To the Discouraged Soul

I believe one of the greatest tools that Satan uses against believers is discouragement. And I am about to be very honest with you about my own struggles with it, because I know there are others out there who have the same struggles. I know some of you personally  who have battled or are battling this area. And if my stories can be of any encouragement to you, I believe it would be a blessing on all sides.

I had my own bout with deep discouragement just last month. For about three weeks straight I was so discouraged, I was probably close to being depressed.

That has only happened to me once before, at least to that level. That time it lasted for over a month, back when I was 15.

At that time, I was rather new in my walk with the LORD. My relationship with Him had gone to a deeper, more personal level around the age of 12-13. So here I was, two years later, and I was spiraling into the closest thing to depression I’ve ever experienced.

My joy was gone. I felt exhausted. God seemed far away. At night I would lie in bed and think on all sorts of sad things that would make me cry. And all day long I listened to the voices of condemnation, telling me that I wasn’t pleasing God, that I was a failure every time I messed up. I didn’t feel worthy to even pray to God – so most of the time, I didn’t. And every time I sinned, I felt even more unworthy and dissatisfied with myself.

It was a miserable time, as I continuously allowed myself to be dragged deeper and deeper into the mire of discouragement. It was as though I was trapped in quicksand, and with every step I was sinking further and further.

But I did eventually start to combat the feeling. One afternoon I walked around my bedroom and started reading the verses I had taped to the walls: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand’ (Isa. 41:10); “For I, the LORD your God, will hold your right hand, saying to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you’ (Isa. 41:13).

Verses I had memorized during the National Bible Bee came to my mind, “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. For in YAH, the LORD, is everlasting peace” (Isa. 26:4); “But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one. . . Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ” (2 Thess. 3:3, 5).

I found comfort in God’s promises of joy: “Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Neh. 8:10b); “You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy” (Psa. 16:11a); “Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; for I am called by Your name” (Jer. 15:16a); “Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8b).

Then one day I was reading in my Bible curriculum and found some paragraphs that spoke so much to me, I wrote them down in my journal:

Most Christians face times when they do not feel as close to God as they do at other times. If this is because of sin, they need to repent and turn back to God. But if they are walking faithfully in God’s will, they must remember that salvation is not based on feelings. It is based on faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

One cannot be happy or experience real joy if he doubts God’s Word or Christ’s redemptive work . . . those who have received forgiveness of sins by faith in Jesus can experience fullness of joy through the Holy Spirit.

The Christian life is a spiritual battle. The moment we turn our lives over to God, we become Satan’s enemies. He tempts us to believe lies, appeals to our reason, and uses other subtle approaches. When we do right, he accuses us of doing wrong. When we do wrong, he tries to make us feel either comfortable in our sin or discouraged by our failure . . . Faith in God is the key to overcoming Satan’s tactics. When we believe in God and have full confidence in His power and goodness, we find joy and contentment in His love.

Those paragraphs were uplifting and encouraging to me – at least for a time. By the next day I’d fallen into the muck again.

Finally, a week later, I just sort of snapped out of it. I think there were two thoughts that occurred to me that brought about the change of mindset.

One was the reminder of Paul’s testimony: how he was a persecutor and murderer of Christians, and yet God still extended grace and mercy to him – why wouldn’t He extend the same grace to me? I am no more unworthy than Paul, and if God accepted Him, God accepts me. I had no excuse to keep myself from His presence.

The second thought – and I know this is controversial – was the sudden terror that maybe if I kept myself in this mindset for too long, I would end up completely cut off from God and would lose my salvation. Yes, my family is more on the Armenian side of that debate. Maybe we’re right, maybe we’re wrong. But at least for that moment of time, it was a good thing for me to believe in the possibility that I could lose my salvation – because I snapped out of my depression real fast!

It was a dark time, but it was good for me to experience it, because as I lived life apart from God, I realized how much I wanted Him back in my life. I knew I needed Him to be my source of strength and joy, and it was a humbling experience. “When I need Your Holy Spirit more than life itself, then Christ is formed in me” – (“Awake My Soul”, Phillips, Craig & Dean).

So that was the end of that. No more depression for the next five years. Sure, I had my moments of discouragement and feeling like a failure, but I never got as down-hearted as I had then. Until last month.

There were mainly two things that happened that set me off.

The first was that I had a complete fear reaction to something that should not have been so frightening, and I started to really pound on myself for that. My reaction had been wrong, but it was so much a part of me that I didn’t know what to do. One afternoon in particular I spent a lot of time thinking about it and praying about it, trying to give my fears up to God. It was such a spiritual battle, because just about everything in me screamed that I couldn’t let go of my fears. I feared what would happen if I did. What might God ask me to do?

I realized then to what a great extent I have been bound by my own fears. It’s like a demon holding me captive in a prison, and the door is wide open, but I’m too afraid to venture out. I though of 1 John, “Perfect love casts out fear,” and I knew that demon needs to be cast out, but my flesh is comfortable with its presence.

I’m not quite sure who won the battle that day. I think I made at least a small step in the right direction, recognizing how much of a slave I am to fear and beginning to ask God to embolden me.

Unfortunately though, I also led myself into a deep feeling of condemnation. My fears make me a failure, and if I never conquer my fears, will I ever be more than just a mediocre Christian? I started to feel weighed down by shame and guilt.

Soon after, I received some news that meant a dream of mine wasn’t going to happen. It was a dream that I had already started to realize might not be in God’s plan for me, but I had been unwilling to give up the idea entirely. Now, the final nail was in the coffin, and although I took it well initially, it wasn’t long before I started to realize that the news was affecting me. I was plunged into a discouragement about my future and a constant worrying about what it holds in store for me in the long term.

Once again, I lost my joy. I felt empty. When I woke up in the morning, I struggled with my worries and discouragement. While I was at work, I did have a reprieve as I focused on what I had to do instead of on feeling sorry for myself. But as I walked out the door to head home, the feeling of emptiness would return.

There was a gap in my life – so I tried to think of ways to fill it. But nothing sounded satisfying. Maybe if I got involved in more ministry? But then I’d feel even more emotionally exhausted. So maybe if I cut back on ministry? No, because then I’d feel selfish and beat myself up even more. Maybe I need to get to together with friends? No, because I had so much going on that, as an introvert, I was already feeling drained. Maybe if I cut back on some of those activities? But then I’d feel even more lonely and disconnected.

On top of that, the thought started swirling in my mind that my friends don’t really care about me. I don’t know why it is, but for some reason that’s one of the lies the devil likes to throw at me. And then I feel even more alone.

In the midst of this time, I got an email from a friend, just saying hello and asking how she could pray for me. Thank God for friends like that! May God help me to be a friend like that to others in return!

Anyway, I ended up pouring out a bit of my heart, and she was such an encouragement back. She lifted my spirits, spoke truth and Scripture, helped me to refocus not so much on myself – and really just showed that she cared.

By that Sunday, I was fed up with how I’d been, and I wanted to get out of the emotional roller-coaster I’d been on. I started really talking to God about it – because I knew I really hadn’t been doing that half as much as I should have been. I yielded my fears and worries and discouragement to Him over the course of that morning, and by the time church service was over, I felt free. The sermon was on hungering and thirsting for righteousness, and how we tend to desire other things – the things of the world or the things we don’t have but others do – rather than seeking after God.

And I knew that’s what I’d been doing. I felt a hole because a desire of mine was left unfulfilled while others around me were seeing their dreams come true – and I’d been trying to fill the hole apart from Christ. I’d been listening to the condemnation of the devil and the self-pity of my own heart, instead of relying solely on the LORD. When I gave up those things to Him, the joy of the Lord returned.

So if you’re in a time of discouragement or depression right now, I want to encourage you – there is light at the end of the tunnel. We serve a God of grace and forgiveness and hope and mercy and love. When you fall, He’s right there, ready to pick you up. When you sin, He’s faithful and just to forgive you your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Remember, while you were still His enemy, Christ demonstrated His love toward you by dying for you (Rom. 5:10)! And neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:38-39). And because of that, we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us (Rom. 8:37).

When you look around and find yourself wishing you had something you don’t, remember to let your conduct be without covetousness, and be content with such things as you have, for He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5), and He is all that you need. He is the Giver of life, the only true source of joy.

Remember that discouragement is not of the Lord. Disappointments will come, but don’t let them weigh you down. Don’t grow weary in doing good, for you shall reap in due season if you do not lose heart (Gal. 6:9). Keep running the race, keep fighting the fight. Quench those darts of discouragement with your shield of faith.

Drench yourself in the Word. Pray to Him. Seek Him earnestly. I wouldn’t have been discouraged for half as long as I was had I sought the Lord wholeheartedly from the beginning. It was when I truly sought Him, when I truly allowed His words to convict and encourage me, that the sun finally broke through the clouds of my gloominess.

Remind yourself of God’s promises and His faithfulness in the past, and trust in Him for your present and future.

‘You are My servant,
I have chosen you and have not cast you away:
Fear not, for I am with you;
Be not dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you,
Yes, I will help you,
I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’

(Isaiah 41:9b-10)

No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

1 Corinthians 10:13

Cast your burden on the Lord,
And He shall sustain you;
He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.

Psalm 55:22