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Discouragement

Discouragement

Excerpts from Chapter 4 of Deserted by God? by Sinclair Ferguson.

Read Psalms 42 and 43.

Spiritual thirst is painful, not pleasant; it may produce melancholy, not melody in our lives.

[There is] a deep sense of the absence and distance of God that drains all our energy and makes each day a superhuman effort just to get through. When we rise in the morning, we feel unrefreshed, energy-less, listless, gloomy; we see and do everything through a cloud; we live life with the shades drawn. Everything is tinged with darkness. We are downcast.

Sometimes well-meaning Christians assume that if someone is melancholic or in low spirits, the solution is all too simple and obvious. They dispense easy medicine for a disease of the soul that is difficult to cure, simple formulas that they assume will deal with every need.

Only when he has discovered the reasons for his discouragements will he be able to prescribe an appropriate antidote.

We too often fail precisely here. In fact, our spiritual discouragement discourages us from analyzing its causes! We yield to discouragement rather than trace back its symptoms to the root. Discouragement does not simply go away on its own account. It must be cross-examined. We must learn to say to it: “Why are you there?” Only then will we discover that there is an appropriate medicine even for our souls.

How important the fellowship of the church is to our well-being!…

Do not be so proud or self-sufficient as to think that you do not need regular exposure to the exposition and application of Scripture in the context of a living, praying group of Christians…

When you are downcast – for whatever reason, minor or life-shaking – it takes more effort to maintain the regular disciplines of the Christian life. Even getting out to church is an enormous struggle…

Ask yourself: “Even if I cannot sense what God is doing in my situation, and cannot understand his ways; where would I be without him?”

Few of us realize how much our sense of significance and worth is tied up to our service and leadership. We often counsel people not to become so absorbed in their service that they lose sight of the One they are supposed to be serving. But if we give ourselves in the service of Christ, who we are becomes so identified with what we do that the two are practically indistinguishable. Our service, after all, is an expression of ourselves; it is an investing of ourselves in others, for Christ. Lose that and part of our very self is lost. Discouragement is often the result.

… [Some] find a small corner, take modest employment, have far fewer material resources than most of their contemporaries. It is easy to feel that the significant parts of life all lie in the past.

Unemployment, of various kinds, can have the same effect…

The same is true in the family context: a mother gives the whole of her life to serving her family for Christ; then they leave home…
The darkest cloud often comes when a mother and wife is widowed…

[The Psalmist] has good reason to feel discouraged; he is experiencing isolation, opposition, and loss of position. To deny that these are reasons to be discouraged would be unhealthy psychologically and emotionally.

The gospel saves us from death, not by removing death, but by helping us to face it in the power of Christ’s victory and thus to overcome it. So, too, with sin. And similarly with discouragement. Faith in Christ does not remove all of the causes of discouragement; rather, it enables us to overcome them. We may experience discouragement; but we will not be defeated by it.

It is true that there are reasons for being discouraged; but there are better and stronger reasons for being encouraged.

“Hope” in Scripture is not wishful thinking. It is confidence based on the promise of God; it is the assurance that we will experience blessings we do not yet experience. That certainty is based on the fact that he is “my Savior and my God.”

A mind well stocked with the knowledge of Scripture is a great preservative from overmuch discouragement; it is like a well-stocked pharmacy in which remedies are always at hand.

It is widely recognized that our own times scorn thinking and emphasize feeling. Sadly, the litmus test of a worship service is often whether or not it makes you feel good, not whether it centered on the Lord. But discouraged Christians need much more than an emotional pick-me-up. They need light that will dispel the darkness.

When we allow discouragement to dictate the conversation, we look inward, downward, and backward. When God’s word dictates it, we look upward, outward – yes, and forward.

Dark Valleys

Dark Valleys

Excerpts from Chapter 3 of Deserted by God? by Sinclair Ferguson.

Read Psalm 23.

If the Father loves me so much that he did no spare his own Son but delivered him up to be crucified for me, no further guarantee is needed of his wholehearted and permanent commitment to me and my blessing.

Whatever happens to me must be seen in that light. Yes, my deepest fear may become realties. I may not be able to understand what God is doing in or to my life; he may seem to be hiding his face from me; my heart may be broken. But can I not trust the One who demonstrated his love for me? When I was helpless in my sin he sent Christ to die for me (Romans 5:8). If he has done that, will he not work all things together for my good? Will he withhold any thing that is ultimately for the good of those who trust him?

In this way, Christ’s death becomes the rod, the cudgel that breaks the neck of the fears that are the enemies of my peace; his word becomes the staff by which he holds on to me and rescues me from danger.

I can be confident of this: Whatever he sends me will bring me what I need; whatever I need, he will provide; whatever he provides comes marked with the approval of nail-pierced hands. I can trust him.

If the Lord is my shepherd, he will restore me when I fall.

If the Lord is my shepherd, he will surprise me with his grace.

Our natural instinct is to suspect that if he restores us at all it will be grudgingly; it must be a necessary by irritating inconvenience for him.

But Christ does not come to us officiously; he comes to us willingly and graciously to restore us. …The Lord restores us because he means to change us.

Whatever trials the Lord brings us into, he means to show us his presence and glory in a way we could not otherwise learn.

If the Lord is my shepherd, he will be with me now and forever.

How Long?

How Long?

Excerpts from Chapter 2 of Deserted by God? by Sinclair Ferguson.

Read Psalm 13.

There are sinister elements about discouragement. It is all-pervasive, affecting everything in our lives. Yet at the same time it is a vague generalized feeling that seems to discourage us from probing its roots too deeply lest we find the experience too painful.

Forgetfulness may be accidental: an oversight perhaps. But hiding is not; it is a deliberate act of avoidance. The God to whom David looked as the one of whose life and being he was the mirror image seemed to have turned away from him.

…When God hides his face, we do not know where he is looking or what he is planning.

This was David’s problem: he had lost all sense of what God was doing. He could not see the smile on his face or catch a glimpse of its determined purpose of grace. …Worse even than this, David could not see light at the end of the tunnel. He did not know if there was an end to the tunnel.

Our most painful experiences are like that: sorrows, burdens, disappointments that we will have to carry throughout the rest of our lives. They are irreversible.

Lesser griefs convey a taste of this too: thwarted ambitions; the loss of a job; a broken romance; a difficult situation that cannot be resolved. Each day, sorrow fills our hearts and casts its shadows over everything we do. Will it be like this forever?

In the very act of lamenting that God has deserted him, he is at the beginning of a spiritual breakthrough… For one thing, he is actually talking, face-to-face, to the God whom he accuses of forgetting him and hiding from him! …what David is doing is asking God to give the blessings he has promised; he is urging him to be faithful to his own word, to do what he has said.

What had David been in danger of forgetting?

1. The Lord’s unfailing love brings David to “trust,” confide, and rest in him.

2. The Lord’s salvation makes David’s heart “rejoice.” However great his difficulties are, he possesses something greater than them; however long they last, salvation will outlast them.

3. The Lord’s goodness makes him “sing.” …God’s people struggle to believe that he is good, in the face of what seems to be so much counter-evidence. …he now sees that in all things he works for the good of those who love him…