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Discouragement is why David said in Psalm 23 that the Lord restores his soul. Our souls need restoration, so let me ask: When was the last time discouragement came knocking? Did you experience soul restoration like David when he said, “He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3). Perhaps a review of the familiar will serve you as you think about the process of soul restoration.
Discouragement is never the first step in an adverse situation, but the aftermath of a disappointing or unchanging problem or relationship. It is the accumulative effect of multiple things going wrong. For example, an individual who struggles with guilt will quickly succumb to the temptations of discouragement. In this case, guilt leads to discouragement. Other conditions that lead to a discouraged soul are shame, jealousy, self-pity, unmet desires, and fear. If any of these things are patterns in your life, you will be fast-tracking to discouragement.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil (Psalm 23:4).
The restoration process is to get to the bottom of your discouragement, which is the same for all of us—unbelief. While fear is typically considered the most significant culprit, it’s the result of or the by-product of the “unbelieving heart.” I’m not necessarily talking about unbelief regarding salvation but rather unbelief as it relates to a believer’s sanctification. While the most often repeated imperative in the Bible is “fear not,” the solution for the imperative is belief—trusting God.
Immediately the father of the child cried out (fear) and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).
Discouraged people tend to fall into the trap of self-reliance. The temptation sounds like, “I have done something that has led to my discouragement. Therefore I need to work my way out of it.” This reaction is where problematic self-help books enter. The self-help gurus always have a book, principle, or truth to lead to a better life, so they guarantee.
It used to be a search for significance, then seven habits for highly effective people, and later, it became a purpose-driven life. While there is a fraction of truth in all of these principle-driven ideas, the participating untruth is enough to throw you off the gospel’s scent. From a God-centered perspective, discouragement is God’s mercy to you, which should lead you toward less reliance on yourself and greater dependence on God.
For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).
If your despair leads you toward principles, you’re not learning the primary purpose of your discouragement. Twelve steps and seven habits sound nice, and from a human-centered perspective, it makes sense. But in the long run, they will not serve you. Discouragement is not a call to work harder but to rely more on God. Thus, the first point in the “recovery” process for the discouraged soul is learning to rely on God, the soul restorer.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want (Psalm 23:1).
David knew that he was not to try harder but to rely more upon his Shepherd. The emphasis is on work, but the energy and effort are what the Lord does, not what we are to do. Notice how David lays it out for us by reflecting upon the Lord’s ability in our inability.
David is telling us there are reasons for what he says in verse one. After he convinces you about the source of his faith, he concludes his “Psalm of belief” in verse 6, where he tells you how it will end for the believing sheep. His present tense belief in God has an eschatological reality to it: the Lord is worthy of your trust now and always. David is appealing to you to believe in God. Belief is the cure for the discouraged soul, not more self-effort.
If the Good Shepherd has saved you from darkness and death, you have bragging rights. The heart of a Shepherd-centered sheep is gratitude. The sheep can’t stop talking about all the Good Shepherd gives him.
You must trust, believe, and have confidence in someone more fabulous than you. It would be best if you did not wrap up your mind in what you want or what you don’t have but in who you are because of Christ. For example, if you are discouraged because of a broken relationship, your attitude will rise or fall based on that relationship’s state. If the connection is in good standing, you feel good.
Your relationship places you in the snare of self-effort and self-reliance. God wants you to be “stronger” than the weakest point of your relationship. He wants you to have more than a dependency on other people. While a broken relationship is discouraging for anyone, it should not define you or weaken you. What God offers through Christ is higher than what our self-effort can construct, control, or even lose.
I suppose you could be thinking by now that you don’t have to do anything. A God-centered worldview is not a call to passivity or to let go and let God. Two things can be correct simultaneously, and while we are to trust Him as our first call, He expects us to act out of our obedient trust. Let me illustrate.
Through separation, a man loses his wife. During the break, he wants to start doing things to offset all of the bad things he had been doing when they were together. His effort may win his wife back, but the desperate husband will build their relationship on his self-effort, all the things he did to “win” his wife. And he will have to sustain his effort always to keep her back. His wife will respond positively or negatively to his ongoing effort.
It’s like the boy who dates the girl, wins the girl, and then reverts to who he was after getting the girl. This type of fakery is the way of the world. In time, the girl leaves him for someone better. The first order of business for the man with the wife who just left him and the boy who just lost his girlfriend is to turn to God in complete, unabated trust, regardless of where their relationships go.
Biff had been struggling with a secret addiction for most of his life. He finally told Mable, his wife. She left him. Did he do wrong? No, he did not. He decided to stop relying on himself and begin trusting the One who raises the dead. When he relied on himself, he kept secrets, fought a private battle, failed consistently, and lived in a low-level state of frustration and discouragement, which led to more porn. This sinful linkage is always the way of self-effort.
Biff decided he was going to trust someone more significant than himself. The Lord was calling him to God-centered obedience that was not “Biff’s way” of doing things (Proverbs 14:12). The biggest challenge in relying on God who raises the dead is that He will not tell you how it all is going to go for you. Isn’t that the bummer with the way of faith in God?
The Lord knows that if He told you how it would turn out, your “faith” would not be in Him but the known results that He spelled out to you. The self-reliant person will determine what he wants and how he will get there, which is how Biff always operated. When he did not get the desired outcome, he went into discouragement, which led to redoubling his efforts after his tangle with despair.
The Lord is calling you to rely on Him, and He will not tell you how it will end or what you will get for your God-centered, God-relying faith. Does this sound foolish to you? The more worldly or sinful your heart is, the more foolish trusting God will appear, especially when trusting God means you will not know the outcome and you may not get what you want. Read this carefully:
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart” (1 Corinthians 1:18-19).
For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles (1 Corinthians 1:22-23).
Paul was trying to get the Corinthians to understand that going back to the rules would not save or sustain them. He wanted them to have what he had because the gospel had affected him. Paul was not going back to old ways, old rules, and ancient rituals. He believed, lived, and preached that the true gospel—the “foolish” gospel—will save and sustain you. It’s the answer to all your problems.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16).
Paul fought discouragement through the power of the gospel. It was the glory of Christ, as perceived through the power of the gospel, that energized him and motivated him to continue in his journeys. This worldview raises some questions for us: If the starting point in overcoming discouragement is the gospel, the real problem is how do you apply the “foolish gospel” to your life?
He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake (Psalm 23:3).
There is a hidden key in this verse for overcoming discouragement. You will find it in the second sentence. The “secret” to overcoming discouragement comes as you follow the paths of right living, as God leads you. There has rarely been a time when I was discouraged that I did not know what course I should take. All Christians have this experience too.
It is not so much that the gospel is foolish, but that the gospel is right. The Jews and Greeks refused to accept the “foolish gospel” because they did not want to give up something. Do you want the gospel, and do you want to walk in the ways of the gospel (Galatians 2:14)? If you are discouraged, you will have to decide: will you rely on God, who raises the dead, or will you continue to rely on yourself, who lives in a body of death.
There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death (Proverbs 14:12).
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