Dear First Baptist Family,
I woke up this Monday morning to learn the news that South Carolina Senator Tim Scott made the surprising announcement to drop out of the presidential race.
Regardless of your political leanings (Republican, Democrat, or otherwise), most people recognize Senator Scott as a hopeful, positive voice in a negative world. He often said, “American families are starving for hope.” His message has been one of optimism when everyone else around him sounds pessimistic.
A recent study showed that 63 percent of Americans are very or somewhat pessimistic about “the moral and ethical standards in our country,” while only 12 percent reported that they had “quite a lot” of optimism in America’s future.
In other words, lots of people are asking, “What is there to be hopeful about?”
Maybe you are, too.
The Reality of Discouragement
It’s easy to be discouraged these days. Rising prices — wars in Ukraine and Israel — bitter politics — plus lots of sickness going around. All of these factors can make our hearts heavy.
Discouragement can creep up. Like a rising tide, it can feel like we are little by little caught in the waters.
Every person can experience it, whether you have a little or a lot. Whether God gives you a lot of responsibility or just a few things to tend well. Leaders and followers alike can get discouraged.
Many years ago, a young Midwestern attorney experienced such deep discouragement and depression that his friends removed all sharp objects from his home. He questioned his life’s purpose and whether he should continue to push through or not.
During this time, he wrote, “I am now the most miserable man living. Whether I shall ever be better, I cannot tell. I (dreadfully fear) I shall not (be).”
But somehow, Abraham Lincoln fought through it. His life is a testimony that discouragement and depression don’t have to be the final word.
The Bible is honest about discouragement. King David asked, “How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day?” (Psalm 13:2, NLT) Paul talked about being hard pressed on all sides. Elijah and Jonah wanted to die.
Even Jesus felt disappointed sometimes. Once He cried out, “O unbelieving and perverse generation! How long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?” (Matthew 17:17, NIV). He told his followers on the night before He was killed, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NIV)
No one is helped by saying “everything is OK” when it’s not. Discouragement comes, and it usually comes to all of us.
But it’s also true that hope comes as well.
The Reality of Hope
I have enjoyed preaching on gratitude for the last few weeks. It has been a good exercise to remind myself of all that I have to be grateful for. I find myself especially grateful for the hope that we have in Jesus.
It’s a lie to say that things can’t get better. With God, all things are possible.
In J.R.R. Tolkein’s classic book The Fellowship of the Ring, the protagonist, Frodo, laments the rising darkness and the seemingly impossible task before him. “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
You don’t have to deny the discouragement and disappointment, but you do have a choice as to what to do with your mind and heart. You can choose gratitude and hope even in a time like this.
If you’re feeling discouraged today, what can you do?
First, you can talk to God. Name your discouragement. God can take it. Talk to God about how you feel and the way that life is happening around you. Spend some time in the Psalms and remember how others have dealt with discouragement. Ask God to give you a new spirit as David did: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10, NIV).
Second, you can talk to a friend. Pick up the phone and ask a friend out for coffee. Tell that person that you need to talk about life. It’s Ok to not be Ok. But you don’t have to be alone in your discouragement.
Third, you can talk to someone about their discouragement.
Sometimes the best way to deal with your own heavy heart is to get out of yourself. Focus on helping someone else in what they’re going through. Offer some hope to someone else, and you might find your own hope rising, too.
On balance, we have more to be thankful for than we do to lament. We have salvation in Jesus. We have His presence that will never leave us or forsake us. We have His words that invite us to cast our burdens on Him. We have the family of faith. We have daily bread. We have the precious gift of life. We have a hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure (Hebrews 6:19, NIV).
A Prayer for the Discouraged
Recently, a friend gave me a book of prayers from the pastor, Chuck Swindoll. One of his prayers is entitled “Courage for the Discouraged.” Here are just a few words from this prayer, and I hope they encourage you today:
“Lord, we pray that you would bring relief when we are swamped with the ever-rising tide of discouragement. Grant deliverance for us who are caught in that swamp and start to slide into its slimy waters. Encourage our hearts as we face those depressing, dark moments that leave us feeling hopeless and believing the lie that things will never change….
In humbleness, Father, we call upon You and Your children. We ask you to lift our spirits by transforming our minds. Strengthen us to see the value of dwelling on things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report. Help us to fix our minds on heavenly things rather than on those earthly things that drag us down….
Now to Him who is able to guard us from stumbling and to cause us to stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior…be glory, majesty, dominion and authority…now and forever, Amen.”
Be encouraged today!
Pastor Brent McDougal