Today’s reading: Joshua 1-4.
The story is told that the devil had a yard sale in which he put all the tools of his trade out for display. He marked each with its price. Among the tools were all the familiar ones such as lies, lust, anger, and greed. But one unlabeled item held the highest price of all. Someone asked Satan what this most expensive tool was, and he replied, “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to sell this one at all. It is my most powerful weapon, and the one which people least suspect is mine. It is – discouragement.”
As the Israelites prepare to invade Canaan, God gives Joshua a double charge that is two sides of the same coin. Be strong and courageous; do not be discouraged. It’s noteworthy that God commands Joshua not to be discouraged. We tend to think of it as a state of mind over which we have no control. God says the opposite – take action to avoid discouragement.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9
At its root, the word for courage speaks of being strong in the feet. I picture someone who stands their ground in the face of attack, and more than that presses the battle forward. The word for discouragement sounds like something snapping and means brokenness. God tells Joshua, and all his people, to stand their ground and not break their own spirit as they face upcoming battles. They can do this because God will fight beside them. The action quickly moves from beyond the Jordan to Jericho, but look at the areas where God is fighting:
He is with us when our heroes die. Moses was gone, leaving Joshua in charge. The people were facing their biggest challenge with an untested leader. In fact, Moses was the only leader they had ever known. Perhaps you have lost a family hero, spiritual leader, or a mentor. Maybe they didn’t die but disappointed you. God says, “Don’t be discouraged.”
He is with us in enemy territory. Israelite spies enter the walled city of Jericho to examine its defenses and vulnerabilities. God goes before them and prepares someone, the prostitute Rahab, to shelter them. The spies escape with a report that the whole city trembles in fear of the Israelites, and Rahab secures a promise of protection. We all face enemies in this life. Believers live behind enemy lines. Financial strains, health issues, depression, abuse, persecution, and the list goes on. God says, “Be strong.”
He is with us in the floods. Sometimes the waters overwhelm us and nearly drown us. Joshua and his people had to cross the flooded Jordan River to get to Jericho. God stopped the river, but not until the priests carrying the ark stepped into the water. They entered the flood by faith. How deep did they get before the waters receded? I don’t know, but the water didn’t withdraw until they got wet. God allows trials in our lives to produce patient endurance (James 1) and it seems that we learn best when God delays his provision until the final moments of our crisis. While we are waiting on him, God says, “Be of good courage.”
Whenever I read God’s charge to Joshua I remember Jesus’ words to his disciples at the last supper. “Be of good cheer,” he told them, “for I have overcome the world.” He told them that when they faced tribulation they should be joyful. The word for cheer has the same root as courage. Jesus was telling them to be courageous in the face of trouble. Why? Because he had already overcome the world with its losses, enemies and floods. He didn’t mean there would be no trouble; he promised them the opposite. But just as God reassured his people that he would fight for them, Jesus promises us that he has already won our battle with the world. We can claim the victory by faith even as we continue to struggle. Assured of victory we can fight on without discouragement.
Practically speaking, what should you do when you feel discouraged? First of all, realize that it is a spiritual struggle. It’s not an unavoidable consequence of bad circumstances. God says to choose not to be discouraged. Here are some steps you can take:
- get plenty of rest
- instead of giving in to negative thinking that may automatically come into your mind, argue against those negative thoughts
- do a reality check instead of believing worst-case scenarios
- look at the problem from an eternal perspective instead of focusing only on the present. Will this problem matter 100 years from now?
- don’t go it alone. Get encouragement from others.
- focus on the promises rather than the problems
We must be careful to let the Holy Spirit do this searching. If we try to search our own hearts, we are apt to fall into one or both of two traps. The first is the trap of morbid introspection. Introspection can easily become the tool of Satan, who is called the “accuser” (Revelation 12:10). One of his chief weapons is discouragement. He knows that if he can make us discouraged and dispirited, we will not fight the battle for holiness. The second trap is that of missing the real issues in our lives. Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness
The Christian life is not a constant high. I have my moments of deep discouragement. I have to go to God in prayer with tears in my eyes, and say, ‘O God, forgive me,’ or ‘Help me.’ Billy Graham
Disappointment is inevitable. But to become discouraged, there’s a choice I make. God would never discourage me. He would always point me to himself to trust him. Therefore, my discouragement is from Satan. As you go through the emotions that we have, hostility is not from God, bitterness, unforgiveness, all of these are attacks from Satan. Charles Stanley
Image by ryanxchow on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0