discouraging thoughts

You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived;
you overpowered me and prevailed.
I am ridiculed all day long;
everyone mocks me.
Whenever I speak, I cry out
proclaiming violence and destruction.
So the word of the Lord has brought me
insult and reproach all day long.
But if I say, “I will not mention his word
or speak anymore in his name,”
his word is in my heart like a fire,
a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
indeed, I cannot.

Jeremiah 20:7-9

We are all wired differently. Jeremiah seems to have been a person who was easily, or at least often discouraged. When you consider what he was up against right from the get go, that he was submerged in discouraging thoughts is hardly a surprise. That he was able to continue on and be faithful to God’s calling to him for nearly 40 years is a testament of God’s faithfulness in his life. The fact is that for Jeremiah God’s word overrode everything, including his discouragement.

When your words came, I ate them;
they were my joy and my heart’s delight,
for I bear your name,
Lord God Almighty.

Jeremiah 15:16

That was said in the midst of turmoil. God and God’s word made the difference needed. Both in settling the prophet, as well as the message he had to set before others.

This is written for us today, and surely should encourage us in the midst of our own difficulties to keep on keeping on in the path God has for us. We can take consolation that it wasn’t easy for Jeremiah, either. Of course we can’t compare our situations with his. Most of us experience nothing so actually dire. But our experiences are just as real.

God will keep us going as we continue on in God’s word and prayer, whatever we have to deal with, no matter what comes. God will help us. In and through Jesus.

when discouragement sets in (Ecclesiastes)

Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

The end of a fascinating book helps us keep straight what we have to keep our eyes on as we live life “under the sun.” Tremper Longman is helpful here:

The second wise man commends Qohelet as an example of honest thinking about life “under the sun.” In essence he’s saying, “Son, Qohelet is 100 percent correct. Under the sun, life is difficult and then you die.”

However, the second wise man goes on to encourage his son toward what we might call an “above the sun” perspective: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of humanity. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil” (12:13–14).

I’m not qualified to offer my opinion on Longman’s overall interpretation of Ecclesiastes (see his commentary), along with other interpretations, or to offer my own. I think his quote above certainly rings true.

What is helpful to me is the plain point that when all is said and done we’re to simply fear God and keep his commandments, keeping in mind our accountability to God, how we will have to answer to him.

I don’t at all write off the rest of the book as having no value for us. We run up against its truth all the time in the difficulties we face and see everywhere. And I think interspersed throughout Qohelet’s (“the Teacher’s”) words are glimmers of light that see beyond the perspective of “life under the sun.”

That is the perspective we need if we’re to carry on well in God’s eyes. We have to get past the inevitable discouragement which faces here, all the problems, not to mention tragedy, and realize that even in the best scenario of “life under the sun,” there is a sense of not arriving, of futility, even a sense of meaninglessness.

What we need in this world is to see beyond that to the God who gives meaning in the midst of the madness. Who keeps us in his way, as we see him for who he is, and seek to walk in line with his will. In and through Jesus.

 

the need for faith and patience

Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

Hebrews 6:9-12

It is easy to get discouraged in the midst of life with all its setbacks, issues, and problems. And especially so in the midst of some prolonged trial. We can be tempted to begin to doubt whether our faith really matters.

The writer to the Hebrews was dealing with something similar with them. Except they were under the threat of persecution. They were evidently discouraged and indeed afraid, and we’re thinking about returning to the safety of their former Judaism.

I can find myself worn down, and simply tired. We need to rest, take care of ourselves, not push ourselves beyond what is healthy. At the same time we’re not to back down in the least from the calling and responsibilities the Lord has given us.

And while this is for others: we’re indeed blessed to be a blessing, it’s also necessarily for ourselves. We shouldn’t dismiss the danger we ourselves face, as the NIV heading for this passage puts it, “Warning Against Falling Away.” If we think that couldn’t happen to us, then it would seem to me like we’re not taking this passage of scripture, God’s word seriously.

We need by faith and patience to continue to believe and do good, hear the word and put it into practice, as James says. How that looks in my life will be different when it comes to specifics, then from someone else. But the same fruit of the Spirit.

It would be good to read the entire book of Hebrews with the above passage in mind. A pastoral letter written to encourage a discouraged people. For us all in and through Jesus.

accepting hardship and disappointment instead of discouragement and defeat

Sometimes we have to make the best of a hard situation. Instead of caving in and giving up, and often along with that, feeling sorry for ourselves. And unwittingly, or maybe not so unwittingly, accepting our demise.

There are all kinds of reasons for this in a broken, fallen world of which we’re a part of in our own brokenness. Even apart from our own problems and shortcomings, indeed even sins along the way, life itself can present us with issues for which there are no good or easy answers.

And there really are limitations in this life. As humans we all have to eat, drink and sleep. While we can do some difficult things for a certain period of time, there are limits. And not everything in this life succeeds or turns out well according to plan. So we have to live according to realistic goals, and set our sights on that.

But we will be in some hard, difficult, and potentially discouraging places. That is inevitable, and we will do well to accept it as a matter of fact part of life and living in this present sphere of existence.

The worst thing we can do is feel sorry for ourselves. That means our disappointment and discouragement has caused us to accept our defeat. No. We have to do better going forward, no matter what. The biggest part of that better is to learn to depend on God in the midst of everything, and not on ourselves. But not baby ourselves, either.

A good passage to help us through all of this, as we consider the rest of scripture as well is found in one of the most down to earth books in scripture, James.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

James 1

May God help us be aware and awake to this problem, and learn to address it well with his wisdom and help in and through Jesus.

where does our confidence lie?

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1

Oftentimes, especially in this world, we really can get out of sorts, because of all the evil going on, along with the nagging problems which are not easily resolved. We can see so much depending on this or that entity, or even ourselves, and we can become both overwhelmed and afraid. Add to that our own struggles, probably in part coming from that, so that at times we may seem to be suffering spiritual setback.

Jeff Manion in his new series on the book of Philippians, “Choosing Joy Under Pressure,” “Week 2/The Partnership” adeptly led us through that passage. This was a relatively young church, around 10 years old in the Lord, faithful to the gospel, but struggling under some persecution and internal conflicts, with the danger that some might become discouraged to the point of completely losing their faith. Hence this great letter from the imprisoned Paul. Well worth the listen and watch.

The gospel is both the heart of our witness, and the heart of our existence. How in the world do we think we’ll make it? And how is the world itself going to make it? Ultimately only through the gospel, period. Other things are good and important in their place, but there is only one “good news” which will prevail while everything else falls to the wayside. That of Jesus and his death for us, out of which comes the new life for us and for the world.

God who began his good work in us through that good news/ gospel will complete what he started. We only need to hold on in faith to that good news in Jesus for ourselves, for others, indeed, even for the world. We can have confidence that whatever else might happen, this gospel in and through Jesus and his death will prevail, changing us into his likeness in this world, even becoming like him in his death (Philippians 3) toward the children of God in Jesus which we were created to become in the new creation all in him are destined for.

Something to celebrate, look forward to, and rest in, even in this life, when so much else can be up in the air with no certain outcome. What matters most is in process even in the midst of a world which at times seems to be unraveling, and is not eternal in and of itself. We can rest assured that God’s good will in Jesus will prevail. Confident in that no matter what else happens. In and through Jesus.

keeping at it faithfully, not drifting

Sometimes we experience such grief and downright consternation over life, personal concerns, matters, or whatever, that it seems impossible to keep heart since our heart is utterly broken, or breaking. Or perhaps life is good, and we feel good, with little or no worries. Either way, or with just what can become the numbness of day to day living, we can begin to drift from our God, and in so doing actually from ourselves, since to find and know God is to begin to find and know ourselves, a byproduct of that, not the goal.

I have found myself drifting a bit lately, not purposefully, to be sure. But whatever the challenges faced, it is the heart which one way or another is going to be attacked by the enemy, often through the mind, and when it seems that relationships even in family are not what they ought to be, even sometimes broken, or at least cracked. And so it’s seemed to me that what I do, and certainly whether or not I’m here matters not at all. It’s not like any of us are indispensable, or that God needs us. But God has chosen to include us during this time to his glory in and through Jesus in his good and great work, each of us having a part in that.

But to the point of this post: I realize afresh and anew that I need to keep on keeping on faithfully, for me beginning with my daily meditation in the word, in scripture. Certainly in that with a focus on the gospel, on Jesus. It’s not about looking for some great experience, or any experience at all. God is present with us in Jesus no matter what we’re going through or how we feel. It’s simply about faith in God, and being faithful to the calling of God, yes, in all our weakness, and sometimes sin, or struggle against sin. We want to plod on, and keep going, come what may, by God’s grace, no turning back.

In order to avoid inevitable drifting, we have to simply continue on in the Spirit direction God gives us. That may not always seem obvious, and actually may take some time for us to understand or have a needed breakthrough on a given matter. But part of how we get there is simply by continuing to meditate on the word, and seeking to grow in that meditation. Sometimes to ponder a matter slowly and prayerfully before we sense it’s time to move on. But not stopping. Continuing on in the word, that we might be on the path with others in following Jesus, in and through Jesus.

 

when one could quit

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.

There are times when for a number of reasons life seems so discouraging. Not that there isn’t some good if you look for it. And indeed, as scripture tells us (Psalm 103, etc.), in the words of the hymn, we’re to count our many blessings. But so much can seem wrong, and at times against us. If you include with that the propensity for some of us to, if not expect the worst, try to be prepared for that, we can more or less be pushed over the edge into the precipice of losing heart, and hardly caring. Not because we want to be that way, but there are times which try a person’s soul, as the saying goes. Sometimes on a nagging, smaller scale, and at other times in a major way when one could wish that life would come to a screeching halt.

Enter Jesus, instructing his disciples about how they should always pray and never give up (NLT).

He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Luke 18

Jesus told a parable to make that point. He compared God to an unjust judge, who after a widow’s relentless pleading for justice, reluctantly gives in, granting her request. And that God who is just and merciful, as Jesus taught, found amply in scripture, will respond to his people’s prayers for justice.

People ask me how I am, and some don’t seem to leave room for an answer other than “good,” having in it the possible hint that I’m not doing so well, maybe on a personal level for whatever reason, or because of a concern for the problems of others. It seems at certain times that things are out of control, that some outlook is grim at best.

Such times, and the discouragement which can accompany them should be a heads up for us, as Jesus taught his disciples, and by extension teaches us, to pray, and not give up. That order might suggest that we won’t give up if we pray. One could also aptly say, that when we are tempted to give up, instead we should pray.

God will help us in his own time and way. Praying at times for ourselves, for others, and for the world. As we look for the final justice and mercy to come in and through Jesus.