Fear and discouragement attack everybody. They affect those who have public, visible roles in God’s work. But they also affect those of us who have less prominent yet just as significant roles in the eyes of the Lord.
Every Christian has a calling. And fear of some sort wants to discourage us and interrupt that calling. The ability to overcome fear is driven by our intentional decision to reassure ourselves: God says I can. This is especially crucial when the false beliefs running around in our heads are overwhelming us with reasons why we can’t.
When the internal dialogue of fear starts in your heart, remember – the enemy’s goal is to talk you out of trusting God’s plan for your life. And he’s not just trying to derail you. He aims to limit the impact God wants to make in your and through you.
Regardless of how or when it arrives, fear always displaces hope and leaves you with the feeling: “It’s not working, so what’s the point? Why not just give up?”
Discouragement Tells Us To Give Up
As human beings, we don’t seem to mind sacrificing – regardless for how long or how difficult – as long as we see a greater gain in the horizon. It’s not pouring ourselves out for a worthy purpose that depletes us. It’s when we’re giving our all and seeming to get nothing in return. It’s then that we often become discouraged.
Steven Furtick, well-known pastor and author, offers this challenging perspective about our fear and discouragement in his book Crash The Chatterbox:
“I have a sermon I love to preach about John the Baptist. I call it “The Most Important Message You’ve Never Heard.” I love to preach it because it’s uplifting and simple. These are my three points:
- You’re doing better than you think you are.
- It’s less about you than you think it is
- You matter more than you think you do.”
The presence of extreme fear and discouragement isn’t necessarily an indication that you’re not doing the will of God. In fact, the secret struggles of John the Baptist, much like those of Mother Teresa and the apostle Paul, prove the opposite. Inner conflict is often a confirmation of your calling. The enemy only fights those who pose a threat!
Although John the Baptist was the very man who proclaimed the coming presence and purpose of Jesus Christ, in Matthew’s gospel we see this same John’s discouragement surfacing in the form of a question:
“After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee. When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:1-3)
Evidently John’s confidence in Christ is progressing full speed, in the wrong direction. It seems bizarre to hear that the one who had announced the reign of Christ (John the Baptist) is now questioning the very ministry he had boldly announced.
To be clear, nothing in the text suggests that John was denying Christ or compromising his convictions. And this is important to point out, because the self-talk we hear in our heads will try to use our questions about the way God is working in our lives to accuse us of having weak faith, or even the absence of faith.
John’s discouragement and fear is not due to a lack of faith or belief. It is the result of an unmet expectation.
Jesus was not planning to take away the sin of the world in the way John had hoped He would. In other words, John had spent himself in doing the work of the Lord. But from his vantage point, it wasn’t working. Now he’s wondering… what’s the point?”
Discouragement Tells Us To Give Up
Disappointment is the gap between what I expect and what I experience. And the discouraging dialogue in your mind will look for ways to exploit your disappointment by filling the gap with doubts about the goodness of God.
- God wouldn’t let you go through this if He loved you.
- This wouldn’t be happening if you just had more faith.
- Maybe you’re not meant to do this.
- If it were possible for things to change, that would have happened by now.
Disappointed expectations, when full-grown, give birth to chronic discouragement. If you allow this chronic discouragement to run rampant in your life, you’ll begin to lose your hope.
We May Need To Change How We Respond To Discouragement
So how do you manage the gap between the false beliefs in your head that say you can’t (or you’re not enough, or you’re unworthy, or you’re unlovable) and God’s insistence of the opposite? Here are three possible options:
- Some choose to pretend it doesn’t exist. When faced with fear and disappointment, they deny its effects and pretend everything is fine. But nobody is immune to the discouragement that comes through fear. And if all you do is hide the symptoms; your hope will die a silent, slow death.
- Others, instead of ignoring the gap, give up in the middle of the gap. Sick of being down, they simply lower their expectations of God and of themselves to the level of their experiences. And then they start to live by statements like, “Well, I’ll hope for the best, but I’ll expect the worst.” Something goes wrong, and their automatic response becomes “This is the story of my life.”
- John took his disappointed expectation to the only one with the authority to appropriately address it, Jesus Christ. Allowing God to fill the gaps means refusing to pretend the gaps between our expectation and our experience don’t exist. And it also means refusing to attempt to fill the gaps in ways – or with people – that can’t get the job done.
God Is Big Enough And Wants To Fill The Gap
Not only does Jesus not criticize John for asking the question. He turns the question inside out, using it as an opportunity to esteem John. But Jesus didn’t want John’s confidence to rest in John. He structures His words in such a way that John’s confidence can only rest in Jesus. The only motivation to endure that John is given is based on the work Christ is doing, not the work that John has done, even as remarkable as it was.
It’s possible when we’re not getting the affirmation or confirmation we desire, it’s because God doesn’t want our faith to rest in affirmation we can feel. In these times could it be that He’s at work on a deeper level, teaching us to rely on His character rather than on our performance?
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