Slaying the Discouragement Dragon

Jerry Vanderstedt’s image of Smaug, created at San Diego’s Comic-Con in 2014 (image from Vandersteldt’s Facebook page). You can find more of his incredible artwork by clicking on this link to his website.

Discouragement can seem as overwhelming as a fire-breathing dragon. It singes your body, saps your energy, and steals your very breath. Like Smaug in The Hobbit, its speech invades your mind and twists your thinking. How can you defend yourself against such an insuperable enemy?

Several recent events have discouraged me in my work. In fact, I can’t remember a time when I’ve felt discouragement so strongly. My feelings led me to an online search for Bible texts that might help lift my spirit. I needed divine assistance to switch my focus from feeling sorry for myself to keeping my eyes fixed on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

I found many lovely verses, including several I’ve written about, like the frequent biblical commands to “fear not” or “be strong and of good courage” and 2 Corinthians 12’s promise of “sufficient grace,” all of which I reflected on in A Month of Sundays: 31 Meditations on Resting in God. I came across beautiful verses about God’s “tender mercies” and his “great peace” as well as the “deep delight” we can have in him; verses I explored in Discovering Delight: 31 Meditations on Loving God’s Law. My search brought up several Psalm references, including these gems I discussed in Little One Lost: Living with Early Infant Loss – “But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head” (Ps. 3:3). “Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you” (Ps. 33:22). And this verse, which also appears in Discovering Delight: “You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word” (Ps. 119:114). I was even reminded of how God encouraged Elijah when he ran away and wallowed in his pity party, an incident discussed in Matthew Muddles Through.

My morning search also yielded a very helpful lesson on Overcoming Discouragement by Steven J. Cole, pastor of Flagstaff Christian Fellowship in Arizona. Rev. Cole bases this excellent lesson on Ezra 5:1-17 and suggests this strategy for dealing with discouragement:

To overcome discouragement, we need a fresh encounter with God’s Word, we need to get back to work for Him and to persevere, trusting Him to accomplish His will through us.

When we’re discouraged, we’re tempted–like Elijah–to hibernate and wallow in pity. But we must dig into the Word, force ourselves to get back to work, and trust God to fulfill his purpose for us (Psalm 138:8). People and circumstances will discourage us, but God’s word encourages us.

As I face the Dragon of Discouragement, the sword in my hand may appear small and dull. But this weapon isn’t mine at all; it’s God’s. And it’s the substantial and razor-sharp Word of the Lord.

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Slow learner

Some life lessons we’re slow to learn and God keeps teaching. Lessons like waiting, trusting, and resting. Even at my mature age, I’m still a novice.

I try to wait patiently on God’s will, trust completely in his provision, and rest calmly in his care. But when urgent matters continually pull me from my work making deadlines look increasingly impossible, I feel frustrated, anxious, and stressed.

During the first few months of last year and this year, this kind of struggle was particularly intense. Until God’s Spirit worked a sudden shift in my emotional outlook, my writing fell into place, and my projects were finished on time. It was as dramatic as if a switch had been flipped.

I wish I could tell you that something I thought or said or did caused the sudden change. I’d like to give you three magic keys or a six-step strategy. But I can’t. I could do nothing to make my work fall into place, create a calm heart, or fill my spirit with peace. God did it all.

Although God always does what needs to be done, he certainly doesn’t always do it in my time frame! I love the satisfaction of having things completed ahead of schedule, but sometimes it seems to me as if God waits to act until the very last minute.

Apparently I’m a very slow learner. God keeps teaching me the same lessons about waiting, trusting, and resting. If a project is from the Lord, he will equip me to finish on time. Even if I don’t complete the project or if I do it so poorly that I fall flat on my face, I have to trust that too as his will. Though he slay me, yet will I trust him (Job 13:15).

Are you, like me, a slow learner?

Dwelling in the Land, Psalm 37

As I’ve blogged my way through the Psalms, I’ve noticed over and over how God’s promises are for the here and now as well as for the future.

While Psalm 37 repeatedly assures believers that they will inherit the land and dwell in it forever (which seems to refer to our eternal future), it also uses language implying that believers can dwell in delight in this life. Who doesn’t love the beautiful promise found in verse 4?

Delight yourself in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.

But that delightful promise is followed by verses that provide the key to living in joy (5-7, ESV):

Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
    and your justice as the noonday.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
    fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
    over the man who carries out evil devices!

Notice the imperatives? Commit, trust, be still, wait patiently, and fret not!

When we commit our way to the Lord and trust in him to act, he will. He may not make the righteousness of your cause immediately apparent. In fact, since the next verse encourages us to be still and wait patiently for him, I’m pretty sure that God usually takes his perfect time. He wants us to learn to rest in him and wait on his will.

Waiting is never easy, is it? We tend to rush in and try to do things our way. We’re often confident that we know the best way to respond when we’ve been wronged. We believe we should act because we’re obviously in the right! We’re certain we know what to do and our friends back us up. Full speed ahead!

Furl the sails! Drop the anchor! God commands us (these are imperatives, not suggestions) to commit our way to him, to trust him, to be still and wait patiently for him to act. And in the meantime, don’t worry about the guy who seems to prosper in his evil schemes.

God sees our hearts. If our cause is righteous, if we are just, he will make that shine as brightly as the noonday sun.

It isn’t easy to wait on the Lord. Ask him to give you the ability to commit your way to him and put your complete trust in him. Plead for peace to be still and wait patiently for his action (rather than rushing ahead of his will).  Beg God to grant you the equipping grace not to worry.

Then you can delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart!

You can read Psalm 37 in its entirety at the Bible Gateway site. And here are my reflections on Psalm 37 from nearly three years ago.

New Year resolved

Resolution. We hear a lot about it at the beginning of a year. People make New Year’s resolutions to lose some weight or spend more time in personal devotions. But often the year comes and goes and we end up making the same vague resolutions at the beginning of the next year.

Perhaps the trouble is that most New Year’s resolutions are too vague. Instead of thinking about losing weight, implement a specific plan that includes meals with fewer calories. Eat smaller portions at home and pack up half your meal when dining out. Instead of thinking about spending more time in personal devotions, commit to a specific Bible reading plan. The Bible Gateway site offers several reading plans. There are also a wide variety of reading plans available on the ESV (English Standard Version) website.

Since I’m a word person, however, this morning I’m thinking about the various definitions of the word: resolution. Merriam-Webster.com defines it in six main ways:

Definition of RESOLUTION

1
: the act or process of resolving: as

a : the act of analyzing a complex notion into simpler ones

b : the act of answering : solving

c : the act of determining

d : the passing of a voice part from a dissonant to a consonant tone or the progression of a chord from dissonance to consonance

e : the separating of a chemical compound or mixture into its constituents

(1) : the division of a prosodic element into its component parts (2) : the substitution in Greek or Latin prosody of two short syllables for a long syllable

g : the analysis of a vector into two or more vectors of which it is the sum

2
: the subsidence of a pathological state (as inflammation)
3
a : something that is resolved <made a resolution to mend my ways>

b : firmness of resolve

4
: a formal expression of opinion, will, or intent voted by an official body or assembled group
5
: the point in a literary work at which the chief  dramatic complication is worked out
6
a : the process or capability of making distinguishable the individual parts of an object, closely adjacent optical images, or sources of light

b : a measure of the sharpness of an image or of the fineness with which a device (as a video display, printer, or scanner) can produce or record such an image usually expressed as the total number or density of pixels in the image <a resolution of 1200 dots per inch>

The definition that first comes to your mind may relate to the kind of work you do or your primary interests.  I initially thought of definitions 1c and 3a since today is the first day of a new year, but definition 5 was a close second since I’m a writer. I admit that definitions 1d, e, f, and g, as well as 2 were totally off my radar.

But the point I really want to make on this first day of 2013 is that the new year has already been resolved (according to M-W fourth definition: dealt with successfully, cleared up, found an answer to, made clear or understandable).

Although we don’t know exactly what will happen in our lives or our world during 2013, we can be certain that God is in control. And God doesn’t change. Malachi 3:6 (ESV) tells us:

For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.

Isn’t it comforting to know that we will not be consumed in 2013? Psalm 102 provides this additional assurance about God:

Of old you laid the foundation of the earth,
    and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you will remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,
     but you are the same, and your years have no end.
The children of your servants shall dwell secure;
    their offspring shall be established before you (25-28, ESV).

God will keep us and our children secure, even when he unmakes his created cosmos. He loves us and cares for us. We can have confidence in his love because it lasts forever:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end (Lamentations 3:22, ESV).

We can trust our unchanging and loving God to bless us in the new year with his good and perfect gifts:

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change (James 1:17, ESV).

Our loving heavenly Father blesses us through our relationship with his Son. Jesus is Immanuel, “God with us” in the past, today, and for the future:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8, ESV).

Reflecting on the past year, we can see how God held us in his hands. Looking to the coming year, we can know with certainty that we can trust him for today and every tomorrow.

Trusting in God’s Name, Psalm 20

In God’s perfect timing and following recent discussion with friends about trusting in God, Psalm 20 becomes more meaningful than ever.

Do you feel that today is your day of trouble? Read and rejoice in this psalm!

The psalm begins with seven exclamations pleading for specific actions and outcomes (Psalm 20:1-5, ESV):

May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble!
    May the name of the God of Jacob protect you!
May he send you help from the sanctuary
    and give you support from Zion!
May he remember all your offerings
    and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices! Selah

May he grant you your heart’s desire
    and fulfill all your plans!
May we shout for joy over your salvation,
    and in the name of our God set up our banners!
May the Lord fulfill all your petitions!

The first of these five emotional verses expresses a deep desire that God will answer you during your difficult trial and that God’s name will protect you. The second verse conveys the hope that you will also receive help from the church and God’s people. The third trusts God to recall your past and present faithfulness.

Verses four and five depict the marvelous outcome: God will grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans. We will shout for joy over the way God rescues you and we will witness publicly to God’s name as he fulfills all your petitions.

God’s rescue is so certain that the psalmist speaks with remarkable conviction and confidence:

Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed;
    he will answer him from his holy heaven
    with the saving might of his right hand (6, ESV).

God is holy and enthroned in heaven, but he will answer those anointed with is Spirit just as surely as he saved David, his anointed king, and Jesus, his anointed Son.

Why should we doubt? Where is our trust?

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
     but we trust in the name of the Lord our God (7, ESV).

We don’t trust in military might, presidential power, legislative law, or judicial justice. We trust in something far superior: God’s name.

Those who trust in worldly powers or personal intelligence will fail:

They collapse and fall,
    but we rise and stand upright (8, ESV).

As they fall from their temporary height, we rise from our temporary descent. We stand upright in the righteousness of Christ.

The psalm concludes with this prayer:

O Lord, save the king!
    May he answer us when we call (9, ESV).

The king may be David, who represented the true king, Christ. But this rescue also applies to any person who bears Christ’s image as a prophet, priest, and king.

God will be close to the true believer. He will answer you when you call. He will protect you and surround you with the support of fellow believers. He will grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans and petitions. Those with misplaced trust will fall, but we will stand. When all this comes to pass, we will shout for joy and praise God’s name.

May the Lord answer you today in your time of trouble! Trust in his holy name!

Drought relief

Temperatures in the Midwest cooled during the last week and especially the last couple of days. After the hottest July on record since the dust bowl days of 1936, the cooler and crisper weather has been a huge relief and definite blessing. We’ve also been blessed with a little rain. It’s too little, too late to save the corn crop, but some late-planted soybeans may benefit.

Extremely dry weather stresses crops and animals. It depletes ground water sources for humans. It reminds us that there are many things we cannot control, and pushes us–in growing dependence–closer to the Creator.

We need such reminders. We try to do everything on our own and control every outcome, but we finite creature need to learn to trust an infinite God.

When we release death grips on control and grasp dependent trust in God, we find rest for our drought weary souls.