Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Dr. Don Wilton's new book, A Hope and a Future: Overcoming Discouragement, (B&H Publishing Group, 2009).

A stale marriage. A chronic health condition. A prolonged period of unemployment. Discouragement sets in when you start to feel a sense of hopelessness about your future - when it seems like the troubling circumstances you're going through won't ever improve. But if you look beyond your circumstances to God, you'll discover the real hope and better future that He promises you.

Here's how you can overcome discouragement:

Pray.  God already knows how discouraged you feel, but He wants you to talk to Him about your feelings and listen for how His Spirit guides you.  Honestly vent your frustration to God and keep in mind that He cares about what you're going through.  Ask God to open your eyes spiritually so you'll be able to see your circumstances from His perspective.  Pray for deliverance from circumstances that aren't God's will, and perseverance to empower you to endure circumstances that are His will until you learn all you're supposed to learn from them.

Remember Who God is.  Shift your focus from your discouraging circumstances to God Himself.  Remember that He is love, and also that He is all-powerful.  Trust that God will help you because that's consistent with His character.

Prepare yourself for the discouraging situations you're bound to encounter.  Every day, Satan will try to discourage you in some way, but you can guard against such attacks by keeping up with some basic spiritual disciplines daily.  Pray, read and reflect on the Bible, write in a journal, and check in with a prayer partner to give each other encouragement and accountability.

Stick to your assignment.  Think and pray about the work you're currently doing for God.  Ask Him to clarify whether or not He has truly led you to your current assignment.  Reflect on the successes and failures you've experienced so far and see if you can recognize a pattern that can help you discern if you're doing what you're supposed to be doing.  If it seems as if you're doing what God wants you to do but you just need to overcome some challenges while doing it, don't give up.  Instead, fight discouragement by writing down a fresh vision for how to continue your work in the future.

Get guidance from a Christian counselor.  If your discouragement has become so deep that you're struggling to overcome it, share your concerns with a Christian counselor who can give you biblical advice about how to move forward.

Refill your spiritual energy tank.  Identify what's causing your spiritual energy levels to run low, write down the problem, form partnerships with a few people you trust who can join you in prayer about it, develop a clear strategy for solving the problem (such as scheduling a set time and place for daily devotions, or joining a weekly discipleship group), take action, and make yourself accountable to the people who are supporting you in prayer.

Take care of your physical health.  Giving your body the care it needs will help you feel less discouraged.  Eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep.

Spend time with someone who isn't discouraged.  Time in that person's positive presence will naturally make you feel better yourself.

Give to people in need.  Reaching out to help other people will prove encouraging for you because it will give you the joy of knowing that God has used you in significant ways.

Simplify your life.  Base your schedule on your priorities.  Don't waste time and energy on activities that don't reflect what's most important to you.  Freeing yourself from unnecessary tasks will encourage you.

Share your faith with others.  Whenever God gives you the opportunity to share your faith with non-Christians who seeking Him, do so.  You'll remind yourself of how God has worked in your life and experience the joy of helping others discover Him.

Use the talents God has given you.  Letting your talents lie dormant will only increase your sense of discouragement.  Ask God to lead you to specific situations where you can put them to full use - for God's glory, and to help make the world a better place.

Resist Satan's efforts to discourage you more.  Remember the Bible's promise that if you resist Satan, he will flee from you.  Every day, pray for the spiritual strength you need to fight the evil attacks that you'll encounter in this fallen world.  When Satan tempts you to doubt God, choose to trust Him.  When Satan tries to deceive you and you feel confused, pray to discern the truth.  When Satan promotes divisions between you and other Christians, make every effort to keep the unity of the Holy Spirit through the bond of peace.  Keep in mind that God's power working in you is greater than any of Satan's schemes and, in Christ, you have the spiritual authority to defeat Satan's work and emerge victorious.

Choose faith over fear.  Recognize that God is always with you - even in the middle of the most discouraging circumstances.  Whenever you feel afraid, choose to trust God despite your fear.  God may not change your circumstances when you'd like Him to, but He will always give you the encouragement you need to deal with them as long as necessary.

Never give up!  Keep holding on to God's promise that He has an important plan for your life.  Keep praying for the encouragement you need to fulfill all of His purposes for you.

Adapted from A Hope and a Future: Overcoming Discouragement, copyright 2009 by Don Wilton.  Published by B&H Publishing Group, Nashville, Tn., www.BHPublishingGroup.com
Dr. Don Wilton has served as senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Spartanburg, South Carolina for 16 years. He also serves as president of The Encouraging Word television ministry. Dr. Wilton has written and published many manuals, articles and reviews for the Southern Baptist Convention, Preaching and Decision magazines, as well as other publications. His books include
Starting for the Finish, The Absolute Certainty of Life After Death (a novel), See You at the Finish Line, Totally Secure, and When God Prayed.  Dr. Wilton has served as president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.  He is a frequent speaker for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove, as well as the Billy Graham Schools of Evangelism held around the world.  He is a frequent guest of other TV ministries and guest speaker and preacher in many Bible conferences, state conventions, seminaries and colleges across the United States.  Don and his wife, Karyn, have three grown children.

Original publication date: October 16, 2009