On July 14, 1974, an article appeared in a religious publication entitled, “A Deadly Disease Of The Spirit.”
It stated, “Believers are particularly vulnerable to a ravaging, spiritual disease. This disease can make demons appear more powerful than angels; it reduces the Word of God to mere paper and ink; and it shrinks God to the size of man. This highly contagious disease has divided congregations and choked spiritual vision. It has been known to terminate dynamic ministries. If the afflicted person finally gives up, he becomes another fatality of this disease’s final stages. The disease is ‘discouragement’—with all its disguises removed. Discouragement is devastating. No one ever seems to turn back from following Christ without first being weakened by this virus. And when discouragement is accepted and entertained, it rapidly becomes the sin of unbelief… no one is immune from this virus.”
Norman Cousins said, “Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.” In Zephaniah 3:16, we have the admonishment, “Let not your hands be slack.” The meaning is, “to make less confident or hopeful and to dishearten,” i.e. “discouragement.”
Discouragement is not uncommon. In Isaiah 38:14, King Hezekiah reveals that when he was battling sickness that he was “oppressed.” Daniel 7:25 warns of how the enemy seeks to “wear out the saints of the Most High.” The Hebrew word used here for “wear out” means to “mentally tire, make the mind weary.” Paul wrote, in 2 Corinthians 4:1, “Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart.” To “lose heart” was used of a soldier who became weak and fainthearted in battle and turned back. In 1 Peter 1:6, the apostle spoke of being “grieved by various trials.” The word “grieved” suggests dejection. Ironically, the great British preacher C. H. Spurgeon, while leading multitudes to Christ through his powerful preaching, also suffered awful bouts of melancholy. He often felt as if he’d accomplished nothing in his life. Frequently he would go into his garden, raise his hands to God and cry, “Lord, I’ve never desired you more, yet my spirit has never been so low. Why is this happening?”
Several things contribute towards discouragement:
1. PHYSICAL AND MENTAL EXHAUSTION
A tired body can easily result in a depressed soul. This is why Christ instructed His disciples whom He had commissioned to minister in nearby cities, “Come…apart…and rest awhile,” Mark 6:31. Paul also recognized that burn-out is a threat to those involved in people-to-people ministries: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” Galatians 6:9 (NIV).
2. A SENSE OF FAILURE
An anonymous clergyman said sadly, “When I went into the ministry I thought I was going to save the world and rescue all those people. But that was a long time ago. Now I’m much more pessimistic about anyone making that much difference and my goals are simple: all I want to do is survive.”
3. DISAPPOINTED HOPES
Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when dreams come true at last, there is life and joy” (TLB). In his book, ‘None Of These Diseases,” Dr. S. I. McMillen writes of the differing effects of despair and hope on the physical health of those in stressful situations. He cites Dr. Harold Wolff’s belief that a sense of despair led to the death of thousands of Allied servicemen kept in Japanese prison camps during World War II. The prisoners, because of discouragement, gave up hope that they would ever be released. With hope gone, even though there was sufficient provisions for survival, Dr. Wolff wrote, “The prisoners became apathetic, listless, neither ate nor drank, helped himself in no way, stared into space and finally died.” Then Dr. Wolff concluded, ‘Hope, like faith and purpose in life, is medicinal.”
Speaking of the ten spies of Israel, the Bible says, “They discouraged the heart of the children of Israel,” Numbers 32:9. George B. Duncan stated, “It does not take a lot to cloud the sun in the life of the soul,” and it only takes one or two negative words to bring discouragement. Proverbs 18:21a, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”
5. THE DAILY ROUTINE
Numbers 21:4 reveals, ‘And the soul of the people became discouraged on the way.” Dr. George W. Truett told his congregation, ‘The words ‘groove’ and ‘grave’ are from the same root—keeping right on in the groove, in the grave.” A second grade class was asked to write about their parents. This is how one little boy viewed his dad: ‘He can climb the highest mountain or swim the biggest ocean. He can fly the fastest plane and fight the strongest tiger. My father can do anything. But most of the time he just carries out the garbage.”
Discouragement can be conquered.
In 1 Samuel 30, we have the incident in David’s life when he came to a place called Ziklag. “Ziklag” means “overwhelming despair.” At Ziklag, David discovered his family had been captured and that the people turned against him. Instead of falling apart and calling it quits, we read, “But David encouraged himself in the Lord his God,” verse 6. He reminded himself that the Lord was on his side and turned to his God in faith. With renewed strength, he forged ahead, and the Bible states, “So David recovered all,” verse 18. Furthermore, it was at Ziklag that the people came and asked David to be their king. His place of overwhelming defeat became his place of overwhelming victory.
In Luke 18:1, Christ reminded us that it is through prayer and communion with God that we can be shielded against “losing heart.” When the Queen of Sheba obtained an audience with King Solomon, she not only asked him difficult questions, but also, “Communed with him all that was in her heart,” 1 Kings 10:2. Spurgeon says of this, “She unbosomed herself to him, told him all that lay concealed in her heart, and Solomon listened attentively to her, and, no doubt, so spoke to her that he sent her away rejoicing. We know of One who is “greater than Solomon,” to whom it is safe and blessed to tell out all that is in our heart. He is willing to listen to us, and to commune with us; and the more frank and open we are with Him, the better will He be pleased, and the better will it be for us.”
2 Chronicles 15:7, “But you, be strong and do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded.”
Dave Arnold, Pastor, Gulf Coast Worship Center, New Port Richey, Florida