We may accept it as a normal part of life to feel discouraged at times. But discouragement is one of the most powerful and devastating emotions known to man. It is a negative force that stifles growth, drains enthusiasm, inhibits drive and disorients your mind. Of all the causes of failure in life, discouragement is probably one of the most difficult to overcome.
All sorts of things can make us feel discouraged. Some are obvious, such as criticism, family problems, bad grades, stress, sickness or rejection, but others are not so readily identifiable. Whatever the cause, discouragement can leave us feeling like we have fallen into a mine shaft and are stuck in the deepest, darkest pit with no way to get out.
If you have fallen into this trap or know someone who has, you know how important a word fitly spoken can be. We all need to feel encouraged, lifted up and appreciated from time to time. Do you know how to be an encourager? Can you turn someone’s discouragement into joy?
Source of Encouragement
God tells us that Satan is the “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2)—broadcasting feelings and emotions our way 24 hours a day. He is the major cause behind discouragement. He is man’s greatest foe—trying to overthrow us and wear us down. He relentlessly tries to cause us to lose heart, think lowly of ourselves and give up. He is compared to a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8).
Satan is the one who wants our minds to drift from a positive outlook on life and focus on the problems we face. He’d like us to view every molehill as if it were Mount Everest!
How, then, can you feel encouraged under this constant bombardment of negative thoughts? Let’s first analyze the meaning of the word encourage. To encourage means to inspire with hope; to fill with courage or strength of purpose. In other words, to put courage into a person, to give them spirit, to spur on or to stimulate. It implies instilling life, energy, courage or vigor into something.
What is the hope in your life? What vision do you have?
It is up to us to guard against any negative thoughts. Our strongest defense against Satan’s power is first to turn to the all-powerful God for help in resisting these negative thoughts and moods. A powerful resolve and a firm commitment to stand steadfast against Satan will drive him out of your life (James 4:7).
Discouragement seems to strike a greater percentage of teens and young adults than any other age group. Why? Because Satan knows that if he can get you to respond to his broadcasts early in life and crush your resistance to his impulses, you’ll remain susceptible for the rest of your life.
To feel discouraged means to lack courage. If you are down, ask God for encouragement. He is a source of positive thoughts (2 Corinthians 1:3). He can bring to our minds examples of faith. He can remind us of examples that we have experienced in our own lives. God can and will put positive thoughts in our minds. He encourages us. He can strengthen us.
In addition to turning to God, there are some other things we can do to help us overcome discouragement.
Vanity in Discouragement
A huge source of discouragement is feeling like you don’t belong and worrying about what other people think of you. Unwittingly many teens are conditioned to thinking that they must look or act a certain way to fit in or be successful in society.
But this is nothing more than vanity! It is trying to measure yourself by other people’s standards and meet their approval. Herbert W. Armstrong defined vanity as “a sort of unrealized, undefined craving for the adoration of other people—an adoration that belongs to God.”
If we focus on what other people think about us worrying whether we conform to their expectations, we have fallen into that trap of vanity.
Not only is discouragement often caused by vanity, but by fear—the lack of courage. That is the opposite of what God has to offer you. “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). God wants you to be full of courage, so that you can encourage others.
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). God’s way of life—an outgoing concern for the welfare and well-being of others—casts out fear. This pertains to the first key to overcoming discouragement.
Focus on Others
If ever you find yourself down, turn your focus away from the self. Concentrating too much on yourself and your own feelings will cause you to feel even more isolated, lonely and in greater need of social acceptance. It will leave you empty and discouraged.
On the other hand, by focusing on the needs of others, you not only help them, but also discover that your life indeed can be purposeful now. Focusing on others can be as simple as giving your time to listen to someone else, instead of always talking about your problems.
Encouragement Drives Ambition
Herbert Armstrong learned that encouragement has another vital side to it. He wrote the following in the introduction of Mystery of the Ages: “At age 18 I virtually dropped all interest in religion, and ceased attending church. I had, at 18, put myself through an intensive self-analysis, coupled with a survey of the occupations and professions to determine where I belonged—to avoid being the proverbial square peg in the round hole.
“Even at that age I had observed that most people were simply victims of circumstance. Few had ever planned intelligently their future lives. Many or most had stumbled into whatever job they found open. They did not choose where, in what part of the country or the world, they should live. They had been buffeted about by circumstance. Those who went to college chose whatever course or profession that appealed to them at the time.
“But when I was yet only 16, a summer-vacation employer had, by praise for work well done and general encouragement, aroused the burning fire of ambition within me. Ambition is not only the desire for accomplishment, it includes the will and the drive to pay the price!
“This self-analysis at age 18 led me into the advertising profession and a business life. I studied diligently, ‘burning the midnight oil,’ instead of seeking youthful pleasures.
“I became unusually successful. I worked hard, had a reputation as a ‘hustler.’ I studied diligently, worked toward self-improvement. All this, of course, developed great self-confidence, which was later to be replaced by a different kind of confidence—faith in Christ” (emphasis added).
Mr. Armstrong learned through firsthand experience that encouragement drives ambition in a person. If you are praised for a job well done, you will be much more likely to apply yourself diligently in your next task than if you receive no feedback whatsoever.
It is important to be aware of the efforts and successes of those around us. There is power in that sort of recognition. It can inspire a person to try harder.
How can you be sensitive to others in this way? “[W]hatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8).
Set your mind on praise! Doing this would surely help you to be more aware of others.
In verse 9, Paul instructs us to follow his example. We can see his fine example by reading 2 Thessalonians 1:4, where he gives generous praise. Paul not only complimented the brethren’s past behavior but expressed confidence in their future submission to God. He knew this honest praise would greatly encourage them to work and yield even more.
You have that same ability to inspire other people.
Learn to Give Encouragement
Develop the habit of encouragement. Begin by praying for God’s help—first to convict you that giving encouragement is needed, then for help in learning to show your feelings of appreciation and in seeing others’ needs for an encouraging comment.
You won’t become aware of others unless you change your way of thinking to the way of give. It will take God’s help for you to do this—the carnal mind is not naturally concerned with the good of others. It is a part of developing the mind of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:5).
It will also take one more thing: work. New habits are not established easily. You must diligently labor to become aware of situations where showing appreciation is possible and desirable, and then exercise God’s giving attitude by doing so.
By giving encouragement to others, you will learn to overcome the negative thoughts and emotions that bombard you from day to day. Don’t give in to those wrong feelings and emotions, and be aware of how you can help others not to give in to them—by giving them a word of encouragement.