By Frank Viola
When I was in my early 20s, I remember hearing a preacher put everyone under a pile of guilt bewailing the sin of “discouragement.”
He said that discouragement, and its wicked cousin depression was akin to taking the mark of the beast.
According this preacher, if you ever get discouraged, you’re pretty close to being exiled from the kingdom of God. “Christians are always to be joyful,” he argued.
Well, back then I struggled with discouragement. And I will shamelessly admit that I still wrestle with it today. More than I’d like to.
Anyways, after I heard that sermon, I lived in terror for two weeks. I felt lower than a snake’s belly in a west Texas canyon. No travel agent on the planet could handle the guilt trip I was on.
But then I stumbled across something in the New Testament that caused me to pick myself up off the ground.
I read that Paul of Tarsus had times of intense despair (2 Cor. 1:8). I mean flat-lined kinds of depression. He said he “despaired of life.” Yikes!
Even Jesus experienced discouragement at times, as well as frustration (Luke 9:41). He wasn’t exactly joyful at Gethsemane nor while he was put on trial. Not to mention the agonies of the cross.
So I don’t get condemned when I face discouragement. Instead, I get on the mat and have a wrestling match with it whenever I feel its hand moving over my throat.
(In case you’re wondering, the things I get discouraged about revolve around the pain and suffering I see all around me, the seeming triumph of evil over good in our world, the shallow things that countless Christians benightedly gravitate toward and make popular, etc.)
Anyways, here are five things I do to overcome discouragement when I feel it trying to take over my soul. I’m writing these out to encourage you. They aren’t in any particular order.
1. I review my gratitude list. In this list, I have written out the things that God has blessed me with. I review the list and “re-thank him” for his many blessings. This is akin to looking at the full side of the glass. (It seems I’m naturally wired to first notice the empty side.)
2. I exercise. For me, this usually comes in the form of a walk outdoors. Sometimes it may include a short sprint (okay, sometimes I chase my cat around the house, but that still counts!). Exercising energizes our brains and balances out the neurotransmitters. It’s a key to emotional well being as well as physical health, so I’ve learned.
3. I review my goals list. Each year, I write down 6 – 12 personal goals for the year, and I include the date when I desire to see each goal come to pass. Reviewing these goals gives me encouragement and hope for the future.
4. I encourage myself in the Lord. 1 Samuel 30:6 says, “And David was greatly distressed; for the people spoke of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God.”
In the Psalms, David often speaks to himself with the words “oh my soul,” encouraging himself to give thanks to God. Yep, David is speaking to his own soul and telling it good things. For example,
“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Psalm 42:5).
5. I call a friend. This is especially good medicine for extroverts – which I am. Extroverts derive energy by communicating with people where introverts derive energy by being alone. Frankly, not that I’m not frank, but you know what I mean – I wish I was an introvert. And I’m sure introverts wish they were extroverts, but I digress.
To summarize, you can overcome discouragement. These are my five top ways. Here are some others have worked for me and others.
* Reading the Psalms.
* Listening to worship music and worshipping along with it.
* Watching a comedy or drama with a positive message.
* Listening to 80s music.
* Being with a friend over a meal.
* Eating chocolate.
* Helping someone else.
* Doing something creative. (Make something out of nothing. Fixing something broken. Sewing, gardening, doing yard work, etc.)
* Reading or listening to a good book.
[About the author: Frank Viola @frankviola.org]