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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.