“I have had enough! Lord, take my life.”1
He simply did not have the courage or strength to go on. This man of God had dedicated his life to zealously working and praying for his deepest desire to be fulfilled, and he thought that God was finally answering His prayers. God had just shown up in such a powerful and amazing way! How could the people have seen the glory of God so clearly and still not turn to Him? Now, rather than seeing the revival he had longed for, he was facing a death threat. His discouragement was so deep, so gripping, that he just wanted to die. How could it have come to this after his lifetime of ministry?
We are probably all familiar with the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mt. Caramel. But Elijah’s response in the very next chapter, 1 Kings 19, is a somewhat unexpected follow-up to that awesome display of God’s power. Queen Jezebel had responded to the events on the mountain by threatening to kill Elijah. It would seem that a death threat wouldn’t be such a big deal for a man who had taken such a courageous stand in the previous chapter. But this was not what he was expecting or hoping for, and it drove him to discouragement.
Can you relate to the discouragement that Elijah expresses? Not necessarily everyone has faced discouragement so deep that they want to die, but I think we can all relate to the cloud that can settle over us as we face disappointments and difficulties in life.
Perhaps it is the young person who questions why God keeps closing doors of opportunity without opening any new ones. Maybe it is the student frustrated by a bad grade on that big exam or the young man reeling from yet another “no” from a young woman. Or perhaps it is the young person who is struggling with questions and doesn’t know where to turn for help.
The list could go on – and I’m sure you could add your own examples to the list.
The Root of Discouragement
So why do we get discouraged? Why do so many different kinds of circumstances bring on the same feelings of hopelessness, despair, sadness, and exhaustion?
Could it be that the root is the same for the discouragement that each of us faces? Could it be that discouragement comes when we take our eyes off of our Savior and focus instead on ourselves and our own desires? Could it be that in order for us to have joy it is not so much our circumstances that need to change as our perspectives and attitudes?
If you are like me, those questions are a little uncomfortable. I don’t like the thought that my lack of joy and peace point to change that needs to happen in my own heart rather than in my circumstances.
But could it be true?
Ponder with me the example of Elijah that I mentioned above. He passionately longed for a good thing – that the nation of Israel would turn back to God. But God’s plan for accomplishing that was different from Elijah’s, and Elijah struggled to accept that.2
I can relate. I know how it feels to want something and have God clearly say “No, that isn’t My best for you right now.” I know how easy it is in those times to forget Who it is that I serve and all that He has blessed me with. It is easy to become focused on getting what I want, when I want it and how I want it. But when I fall into this mindset, I quickly become discouraged and discontent.
The truth is that Jesus told us that we would face trials in this life.3 He never guaranteed an easy life or the fulfillment of all our wants and dreams. But He did promise peace.4 And He is the One that fills our hearts with more joy than material abundance ever could (check out Psalm 4:7).
So how do we get from discouragement to that peace and joy? Ultimately, it can only be found by running to our Savior and resting in Him. Wallowing in how bad we feel or resisting our Heavenly Father will not produce the peace that He promises.
Consider the example of so many psalmists. I would encourage you to go and read through some of the chapters where psalmists pour out their hearts to God in gut-wrenching honesty. A few to get you started would be Psalm 13, Psalm 22, Psalm 86, or Lamentations 3. These psalmists don’t mince words as they express their feelings. And yet, there are some valuable lessons for us to observe in how they respond.
1. They were honest about what they were going through. It isn’t wrong to admit that we are facing discouragement. Sometimes even tears are an appropriate response to what we are facing. And it isn’t wrong to ask God questions about what we are facing. The problem comes when we choose to wallow in those feelings rather than taking them to God, and when we become defiant and angry with Him over what we are facing.
2. They consciously chose to remember and focus on who God is. Our response to the discouraging times of life reveals what we truly believe about God and His Word.2 The psalmists called to mind many of God’s characteristics and attributes such as His faithful love, righteousness, kindness, forgiveness, and compassion.5 Often when we are facing discouragement, we need to deliberately remind ourselves of the Truth. Life in this broken world is hard; but it doesn’t have to crush us as children of God.
3. They chose to praise God, worshiping Him and giving thanks. Through our discouragement, our tears, our questions, can we still praise the God who remains the same no matter what we face? Can we still praise the God who has saved and blessed us more than we deserve? It isn’t easy, and we won’t always feel like doing it. But He truly is worthy of our praise. And as Paul testifies in 2 Corinthians 12:9, God’s grace is sufficient if we will look to Him for it.
So how do we do these things in a practical way? That will probably look a little different for different people. For some it may come simply through spending time praying and reading God’s Word. For others it may be helpful to write it all down like the psalmists did. Some may find encouragement in listening to and singing songs of praise or in deliberately taking the focus off self by serving others. And for some people it is important to go to a brother or sister in Christ to share what we are facing and ask for specific prayer.
In the midst of the circumstances and relationships of life that we wish were different, each of us has a choice: Will we, like Elijah, be overwhelmed? Or will we choose to focus on who God is and worship Him in spite of it all? Are you, am I, willing to trust that God’s way is best even when it does not line up with our personal wants and dreams?
As each of us faces discouragement and disappointment, may we say with the psalmist, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:11).6
| Ranita Reitz currently resides in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Northern Virginia. She has a burden for seeing young women find freedom in Christ as they learn to trust in His promises and apply the principles of God’s Word to everyday life. Some of the things she enjoys most are connecting with people, reading, baking, taking pictures of God’s beautiful creation, and traveling to new places.
1. 1 Kings 19:4 The Holy Bible, Holman Christian Standard Bible. Nashville, Tennessee: Holman Bible Publishers, 2011. Print.
2. The Underestimated Gospel. Perf. Ligon Duncan. The Underestimated Gospel (Session VII). Together for the Gospel, 2012. Web. Nov. 2016. John 16:33
3. John 16:33
4. John 14:27
5. Psalm 13:5, Psalm 22:31, Psalm 86:5, Psalm 86:15
6. The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Wheaton, Il.: Crossway Bibles, 2001. Web. Web: https://www.blueletterbible.org/. Accessed Nov. 2016.