God gives Christians a variety of ways to receive encouragement, including through scripture, through the Holy Spirit and through fellowship with other Christians. All of these provide consistent and bountiful resources of encouragement for His children.
Even in this abundance, we’ve all come across a brother or sister who simply refuses to be encouraged. They’re usually identified by the words “Yeah, but…” in response to any sort of verbal encouragement and often appear blind to any other sort of encouragement.
I’ve been that person way too often. Not only have I refused verbal encouragement at times, I could hardly stand to be in an encouraging atmosphere (e.g., worship service).
At its heart, failure to be encouraged through the ways God offers encouragement exists as an issue of obedience. We can’t escape the truth that Scripture does in fact command us to “be encouraged.”
“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
“Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14)
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
What I notice most about these and the many other verses about encouragement is that the focus of an encouraged individual lies outside of the self. In fact, the focus lies specifically on the Lord.
Focus Determines Reality
During the times I’ve refused to be encouraged, my focus fell on myself — my feelings and my emotions — rather than on what God has done, what he’s doing, and what he says he’ll do. The first nine verses of Psalm 77 show this state of mind, the one we find ourselves stuck in when we are discouraged.
I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands, and I would not be comforted. I remembered you, God, and I groaned; I meditated, and my spirit grew faint. You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak. I thought about the former days, the years of long ago; I remembered my songs in the night. My heart meditated and my spirit asked: “Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”
When we choose to focus on God instead of our feelings and emotions, we’ll experience a building confidence for the present and the future. We’ll realize that experiencing discouragement is inevitable, but being encouraged is a choice. The transition in Psalm 77, verses 10-12, shows this switch of focus.
Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand. I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”
The rest of Psalm 77, verses 13-20, then take us through all there is to focus on with regard to God — his activity, his holiness and power, redemption, and his creation. In doing so, we discover much-needed encouragement.
Your ways, God, are holy. What god is as great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples. With your mighty arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. The waters saw you, God, the waters saw you and writhed; the very depths were convulsed. The clouds poured down water, the heavens resounded with thunder; your arrows flashed back and forth. Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind, your lightning lit up the world; the earth trembled and quaked. Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
Turning our focus to God as Psalm 77 illustrates helps us find peace in chaos and to discover courage as we wait for God’s timing. Moving our focus from emotions and feelings toward God and his might, power and goodness, allow us to move forward in confidence because we know God goes with us as our constant source of encouragement.