In early 2013, a Psychology Today article asked, “Do you have trouble with feeling repeatedly discouraged or depressed? It can feel like being in the bottom of a pit that you can’t climb out of. Then, somehow, you do get out… but only to find yourself there again; and again. It’s a pattern that gets old fast.” Anyone familiar with discouragement recognizes the pattern the psychologist addresses in the article. The Greek myth of King Sisyphus describes the emptiness of repeating the same task endlessly but never reaching the goal. The gods condemned him to roll a massive boulder uphill and just before he reached the top it rolled back down – everyday for all eternity! Sometimes I feel just like him. It’s easy for any of us to become discouraged when our goal seems out of reach. It’s tempting to give up when you have tried, and given your all, and it wasn’t enough.
But you can’t give up.
God is always at work, but as Dutch Sheets once observed, “Man microwaves- God marinates.” In other words, God’s timing is usually nothing like ours. Our impatience, therefore, can add to our sense of discouragement. It becomes a cycle.
A few years ago we started our multi-site ministry and almost immediately we were confronted with the challenges of operating a second campus. Leaders got tired, staff resigned, new people weren’t joining – everyone was discouraged. I was told repeatedly that it wasn’t going to work and that the new church would soon fail completely.
It didn’t fail. It survived and then thrived.
Today, The Quarries Church is doing better than ever, and weekly attendance has almost tripled in the last 18 months. We expect it to keep growing but we weren’t always so sure of that. Looking back, I believe God wanted to bless us and grow our new church but we had to persist through discouragement. We had to stubbornly believe.
Unrealized goals and expectations can discourage faster and deeper than anything I know. The student who can’t find his direction after graduation, the 50 something year old Christian woman who suddenly finds herself divorced and starting over, the qualified employee who can’t find work, and the pastor whose church is troubled all have this in common – they had dreams, expectations and goals that didn’t work out. That is the cook book for discouragement. When the ingredients of failure and frustration have been mixed, and you get placed in the oven of one more set back, you might think you’re nearly done! But don’t stick the fork in too quickly! God isn’t through with you, and His recipe for your future will satisfy your deepest hunger!
When the Apostle Paul stated his personal goals he admitted they hadn’t all been reached but he offered this advice to overcome discouragement:
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
(Philippians 3:12-14 NIV)
Paul advises all of us to adopt a mindset of “holy amnesia.” He said we should forget the things that filled up our yesterday and “press on” toward the goals that are still out in front of us.
What if the frustration of what didn’t happen yesterday wasn’t weighing you down today? Would you be happier and more content and more energized and more willing to try again? Of course you would.
In your car, you have a rear view mirror and a windshield with nearly the same rectangle shape. Your job as a driver is to glance occasionally to the rear view mirror and gaze almost constantly through the windshield. As in life, gazing at where you are headed is far more important than the glance back at where you’ve been. So press on through discouragement by trusting that God has something far better just ahead. Keep pushing that rock. You will reach the top – in time!