Prospering from problems
- Monday, August 16, 1999
For some, discouragement, depression, and self pity are the result of problems and adversity. For others, problems are a challenge and help to bring about faith, trust, and victory. Christians are admonished to be overcomers: "And who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" (1 John 5:5).
Discouragement is only one of many symptoms associated with problems. During this kind of economy we counsel a great many Christians who are discouraged about their problems. Many are discouraged to the point of suicide. Satan knows where we are vulnerable, and in America it's usually in our self-esteem about having material things.
Discouragement abounds today because of unemployment or underemployment. When everyone is poor, it seems that most people can adjust to that. But when someone has lost a job and most of his or her friends still have a job, it's hard to handle. High debt loads and creditor pressures simply add to the feelings of inadequacy and failure.
CAUSES OF DISCOURAGEMENT
In a land of plenty like ours, even those who are poor are better off than the majority of the world. So why do we see despair and discouragement? Because we have adjusted our expectations and made them relative to everyone else around us. It's the same symptom that causes despair in a multimillionaire whose assets have shrunk to a few hundred thousand.
Most of us suffer from unrealistic expectations of what God promised to us. In Christians it is sometimes worse because we fear that others will think of us as less spiritual. We actually have come a full circle from those Christians of the first and second century who believed that problems were the evidence of spiritual depth. Actually, neither extreme is scripturally correct, but the case for Christians undergoing problems (trials) is more scriptural. "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials" (James 1:2). But the trials that James is addressing are a consequence of serving God uncompromisingly. Most of our current problems are the result of violating biblical principles, particularly those relating to money.
Certainly the most common cause of discouragement has finances at its roots. We grade people by their finances in America today, and it's no different within Christianity. We put subtle pressures on each other to achieve success as a testimony to the Lord. Therefore, the failure to do so must represent spiritual failure. When Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 5:8 that a Christian is to "provide," he didn't realize how much provision it would take for us. Therefore, when parents can't provide as much as other parents, discouragement sets in. This reaches its peak around Christmas. With all the giving and receiving during the holidays, those who are unable to participate often feel despair and even guilt. In fact, the incidence of suicide increases significantly during this period.
Perhaps the number one cause of discouragement for those with problems is the lack of support on the part of other Christians. It is often noted how cruel children can be to someone different, and I often wonder if some Christians have reverted to their childhood. What most people with problems don't need is for someone else to point those out or to help counsel them on the sin in their lives that is causing the problems. That is not to imply that those who are sinning should not be confronted; they should be, but blatant sin is rarely the case. The majority of people who are discouraged already recognize that they have erred (if they have) and have more than adequately condemned themselves. What they need is support and love. "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity"(Proverbs 17:17).
The lack of loyalty to Christians undergoing problems is not new. All through Paul's letters there is evidence that his problems caused others to doubt his calling and to avoid him. "At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them" (2 Timothy 4:16). Looking further back in time, the record of Job's friends stands as a testimony to disloyalty. "For the despairing man there should be kindness from his friend; lest he forsake the fear of the Almighty" (Job 6:14).
As stated before, unreasonable expectations often create discouragement. This is particularly true with the leaders in our churches. The pastor obviously should be a Christian of very high character (see Titus 1), but where in that description does it imply perfection? Unfortunately, according to the book of Christian opinions, pastors don't have the right to problems, so those who have trouble communicating with their wives or managing to live on half of what others live on often fall victim to discouragement. It would shock many Christians to find out that their pastors even doubt God from time to time and that their problems get so overwhelming that they suffer depression. "For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life"(2 Corinthians 1:8).
Another area that can discourage Christians is spiritual expectations about children. This often means that if Mom and Dad have a missionary zeal the kids must too. I believe that nothing exposes our egos like our children. Even the most humble Christians are quick to brag about achievements by their children, particularly if it's something in the Lord's work. It's as if we want to validate our commitments through our children. If we are elevated spiritually by the achievements of our children, then we also are demoralized by their failures-only more so.
It's probably time that we, as Christians, realized that God doesn't have grandchildren or stepchildren. Everyone decides individually to follow or not to follow the Lord. That does not mean that we shouldn't lead our children, correct them, or encourage them, but we must recognize their right to choose, just as we did. We also must support and encourage those who have children who learn by failure. It would be great if all children were as smart as most parents and could learn without any personal difficulties, just as we did. Right?
A good way to start this change is to share a few failures you have had with your own children and allow others to observe that Christians haven't totally arrived but are still on the way. I experienced such an event several years ago when one of my sons came home from college to ask me to help him clear up his checking account. It seems that he had about eight checks overdrawn and some $70 in overdraft charges. Well, needless to say, I was discouraged. The only thing worse for a Christian financial counselor would be for his own account to be overdrawn (that happened one summer when I forgot to make a deposit). God used my son's problem to help me realize that just because I teach financial discipline doesn't mean that my children understand it. It gave me an opportunity to share why these principles are in God's Word. "Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances" (Proverbs 25:11).
Perhaps the most consistent area of discouragement for most people is financial failure. Not only are our egos involved with our ability to provide, but also our security is threatened. Quite often the demonstration of Christians' stewardship is not how much they give but how they react when there is not much to give. With many, if not most Christians, their faith at any given time seems proportional to their material resources. Not for all, obviously. Some Christians find that in the midst of their most difficult times their faith grows and matures, which is exactly what James says it will do if we abide in Christ.
God's Word teaches that it is impossible for a Christian to divide loyalties. We will serve but one God. "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon" (Matthew 6:24). We must decide where our hearts are.
The greatest threat to our service to God is being sidetracked into a preoccupation about success. Therefore, God will allow financial crises to come into many of our lives to give us the opportunity to decide whom we really serve.
We signed a contract (vow) with God when we made Christ Lord of our lives and gave God the right to do whatever is necessary to keep us on His path. "When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it, for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow!" (Ecclesiastes 5:4).
So, rather than immediately seeking to escape a financial difficulty, first determine what faults can be corrected (usually fears) by turning to God in your time of need.
HOW TO DEFEAT DISCOURAGEMENT
There is an old clichT that summarizes this area: "Keep on keeping on." You must decide what you believe and trust God regardless of the outside circumstances. Also, your response to any situation should be determined in advance. If anyone, Christian or otherwise, waits until a problem occurs to decide how he or she will handle it, that person will be controlled by the events, not God's Word. God gave us many examples of people who faced difficult situations. Some collapsed into despair and self-pity but others grew stronger. Those who grew stronger could be categorized, as James said, as "doers" of the Word, not merely "hearers" who delude themselves. Examples of doers would be Abraham, Nehemiah, Daniel, and Paul. It's pretty clear that they weren't perfect, but they were obedient. In their times of difficulty they did not panic or get depressed. They turned to the Lord. Some of them weren't rescued immediately, and some even died. But remember this: So did everyone else.
If all we're looking for is what we can have in this world, then we're only slightly better off than the lost. God wants to bless us with peace in this life and eternal rewards in the next.
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