Discouragement seems to be epidemic these days and understandably so. With the continuation of a deep economic downturn, popularly called The Great Recession, there are reasons abundant for discouragement to go viral. Very few sectors of our economy have been insulated from the huge impact of this ongoing recession.
Politicians are playing the all too familiar “blame game,” which now has become systemic, and it will remain so until the elections next year. Business people are doing the “hunker down” approach seeking to buy time until things improve.
People in our country are divided in ways we have not seen in generations. Various groups are holding rallies expressing their concerns. Others have taken to the streets to become protesters, venting their frustrations in ways reminiscent of the 1960s.
Meanwhile the church of Jesus Christ, His people, is seeking to make a difference for Him, despite the bad news and difficult times. In periods of history like the one we now face, Christians have often done some of their most effective service for Christ. But in order to be an effective servant, we must find our source of encouragement in the face of these discouraging situations.
As many of you know, I am fond of Barnabas, a saint behind the scenes in the New Testament. He was an encourager to the early church when it was most needed. Barnabas stood up for Saul, later to be known as Paul, as the apostle was being challenged early in his ministry.
Barnabas further was an encourager to the church at Antioch, as they developed their evangelistic and missionary spirit. Later, he was a masterful encourager to John Mark as the young disciple sought to rebound from an earlier misjudgment.
In I Thessalonians 5:11, the apostle Paul must have had the ministry of Barnabas in mind when he wrote, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up…” Barnabas was indeed an excellent encourager and one who knew how to build people up in the Lord.
Now more than any time in my ministry, I am seeking to follow in the footsteps of Barnabas. I want to be an encourager to the discouraged. I want to help build people up so they can become all the Lord wants them to become. In that spirit, let me offer three affirmations of encouragement to you in these discouraging times.
I. Be encouraged about the promises of God.
The promises of God are for all situations and for all times in your life. Claim the promise of His presence. Know that He never leaves you or forsakes you. This should be embedded deep within our thinking, praying and living.
The Bible has been appropriately called a “Promise Book.” Read those promises He makes and inculcate them into your life so that the promises shine when the problems stand tall. This is not meant to be a Pollyanna view of life but rather a Biblical one.
II. Be encouraged about the person you are.
For many Christians, this is a huge issue and like a dragon in a fairy tale adventure, it has to be slain for one to be effective in service for our Lord. Because we are human, the problems we face in life often bring out the worst part of ourselves. We allow our human nature to override our spiritual nature.
Years ago, I heard the sad testimony of a preacher who was struggling in ministry to make a difference. He attended a Billy Graham School of Evangelism to train as a counselor for an upcoming crusade. During a break, this pastor said something I have never forgotten, “God made a mistake when He created me. He should have created two Billy Grahams and just left me out of the picture.”
Although we may not have expressed ourselves like this discouraged pastor, we have all struggled with our sense of success in ministry. It is easy, so easy, to compare ourselves with others who have become “successful” and, therefore, we can feel like failures.
Our Lord wants us to be the best we can be through His empowering Holy Spirit in our lives. That is the key to overcoming the discouraging notion that we have to measure up to someone else as the standard of achievement. Through Him, we become what He wants us to be!
III. Be encouraged about the place where you serve.
Every place of service for the Lord is challenging and, at times, discouraging. Pastors in the largest of churches have their moments of discouragement, just like every other pastoral leader. There is no immunity to down times for anyone seeking to serve the Lord.
Some places are demographically challenged. They are losing population, and the trend is not a positive one. Recently, I visited with our partners in the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. Arguably, they have been hit as hard as any place economically.
However, I noted a strong sense of hope among the pastors and church leaders. They are facing unprecedented obstacles, but I detect they have what we Southerners call a “get ‘er done” attitude.
Alabama has been through so much this year. The tornado outbreak was the worst in our history. The economy is not healthy. Churches are facing all kinds of different challenges. Yet I believe we can be encouraged by the fact that our God is still on His throne! We still have the one mission, the Great Commission. We are continuing to be faithful in giving through the Cooperative Program. We are all called to be Great Commission ministers.
The word “occupy” is in prominent usage today. Our Lord said to us that we are to “occupy” until He comes. That is another way of saying, be on mission with the Great Commission until He comes. That sounds encouraging to me.