If life can bring all sorts of discouraging experiences, God is able to counteract and neutralize their debilitating effect by means of a simple whisper or a divine touch. His ability to inspirit His children has comforted the saints of old and stands as a monument throughout the history of the pilgrim Church.
In reference to Jesus the prophet Isaiah wrote: “He will not fail nor be discouraged, till He has established justice in the earth” (Isaiah 42:4). And the author of Hebrews exhorts us to consider His example lest we become weary and discouraged in our souls (Heb. 12:3).
To say that there is no reason for a Christian to be discouraged is to misunderstand reality as it stands. Jesus, our forerunner, had hundreds of reasons to lose heart. He was misunderstood, rejected, falsely accused, forsaken by His disciples, betrayed by one of them, and denied by another, just to name a few. If He was not disheartened it is not because the reasons were not there. His secret lays elsewhere.
Our outward man
One of the experiences that can cut deep into the fiber of our courage is the deterioration of our body. Such things as sicknesses, physical handicaps, or what is commonly called “getting old” can uproot our grit and let it dry on the parched ground of temporality. Our sight gets dim, our hearing diminishes, our ability to move is being reduced, our energy recedes, and different malfunctions emerge as the years pass by.
To realize that all this is the consequence of the Fall offers little help. Only when one apprehends the other side of the coin the relief can come. For the day is coming in which the full redemption of our body will be actualized. As Paul writes:
Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body” (Rom. 8:23).
And again: “So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power” (1 Cor. 15:42,43). And as if this was too little Paul adds:
For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit” (2 Cor. 5:1–5).
So here we have the invigorating promises of God, infusions of hope for those who believe. Of course all these encouraging words bear little on the current state of our body. In the words of the apostle, we continue to grow weary in our present bodies. The future might seem bright but the today quite gloomy. But there is something else the apostle says, something that can aid us here and now.
Challenging the negative
Paul was an observer. For him the negative was often assessed in the shadow of the positive. Such statements as, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18), exhibit the way the apostle was evaluating reality.
Looking to the degeneration of our physical body he writes:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16).
This verse discloses two important truths: The first one is that the deterioration of our physical body is apt to cause a person to lose heart. The second is that there exists a renewal that can be experienced daily, and this renewal can genuinely encourage us, thus nullifying the negative effect the decay of our body can produce. Of course all these truths beg the question: How can I experience this daily renewal?
Many scriptures could be used to answer the question. But I have opted for the one found in Isaiah chapter forty. Here God is speaking:
He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:30,31).
Here God is attesting that those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength. So here we have a renewal, and the consequences of that renewal are tangible: “… they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
I believe this verse refers to the energizing of the inner man, after all, Jesus was too weak to carry His cross all the way up to Golgotha, and Paul writes: “I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3). Added to it, he also declares that the outward man is perishing (2 Cor. 4:16). But in spite of this demoralizing temporalities the living God attests that something amazing can happen to the one who waits upon Him: He can be renewed, and according to Paul this revitalization is apt to fill his mind and heart with courage: “Therefore we do not lose heart,” he wrote.
The setback many evangelicals experience in the realm of daily renewal is due to the fact that their schedule is so structured that little time is left to wait upon the Lord. The frantic world in which we live pulls them in a downward spiral, and sadly enough, I must say, little resistance is being demonstrated. To frequent a church regularly is good and necessary, but it cannot take the place of waiting upon the Lord. Without this important practice discouragement will eventually settle in. For don’t forget, the outward man is already perishing and its deterioration is secured.
The psalmist was right when he wrote: “Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14).