How to Fight Discouragement

Recently, I have received several questions from our web site on the subject of discouragement. One person writes, “I am an evangelist but I feel let down, not wanted?” Another writes, “I am really confused right now. Everybody I ask is going to give me a different answer and I don’t know which one is the right one.” One person asked multiple questions specifically on this subject: “What does the Bible say about discouragement? Is failure and discouragement the work of Satan or due to our disobedient and foolishness? How about those who strive to be good people yet fail in their life? Why do good Christians get discourage? What can we do to get rid of discouragement?” Having these statements and questions in mind, let’s spend a few minutes thinking about this subject.

Let’s note what discouragement is. Webster’s dictionary defines the word discouragement as the depravation of confidence, hope, or spirit. The obvious antonyms to discouragement are encouragement, edification, and exhortation. How can one be depraved of confidence, hope, or spirit? The answer to that question will help us understand how to battle discouragement itself.

One may be discouraged due to the influence of sin and Satan in one’s life (Matthew 13:39; Acts 10:38). When a person commits sin, he/she ought to feel guilty (because one is truly guilty) and be discouraged for doing such (Romans 3:19). Such discouragement is designed by God to aid one in coming to the conclusion that a sinful lifestyle is not the appropriate course of action to pursue. There are many today, however, who are discouraged in such a fashion, but fail to come to the appropriate conclusions regarding what to do. Instead of rejecting their sin and changing their lives, they choose to ease their consciences through “counselors” that persuade them to accept that their life choices are not truly evil. These seek to rationalize sinful behavior instead of confront and eliminate that behavior. Redefining good and evil may temporarily deal with discouragement, but ultimately this cannot provide the right solution (Isaiah 5:20). Those who do such end up continuing to be discouraged and wondering why they are in such a depressing situation. The sad answer is that it all began with their own sinful choices. The good news for this person is that one may repent, accept God’s standards for behavior, and have a happy life (Acts 26:18-20; Hebrews 10:22), however, such discouragement is not going to go away until one does so.

One may be discouraged due to a concerted effort on the part of another. Sometimes this effort is intentional and sometimes it is not. For example, a man may suggest an idea and another may intentionally discourage the idea because he doesn’t like it. On the other hand, someone may unintentionally discourage an idea by bringing up obstacles to the idea. It may not be the intention of this individual to squash the idea, but nonetheless, he can discourage the one who suggested it by so behaving. In such situations, the discouragement is not necessarily the fault of the individual who is discouraged (as it would be if sin were involved), but rather, it is due to the circumstances surrounding his personal confidence, hope, and spirit.

In the case of one who has been intentionally discouraged, one may fight such discouragement by prayer, pleading one’s case, trying again, or going at it in a different way. Just because we have been discouraged, doesn’t mean we have to quit in our efforts. Recall Jesus parable of the unjust judge who daily refused to hear a woman’s pleas, but because of her much pleading he eventually ruled on her behalf (Luke 18:2-5). Jesus said this parable was to teach us always to pray and never to faint.

In situations where the discouragement is not intentional, one should look for other explanations as opposed to assuming that the discourager merely does not want to help. Are we all working toward the same goal? If so, then we should view words that discourage in a positive light, not as destructive criticism, but constructive. Knowing that another’s intentions are not to discourage goes a long way toward battling personal discouragement. When we love our brethren, we “bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7).

Sometimes, however, there seems to be no one individual “cause” to discouragement. One simply gets discouraged due to the many pressures, stresses, and unfortunate downturns of unpredictable life. Sickness, layoffs, accidents, and even death, whether of near relatives or distance friends, can all take their toll on our personal optimism. Many times discouragement is not the result of one thing, but the combination of many things. What can the Christian do to fight this type of discouragement?

First, we should recognize that we always have reason to rejoice. Paul wrote from a prison cell “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). When we are suffering trials and temptations, the Christian is to rejoice (James 1:2, 3). Even in times of persecution, the attitude of the Christian is to be to rejoice (Matthew 5:10-12). It is encouraging to note that there is nothing that the Christian can do (as long as he is following Christ) that God cannot use for good (Romans 8:28). And as long as we are serving the Lord, then we can KNOW that our actions are profitable (1 Corinthians 15:58). With such things in mind, we can proclaim along with Paul, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

Second, there is no such thing as failure with the faithful Christian. What we perceive as failure should be viewed with optimism, not pessimism. The old sayings are true: All sunshine makes a desert, and you’ve got to have a little rain to make the flowers grow! When we fail (and that failure is not associated with sin) we should look at that as an opportunity to grow and learn. Even failures that are associated with sin can be turned into something positive if we learn from those failures and cease to behave in the ways which lead us to those failures, i.e. we repent. Tom Landry was once overheard saying, “We don’t learn very much from the games that we win.” There is truth in that. Failure has many lessons to teach us, and we can grow stronger from it if we are open to allowing God’s truth to work in our lives. Don’t look at failures as “setbacks” look at failure as “opportunities!” Paul the apostle wrote, “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Third, the best solution to discouragement is to get to work. I heard someone say a long time ago that dreading is worse than doing. If we allow our discouragement to stop us from doing the work that God has set before us to do, then we have allowed dread and discouragement to overcome our actions. However, if we say to ourselves, “Yes, I feel miserable right now, but I am going to do God’s work anyway,” then we will be able to overcome. We must not allow dreading to prevent us from doing. Hebrews 6:9-20 is a great passage to encourage us to continue faithfully in God’s work as we press toward the goal of heaven. If you want to get rid of discouragement, then get busy doing something productive in the kingdom of God! Visit the sick; go to a nursing home; volunteer at school; help some orphans; go on a mission campaign; sweep out the church building; anything that you can do for the Lord, do it!

Discouragement is a reality with which every Christian must deal, however, let us remember that we are not mere animals, that simply react to every stimulus with which we are presented; we are made in the image of God, and that means when confronted with discouragement, we have a choice. We can choose to mope, groan, and laze about, or we can choose to act positively toward such situations and resolve to be invigorated and seek to overcome the causes of our present distress. As Christians, let’s choose the later and not succumb to the former.

Posted in Kevin Cauley | Tagged | Comments Off on How to Fight Discouragement

The Little Ones

I heard a story this week about a little boy in Texas who is currently residing in a children’s home. When I inquired about why he was in the home, I was told that his Father placed him there on account of a new wife who didn’t want to be bothered by the boy. When I asked whether there were someone else who could take care of the child, I was told that the Father forbad the child being in any other situation other than the orphanage, even though, there were other relatives willing to care for the child and even adopt the child.

Sadly, this is just one story of neglect and abandonment of many that could be told in our nation today. If the tears and crying of the neglected children in our society were audible, we could cover our ears and still hear the cacophony of anguish louder than the loudest roar of pain. Paul the apostle listed such among the most repugnant of sins in Romans 1:31: “without natural affection.” No doubt you are asking, “How could someone be so calloused and cold as to do such a thing, to neglect and abandon one’s own offspring?” Well, it didn’t happen without other sinful influences. What are some of those influences?

First, there is disbelief in God. Jean Paul Sartre said, “If there is no God, then anything goes.” If there is no God, there is no right and wrong, no morality. Humanists and Atheists would have us believe that people can be good without God, but society has proved them wrong over the years. If individuals are not taught what is right and wrong, then they will not behave accordingly. They will simply act according to their own animal instincts and do what they “feel” is best to preserve their own existence. And who suffers because of such an attitude? The little ones.

Second, there are those who tolerate the erosion of moral values. It used to be the case that when someone committed adultery, divorced, got pregnant out of wedlock, or committed any other act of shame, that they were shunned from society for their impenitent sins, and rightly so. But today, we have come to a point where it is a sin to point out someone else’s sin. Because of such a situation, evil has silenced good. And who suffers because of such an attitude? The little ones.

Third, there is the attitude of selfishness. We live in a society that panders to the wants and desires of the individual. We don’t have time to serve others because we are too busy serving self. “Have it your way” has become our true national motto instead of “In God we trust.” And if we don’t get our way, then we just “take our ball and go home.” And who suffers because of such an attitude? The little ones.

Fourth, there is failure to accept responsibility for one’s actions. We are a society that loves to place the blame on someone else instead of ourselves. We blame McDonald’s because we are fat. We blame the President because we are lazy. We blame the righteous, because we sin. It’s always someone else’s fault. And who suffers because of such an attitude? The little ones.

Jesus said, “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). Who will “defend the fatherless” and “plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17)? Not those who behave as outlined above. The only people we are hurting by our behavior today are our own children and do we think God will not notice? Brethren, awake to righteousness (1 Corinthians 15:34)!

Posted in Kevin Cauley | Tagged , , | Comments Off on The Little Ones

Observing All Things

In Matthew 28:18-20, we have these words: “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19″Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20″teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.”

The universality of this passage of scripture cannot be denied. Jesus begins with stating that “all authority” has been given to him. Not some authority, not authority over religious things only, not authority over morality only, but ALL authority. The life of the Christian is to be characterized as living under the authority of Christ. Indeed, that is the essence of what it means to make Jesus our Lord. This universal forever excludes the notion that one may be a Christian and still be a worldling.

What Jesus tells the disciples next is to make disciples of ALL the nations. Again, another universal command. Jesus didn’t say, make disciples of the nations that would hear you. He didn’t say not to worry about the nations that don’t have Bibles. Jesus said ALL nations. Again, the collective obligation of Jesus’ disciples is to spread the gospel to ALL nations. Not some, but all. Christianity is to be characterized as sending the gospel into the utmost reaches of the earth, because, every knee will bow. This universal forever excludes the notion that one may be a Christian, yet believe that all of those who have not heard the gospel will somehow be “saved.”

Jesus tells his followers how to make disciples. Baptizing them and teaching them. These words are, in the Greek language, participles. Unlike verbs, participles contain no time of their own. The action of the participles are carried out in the lead verb (“make disciples”). The inescapable conclusion is that one cannot be a disciple without having been taught and having been baptized. The description, however, of the things to be taught in this verse is indeed universal. Jesus said, “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” It is incumbent upon us, as Christians, if we are going to respect the words of our Lord in the great commission, to teach those who would be Christians to observe ALL of the things that Jesus commanded. There can be no exceptions. This universal forever excludes the notion that we may observe some things that Jesus commanded, but other things we don’t have to observe (as some are suggesting today).

Now, I wish to point out a couple of distinctions here that we often fail to recognize in this passage. It doesn’t say, “teaching them all things that I have commanded.” Some mistakenly suggest that if we must make disciples by teaching, then we must teach them everything that Jesus commanded before they become Christians and that is simply impossible to do. But, it doesn’t say that we are to teach everything that is commanded, but to teach them to observe everything that is commanded. That can be done relatively quickly, by letting those who would become Christians know that they are to faithfully hold to the commands of Jesus in their life, as they continue to learn those commands, and that whatever may come, they are to always observe those things.

Another thing that the passage does not say: it doesn’t say “teaching them to obey all things that I have commanded.” It says, “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” This is a distinction upon which I wish to focus for the remainder of this article, namely, that Jesus didn’t tell us to “obey all things.” Neither did Jesus tell us to teach all things. Jesus told us to teach them to observe all things. Why make such distinctions?

Now, before we even get started, I’m not suggesting that because Jesus didn’t say that we have to “obey” that therefore we do not have to obey Jesus. Yes, we do have to obey if we want to be saved (Hebrews 5:9). However, there are some who ridicule the idea of obeying Jesus and say things such as “which commands are we supposed to obey?” And they point to things such as washing feet, the holy kiss, women wearing veils, and other things that indeed were commanded, yet obviously are not practiced today. Then these who so criticize very smugly conclude that there is something wrong with our hermeneutic because we do not obey these commands. I would like to point out the fallacy of this thinking.

Jesus said to “observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” The word “observe” is not the same as the word obey. I must admit that if Jesus had said, “Obey all things,” then it would be impossible for me to do such, namely, because some commands in the Bible are given to women, and I am not a woman; I am a man. It would be impossible for me to obey the command, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). I simply cannot obey that command, but I can OBSERVE that command. I can respect the fact that God desires wives to submit to their husbands. I can teach that fact of the gospel to others. I can expect out of Christian women for them to obey this command. I cannot directly obey that command, but I can observe that command.

Now, having said this, I believe that we often use the word “obey” in the sense of “observe.” That is, often times in our desire to be pleasing to the Lord and to submit to His will and not our own, we tell others that they must “obey the Lord,” “keep the commandments,” and etc. Now, if one were to take such things to the extreme literal of their interpretation (as do our critical friends), then one must obviously come to the conclusion (as I have illustrated above) that such things are impossible to do. However, if one understand by “keep the commandments” and “obey the Lord” and other similar imperative statements, that we are saying exactly what Jesus told us to do in the great commission, namely, “observe all things,” then there can be no criticism. For one does not necessarily have to literally obey all things in order to observe all things.

Let me illustrate. For one to literally obey Jesus’ command to wash one another’s feet (John 13:14), then I would of necessity have to wash someone else’s feet on a more or less regular basis. However, for me to observe this command, doesn’t necessarily imply that I must wash another’s feet. I may do that to observe this command, but I also may recognize that this example was one that Jesus took from the culture of the day, and that the lesson that Jesus was teaching was in regard to serving one another, not necessarily, specifically, washing one another’s feet. I can observe this command that Jesus gave by being a servant.

Another example, “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (Romans 16:16, 1 Cor.16:20, 2 Cor.13:12, 1 Thess.5:26). In some parts of this country, we do not greet each other in such a fashion. Some parts do, I understand. However, for me to literally obey this command, then I must greet everyone with a holy kiss. There wouldn’t be anything wrong with doing that, but that was more or less a cultural practice of the day equivalent to our “hand shake.” I may not literally obey this command, but I can observe this command, by practicing the cultural equivalent of our day.

One more example: when we read in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 of Paul’s direction for women to wear a veil and for men not to wear coverings, the context clearly indicates this practice to be related to culture (as verse 16 indicates). To literally obey in this context would mean that women would have to wear veils in the assembly today and that men would not be allowed to cover their heads. However, to observe such, would not necessarily mean that we must do exactly what they do, but recognize the principle involved in this passage, namely, that women are to respect the authority of their husbands and whatever cultural practices indicate that respect and men are to respect their equality with one another particularly in reference to their head, Christ.

This distinction between “obey” and “observe” really makes all of the difference in the world in understanding how we can literally obey some things that are within the scriptures (such as “This do in remembrance of me,” 1 Corinthians 11:24, 25) whereas, we are not required to literally obey other things in the scripture (such as, “Salute one another with a holy kiss”). We are required to observe, but not necessarily, literally, obey. Understanding this preserves the integrity of the “Command, Example, Necessarily Inference” hermeneutic, because being obedient to commands becomes not so much literally obeying ALL commands, but without a doubt, observing ALL commands. “Obeying” examples, (examples can’t really be “obeyed” per se, but followed) means observing those examples. “Obeying” implications (the term “necessary inference” isn’t really correct, but implication is) means that we must observe the things that the scriptures imply. You can see, that one can definitely “observe” “commands, examples, and necessarily inferences” (or more accurately, 1) direct statements, 2) examples, and 3) implications) without being strictly, literally, obedient to them. So let’s observe what our Lord commanded be done in Matthew 28:20, “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”

Posted in Kevin Cauley | Tagged , | Comments Off on Observing All Things