When you are engaged in the task of trying to improve the lives of people, to make the world a better place, to reform government, or to pioneer a new venture, life can often be discouraging. But both the Bible and life itself give us good reasons to “be of good courage” (Psalm 31:24a KJV) and keep on going.
Great leaders are usually people who have faced and overcome many obstacles, setbacks, and discouragements—people who have persevered even when others have told them that success was out of the question. I often tell people that “discouragement is against my religion,” and it certainly is against the philosophy of most leaders who have fought through its slimy clutches to achieve great things.
Winston Churchill is famous for saying, “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.”
To succeed in serving God or in any other venture, it is important to develop an immunity to discouragement and learn how to fight against it as a deadly enemy when it shows up in our lives.
TWENTY WAYS TO OVERCOME
(I) Don’t be discouraged by the difficulty of a particular task or calling. Oswald Chambers, the renowned missionary, writer, and Bible teacher, once made this observation: “If we are going to live as disciples of Jesus, we have to remember that all noble things are difficult. The Christian life is gloriously difficult, but the difficulty of it does not make us faint and cave in, it rouses us up to overcome.”
In his bestselling book entitled “The Road Less Travelled,” psychiatrist F. Scott Peck wrote the following: “Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult—once we truly understand and accept it—then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”
In Luke 14:28 (KJV), Jesus told His disciples to “count the cost” of following him. He never said that the Christian life would be easy. But He did say that it was the path on which to achieve true greatness (Matthew 23:11), to find our true selves (Matthew 16:25), and to find true joy (John 15:11). He also said that He would be on that path with us.
Theodore Roosevelt declared, “Never throughout history has a man who lived a life of ease left a name worth remembering.” Roosevelt also authored this classic quotation:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
The question we ought to ask ourselves when launching any venture is not, “Is this a difficult path?” Instead, we ought to ask, “Is this the right path?”
(II) Avoid becoming worn out through constant battles. Speaking of a future opponent of Israel, Daniel prophesied, “And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High” (Daniel 7:25 KJV). After Elijah had triumphed in his dramatic showdown against the false prophets of Baal, he was so worn down by the fight that he sunk into self-pity and depression. “O Lord,” he prayed, “take away my life” (I Kings 19:4 KJV). But God sent an angel to bring him food and water and strengthen his spirit, and he went on to perform many more miracles.
It is important for us to take good care of ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually in order to persevere when the going gets tough. Rest, refreshment, and daily spiritual renewal are vital to our ability to serve God over the long term.
The Apostle Paul wrote in II Corinthians 4:16 (GWT), “We know that the one who brought the Lord Jesus back to life will also bring us back to life through Jesus…That is why we are not discouraged. Though outwardly we are wearing out, inwardly we are renewed day by day” (II Corinthians 4:14, 16 GWT). It is hard to wear out someone who has an eternal power source!
(III) Don’t discouraged by the negative evaluations of naysayers. Some of the greatest achievers from all walks of life were initially told that they did not have what it took to succeed. Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper job in 1919 because his editor said he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” The great actor Sidney Poitier was told by a casting director, “Why don’t you stop wasting people’s time and go out and become a dishwasher or something?” One of Thomas Edison’s school teachers reported that he was “too stupid to learn anything.” The Beatles were told by a recording company, “We don’t like your sound and guitar music is on its way out.”
When Nehemiah began rebuilding Jerusalem after its destruction, the neighboring people mocked him saying, “What are these pathetic Jews doing? Can they restore it by themselves? …Will they ever finish it? Can they bring these burnt stones back to life from the mounds of rubble? …Indeed, even if a fox climbed up what they are building, he would break down their stone wall!” Nehemiah 4:2b; 4:3b (Holman). But he brushed off these jibes and completed the job because “the people had a mind to work” (Nehemiah 4:6 KJV).
(IV) If you are serving God, realize that lies, false accusations, and attacks are par for the course. Jesus was accused of being demon-possessed and mentally ill: “And many of them said, he has a demon and He is mad (insane, He raves, He rambles). Why do you listen to Him?” (John 10:20 Amplified). His own family tried to stop Him from preaching because He was, in their opinion, “out of his mind” (Mark 3:21 ESV). Other people said of Him, “He’s a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners!” (Luke 7:34 NLT). When was arrested and brought before Pilate, he was described as “[one] who was perverting and misleading and corrupting the people” (Luke 23:14 Amplified).
Similarly, when Paul was falsely arrested for causing a disturbance by his preaching, he was told by the Roman procurator, “You are out of your mind, Paul! …Your great learning is driving you insane” (Acts 26:24b NIV).
Jesus warns us that persecution is a normal part of the Christian life and tells us how to handle it when it comes: “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12 NASB).
(V) Don’t be discouraged by initial failures or discouraging results. John Wesley was unsuccessful as a missionary to the American Indians. Winston Churchill failed two times to get into the Royal Military College. Abraham Lincoln failed in his first run for the State Legislature. Bill Gates’s first attempt at starting a business ended in bankruptcy. Henry Ford failed in his first two attempts to start a car company. Albert Einstein failed the exam to enter the Swiss Polytechnic School and worked for awhile as an insurance salesman. Steven Spielberg was rejected three times by the University of California School of Theater, Film and Television. Comedians Jim Carrey and Jerry Seinfeld were both booed off the stage during their first attempts at stand-up comedy. But all of these people refused to quit and went on to become outstanding successes in their chosen fields.
“Failure,” Winston Churchill once said, “is not fatal!” Dale Carnegie had an even more optimistic view about failure: “Develop success from failure. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.”
(VI) Don’t be discouraged by the length of time necessary to achieve success. Sometimes, great things take a great amount of time to be achieved. William Carey, the father of modern missions, labored for over seventeen years in India before he made his first convert to the Christian faith. A biographer said of him, “Through years of struggle and doubt, Carey was often discouraged but never defeated.” Thanks in part to his sacrifice and remarkable endurance, there are now 27.8 million Christians in India. Similarly, William Wilberforce, a Christian member of the British Parliament, spent most of his life working to outlaw the slave trade in Britain. His antislavery bills were voted down eleven times over a period of 47 years, but passed on the twelfth attempt.
As the Lord told the prophet Habakkuk, even a genuine vision from God may not come to pass according to our timetable; however, that vision will come to pass according to God’s timetable: “This vision is for a future time. It describes the end, and it will be fulfilled. If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed” (Habakkuk 2:3 NLT).
(VII) Don’t be discouraged by the number of attempts it takes to become successful. Sylvester Stallone was rejected 1,500 times by talent scouts, agents, and people in the film industry. Then he wrote the script for “Rocky,” and the rest is history. Jack Caulfield, author of the inspiring “Chicken Soup for the Soul” book series, had his initial manuscript rejected 144 times in 14 months. His books have now sold 500 million copies in 20 languages. Author Jack London had his first novel rejected 600 times before it was published. Colonel Sanders had his chicken recipe rejected by 1,009 restaurants before it was given a chance; his company now consists of 18,000 restaurants world-wide. Sir James Dyson tried 5,127 times to develop a successful prototype for his bagless vacuum cleaner before he succeeded. He is now worth $4.9 billion! “Success,” Winston Churchill once quipped, “consists of going from failure without loss of enthusiasm.”
(VIII) Don’t be discouraged by setbacks on the road to success. Hudson Taylor, the first Protestant missionary to China, was robbed of all his possessions while traveling the countryside. It was four years before he won his first converts. While travelling as a medical missionary, Taylor lost all of his supplies in a fire. Later, when he obtained a building and started a permanent medical clinic, it was looted and burned. Back in England, Taylor was attacked in the press for causing trouble among the Chinese. At this point, he could easily have quit, but he didn’t. By the end of his life, Taylor had started 300 mission stations and 125 schools, and had brought 800 other missionaries to China. There are now over 100 million Christians in China.
(IX) Don’t be discouraged by small beginnings. Great things often come from small beginnings that don’t look so great. The Christian Church began with 120 people in Jerusalem huddled in an “upper room,” praying for help from God. We should never overestimate the power of good seed planted in the right soil to multiply. In 1884, a Protestant missionary went to Korea, where Christianity had been severely persecuted and outlawed for over 120 years. After a remarkable intervention by God, the whole country opened up to the Gospel. Today, there are over 14 million Christians in South Korea; 30% of the people there now profess faith in Christ. “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning” (Ecclesiastes 7:8a ESV).
(X) Because believers have the power of prayer, we should never be discouraged. Jesus tells us in Luke 18:1b (KJV), “Men ought always to pray, and not to faint.” The word “faint” means to “lose heart” (ESV), “become discouraged” (Holman) or “give up” (NIV). Prayer can often turn a desperate situation around. In II Chronicles 20, King Jehoshaphat received word that several enemy armies were on their way to attack him. The Bible says, “Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the Lord” (II Chronicles 20:3 KJV). While he was fasting and praying, the Lord spoke to him and said, “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army, for the battle is not yours, but God’s” (II Corinthians 20:15 NIV). And then God defeated his enemies for him!
Christians in the former Soviet Union endured unspeakable persecution for many decades, but faithfully prayed, persisted, and endured. In the end, their liberation came with hardly a shot being fired.
(XI) Always remember that we serve a miracle-working God. How can a Christian ever be discouraged when we know that
“[a]ll things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27b NIV)? Hudson Taylor wryly commented, “There are three stages to every great work of God; first it is impossible, then it is difficult, then it is done.” Methodist motivational speaker William Arthur Ward said this: “The experienced mountain climber is not intimidated by a mountain—he is inspired by it. The persistent winner is not discouraged by a problem—he is challenged by it. Mountains are created to be conquered; adversities are designed to be defeated.” Walt Disney, who thrived on overcoming discouragement, echoed this when he said, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”
(XII) Seek strength from God when you are feeling discouraged. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. often faced discouragement, but didn’t let it stop him. Speaking at a church meeting, he once declared: “I don’t mind telling you this morning that sometimes I feel discouraged. I felt discouraged in Chicago. As I move through Mississippi and Georgia and Alabama, I feel discouraged. Living every day under the threat of death, I feel discouraged sometimes. Living every day under extensive criticisms…, I feel discouraged sometimes. Yes, sometimes I feel discouraged and feel my work’s in vain. But then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.”
(XIII) Realize that if you are fighting for a just cause, God is with you. If He will not give up, you should not give up, either. Isaiah 42:3b-4 (NIV) says, “In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth.” Isaiah 42:4a (NLT) declares, “He will not stop until truth and righteousness prevail throughout the earth.” Once, when Dr. King was feeling discouraged, he paused to reflect on the worthiness of the cause for which he was fighting: “I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: ‘Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And, lo, I will be with you.’”
Ultimately, God’s Kingdom will prevail upon the earth in perfect righteousness. Our job is to do what we can now do to grow His Kingdom. Paul wrote to his followers, “But you, brothers and sisters, do not grow weary in doing what is right” (II Thessalonians 3:13 NET).
(XIV) Remember that we are called to demonstrate Christ-like endurance. Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV) exhorts us as follows: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
It is understandable to feel a bit discouraged at times, but it is not okay to quit. Hudson Taylor observed, “There are three indispensable requirements for a missionary; (1) patience, (2) patience, and (3) patience.” To endure means to keep going despite whatever you may be going through. Winston Churchill’s way of saying this was, “If you are going through hell, keep going.” The Apostle Paul stated his life’s goal in these words: “My only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me” (Acts 20:24 NIV). And that “race” is a long distance run, not a sprint!
(XV) Recognize the power of perseverance to overcome great obstacles. Dr. Samuel Johnson once noted, “Great works are performed not by strength, but by perseverance.” Thomas Foxwell-Buxton, a nineteenth-century British abolitionist, social reformer, and Member of Parliament, echoed that sentiment when he said, “With ordinary talent and extraordinary perseverance, all things are attainable.” Another memorable statement on the value of persistence came from U.S. President Calvin Coolidge: “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated failures. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
The Bible simply says: “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” Galatians 6:9 (KJV).
(XVI) Learn to encourage yourself. At one very trying time in his life, David’s men turned against him and were talking about stoning him. The Bible says that “David encouraged himself in the LORD his God” (I Samuel 30:16b (KJV)). We can learn how to do this by:
(A) Encouraging ourselves with promises from the Word of God. Grab onto as many of the 7,834 promises made to believers in the Bible and hold onto them until they become realized in your life. Hebrews 6:12b (KJV) advises us to “be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”
(B) Studying the lives of others who have persevered and succeeded. It is good to have spiritual heroes, both from the Bible and from the annals of history.
(C) Engaging in positive self-talk. David often preached to his own soul. An example of this is Psalm 42:5 (GWT) where he wrote, “Why are you discouraged, my soul? Why are you so restless? Put your hope in God, because I will still praise him. He is my savior and my God.”
(D) Reminding ourselves that God is in control even when it doesn’t look like God is in control.
(XVII) Be inspired by the example of Jesus Christ. Hebrews 12:3 (NIV) tells us to “[c]onsider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Lawrence Welk tells the story of a time when he was deserted by his entire band in the middle of a road trip. They told him that his music was old-fashioned, that he didn’t couldn’t even “speak English,” and concluded, “You’re never gonna make it in the big-time!”
“It was the lowest point in my lifetime,” Welk recounted. But, being a devout Catholic, he stopped into a nearby church to pray. While there, he looked up at Jesus on the cross and decided that what he was going through was nothing compared to Christ’s suffering. He decided to start a new band. Eventually his new band led to the Lawrence Welk Show—the all-time longest-playing musical show in television history.
(XVIII) Be motivated by the importance and privilege of your calling. In II Corinthians 4:1 (KJV), Paul wrote: “Therefore, seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not.” Knowing that he had a job to do which God had given him allowed Paul to persist despite the sufferings that his task entailed. Hudson Taylor exhibited the same attitude when he wrote, “It is no small comfort to me to know that God has called me to my work, putting me where I am as I am. I have not sought the position, and I dare not leave it. He knows why he places me here–whether to do, or learn, or suffer.”
(XIX) Have a mature Christian attitude toward suffering.
(A) Recognize that some of the things we go through in serving God are for the purpose of character development. Romans 5:3-4 (NIV) says, “We…glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Hudson Taylor illustrated this principle by saying: “At the timberline where the storms strike with the most fury, the sturdiest trees are found.”
(B) God is sometimes more interested in our sanctification than He is in our success. Many of our trials serve to build our faith, draw us closer to God, and conform us to the image of Christ. Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” in II Corinthians 12:7 (KJV), for example, was to keep him humble.
(C) Other trials allow us to experience “the power of Christ” (II Corinthians 12:9) in a special way. For this reason, Paul wrote, “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then I am strong” (II Corinthians 12:10 KJV).
(XX) Realize that no Christian ever needs to be discouraged.
We know this is true because:
(A) Every one of us can be a success according to God’s definition of success, which is: (1) To know God and have a personal relationship with Him. (2) To do the specific jobs which He has given to us to do, whether janitor or President, doorkeeper or pastor (including such roles as husband, wife, father, mother, son, daughter, neighbor, friend, etc.). Dr. King explained the simplicity of this in these words: “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
(B) We do not have to fix every problem in the world; we only need to do our part.
(C) We are not called to win every battle or to achieve any particular result. We are only called to be faithful.
(D) We only need to live one day at a time and perform that day’s duties. Jesus gives us this great advice, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34 NIV). It is a liberating truth to realize that we are only responsible to handle today’s duties today and that God will renew our strength daily.
(E) We know that our labor is not in vain and that there is a great reward at the end for those who serve God faithfully. I Corinthians 15:58 (KJV) says, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” And II Chronicles 17:7 (NET) says, “But as for you, be strong and don’t get discouraged, for your work will be rewarded.”
(F) We know that God is in control and that His Kingdom will ultimately triumph over all the kingdoms of this world. II Corinthians 4:17-18 (NASB) peers into the future and tells us, “For our momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”