Sometimes, life is disappointing.
Lately, I learned that one of my high school friends just got divorced. Most of the children of a pastor influential in my childhood are hostile to the Lord. And if I lose my stainless-steel straw anytime in the next year, I might as well have been using plastic the whole time.
I aired these and other facts to my sister, Katherine, in a depressive rant this last weekend. Despite being the midst of a joyous trip home to Seattle full of family weddings and subalpine meadows, I’ve been tempted to fixate on discouragements. I succumb to the petty barbs of selfishness and sloth within myself, and then look up and around at the world that seems to be rotting away despite the best efforts of the church to heal it.
Sometimes, core goals or dreams or relationships crumble, leaving comprehensive disillusionment behind. Sometimes, the aching constancy of sin and pain in the world around us work a more subtle discouragement into our inner monologue.
Sometimes, life is disappointing. The creep of discouragement is inevitable. It is also something that God is persistent in calling us to reject:
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Josh. 1:9, NIV).
“Do not let your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1, NIV).
“Do not grow weary in doing good” (2 Thess. 3:13, ESV).
So what are we to do? Perhaps the key is in another command God shares in the word, one repeated even more frequently than his exhortation to be strong and courageous. If you are feeling over-worn and inadequate, ask yourself this question: “When did I decide Jesus was worth it?”
Everywhere in Scripture, the Lord implores to remember. He called the Israelites to remember that he brought them out of Egypt (Deuteronomy 24 & 32, I Chronicles 16) and to rehearse the prophecies (Isaiah 44). The Apostle Paul exhorted us to remember what we once were, and how Christ saved us (Ephesians 2). Indeed, in designing Hebrew law God regarded remembering his past work as so important, he commanded people to build in physical aids for remembrance into their very clothing (Numbers 15).
In remembering the key moments of God’s action in our past, we connect concretely and emotionally to the reality of God’s character and goodness. In Scripture, God sets remembrance as a practice given to help us maintain faithfulness to him.
In Psalm 77, we’re given an excellent model for responding to discouragement with remembrance, which leads to worship. If you’re looking for a Scripture to kickstart your prayer, meditate on this psalm, letting it guide you through your own disillusionments, memories, and praises. Let’s look at a quick outline:
Verses 1–9 are classically gloomy. They paint a familiar picture of dying hope:
2 In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord . . .
7 my soul refuses to be comforted . . . .
8 Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
But in verses 10–12, the Psalmist makes a decision to respond to his bleak inner-voice:
11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
12 I will ponder all your work,
and meditate on your mighty deeds.
Thereafter, the Psalm continues as one of worship and proclamation
13 Your way, O God, is holy.
What god is great like our God?
14You are the God who works wonders . . .
15 You with your arm redeemed your people,
the children of Jacob and Joseph.
(Psalm 77, ESV)
. . .
After rehearsing all of my sadness in the car last weekend, I hit the main nerve: “Why do I even think I can do any of this anyway?” With “any of this” being the Lord’s ministry and life with God. Immediately, I was answered back by my own memory. “Because God rescued you from death.” Images of my own past pain, restoration, and joy bubbled up. “If he did it for you, Alison, he does it for others. Stay on the winning team.”
Sometimes, life is disappointing. Always, God has overcome the world. Find those moments where Christ overcame in your life, and don’t forget them. They are your sustenance on the long road, an irreplaceable resource to fight discouragement and ignite worship.
- Name your emotions. Let yourself express your pain to God. Confess your sins and air your shame and frustration. You have the ear of the Almighty. Don’t let it go to waste.
- Identify your core stories. Why are you with God today? When has he rescued you? When has he cared for you through others?
- Focus on where you find gratitude in your life with God.
- Identify junctions where God acted in your powerlessness.
- Tell those stories back to God. Thank him and worship him. Note how re-rehearsing the story illuminates new elements of awe and worship.