. Reading through these helps me better grasp the focus of a verse.

Drew Reichard in his post, “What Does the Bible Say about Refugees and Foreignerson Biblegateway.com explains why this is important and helpful.

“Each translation is an attempt to capture both the idea and the accurate wording as they were originally written; but there are differences, so reading versions side-by-side can add to your understanding of the text.”

Here’s what the process basically looks like in my journal for 2 Corinthians 10:5.

  • Demolish arguments and every pretension = destroy every proud obstacle = destroy arguments and every lofty opinion = tear down arguments and every presumption = overthrowing arguments and every high thing = casting down imaginations and every high thing = every bit of pride.
  • That sets itself up against the knowledge of God = that keeps people from knowing God = raised against the knowledge of God = that sets itself up against the knowledge of God = that keeps people from knowing God = lifting itself up against the knowledge of God = that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God.
  • We take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ = We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ = take every thought captive to obey Christ.

Doing this helps focus my thoughts. It helps God’s truth saturate my thinking and establishes it once again in what matters most.

Yes, I know this verse refers to spiritual warfare and not relying on human ingenuity or manmade plans to bring victory. I realize it’s getting at what keeps those who don’t yet know Christ from knowing him, things like secular humanism, cults, false religions, etc.

But a broad truth within it, the idea of making every thought obedient to Christ helps bring my errant thoughts back into submission to God’s truth. In other words, my thinking focuses back where God wants it.

Going Deeper

When studying a single verse, respect the importance of understanding the context by reading the verses surrounding it too. This is one way to go deeper into the meaning and application of a verse.

I also like to go deeper into the truth of a verse by reading the verses that connect with it in some way.

This is what going deeper by looking at other scripture looks like for 2 Corinthians 10:5:

“If the son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4)

“Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17)

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

Taking connecting verses like these, I write them out in my journal then jot down some personal application points. I also note connections among the various verses I’ve written down.

By no means does this type of study make up my entire Bible study approach. Generally, this is just a great refocusing activity for me when I’m struggling.

“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.

Repetition Means Pay Attention

Key Study Technique

One of the best ways to learn from Scripture, no matter what part you’re reading, is by looking for repeated words and phrases. In fact, noticing such patterns while reading the Bible is a key study technique.

Repetition exists at verse, chapter and book levels. Some also connect through all of Scripture too.

There’s always a significant reason for the existence of repetition in the Bible. In fact, it has a great deal to teach us. Whenever we see a repeated word, phrase, activity, behavior, etc. know that there’s something we need to notice.

Learning from Others

Repetition in Scripture often helps us see patterns of behavior. We may not right away realize why a pattern exists, but studying them in the lives of those who went before us almost always leads to significant revelations we can apply to our own lives.

For example, two overarching themes in the book of Judges shown through repeated or similar phrasing teach us a couple of significant lessons.

“Israel did evil in the Lord’s sight.” (Judges 3:7, 12; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6; & 13:1)

Israel cried out to the Lord for help, and God raised up a judge to lead them. (Judges 3:9, 13; 4:3-4; 6:6-7; 10:10; & Ch. 13)

“There was peace.” (Judges 3:11; 4:30; & 5:31)

This pattern is found at least 5 times in Judges. The repetition shows us that…

  1. Disobedience ALWAYS brings judgment.
  2. God is ALWAYS faithful.

Judges also uses repetition to show the activity of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament as experienced in the lives of Othniel, Gideon, Jepthah and Sampson.

The repeated words and phrases we see in Judges, a book filled with drama and intrigue, exemplifies the impact of repetition throughout Scripture. But, we can easily expand our look beyond the book and see repetition used throughout Scripture.

Consider these examples of repetition in the Bible:

  • Wisdom references found throughout Proverbs.
  • “Blessed are…” and other repeated phrases in the Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5-7)
  • Stories found in each of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John)

Studying these patterns in Scriptures can amplify your understanding of what God desires for his people. It can also help you better understand God’s character.

Pay Attention to the Repetition

Repetition exists in Scripture for emphasis. Often, it emphasize a lesson or application God wants us to learn and apply as in the examples given above. It is also sometimes equivalent to why we bold and italicize text today. For example…

“Holy, holy, holy.” (Isaiah 6:30 & Revelation 4:8)

Whatever the specific reason, repetition in the Bible always means pay attention. Make a habit of marking them in your Bible. Not only will you get better at noticing them as you establish the habit, but you’ll also be enriched by discovering why each one exists.

Refocusing on Christ

Should & Could But Don’t

There’s so much information available telling us what we should be doing and how we could be improving our lives. Just take a look at the self-help books currently on shelves, virtual or otherwise, not to mention the many Internet resources dedicated to the task.

With all these resources telling us what we could and should do, self-improvement can seem impossible. Even when we find ways we actually want to change and techniques that would work, we still often just don’t do them.

Why? Too much work. The pain of staying where we are still isn’t bigger than the pain of changing. Or, maybe you’ve taken some of the advice, and implemented change. After a while, though, you find yourself back to your old habits and way of thinking.

This happens with Scripture too. We read it. We know what we should do. But, we don’t do it. Paul describes this struggle well.

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:15-19)

Refocus Your Identity

If I dwell on how much I should do and could do but don’t do, I get overwhelmed. Discouragement usually follows. And eventually, I simply feel like a failure.

For many, the solution involves just not thinking about it. Just don’t consider the changes you should and could make. Stay ignorant. Stay conveniently confused. Stay too busy.

My personality doesn’t generally allow for this. It prefers ruminating about how much I haven’t done and then succumbing to depression and defeat.

Whatever your tendency, be sure of this. If you never do any of what you should or could do, you’re accepted, secure and significant. Even if you somehow managed to do all of what you think you should or could do, you’re not any more or less accepted, secure, and significant.

When you accepted Christ as Savior and made him Lord of your life, you were fully justified — declared righteous — at that moment. Your Identity In Christ is secure. Nothing else you can or think you should do will make you any more accepted, secure and significant than you were at that moment. With that realization comes an amazing peace.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)

Refocus on Jesus

That doesn’t mean we can ignore how we should and could improve. But, it does change our motivation for doing so. With that motivation change comes a refocus on progress toward perfection — on progressive sanctification.

Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13)

This is the process of spiritual growth. In general, it involves letting the Holy Spirit work change in us and then doing our part to live out that change.

Train yourself to be godly.” (1 Timothy 4:7)

Even that process can seem overwhelming at times. But that’s usually when we focus on ourselves; at least, that’s my continual struggle. In fact, the only way I’ve been able to maintain consistency in living the fact that I am accepted, secure and significant is by focusing on Christ.

“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, 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. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Today as I again struggle with feeling out of balance and out of sync, I am reminded yet again that I am still accepted, secure and significant. So, instead of letting depression or anxiety or defeat take over again, I remember my secure position and turn once more back toward the reason it exists.