In the last seven days, I’ve had several conversations and interactions with some really great people who were discouraged. There was the guy who just learned his cancer is back, and this time it doesn’t look like it’s going to go away. Worried about his family. Discouraged about his cancer.
I looked into the face of a mother whose daughter is really struggling right now, too. There aren’t a lot of good answers for that situation. As any parent knows, when one of your kids is under attack or having a challenging season, and you can’t fix it, or help it, or make it go away? She said she was very discouraged.
As a pastor, one of the common challenges I hear from people who may drop by my office to talk is the issue of discouragement. What is ‘discouragement,’ anyway? One dictionary defines the word discouragement as, “A loss of enthusiasm; a dispiritedness.” While I wouldn’t quarrel with that definition on one level, on another level I’m not sure a loss of enthusiasm is how I would describe discouragement. Oh, I know that discouraged people are often despondent, with a sense of hopelessness. You might say they’re ‘downhearted.’ Those are all ‘feeling’ words that people who are discouraged are experiencing. But not one dictionary I consulted ever associated the idea of a lack of ‘courage’ with the word ‘discouraged.’ If people discouraged are literally without or lacking courage, it would stand to reason that if courage could be restored, those downhearted or despondent feelings might be mitigated. In other words, what I need if I’m discouraged is not someone coming alongside me, saying ‘Cheer up.’ I don’t need a funny story. I need a sobering and faith-inspiring challenge.
They were lined up on the wrong side of the Jordon River. How long had they been wandering around? And now? They were supposed to cross that river and take the land God had given them. But … what a great opportunity for discouragement before they even got started. The river was at flood stage. How on earth would they cross it? Their former leader, the great Moses was dead. They already knew from former spy reports that there were giants across the river. They had every reason for discouragement, or ‘not-courage’ ment.
I love the way the Book of Joshua begins, as God calls attention to the obvious: “Moses my servant is dead.” No need to remind God. He was way ahead of the game. “Be strong,” said the God of all might and power. “Be strong and very courageous, for the Lord thy God is with thee.”
The great need in my life on days when I feel downhearted or discouraged is not for someone to tell me to cheer up. To be ‘dis-couraged’ is to be ‘not-couraged.’ On those days in my life — and there have been many — when my heart has been downcast, disheartened, and dispirited, I am grateful for God’s voice in speaking to my great need. And that need is not a happy tune. It is His eternal assurance: Be strong and very courageous.
Why? Because the Lord, thy God is with me.