February ushers in the commencement of the holiday season focused on expressing love. Billed as the “season of love” the days spanning February 1 to February 14 can be delightful or disappointing.Statistics suggest that when disappointment settles in Satan’s fiery dart of discouragement embeds itself in our hearts.Choosing to detonate discouragement during the “season for love” poises us for a Christ-centered celebration!
When we speak of God answering our prayers, more than often what we really mean is that He said yes to our petition. One of the most challenging lessons for believers to learn is that yes, no, and wait are all responses to our requests.What is your reaction when you earnestly pray that a situation will have a specific outcome (such as an affirming Valentine’s Day), and the response from your heavenly Father is no or wait?Do you believe that there is no good thing that He will withhold from you if you are walking uprightly (Psalm 84:11) and focus on your responsibility of walking uprightly, or are you like Elijah when he fled from Jezebel to the wilderness, sat under a juniper tree, and wished to die (1 Kings 19:4)?The woman who chooses the response aligned with Psalm 84:11 embraces contentment, while the one who opts for an Elijah Effect is courting discouragement.When she chooses discouragement everyone she interfaces with will be impacted, especially those residing in her home.
Discouragement, extracted from the Greek word athumeo, means to be disheartened, dispirited, and discouraged.[i]It frequently occurs when there is a discrepancy between expectation and fulfillment.As an emotion, discouragement’s roots are frequently planted in the soil of idealistic expectations such as holding perfectionist standards for yourself and others, embracing impractical outcomes for holiday celebrations, and anticipating unrealistic benefits from relationships.The greater the discrepancy between hope and fulfillment, the greater the potential for discouragement—and in many instances the resulting emotion of discouragement is actually anger without enthusiasm.You know from Scripture that anger for a selfish reason is sin (Psalm 4:4; Ephesians 4:32).
A study of Scripture reveals that discouragement was a reaction of many of the individuals recorded in its pages. As believers we should learn from both their positive and poor responses to cope with discouragement in our own life (1 Corinthians 10:6) and to offer encouragement to others (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). Consider the following:
- Hagar, after she was cast out of the household of Abraham because of Sarah’s jealousy (Genesis 21:15-16).
- Moses when he was sent on his mission to the Israelites (Exodus 4:1, 10, 13; 6:12), at the Red Sea (Exodus 14:15), and when the Israelites lusted for flesh (Numbers 11:15).
- The Israelites because of the cruel oppression of the Egyptians (Exodus 6:9).
- Hannah as she experienced infertility (1 Samuel 1-2).
- Job following the devastation of his life (Job 3:1-26, 17:13-16).
- David through multiple difficulties (Psalm 41 and 51).
- Jonah after he had preached to the Ninevites (Jonah 4:3, 8).
An analysis of Elijah's life (1 Kings 19:1-22; 2 Kings 2:1-10) provides us with biblical guidelines for detonating discouragement.
Elijah emerged from his experience at Mount Carmel a victor—the 450 false prophets of Baal were destroyed, and the calamity of drought and famine brought about by idol worship ended (1 Kings 18:18-46). Regrettably, Jezebel did not share his enthusiasm over the victory—in fact, she was very angry (1 Kings 19:1-2)!Instead of surrendering, as Elijah expected, she issued an ultimatum to him, “So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time” (1 Kings 19:3).Elijah’s response is similar to that of many Christians—they observe God perform repeated miracles in their lives—then a bit of minor turbulence occurs and the downward spiral of the Elijah Effect sets in:
- The cycle of fear of others or specific circumstances begins (1 Kings 19:1-2).
- The logical reaction is to run from the problem (challenge), rather than facing it head-on (1 Kings 19:3).
- Rather than meditating on God’s faithfulness, faulty negative thinking begins (1 Kings 19:4).
- The faulty negative thinking is fanned by emotional and physical fatigue which frequently produces discouragement (1 Kings 19:5-9).
- Further faulty negative thinking yields false expectations and unrealistic attitudes regarding the responsibilities God calls one to assume (1 Kings 19:10).
- These false expectations and unrealistic attitudes can lead to the cultivation of self-pity (1 Kings 19:14).
An intervention for the downward spiral of Elijah Effect must be applied for it to begin the reversal process—in Elijah’s case, as in ours, the intervention cycle to renew his spirit included:
- Resting and relaxing—too many times when the Elijah Effect begins people increase their activity rather than reducing it (1 Kings 19:5-9).
- Seeking solitude to focus on communion with God (1 Kings 19:9-13).
- Using the Word of God as a sword to fight the source of discouragement, Satan (Ephesians 6:17). Acquiring God's truth and promises during times of refreshment enables us to engage confidently in battle; for example, Psalms 33, 42, 43, and 71 teach us the hope we are to have in God. Lamentations 3:21-23 describes the downcast man who nevertheless relies on the steadfast love of the Lord. The passage of 1 Peter 1:13-21 challenge us to proclaim the faith and hope we can have in God through Jesus Christ while Romans 8:18-39 reminds us that nothing can separate us from God’s love.
- Realizing that refreshment comes through resuming activity since it allows us to focus our vision outward rather than “soaking and souring.” Balancing the quantity of time invested and the intensity of the activity will ensure that the Elijah Effect does not recur (1 Kings 19:15-18).
- Allowing friends to minister to us (Proverbs 17:17). It is well to remember that it is as important to be a friend, as well as to find one and that we are to accept God's provision for relationships, rather than imposing our expectations. Consider studying some of the noteworthy soul relationships recorded in the Scriptures—Jonathan and David (1 Samuel 18:1, 19, 20, 23:16), Ruth and Naomi (Ruth 1-4), Paul and Timothy (1 Corinthians 4:17, 16:10; Philippians 2:19-22), and of course, Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 19:19-21; 2 Kings 2:1-18).
As you consider Elijah’s life, are you a woman who chooses the Elijah Effect or embraces contentment when faced with circumstances that could breed discouragement? Remember that godliness with contentment is great gain (Psalm 37:16; 1 Timothy 6:6) while despair plus discouragement equals spiritual disaster! As you enter this holiday season may I encourage you to choose to detonate discouragement so that you can savor it to its maximum potential?
You can detonate your discouragement by expressing affirmation and encouragement to others this Valentine Day. Some low-budget suggestions to get you started include:
- Observe and mention desirable character qualities you see in others (punctuality, good attitude, tolerance, etc.).
- Send a card or e-card to individuals you don’t normally greet at this holiday.
- Say "thank you" to everyone who performs any service for you today.
- If you receive a delivery or a service technician is your home offer a beverage and perhaps a cookie.
- Place phone calls with a specific encouragement-oriented focus.
- Purpose to assume a positive, reassuring attitude even if you are overlooked. Remember that encouragement does not thrive in a negative atmosphere.
- Be supportive to someone you know is hurting.
- Do not expect repayment.
Realize that moving from a discouraging outlook to an affirming, encouraging one takes time but practice makes perfect (Luke 6:30 & 31, I. Timothy 6:17-19). Consider using Charity as your role model:
Charity, a rather plain, quiet fourth grader had a heart that matched her name. Regrettably she was often the brunt of her peer’s bullying because she didn’t excel in sports or academics and they did not see her caring generous heart.
Valentine’s Day was approaching and she asked her Mom to take her shopping for supplies to make hand-crafted cards for each class member. She used her own money to purchase the supplies.
Many hours were invested in the crafting of the personalized greetings. Her mother prayed while Charity cut, pasted, and printed. Valentine’s Eve she tenderly placed the cards in a box so they would remain tidy on the trip to school.
Throughout the day her mother prayed that Charity’s spirit would not be crushed knowing that there was a possibility that she would receive no cards in return for her labor of love. She prepared a special snack to welcome Charity home.
At the anticipated arrival time Charity burst through the door with a smile and the words, “not even one!” Mom’s heart sank—surely her sweet daughter received at least one greeting. As they settled down for their snack Mom gently probed about her statement to which Charity replied, “Mom, I remembered everyone. I did not forget one person!”
Charity’s reaction was focused on extending love rather than receiving it. How will her choice impact your Valentine’s Day?
[i]Vines Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, s.v. “athumeo.”