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I suppose we should not be surprised that things go wrong. Fallen people in a fallen world, what do you expect? The “sin element” sends everything in our world sideways, and the result is that we become disappointed, discouraged, and sometimes when left unchecked, we can drift into depression.
This potential is why David said in Psalm 23 that “He restores my soul.” Our souls need restoration, so let me ask: When was the last time you were discouraged? Do you know how to experience soul restoration? May this verse be your meditation today: “He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3).
Discouragement is never the first step in an adverse situation. It is the aftermath of a disappointing or unchanging problem or relationship. Discouragement is the accumulative effect of other things that have gone 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 part of your life in an ongoing way, you will be fast-tracking to discouragement. This last one, fear, is usually considered a common discouragement trap.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil (Psalm 23:4).
If you want to get to the bottom of discouragement, the source of it all is unbelief. While fear is typically considered a significant culprit, it’s the result of or the by-product of the “unbelieving heart.” I’m not necessarily talking about unbelief as it pertains to salvation, but 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).
The problem with discouragement is that it leads people into the trap of self-reliance as the solution to despair. Typically the snare runs along these lines: “I have done something that has led to my discouragement. Therefore I need to work my way out of it.”
This temptation is where problematic self-help books come into play. The self-help gurus always have a book or principle or truth that will lead a person to a better life, so they guarantee. It used to be a search for significance. Then it evolved into seven habits for highly effective people. Later, it became a purpose-driven life.
While there is a fraction of truth in all of these principle-driven ideas, there is just enough untruth to throw you off the scent of the gospel. From a God-centered perspective, discouragement is God’s mercy to you, which should lead you toward less reliance on yourself and a greater reliance 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 man-centered perspective, it makes sense. But in the long run, they will not adequately serve you. Many folks who have tried the principle-driven approach know this.
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, who restores the soul.
There is a reason David began his great Psalm with the accent mark on belief:
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want (Psalm 23:1).
David knows that he is not to try harder, but to rely more upon his Shepherd. The point of emphasis is on work, but the work is what the Lord does, not what we are to do. Notice how David lays it out for us by reflecting upon what the Lord does:
David says there is a reason—verses 2-5—why he believes 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’s going to 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, or have confidence in Someone more fabulous than you are. Your mind should not be wrapped up 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, you are only as strong as that relationship. Thus, if the relationship is in good standing, you feel good. This problem is what I mean about 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 any person, it should not be what defines you or what weakens you. What God offers through Christ is higher than what our self-effort can construct, control, or even lose.
No! This God-centered worldview is not a call to passivity or to let go and let God. We are called to do something, but that something is not self-reliance; it’s to trust God in all ways obediently.
Let Me Illustrate – The man who just lost his wife, through separation, is tempted to start “doing” a lot of things to offset all of the bad things he had been doing when they were together. If he does this, he may get his wife back, but the desperate husband will build their relationship on his self-effort, the things he did to “win” his wife again.
The sad part about this kind of relationship is that he will not be able to sustain all that work consistently. And the temptation for his wife will be to grade his performance while responding positively or negatively to his effort.
It’s like the boy who dates the girl, wins the girl, and then reverts to who he was after he gets the girl. This type of fakery is the way of the world. In time, the girl leaves him for someone who can perform 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 for both of them to turn to God in complete, unabated trust, regardless of where their relationships go.
Biff had been struggling with a secret porn 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 he was. 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 is not going to tell you how it all is going to go for you.
Before, Biff was relying on himself, and all of his efforts were designed to bring about an anticipated outcome. The challenge of trusting God is that you might not get your preferred result. 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 in the known results that He spelled out to you.
The self-reliant man will determine what he wants and how he is going to get there, which is how Biff always operated. Then when he did not get the desired outcome, he redoubled his efforts—after he battled with the discouragement that came through his failures.
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 sound to you. Especially when trusting God means you will not know the outcome and you may not get what you want. Read this carefully:
Paul, the writer to the Corinthians, 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 he had been affected by the gospel. Paul was not going to go back to old ways, to the old rules, and the ancient rituals. He was going to live in and preach the true gospel.
The “foolish” gospel will save you. The “foolish” gospel will sustain you. The “foolish” gospel is the answer to all of your problems, whether you need saving or sanctification.
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?
Go back to our initial verse:
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 as far as 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 never been a time when I was discouraged that I did not know what path I was to 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 refused to accept the “foolish gospel” because they did not want it. Neither did the Greeks. 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 make a decision: Will you rely on God, who raises the dead, or will you continue to rely on yourself, who lives in a body of death. What “path of righteousness” is God telling you to walk down for the restoration of your soul? It’s your choice: you can continue to walk your self-reliant path, or you can switch to His path of righteousness, which will position you for amazing, empowering favor from the Lord.
There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death (Proverbs 14:12).