“Dis-couragement” means -I guess- that somehow courage has been taken away. Maybe it seeped out slowly, like air out of a tyre. One darn thing after another went slightly wrong, leaving you deflated.
And you know that if you keep on running on that tyre, it will quickly go bald and lose its grip.
There’s two moments in Psalm 77 that speak to that condition. The first is in vv7-10, which perfectly describes the writer’s mood of self-absorbed misery:
“Will the Lord reject forever? And will He never be favourable again?
Has His lovingkindness ceased forever?
Has His promise come to an end forever?
Has God forgotten to be gracious, or has He in anger withdrawn His compassion?
Then I said, “It is my grief, That the right hand of the Most High has changed.”
This is a pretty good analysis of what it feels like to be discouraged. It feels that God is not favourable; that his lovingkindness has ceased; that his promise is not reliable; that his compassion has been withdrawn; that he is fickle and has changed.
You noticed that word “feels”?
It’s a “slough of despond” in which most of us get bogged down once in a while. It has the advantage of forcing you to think things over, to search your heart; but be cautious, says Jerry Bridges:
“We must be careful to let the Holy Spirit do this searching. If we try to search our own hearts, we are apt to fall into one or both of two traps. The first is the trap of morbid introspection. Introspection can easily become the tool of Satan, who is called the “accuser” (Revelation 12:10). One of his chief weapons is discouragement. He knows that if he can make us discouraged and dispirited, we will not fight the battle for holiness. The second trap is that of missing the real issues in our lives.”
In my experience, the two traps are connected. Once we get caught up in “morbid introspection” and all the attendant feelings that go with it, then it’s almost impossible to see the real issues any longer.
So what do you do? What does the writer do in his time of darkness and discouragement? What is his plan? How does he get through it? How should we? The answer is in verses 11-12. But first, look at verses 13-20 so that you can see the effect of this strategy.
“Your way, O God, is holy; What god is great like our God?
You are the God who works wonders;
You have made known Your strength among the peoples.
You have by Your power redeemed Your people, The sons of Jacob and Joseph.
The waters saw You, O God; The waters saw You, they were in anguish;
The deeps also trembled. The clouds poured out water;
The skies gave forth a sound; Your arrows flashed here and there.
The sound of Your thunder was in the whirlwind;
The lightnings lit up the world;
The earth trembled and shook.
Your way was in the sea and Your paths in the mighty waters,
And Your footprints may not be known.
You led Your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.”
So these are the two moments: they are like “before and after” snapshots. The first describes the discouragement of the writer and the second describes his absolute confidence in God’s leadership.
The question is: what made the difference? It’s in vv11-12:
“I shall remember the deeds of the LORD;
Surely I will remember Your wonders of old.
I will meditate on all Your work and muse on Your deeds.”
He remembers, he meditates, he muses… The three Hebrew words indicate an intentionality of purpose. If you want to battle discouragement, then you have to find a clear place to stand outside yourself. Psalm 40 describes the difference between the “miry clay” in which the writer was boggedd own, and “the rock” on to which he was lifted. His strategy is remembering, meditating, and musing on the deeds and wonders of God in history. And when we read the Bible, that’s precisely what we’re doing: we remember and we meditate and we muse on the Word of God. It’s a basic tool for coming out of the self-centred confusion of feelings and doubt. “I shall remember . . . Surely I will remember” (verse 11); “I will meditate . . . and [I will] muse” (verse 12). These are conscious acts that he chooses to do. It’s the very opposite of passivity.
It’s not simply a matter of learning facts and figures about Scripture, or rote memorization (though none of that hurts; in fact, it helps in the long run!), but of allowing that knowledge to make its way from head to heart.
Suppose -for example- you feel very little about yourself. I heard an odd snippet of conversation, “You can’t threaten me with insults when I think all of those things about myself already.” I was torn between admiring the resilience and deploring the low self-esteem! But when we feel unmotivated and unworthy then those feelings have to submit to the facts of Scripture. I am not how I feel. I am who the Bible says I am.
God created humans to have unique characteristics and purpose. However, he designed us also to have a commonality of contentment with our lives through His will. We discover our true identity the more closely we are drawn to Him. Don’t lose sight of who you are destined to be.
John 1:12: “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
Ephesians 1:5: “He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.”
Colossians 2:9-10: “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.”
A child, an heir… brought to fullness in Him.
Genesis 1:27: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
Jeremiah 1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
You might say, “Yes, I know these things theoretically, in my head, but it isn’t having any effect on my feelings.”
This is the point where you have to battle discouragement with the Word of God. In effect, you have to say: “I will call to mind that I am created, known, named, and chosen for a purpose. I will meditate on God’s choosing. I will remember the story of my life and how it fits into what these Scriptures declare about me. And I will pause and muse on this story a long time. I will not hurry off somewhere to say that such knowledge has no effect on my emotions. This is a wonder. God chose, God called, God promised and God kept His promise. He is the A to Z, the first and the last, and “He who begun a good work in me” will see it through to the very end.
You need not worry that all the stuff of life depends on you keeping all the plates spinning. God has it in hand.
“Your way, O God, is holy; What god is great like our God?
You are the God who works wonders” (Psalm 77:13).
This is the way that we fight for the joy of our faith, maybe every day. It is life in the Word.
So that’s why it’s urgently necessary to plan a place, plan a time, and plan a way to read the Bible every day. This is the foundation of remembering and meditating and musing. If you don’t make a plan, it won’t happen. So here’s three simple questions in closing:
- When will I fit the reading of God’s Word into my day? What can I change to make it fit?
- Where at home or work will I read and begin my meditations and prayers? Where can I make some quiet and solitude?
- How will I read my Bible this year? Will I read a chapter a day? Will I journal? Will I use a commentary or a devotional help?
This is the way God sustains and grows the faith and fruit of his people. It’s not a marginal issue. The one who makes it out of a constant cycle of discouragement is the one who has really understood Psalm 1:2, and found: “His delight is in the Law of the Lord and on his law he meditates day and night.”
“He is your Father, and His role is to protect you; He will comfort you and guide you. He will feed you; He will carry you when you are weak. He will seek you out when you go astray; He will help you in times of trouble. He will not let your enemies go unpunished; He will cherish you like a father cherishes his daughter. When you fall, He will pick you up; when you don’t understand, He will always understand.
When you feel like life is weighing you down, He will lift you up. When you feel like giving up, He will encourage you to keep going. When you are sad, He will lighten your spirits. When you need advice, His line is open 24-7. When you feel unsafe, He will be your safety; when you are worried, He will be an ear to your concerns. When you feel burdened, offer your burden to Him and He will take it. Where you have been burnt, He will make you beautiful; where you hurt, He will heal. Whenever you feel lonely, He will always be with you.
Where others have not supported you, He will support you. When you feel discouraged, He will be your encouragement. Where you don’t know, He will tell you when the time is right. When you feel unloved, remember that He has always loved you.
You see limitations; God sees opportunities. You see faults; God sees growth. You see problems; God sees solutions. You see limitations; God sees possibilities. You see life; God sees eternity.” ― Corallie Buchanan