Lessons for Seasons of Discouragement
Have you ever had one of those days where it seemed like nothing you did worked out the way you thought it would? Last week, I woke up late because I fell back to sleep after my alarm went off. The set of scrubs I planned to wear had an unknown stain on them, so I had to grab another pair– which is when I realized I hadn’t taken them out of the washer the night before. I made coffee then realized we were out of coffee creamer. I resigned myself to a cup of bitter, black coffee, only to burn my mouth on it. On my way to work, my car reminded me that I had forgotten to get gas the day before and when I finally got to work, my first patient of the day was a “spicy” cat who scratched and bit me. Nothing I touched seemed to go according to plan.
By 9 am, I needed a do-over.
I think we’ve all had days like that. But what happens when those days seem to turn into weeks…or even months? When, like the Rembrandts sang, “it hasn’t been your day, your week, your month, or even your year?”
In replant ministry there can be times where nothing seems to go right. What do we do when we’re in a season of discouragement?
Paul’s Affliction in Asia
In Paul’s opening words to the Corinthian church, he tells them of all he has suffered since his last letter. In verse 8 he alludes to an affliction he suffered in Asia, which was so great that he “despaired of life itself.” Paul was to the point of thinking death might be the only outcome for his struggle– or at least preferable to it!
Paul could be referring to any number of trials. In Ephesus, Paul faced an angry mob, imprisonment, beatings, and general suffering. He could perhaps be referring to his “thorn in his flesh” that he discusses later in the same letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 12:7). We don’t know exactly which specific affliction Paul is referring to, but we know it was bad enough for him to think death was more appealing.
I would be lying if I said I hadn’t felt the same way at some points in our replant journey. I’m sure you have, too.
But Paul doesn’t give up. He tells the Corinthians that his suffering led him not to death, but instead to God, the giver of life. He was forced to rely on God and not his own power through those trials. Then Paul tells them that he was able to find peace in his suffering by looking to his past, present, and future in Christ. This instruction helps us, too.
Paul opens verse 10 with a look at his past. “He [has] delivered us from such a deadly peril.” Paul focused on the fact that God had delivered him before.
When we go through seasons of discouragement, one of the best reminders for us is to look back at our past victories in Christ. One of my favorite sayings is, “So far, you’ve survived 100% of your worst days.” It’s a good reminder that I’ve had other victories. There have been times where I didn’t think I could stand, but I did, and I’m still standing.
Bob used another phrase from a pastor he once knew: “If Jesus can take care of your salvation, there ain’t nothing he can’t take care of.” Christ forgave your sins. All of the trials of this world are nothing compared to Christ removing the debt of sin in our lives. But not only has He forgiven us of our sins– His death also satisfied the wrath of God so that we now have peace with God.
God has delivered you from sin. And because of this truth, we can trust in God. This moment in your ministry is not something that will stop God from moving on your behalf. After all you’ve seen God do in your life, don’t you think He’s big enough to handle your current crisis?
Paul next says, “and He will deliver us.” (emphasis mine) Paul was assured that his affliction was not the end of God’s work in his life. He was able to look at his present circumstances and know that God was still working within them. He was still experiencing struggles and trials, but he saw God’s hand in them.
One of the things we forget as we struggle is that whatever we are going through is not a surprise to Jesus. There wasn’t an emergency session in the Trinity with hand-wringing and frantic scrambling to find a crisis-management plan. Your circumstances were not unforeseen by God. And since He knew what was going to happen, you can be assured that in this present moment, God has given you all that you need to get through it.
God’s deliverance doesn’t always look like we think it will. As Bob pointed out, “If God operated how we wanted him to operate, he wouldn’t be God… And we would be.” Sometimes, God’s deliverance is painful. Sometimes, it’s frightening. Sometimes, it doesn’t come as quickly as we wish. But rest assured, God will deliver.
In the next line of his letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, “On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.” Paul is now looking toward the future, knowing God will deliver him again. Paul knows that struggles are not a one-time event. We are not free from struggles just because we’ve gone through one. But Paul specifically says that his hope is not in himself. His hope is in Jesus.
When we hope in our circumstances, we are engaging in a futile exercise. Our circumstances are always changing– just because today was great doesn’t mean tomorrow will be. In a world of unknown elements, Christ is our only firm foundation, the only hope we have for deliverance.
Romans 8:28 promises us that God is working all things toward good. Our suffering is not worthless. It is leading toward God’s good and sovereign plan. This is for God’s good, and for His glory. Our future seasons of discouragement are not without benefit. He will use it to sanctify and purify us. He will burn off the idolatry of self-reliance and self-centeredness. Depending on Him allows us to see His glory in our trials.
One Last Thing
In those moments where everything is going wrong, it’s easy to feel like we will never see victory again. I am sure that Paul wondered in Ephesus if he would ever be able to see the believers in Corinth or go to Rome as he had planned. But one of the things we must remember about seasons of discouragement and frustration is that they are seasons, not a lifetime.
When we are in the middle of struggles and trials, we have to think of it like Winter. Is it cold and dark and even sometimes bitter? Yes. But in that season, deep in our souls, God is planting seeds of victory. Soon, it will be Spring and we will experience new growth. Some day, we will be in Summer and we will feel the joy and warmth of God’s presence as our ministry grows and flourishes. And one day we will see a Harvest.
Inevitably, we will experience Winter again. And that is when the season we are going through now will be a past victory that brings us hope.
He has delivered. He will deliver. He will deliver us again.