The “D” Words: Doubt, Discouragement, Disillusionment (Pt. 1)
There are three “D” words that seem to plague everyone I know who does any form of Christian ministry, at some point in their life of service: Doubt, Discouragement, and Disillusionment. You will rarely find one of these conditions that has not been at least preceded by another, if not accompanied by all the rest. These things seem to go hand in hand, and sometimes it’s difficult to tell which came first. Let’s talk about them one at a time, then we’ll consider some solutions.
Doubt can come in many forms. We can doubt our ability to fulfill our ministry; doubt God’s power in our lives; or even, if we’re honest, doubt God’s Word at times. After all, we live on this earthly plane, and it is easy to get focused on the things of earth when we are in the thick of them. Think of Peter, as he walked toward Jesus on the water. Jesus had bid him come to Him, in the same way that He has called us to ministry. Like Peter, we start out strong, but then the circumstances overwhelm us, and we begin to doubt His power to complete what He started. “Maybe He didn’t really call me,” our heart tells us. “Maybe I misunderstood His will for me.” And we start to sink in doubt and fear.
What does the Lord say to this doubt? Well, since we’re talking about Peter, let’s look at Jesus’ response to his doubt:
Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31)
Our Lord does three things: First, He reaches out his hand. This tells me that He was listening to Peter, and he heard him cry, “Lord, save me!” He hears us, too, if we will only cry out in our doubt. Next, he takes hold of Peter. Notice the passage says nothing about Peter taking hold of Jesus. It’s all about the Savior here. He takes control of the situation and brings Peter to safety. Again, this will hold true for us as well. There is no doubt-producing situation in your life over which Christ is not completely in control. He is faithful, and will take hold of you.
Finally, Jesus admonishes Peter for his lack of faith, and he asks him a question: “Why did you doubt?” The Bible doesn’t record Peter’s answer to this question, and I’m guessing that’s because he did not respond. This was most likely a rhetorical question, intended to make Peter think about his response of doubt in a fearful situation. What would your answer be?
Discouragement usually follows closely on the heels of doubt. When we begin to doubt God’s call on our lives, or doubt his faithfulness, then we begin to rely on our own strength. This is a deadly move because we have so little strength on our own. If we rely on our own ability, we will quickly become weary. Weariness almost always accompanies discouragement. Think of the prophet, Jeremiah. He was called by God to deliver a tough message to a very rebellious people. He followed the call of God, obeyed His commands, and what did he get? A beating, a jail cell, and torturous stocks. Do you think Jeremiah was discouraged? I am certain that He was. He let God know about it, too! Jeremiah 20 contains strong language that conveys the depth of his discouragement. Yet, right in the middle of it, he says this:
But the Lord is with me as a mighty, awesome One.
Sing to the LORD! Praise the LORD!
For He has delivered the life of the poor
From the hand of evildoers.
These words of the prophet convey two things about His response to discouragement: He knew that the Lord was with Him, and he praised the Lord. We must also cling to these things when we are experiencing discouragement. We must never disbelieve the Lord’s presence and knowledge of our plight, and we must keep on praising and thanking Him, even when we can’t imagine how he’s going to get us out of whatever stocks we may be in.
This is a tough one to fight. We all have expectations when we first enter ministry, and even when we first receive Christ. In those early days, we are joyful and excited about what He might have for us to do. Then, life happens. Trials come and we begin to falter under the weight of our circumstances. We have preconceived ideas about what life with Christ in ministry will look like and when reality doesn’t line up, we are disillusioned.
This “D” word brings to mind what the apostles must have experienced during those three days after Christ was crucified. They thought that He was going to usher in a new kingdom, and that they might have positions of power there. They thought that Christ was invincible, and that nothing bad could or should ever happen to him. They had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel, but it didn’t seem to have turned out that way. We can only imagine the level of discouragement they experienced on the road to Emmaus.
But as they walked, unbeknownst to them, Jesus was with them. When they explained what they were talking about to the stranger who had joined them, he had this to say:
“O foolish ones, how slow are your hearts to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and then to enter His glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was written in all the Scriptures about Himself . (Luke 24:25-27)
Though He had not yet allowed them to recognize Him, He called them on their foolishness and pointed out that their lack of understanding was a heart problem. He went on to explain to them how the prophets had pointed to Him, and all of the references to Himself in the Scriptures. In other words, they should have known and expected everything that happened, but they had an agenda, and had set their expectations according to their own deceitful hearts instead of what was true.
My dear, disillusioned friend, this is what you and I do, too. We plunge into ministry with the expectation of a life of fruitful service to the Lord, and when it doesn’t go just the way we thought it would, we are disappointed.
So, what is the cure for us when we experience these three D’s? We’ll talk about that in my next post. For now, I’d like to suggest that you meditate on the Scriptures I’ve referenced here, and ponder their application to your own life and ministry. Let’s see if we come up with the same solutions.