This blog focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Discouragement - Part 9 - Faith's Role

In this concluding post on the topic of discouragement, I want to re-examine the verses I have shared throughout the series, looking at them from one particular angle. As I meditated on these verses over a period of weeks, I saw a powerful unifying factor emerge; the dominant factor is the role of faith.

"In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (I Peter 1:6-7).

These verses from First Peter seem to be a good place to start, as they state outright that the believer's faith is in a battle. Faith is being tested, tried, proven, and refined through the challenges of life. The trial of faith is the essence of the Christian battle. God wants to preserve faith, and Satan wants to destroy it.

Job was an incredibly righteous man, and he became a sort of test case for God and Satan. Satan's goal was for Job to reject faith ("curse You to Your face"), and Job's resolve was to maintain faith ("though He slay me, I will hope in Him"). Peter's battle was the same; Satan wanted to destroy faith ("sift you like wheat"), but Jesus prayed for preservation of faith ("that your faith may not fail").

Satan wages that same battle with every believer; each Christian faces the same challenge of maintaining faith in the midst of adversity. In essence, this is the most basic struggle of the Christian life. The question is whether a Christian will believe God even when he can't see God's truth displayed experientially or whether he will throw away God's words when life does not seem to work out. Faith is not faith when it insists on seeing to believe; faith clings to God's truth precisely when no evidence is seen.

As I studied through these verses, I was struck over and over again with how these verses look forward to an expected result, and they do so because they are founded on a concrete basis of truth. This is faith in action. I'm just going to highlight some key phrases to illustrate this principle.

The expected result of contentment and hope in Hebrews 13:5 are based on what " He Himself has said."

Faith looks expectantly for "God [to] supply all . . .  needs" (Philippians 4:19).

Peter clung to God because He had "words of eternal life" (John 6:68).

The believer maintains faith by focusing on what transcends time and experience: "things which are not seen" and that "are eternal." Because of his faith, he expects something in the future: the "inner man is being renewed day by day" and "an eternal weight of glory" that he believes is being produced, though not yet fully achieved (II Corinthians 4:16-18).

The believer looks forward to see his tried and eventually victorious faith "result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (I Peter 1:6-7).

The Christian believes that "after you have suffered, . . . God . . . will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you" (I Peter 5:10).

James includes another verse that openly acknowledges "the testing of your faith," but it looks for the "perfect result" of "produc[ing] endurance" and of being "perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 1:3-4).

Peter again reminds believers of the battle for faith, stating that they must "be of sober spirit, . . . on the alert." He warns of an "adversary" who is "seeking . . .  to devour" (I Peter 5:8).

The believer equipped in God's armor and with fortified by faith expects to "be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil" (Ephesians 6:10-11).

The battle for faith is one that demands "weapons," one of which is the "shield of faith . . . to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one" (Ephesians 6:16). That the battle hinges on what one believes is evident due to the necessity of "taking every thought captive" (II Corinthians 10:4-5).

When Peter urges, "Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God," (an evidence of faith in Him), he also expects the result "that He may exalt you at the proper time" (I Peter 5:6).

Faith asks God for wisdom, believing that "it will be given to him" (James 1:5).

Faith identifies true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and well-reputed thoughts and evidences faith by choosing to "dwell on these things" (Philippians 4:8).

Faith does not "throw away [its] confidence," but looks forward to "when [one has] done the will of God," expecting the fulfillment of "what was promised" (Hebrews 10:35-36).

Even when the soul is "in despair," it determines to "hope in God," confident that it "shall again [have reason to] praise Him" (Psalm 42:5).

The soul that would despair except for believing it will again "see the goodness of the LORD" will in faith confidently "wait for the LORD" (Psalm 27:13-14).

Indeed, "God is faithful" and worthy of the believer's faith. God will not leave His children forever under the temptation, "but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also" (I Corinthians 10:13). The believer can have faith in that future expectation of God's fulfilled promise.

The Christian's battles are all about faith. If it is true, and I believe it is, that most discouragement is due to wrong thinking, then faith in God's truth is what is needed to win the battle. If discouragement, regardless of its cause, can be countered with right thinking, then it is completely logical that faith is indeed the key component in the fight. Granted, it is not always easy to believe. The awfulness of life might seem to be in stark contradiction to God's promises, but when a Christian chooses to believe God's truth and when he looks forward to the result that God has declared He will achieve, that believer can have victory over discouragement or any other battle.

"And this is the victory that has overcome the world -- our faith." I John 5:4 (NASB)

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Discouragement - Part 8 - Someone Cares

Discouragement and depression are deceptively volatile. Moods can suddenly soar to levels of reprieve and can just as quickly plummet into the depths. A significant factor regarding these extremes is whether or not the person sees himself as alone. The supporting presence of a genuine friend can cause distresses to simply melt away. Interaction with a caring friend can take overwhelming issues that had screamed out to be talked about, and can magically dispel the gloom so that those issues are no longer troubling. Indeed, a caring friend can have a tremendous impact through his supporting presence as well as through the helpful words he speaks.

The opposite is also true. If a discouraged person is alone (or perceives himself to be), the depth of his struggle can quickly compound. What in reality is only mild or moderate discouragement can quickly sink to abysmal levels. Without support, every struggle seems that much harder, and every shred of hope is more easily threatened. Unfortunately, people in despair often do feel that they are alone.

This perception of solitude is not always far from the truth. Discouraged people can cut off potential support when they feel incapable of interacting with others or when they avoid sharing any genuine revelation of their struggle. Social isolation or life circumstances can inhibit meaningful interactions with others. Through ignorance of the problem, people may not become involved, and perhaps some will even choose not to reach out in support because they do not understand, do not feel comfortable, or do not know what to say. The good news is that even in the absence of human comforters, there is a God - a heavenly Father - who always loves and cares for His children in their distress.

The knowledge of God's grace is a wonderful antidote for discouragement. "And He has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.' Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me" (I Corinthians 12:9). God has enough grace that it does not matter how weak the believer is. It does not matter how incapable he is of helping himself. God's grace is sufficient to supply all of the strength that is needed to meet the seemingly impossible challenges.

"And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed" (II Corinthians 9:8). In fact, in the midst of impossible life situations in which one feels he cannot even cope, God can give so much grace - overflowing grace - so that the believer is not limited to merely surviving in his own life, but is able to reach out in help and ministry to others. He can do what God has placed in front of him to do.

The knowledge of God's love is a second effective remedy for discouragement. "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39). People, life, and circumstances are so unpredictable. Even people with the best intentions have limitations; things happen that are outside their control. For various reasons, the love of people (or the opportunity to show that love) will fail. Such failure never happens with God's love. There is no challenge, no obstacle, no outside force, no life event, not even death itself that can separate the believer from God's love.

"And that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge" (Ephesians 3:17b-19a). This abundance of love escapes human comprehension. This love has no limit; no matter how far one goes in any direction, he cannot escape or exhaust the love of God. A believer cannot sink so low that God's love does not continue to surround him.

The knowledge of God's compassionate healing is a third powerful cure for discouragement. "He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds" (Psalm 147:3). God sees every broken heart, and He also sees the cause or reason for the brokenness. Because of God's great care, He does not stand idly by. Instead, He comes alongside as a skillful doctor; He gives His healing touch, and He mends the wounds. God does not want a heart to remain in its broken condition.

“After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (I Peter 5:10). This God of grace always follows up on the times of suffering by providing His own personal interaction of healing and mending. These four actions of God are designed to restore the believer's heart. God will perfect (complete thoroughly, repair). He will confirm (strengthen, steadfastly set). He will strengthen (give vigor), and He will establish (settle, lay a foundation).

The knowledge of God's undying support is a fourth restorative tonic for discouragement. "Cast your burden upon the LORD, and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken" (Psalm 55:22). God's arms are always holding His children. Not only can He carry their every burden, but He can also hold the believer himself so he will not waver or fall. With God's help, a believer can stay on his feet.

"No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it" (I Corinthians 10:13). God's support is not limited to upholding the believer in the trial, but extends to providing a way out of the distress. God knows how much is too much. He knows what each believer can bear. While it may sometimes seem that there is no answer and no escape, God always provides the way. He will not leave His children helpless in their struggle.

When no one else cares, is aware, or is capable of providing help, God can do all of those things. Oh, yes, the Heavenly Father always cares, and He always does something to help. His grace, love, healing, and tender support have no limits. God can and will take care of His hurting children because He loves them so much. There is indeed Someone who cares.

"Casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you." I Peter 5:7 (NASB)

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Discouragement - Part 7 - Finding Hope

Discouragement and hope are enemies. As hope dwindles, discouragement thrives; when hope grows, discouragement is squelched. Unfortunately, the discouraged person often feels as if there is no hope. While it may be true that there are some unchangeable circumstances in his life, there is always hope. Hope always exists because God always exists. God is the one who gives hope and meaning to a life, even when reflection on that life seems to deny the possibility of hope. This God of hope can provide hope at all times through the truth of His Word.

God gave the Scriptures so that Christians can have hope - even abundant hope. "For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:4,13).

The Word is a source of hope because it is a shelter, defense, and protection from the onslaughts of life. "Remember the word to Your servant, in which You have made me hope. You are my hiding place and my shield; I wait for Your word. Sustain me according to Your word, that I may live; and do not let me be ashamed of my hope" (Psalm 119:49,114,116).

The Scriptures provide hope as they reveal truth about the amazing God who is worthy of trust. The believer can hope in God because God answers when he calls. "For I hope in You, O LORD; You will answer, O LORD my God" (Psalm 38:15).

The believer can hope in God because God has been a constant source of hope throughout life. "For You are my hope; O Lord GOD, You are my confidence from my youth. But as for me, I will hope continually, and will praise You yet more and more" (Psalm 71:5,14).

The believer can hope in God because He shows lovingkindness and rescues His children. "I wait for the LORD, my soul does wait, and in His word do I hope. O Israel, hope in the LORD; for with the LORD there is lovingkindness, and with Him is abundant redemption" (Psalm 130:5,7).

The believer can hope in God because God is faithful every day and continually shows His compassionate kindness. "This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. The LORD's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him. It is good that he waits silently for the salvation of the LORD" (Lamentations 3:21-26).

The believer can hope in God because God is always with him to protect him. "I have set the LORD continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices; my flesh also will dwell securely" (Psalm 16:9).

The believer can hope in God because God cannot lie. All of the truths that He reveals about Himself and about His care for His children are completely true. "So that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil" (Hebrews 6:18-19).

It is a wonderful realization to know that God can be depended on and will not fail those who hope in Him. "And now, Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in You" (Psalm 39:7).

The one who hopes and trusts in God is blessed, particular in his soul which is so much in need of God's blessing. "Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is in the LORD" (Jeremiah 17:7).

The one who hopes and trusts in God is able to rejoice even in the midst of difficulties. "Rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer" (Romans 12:12).

The one who hopes and trusts in God is not only comforted in his own heart, but is also able to minister to others. "Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word" (II Thessalonians 2:16).

Hope is not always the easiest thing. Sometimes life seems to call out for despair. In fact, without God life would be despair, but God makes all the difference. Because God is good, the believer can confidently wait on Him, and He will always act in accordance with the goodness of His nature. "I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the LORD" (Psalm 27:13-14).

Hope may seem ridiculous under the circumstances, but even the seemingly impossible cannot quench hope. Naturally speaking, Abraham had no hope of seeing a promised child, but he chose to hope in God anyway. God ended up doing for Abraham exactly what He had said He would do. "In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, 'So shall your descendants be'" (Romans 4:18).

The Bible has the truth to help and give hope in every situation. When the believer seeks out and meditates on the appropriate truth, he is encouraged and able to move toward victory. He may not require an entire list of verses; just one or two verses, understood and remembered, can guide the believer on the path toward hope. The believer must be on guard, meditating on Scripture and focusing on God, thereby challenging himself not to yield to despair, but to hope in God. "Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence" (Psalm 42:5).

While a friend, a note of encouragement, a changed circumstance, a vacation, or some other blessing may provide some help to the believer in despair, those cannot be his ultimate source of hope. God is very clear that He expects believers to find their hope in the Bible, a book that overflows with abundant hope for all who will seek it. The believer must hope in God whether circumstances change or not, whether his illness improves or not, whether people come through for him or not, and whether he gets the answer he wants or not. Any of those things in which people put their hope have the potential to fail, and at some point they probably will. God is the only source of hope that will never fail.

"O love the LORD, all you His godly ones! The LORD preserves the faithful and fully recompenses the proud doer. Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who hope in the LORD." Psalm 31:23-24 (NASB)

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Discouragement - Part 6 - Action Plan

Deep discouragement is a formidable foe, but it is possible for a believer to have victory in the battle. There are steps that a Christian can take that will help first to arrest the discouragement and then to advance in a positive direction. These steps are beneficial even if the discouragement or depression is rooted in an uncontrollable physical condition.

God has given man the capacity to observe, evaluate, and learn about human nature. Those in the mental health field have developed strategies for fighting depression. While some of those strategies may be a little bizarre or perhaps totally man-centered, others are profitable, inasmuch as they agree with the natural laws designed by God. Following are several suggestions that are in harmony with the Bible.

1. Identify and treat any medical cause. "But when Jesus heard this, He said, 'It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick'" (Matthew 9:12).

2. Get a proper amount of sleep. "It is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors; for He gives to His beloved . . . sleep" (Psalm 127:2).

3. Eat right. "The angel of the LORD came again a second time and touched him and said, 'Arise, eat, because the journey is too great for you'" (I Kings 19:7).

4. Engage in exercise and activity. "The sleep of the working man is pleasant" (Ecclesiastes 5:12).

1. Purposefully be around people. "Woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up" (Ecclesiastes 4:10).

2. Seek humor and laughter. "A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones" (Proverbs 17:22).

3. Resume doing things that were previously enjoyable. "After some days Paul said to Barnabas, 'Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are" (Acts 15:36).

4. In spite of the challenges, keep doing what must be done. "Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later" (Hebrews 3:5).

1. Set goals. "Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:12).

2. Instead of focusing on feelings, learn to focus on thoughts. "When my heart was embittered and I was pierced within, then I was senseless and ignorant; I was like a beast before You" (Psalm 73:21-22).

3. Identify particular dangers or triggers. "I said, 'I will guard my ways that I may not sin with my tongue'" (Psalm 39:1).

While each of the above strategies can produce some profit, there are spiritual strategies that are even more beneficial and that will accomplish far more than these other helps. When the spirit of man suffers, the spirit of man must respond to God, who is able to help the inner part of man that nothing else can mend.

1. Be humble. "Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time" (I Peter 5:6). Usually in the midst of discouragement, there is some identifiable cause or contributing factor. Whether that be a thwarted goal, a spiritual struggle, a financial distress, a physical illness, an uncomfortable situation, or any other discomfort, the believer must humble himself under God's hand. He must not fight against God's plan and work. No matter what form God's work may take and no matter what challenges it may bring, the believer must submit to what God is doing. Submission is the means to acquire grace.

2. Pray for wisdom. "But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him" (James 1:5). In the midst of a particular time of trouble, a believer may feel completely lost. He might not know what to do, how to proceed, how to endure, or how to get out of the spiritual and emotional struggle he is in. God has the wisdom for all of these things, and a Christian can confidently come to God and ask for the guidance and wisdom he lacks.

3. Talk to God. "Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us" (Psalm 62:8). Sadly, during the times of deepest struggle, some Christians will forsake God. They will deem themselves unworthy to come to Him, or they will think that He does not care. God always cares. He invites His children to come and to share from the depths of their hearts. Believers can always talk to God honestly, openly, and without reserve.

4. Think right thoughts. "Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute; if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things" (Philippians 4:8). While emotions may sometimes seem out of control, thoughts can be controlled. It may be difficult, especially at first, but with practice, a believer can learn to think right and valuable and helpful things even in the midst of struggle. A great way to ponder each of the characteristics listed above is to think about God Himself and what He is like.

5. Endure. "Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised" (Hebrews 10:35-36). It may seem like relief will never come, and, in fact, the answer might be a long way off. It also might be right around the corner. Man cannot know how close the answer is, but instead of giving up, he must continue on with God's help and with the confident expectation that God will help.

Especially in more severe cases of discouragement, relief will not be immediate. A journey up will be required to recover from the journey down. There is hope, however, both in the practical strategies that man can discover as well as through the spiritual strategies that God has revealed in His Word. Not surprisingly, God's strategies can work faster, deeper, and more effectively than man's strategies would dare to hope.