Is Discouragement Always an Enemy?

How do you live with discouragement? Every attempt to remove yourself from the trial fails. Even the normal days are not good; they are only manageable. When people look at you, they see courage, but you know it is nothing but a stiff upper lip. The last thing you want to do is burden them more than you have to.

The problem is that every setback brings you a little lower. It has become so much of a pattern that when you see a little light at the end of the tunnel, you refuse to let it lift your spirit because it has let you down so many times in the past.

You know you must fight, but the desire and will to do so has been beaten lifeless by the enemy. You had the courage once, but it has been taken from you. So what do you do now? Do you allow the misery to take over? Do you resign yourself to it? Clearly, the answer has to be, no, but what do you do?

It is at this point you find your will exhausted, and that is probably a good thing because perhaps the battle is not yours to fight. Or perhaps you have been fighting the wrong battle. The first thing we must begin to realize is that, in at least one sense, discouragement is not always the enemy. Maybe, just maybe, it is a tool in the hands of our loving God to do us good. Bear with me for a minute.

Our God is sovereign. He is not simply trying to manage the chaos of this world. He is in complete control of it. His sovereignty becomes clear when we ask two questions of any hardship. Did God know this was going to happen, and could he have stopped it?  If we answer no to either of these questions, we truly are in trouble because God has ceased to be God, and something else is mastering him. This, of course, can never be because there is nothing beyond God’s knowledge or power. Being God means he knew you would face this and that you would respond to this trouble with discouragement, so dismay was part of his plan. I know this is the hardest part of the pill to swallow, so let me elaborate for a minute because the payoff will be worth it, and without this pill, experiencing disappointment will be unbearable.

The most significant objection people have with the conclusion drawn from the fact that God knows what is happening to us and could stop it, and that discouragement was part of his plan, lies in the fact that discouragement is often a sin. If God’s plan for us was to reach a point of discouragement, doesn’t that mean that God is causing us to sin?

The problem is that this way of thinking is too simplistic. The disconnect is in failing to realize that we are already sinful. The fact that the Lord allows us to face situations that draws our dross to the surface, in no way makes him the author of our sin. This understanding lines up perfectly with scripture. We are humanly responsible for our sin, and God is completely sovereign. We cannot deny either of these truths if we wish to remain biblical.

If you are God’s child, and he has brought you to a low point, he’s doing it because he loves you. There is something he wants to do with this discouragement in your life, and ultimately, like all dross drawn to the surface, he will wipe it away.

The first thing we need to do when discouragement hits is to ask ourselves why we are demoralized. Discouragement is almost always tied to the things of the world. Our hearts cling to them, and when hardship hits, they start to falter. Dismay almost always involves the removal of some earthly pleasure. We have placed our hope and trust in some aspect of the world.

Homes, cars, jobs, human relationships, health, quality of life, or even mortal life itself; discouragement is always the result of losing, or the threat of losing, one or more of these. But even as these begin to show weakness, God has not failed us. Knowing that God has not failed us, and we are still dismayed should be an indication that we have misplaced our trust.

This revelation of misplaced trust may be the the first blessing the Lord is bringing to us. He is going to use it to set us more firmly upon the rock of Christ Jesus. When we find ourselves discouraged, we are not to resign ourselves to it. We are to change the way we see it. Instead of trying to will our way out of it, we should ask the Lord what blessing he is giving us through it. The most significant blessing will always be increased faith.

Scripture tells us, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials (1 Pet. 1:6).” There are two things we need to see in this verse to help us. First, we need to realize that this happens after we have received the gospel. That is what “in this you greatly rejoice” means. We rejoice in the gospel. This verse is talking to believers, and the trial taking place is happening to Christians. The second point is that it says you have been “grieved” by the trials. One version says, “distressed,” and another refers to it as “heaviness.” The point of all these synonyms is that these are trials you will feel. These are not merely outward trials you will float through on a spiritual cloud. They are trials that will hurt your heart; they will bring you low. Dare I say, “discourage” you. And as the passage indicates, if they hit us, they are necessary.

There is a reason for this adversity. It is not pointless. The passage continues, “so that the tested genuineness of your faith may be tested,” and that faith is worth more than gold. It is worth more than any earthly possession because faith is our trust in God, and he is purifying it. The result of this is the praise and glory of God (1 Pet. 1:7).

Even when our health fails and we find our quality-of-life slipping, we must remember that even though the outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. This continued renewal in the face of hardship is why we do not lose heart (2 Cor. 4:17).

How do we not lose heart? The scripture tells us, “by looking not to the things that are seen, but the things that are not seen.” For the things that are not seen are eternal, and everything else is passing (2 Cor. 4:18). If the things of Earth are not letting you down yet, they will.

How do you live with discouragement? You allow it to do the work God intended it to do when he sent it to you. You let it turn your eyes away from this world, and be renewed spiritually. All of this will end in the glory of God, which is the chief end of man. This is where our true enjoyment will be found, and that enjoyment is eternal with a weight of glory that cannot compare to the heaviness you are facing now. Let the dross rise to the surface, look to the things unseen, and your loving Father will begin to wipe it away even if the trial remains.

-D. Eaton

Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy by Mark Vroegop [Book Review]

We live in a fallen world, and many people do not know what to do with their anger, hurt, sorrow, and grief. Much of it is churned into bitterness and spewed out on social media. Unfortunately, cultural Christianity has no place for biblical lament which is a proper response to such things. Even our funeral services have become life celebrations where we do not allow the grieving to grieve. This is why we need Mark Vroegop’s book, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Rediscovering the Grace of Lament. The book is broken into three heads:

Section 1: Learning to Lament

Vroegop shows us how to lament biblically and the pitfalls to avoid. Lament is not being angry with God. Lament is not complaining as if we are not getting what we deserve from God, and lament is not despair. Vroegop gives us a thoroughly biblical understanding of lament and encourages us to turn our pain into passionate cries to God. He reminds us that one third of Psalms contain lament, and it should be part of our worship. If you are hurting, he will show you how to lay out your pain before God.

Section 2: Learning from Lament

Like all prayer, lament is a means of grace that leads us into several spiritual benefits. Vroegop spends time leading us through those blessings. Two examples are that lament takes our trials and turns them into trust, and it uses our injuries to tear down our idols that subtlety hold our hearts captive. This section opens eyes to the individual and corporate blessing we miss when we fail to lament properly.

Section 3: Living with Lament

The book closes with instruction on how to put lament into practice personally, in our churches, small groups, funerals, and life with others. In this section, it becomes even more clear how much we need lament. People are hurting from both actual and perceived injustices. Our political culture stirs up animosity, anger, and resentment, and biblical lament can be one aspect that could help move us toward healing by weeping with those who weep.

If we do not see any reason to lament, then we are not paying attention to the world around us or the sin that that still dwells within us. Vroegop has done the church a great service by pointing us back to a biblical act of worship that is too often neglected and replaced with bitter and angry social media rants. The church needs to understand and make room for lament, and the world needs the church to understand it as well. Lament is one of the first places we should go when confronting this fallen world.

-D. Eaton

What Can Illness Do To Us? – A Meditation

ESo we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.The Lord is on my side, I will not fear. – Psalm 118:6

Is it not in the sovereign hands of the Lord? Every pain and every distress is under the supreme authority of our God. Even if Satan and his legions are involved, they are only permitted to go as far as His hand allows, and He could reverse their work in an instant if he decided. Even if the illness is due to sinful choices, is not Jesus the forgiver of sins and restorer.

If we face any illness, no matter the cause, God does not cease to be in control. Did He know this was coming? Does He have the power to stop it? Most certainly. The logic that flows from these two truths is that God is the final decision-maker for everything that comes against us.

What, then, can illness do to us if it is under the providence of God? It can afflict, but not crush. It can perplex, but cannot drive us to despair. It can even strike down, but it cannot destroy.

On the contrary, sickness, sovereignly wielded like a scalpel in the hand of our good God, can only heal. For all things work together for the those that love Him (Rom. 8:28), and disease certainly does not fall outside the category of “all things.” By it, He weans us from the passing treasure of this world, and He teaches us to redeem the time. In all of it, He is spurring us on to holiness, and holiness is where true happiness is found.

Lord we resign ourselves to your perfect will. We will fight for our health as your word calls us to since our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and anyone who destroys the temple will also be destroyed (1 Cor. 3:16-17). However, we leave the results of our fight in your hands because we know that even if the outward man is wasting away, the inward man is being renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16).

We will not look on the things that are seen, but the things that are unseen (2 Cor. 4:18). In this way, we will find peace in the pain, deliverance in the distress, and healing in the hurt.

We love you, Jesus.

Why Do Good People Suffer?

I recently had the privilege of giving an apologetics talk on the problem of evil. I was asked to address the following question.

If your Jesus is so good, then why do good people suffer, and why does sin take control of the world, and why do the elderly get sick?

The mp3 can be found here: Why Do Good People Suffer?

The following slide may be helpful as you listen to the audio.

The Problem of Evil.jpg

More from the Fight of Faith:

7 Questions to get to the Heart of Any Worldview

The New Atheism’s Leap of Faith

Defending the Resurrection of Jesus: The Core Facts Approach

 

 

When God’s Love Hurts

But they will become his slaves so that they may learn the difference between my service and the service of the kingdoms of the countries. 2 Chronicles 12:8

In this verse, we find the nation of Judah in a humbling position. King Rehoboam had only been king of Judah for five years, but in that five years, he had forsaken the law of the Lord. Because of this unfaithfulness, the Lord sends Shishak, King of Egypt to capture the fortified cities of Judah. The Lord then says to King Rehoboam, “You have forsaken me, so I have forsaken you to Shishak”, and what we see next is faith revived, for they humbled themselves and said, “the Lord is righteous.”

Too often we take disobedience lightly, and most people do not like to talk about the times they have been under God’s rod of discipline, and you can understand why. With so much theology pushing for the elusive mountaintop experience, and Christian pop psychology teaching us “How to manage our emotions” or “How to find the champion within,” a Christian could feel like quite the failure in many of today’s churches to acknowledge that God’s discipline is upon them.

We must, however, see this for what it is. To be under the heavy hand of God is a blessing because the Lord only disciplines those He loves. In this text we see His discipline had a specific purpose: to teach. There are many things we must be taught by the hand of the Lord for our hearts are deceitful and prone to wander, but our Shepherd knows how to lead us. When we learn the difference between His service and the service of the prince of this world, we find that His yoke is easy and His burden in light.

There is also the unfortunate fact that many people live their lives based on subjective feelings and do not live according to the Word of God. They feel that they are spiritual because they get goosebumps during their worship service, but they are living in sin and feel no remorse about it. Living in disobedience with warm affections in worship is a much worse place to be than under the rod of God’s discipline.

Today, if you find yourself under God’s Rod of discipline, humble yourself, and know that He is righteous. Don’t try to run, for it is God’s love that is dealing with you, not His condemnation. Praise Him for He is good, and if the world looks down on you because you have been brought low, and if many in the church are too busy chasing affluence under the guise of Christianity to understand, remember victory is yours because He is your shepherd. It is God’s grace that teaches us these crucial lessons, and we know “the broken and contrite He will never turn away.” Praise God, for He disciplines those He loves, we are kept by the power of God, and we will never be lost.

My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. -Hebrew 12:4-11 

D. Eaton

More From The Fight Of Faith

 

A Fear That Makes You Fearless

There is a fear that will make you fearless. Many of God’s great saints have gone through times which shook them with such terrible fear that they felt paralyzed, but it is in those times that they learned that Christ is everything. Facing dark nights, when we feel that God has forsaken us, has a way of breaking all that encumbers the heart and turns its focus to the only one who can help. These are the times of spiritual depression when we look and see our sinful hearts in all their depravity. It is here where the fear of God takes on a whole new meaning. When we go through a time like this, there is nothing that we will not surrender to God, because we finally see how hopeless we are without Him. It is in these times that we offer our boldest prayers. We are willing to cry, “Lord, take everything from me if I am not in your will, my reputation, my job, even my family if necessary. There is only one thing that will redeem me from this pit, and that is to know I am right with you.” Spurgeon said, “If a man is in this position you can lay the wealth of India at his feet and he’ll say take it away, what use is that to me.”

When a person goes through a time like this and comes out on the other side, that person has been changed, and many times the Lord left everything intact, the reputation, the job, and the family, but at the same time, He has taken it from him. The fears that once tormented are gone because this person has seen the greatest truth: without Christ we have nothing and with Him we have everything. They also learn that they belong to Him, and even when it seems He is against us, He is for us. This newly found freedom emboldens the man do and say things that he once could not because of his fears. It gives him the ability to take a stand for Christ no matter what the cost. We see this in John Bunyan spending years in prison without denying Christ, or Luther standing before the powers of Rome declaring, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” They had been through times where their sins tormented them, and during those times, they saw the worthlessness of everything in measure to Christ. As a result, they now look at the fears of this world as nothing in comparison.

There is a great picture of this in the movie “The Four Feathers”. The main character is in a group of military friends who are told they will be going to battle. The main character is afraid, so he resigns. From this, four of his closest friends each gives him a feather signifying that he is a coward. Seeing the result of his decision he heads off to Saudi Arabia to find this group and redeem his cowardly act. The things he faces make going to war pale in comparison. In the midst of his ordeal, a man says to him “why did you not go to war?” His reply is “I was afraid”. The man who asked the question began to laugh out loud and says “you, scared? I found you half dead in the middle of the desert by yourself.” To which he responds, “it’s a different kind of fear.”

It’s a different kind of fear to fear the Lord. Not the kind of fear that will cause you to run away, but a fear that will cause you to run to Him and stand strong. In finding this fear, the chains of fear begin to break. Praise God for causing our hearts to fear and for delivering us from it.

When I cling to earthly things
Within my heart, fear pulls the strings
Lord, all these things, take if you must
For in your Love, I’ll place my trust.

Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27

D. Eaton

The Problem with Temptation is Us

She stopped by again today and gave me one of those looks. The beauty of her face set against the backdrop of the tumultuous sky promised me peace. It was soft and gentle. It was like she was telling me, “I know you are hurting, and I can help.” There was a grace in the whole thing that spun my world with confusion.

The power she wielded over me was devastating. She continued to promise relief, but I have spent time with her on more than one occasion. She keeps telling me to trust her, that she can sooth the pain I am feeling. I reminded her that every time previously, her relief has only been temporary and that she always leaves me more troubled than before. Her response to this has always been the same, “Just one more time and you will be satisfied.”

Either I go with her and enter the vicious cycle once again, or I resist and find myself with an unquenched thirst that still leaves me feeling worse than before she showed up.  When I resist her, she plays upon my fears: as if somehow I am missing out, or failing to take care of myself. Many times she has told me “this is what life is about about, and you are not living it to the fullest.”

She appears in different forms to everyone. Usually, when I hear them talk about her, most people put all the blame on her. In exasperation, they conclude, “If she were not always around, I wouldn’t have this problem,” or “If society didn’t endorse her so much, I would be safe.” The reality is the problem with temptation is us, and even without her our hearts naturally try to find fulfillment apart from our Creator. This, of course, is why we often go out to look for her.

The only reason she has so much power over me is because deep down I desire what she offers whether she is present or not, and these are the desires that war against my soul. If this were not the case, I could easily send her on her way without a problem. John Owen once wrote, “Temptations and occasions put nothing into a man, but only draw out what was in him before,” and he was working from a truth he had read in Scripture which says, “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (James 1:14).

I am always amazed at how much influence she has over me, or should I say how much power I have given her. There is only one remedy, and that is to abide in Christ who offers the real fulfillment I am seeking. There must be a change in me for her to lose her power, and that change has already begun. I know this because never before have I been so aware of the deceit that lies behind her smile, but being aware and resisting are two different things. There is so much more to say about her, and even more to say about our great deliverer, but she is here now giving me that look.

D. Eaton

 

When Pressing On Means Giving Up

I could hear the voices whispering, “Persevere, Don’t give up, You need to press on.” The only problem was I was fairly certain these were the voices of the enemy. I was torn because persistence is something to honor. A sense of despondency and joy burned within me at the thought of giving up several lifelong pursuits.

I knew it was the right thing to do. I needed to say goodbye to what I loved, because what I loved was toxic. It was like a destructive friendship. Friendships are to be cherished, and it always seems wrong to dissolve them, but when they are harmful, the appropriate thing to do is to bring them to an end.

I realized I had a long and unhealthy relationship with the world.  I loved it and was attempting to stake my claim and find my refuge in its kingdom. The revelation that these dark skies have open to me is that the things of the world can neither protect nor satisfy.

Faith has been awakened, and it is pointing my mind to things above.  I know at this point the way to press on is to bring all these worldly pursuits to a close.  I must say goodbye to these lifelong loves, and deep inside I can feel the heartache that will ensue. If left to myself, I will not have the strength to do it.  I will run back into their arms like a lonely man returning to an abusive lover.

I will persevere though, not because I have it in me, but because I am starting to realize that true perseverance in the things of God is not of myself.  I am, as Peter once said, being kept by the power of God through faith.  Christ Jesus has begun a work He has promised to complete. I know my old nature will not give up easily, and it may win a few battles as I am being conformed to His image, but I will press on, because He has promised to never lose His child.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. – 1 John 2:15

D. Eaton

The Fight of Faith

Fight of Faith Logo

The sky has turned dark.  It has not always been this way, but now it is frightening.  Not long ago it was bright and sunny as was the disposition of my heart, but now the thunder crashes are similar to the war drums of an enemy telling me that I will never survive. When the skies were clear, I always imagined that I had the strength to handle whatever would come my way, but now as I stand here, I realize how weak I am compared to the power of this storm.

Somehow the darkness that has surrounded me has begun to make its way into my soul. The doubts, confusions, and fears continue to whisper to me, and they seem to be penetrating deep into my heart. It even has a way of making the easiest tasks of the day seem burdensome. Deep inside me, it has revealed the truth that I am no match for what I am facing, and to crown its victory, it declares my sinfulness by reminding me of my many failures.

That is not all that is being revealed, something deeper still has begun to stir. Something that is turning my eyes away from the ephemeral and started to focus my attention on what endures. I realize that it was there even before the skies turned, but I am only now beginning to see its power. It has gripped me and will not let go. It is something that was born within by a power not my own, which is what gives it a life of its own. It has been said that those born in this way will overcome the world, and what is this victory that overcomes the world – our faith.

It often takes a storm more powerful than I am before I reach out for the Hand that is more powerful than the storm, and though the tempest remembers my transgressions, the Hands that hold me are scarred from nail piercings that declare my forgiveness.  I still tremble, and sometimes it is difficult to tell whether it is out of fear or out of faith, but what I am beginning to see is that there is something, or should I say, Someone, greater within me than what is in the world.

One day it will all be put right, but the sky is still dark, and the storm is still raging, and when I see the things of this world which my heart still loves slipping from my grasp, the tears still sometimes well up in my eyes. Although, I’ve learned that the One who holds me is also directing the storm, so I have nothing to fear. You may not always see me holding it together, but know this, deep inside there is a battle raging to set me free from the things that still hold me captive. That battle is the fight of faith, and that battle will not be lost.

D. Eaton

The Benefits of Adversity

The Prayer
The daily battles never cease. Adversity is a companion I know too well. My strength is gone, and despair brings me low. I ask again for release from this, for I fear it will be the end of me. The enemy gathers to devour me, and their strength seems overwhelming. Lord, if it be your will, end this suffering.

The Response

Then your word rings clear. “My Grace is sufficient for you”. Three times you’ve cried for relief, because you believe this is holding you back. What you don’t see my child, is that this thorn you so much dread is one of my precious blessings which is not killing or holding you back, but spurring you on and giving you strength.

The death that you feel is the old nature dying, and though you feel held back you’re actually moving more swiftly because your focus is clear and your resolve is set on Me. Without this you would be easily distracted. Without this you would stumble in your own strength, and though Satan thinks he buffets, and your faith is being tested, I am crowning you with perseverance, character and hope.

Humility is another gift that is given though this and the broken and contrite I will never turn away. So walk on and know that I am sovereign, and embrace the benefits of this adversity. For I alone am God, and I know my children well. You will never be tested more than you can handle, and I will bring you home.

My Grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness. 2 Cor. 12:9

-D. Eaton-