DEALING WITH DISILLUSIONMENT AND DISCOURAGEMENT
By Innocent Maja
This article speaks about very crucial issues of discouragement, despair and disillusionment. These are common in the lives of Christians. It is therefore necessary for us to understand what the Bible says about them. Our theme scripture is Luke 24 vs. 13 – 35.
This portion of scripture introduces us to Cleopas and his friend. From their conversation it appears as though they were once disciples of Jesus Christ. Their leader or saviour Jesus Christ had been killed and they decided to leave Jerusalem and go to Emmaus. As they journeyed, it is clear that they are demoralized, disillusioned, discouraged, disappointed and despaired. This can be seen by their facial expression when Jesus Christ meets them. Luke 24 v 17b says “They stood still, their faces downcast.” Probably, they had left their homes to follow Jesus Christ whom they had hoped to have been the Messiah. Verse 21 says “But we had hoped that He was the one who was going to redeem Israel…”
As a preliminary point, this story shows us that it is possible for a believer to be disillusioned, discouraged, demoralized and despaired. We have a number of examples of people who were discouraged and despaired in the Bible. The following are few examples in the Old Testament;
(a) Hagar – She was Abraham’s slave girl. When Abraham and Sarah could not have a child, Sarah suggested that Abraham sleeps with Hagar so that the couple will have a child. After Hagar got pregnant, Sarah began to hate her and began to ill-treat her.1 She became very bitter with Sarah and she ran away when she was pregnant. It took the intervention of the angel of the Lord for her to come back.2 The child was born but the problems continued. Sarah then requested Abraham to send Hagar away and he agreed. She went away with a few provisions which ran out when she was in the Wilderness of Beersheba. She had no provision and so bitter that she just placed the child down ‘… weeping inconsolably as she waited for her son to die.’3
(b) David was also subject to despair and disillusionment. He says
My soul is in anguish … I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears… My eyes grow weak with sorrow…4
(c) The anointed prophet Elijah was at one time bitter. After defeating Baal prophets, he is threatened by the woman Jezebel and he runs away and he is very much discouraged. I kings 19 v 3 says “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.’ He is even says ‘I am no better than my forefathers”
(d) Jonah is also bitter after preaching to the city of Nineveh and the whole city repents.
In the New Testament the following examples are apparent:
(a) When Jesus was betrayed by Judas and he was to be arrested, Peter took up his sword and cut the soldier’s ear. He is so discouraged that when he is asked about whether he knows Jesus, he denies Jesus three times in one night. In John 21, Peter is very much discouraged by Jesus’ death that he tells the other disciples that he is going back fishing. It is interesting to note that the other disciples (even those who were not fishermen) decided to go back with him. What emerges from this is that discouragement can cause people to draw back in their faith and even cause other to do things they would not ordinarily do when things are normal. Suffice it to mention is that they caught nothing the whole night in their discouraged state. We therefore learn that a person cannot be fruitful when they are discouraged.
(b) One can argue that even Jesus was subjected to this condition as well when he was alone on the cross. His disciples had rejected and run away from him when he was arrested. He had taken the sin of man and God the Father had forsaken him. He cries “Eloi, Elloi, Lama Sabachthan”
(c) Even apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 1 v 7 says:
For we would not, have you ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life…
WHAT CAUSES DISILLUSIONMENT?
The answer lies in Proverbs 13 v 12 which says “Hope deferred makes the heart sick…”
The heart is our inner nature. It is the central part of our beings from which our feelings emanate. When the heart is sick, everything about our lives is affected, our wills, minds, emotions, decision making, facilities e.t.c. That is probably the reason why Proverbs 4 v 23 says “Above all else, guard your heart, for it’s the wellspring of life”
Today there are various ways in which people can be disillusioned and discouraged. These emanate from hope deferred. Here are some of the ways:
Unforgiveness – this usually occurs when some people hurt you so much that you feel you cannot forgive them. One thing that Christians should take note of is that when you fail to forgive anyone, you imprison that person in your heart. It affects you. You nurse animosity. This retards progress in your life. In particular your prayers will never be answered when you do not forgive anyone who sins against you. Matthew 5 v 21 – 4 is very instructive about the settlement of disputes. It makes it clear that if you bring your sacrifice before the alter and remember that someone has something against you, you have to leave your sacrifice and make it right with that person first and then come and offer the sacrifice. The Bible is teaching us to deal with the horizontal relationship first before the vertical one. Once one fails to forgive, no matter how many prayers and fastings they make, God will not answer. Some end up discouraged in their prayer lives thinking that God does not answer prayers when in essence their unforgiveness is hindering their prayers from being heard by God.
(2) FALSE HOPES AND EXPECTATIONS – this again causes a lot of discouragement and disillusionment. For example, it is very dangerous for a lady to be disillusioned enough to think that the man she is marrying will be an angel of a husband who will be caring, loving, ever listening, prayerful e.t.c. most have been frustrated in the home when they realized that their spouses are not exactly the way they thought they were. They say that love is blind but marriage is an eye opener. Again, it is very dangerous for a young minister of the word of God to think that their ministry will be smooth wherein God will always be using them to heal the sick, plant very big churches, raise the dead e.t.c. Most young ministers have backslidden when their hopes were deferred. It is also dangerous for Christians to expect all their leaders to be evangelistic, to visit them always, give them money when we need it, pray for them when we are low and readily have the word of God for them whenever they need it. Some have been discouraged when this failed to happen.
(3) REVIVAL SICKNESS – this is one of the movements in the church (especially the charismatic church) today. There is so much talk and promise of revival that neglects to teach repentance as one of the conditions of such revival. The result of such defective teaching is that Christians hope for signs which do not usually materialize, promises that do not seem to come true and effective prayers that do not seem to be answered. Most Christians have heartaches from this. If only they knew that for revival to come, true repentance should come first. They have to acknowledge their sins and ask God to forgive and restore them.
(4) FALSE DOCTRINE – these are a major contributor towards discouragement and disillusionment. For example, it is doctrinally wrong for one to teach that Christianity is a life free from problems. Rather, the Bible teaches Christians that they will face many probles when they get born again. 2 Timothy 3 v 12 says “… In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life will be persecuted.” Again Acts 14 v 22 says “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God”5 Another wrong doctrine encourages peoples to pioneer things without counting the cost of engaging in the enterprise. Luke 14 v 28 and 31 warns us against such. It says
suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?... Or suppose a King is about to go to war against another King. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with 10 000 men to oppose the one coming against him with 20 000?
Another dangerous doctrine is encouraging Christians to engage in spiritual warfare blindly without being submitted to God. This is very disastrous. Many have perished as a result of this. James 4 v 7 encourages you to “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” Submission to God should be done first before engaging Satan.
(5) Falsely assuming that God deals in the same way with us – this is a problem. Christians should understand that we do not have similar circumstances. We have different measures of grace and different purposes in life. Do not expect God to deal with us in the same way. Acts 12 demonstrates this. Note that when Herod persecuted the early church, James died but Peter was miraculously released in prison. This does not mean that James had less faith than Peter. The purpose of God for James and Peter was different.
(6) Reading God’s word selectively and distorting it with our mindsets, preconceptions and train – this is very dangerous. It causes Christians to miss out on the truth of God’s word. For instance, Jews in Jesus’ time thought that the Messiah was supposed to be a political ruler who would release them from Roman subjugation and failed to accept Jesus as the saviour. Even though Cleopas and his friend could have been believers, they seemed to share this view as well. Even Jesus’ disciples reveal such a conception in Acts 1 v 6 where they ask Jesus “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the Kingdom to Israel.” Another example is when Christians claim promises from the word of God without giving due consideration to the conditions attached to the promises. For instance, claiming that God will provide all my needs. (Phil 14 v 19) may not be effective if we neglect to pay our tithes and offerings in accordance with Malachi 3 v 10. Claiming that God Forgives us if we confess our sins (1 John v 9) will be pointless if we hold unforgiveness against someone else (Mark 11 vs 25). We need to be like the BEREANS (Acts 17 v 11) who examined the scriptures.
(7) Disillusionment in prayer – some think that God answers any prayer and they are usually discouraged when their prayers are not answered. I want believers to understand that God can answer all prayers provided (i) They are offered in faith, (ii) They are offered according to God’s will and (iii) We deal with hindrances to prayer such as sin, unbelief, stinginess, wrong motives, a critical spirit, ingratitude etc.6
Back to our story, it is interesting to note that Cleopas and friend never recognized Jesus because of discouraged state. This teaches Christians about one of the consequences of discouragement. We rarely identify God in our discouraged state. This is an unfortunate state of affairs since believers should always commune with their saviour.
How to deal with discouragement
(1) Never run away from the problem - Cleopas and friend tired to run away from their problem by leaving Jerusalem to go to Emmaus. This is an attitude that Christians adopt when they are discouraged. They withdraw from fellow Christians and maintain a ‘Me and God’ attitude. It is interesting to note that discouraged people always find company of discouraged people as well in the church. They then create a ‘Them and Us’ relation ship. This is a common biblical feature. There are many examples of people who walked with God who withdrew or ran away when they were discouraged. Adam and Eve hid from God. Jonah tried to run away from Nineveh via Jopah and Tarshish. Elijah ran away to the desert. Peter tried to go back fishing. Running way does not yield any fruit. Peter and the other disciples never caught anything when they went fishing.
(2) Tell God exactly how you feel - Cleopas and his friend told Jesus exactly how they felt. They did not hide their feelings. Back to our story, Cleopas and his friend had no super – spiritual cover ups. They were ‘downcast’ sad, rueful and morose. This is the first step towards healing. David learnt the secret of pouring out his heart to God in all circumstances. In Psalms 142 v 2, David said “I pour out my complaint befreo him I tell my trouble.” Even Job had the same conviction. He says in Job 7 v 11 “I will not keep silent, I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul”
(3) Get back to the scriptures – this is an important step towards healing. The word of God normally brings healing to a discouraged soul. As already indicated above, the causes of discouragement have their root in the failure to interpret the word of God correctly. The word can address that situation. It is therefore important to those that counsel discouraged souls to take them through the scriptures. Jesus Christ took Cleopas and his friend back to the scriptures. Luke 24 v 27 says “Beginning with Moses at all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the scriptures concerning himself…” This brought healing to their souls.
The route to Emmaus is one awash with tears, loneliness, disillusionment, despair, discouragement, disappointment, and shattered dreams – a difficult and dry place. But Cleopas and his friend came back to Jerusalem refreshed, revived and awsh with a fresh revelation of Jesus. I encourage all believers to cast all their burdens to Jesus and he will take care of them. The Bible refers to Jesus as “A man of sorrows and acquainted with griefs” One of His missions was to heal the broken hearted. He is the Great High Priest who stands between the weak and discouraged human being and the strong and all powerful God. Hebrews 4 v 15 – 16 says “…For we don’t have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we were yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Jesus sympathizes with our infirmities. He is very much able to deal with our situation.
1 Genesis 16 v 6
2 See Genesis 21
3 Genesis 21 v16
4 Psalm 142.
5 Watch out for my book called ‘Trials and Temptations’ coming soon.
6 See my teaching on prayer coming soon.