The word discouragement comes from the root word courage. The prefix dis- means “the opposite of.” So discouragement is the opposite of courage. When we are discouraged, we have lost the motivation to press forward. The mountain seems too steep, the valley too dark, or the battle too fierce, and we lose the courage to continue.
In many places throughout Scripture, God commands His people to take courage (Psalm 27:14; 31:24; 2 Chronicles 32:7; Deuteronomy 31:6). When God selected Joshua to replace Moses as the leader of the Israelites, some of His first words to Joshua were “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). The Lord based this command upon His previous promise to Joshua in verse 6: “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” The Lord knew Joshua was going to face some big battles, and He did not want His servant to become discouraged.
The key to overcoming discouragement is to remember God’s promises and apply them. When we know the Lord, we can stand upon the promises He has given His people in His Word. Whether or not we see the fulfillment of those promises in this life, His promises still stand (Hebrews 11:13–16). This knowledge kept the apostle Paul pressing forward, preaching the gospel, eventually ending up in a Roman jail where he lost his life. From prison, he wrote, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). He could press on through persecution, rejection, beatings, and discouragement because his eyes were on the ultimate prize: hearing the words “Well done!” from his Lord and Savior (see Matthew 25:23; Revelation 22:12).
We easily become discouraged when we seek reward or affirmation from those around us. If our service or obedience is based upon immediate gratification, we may be setting ourselves up for discouragement. Jesus does not always take the easy path, and He warned His followers to consider that before they started (Luke 14:25–33). When we have already counted the cost of discipleship, we have more strength to face the battles ahead. We are not so easily discouraged when things don’t go our way because we know the battle is the Lord’s (1 Samuel 17:47).
Discouragement can be a warning light suggesting to us that we have lost our primary focus. When we feel discouraged, it helps to get alone with the Lord and allow Him to examine our hearts and our motives (Psalm 139:23). Often, it is pride, greed, or covetousness that is feeding our discouragement. A sense of entitlement can worm its way into our hearts and highlight the discrepancy between what we have and what we believe we are owed. When we recognize that attitude as sin, we can repent, humble ourselves, and let the Holy Spirit readjust our expectations. When we use discouragement as a reminder that our priorities have become skewed, the feeling of discouragement can become a refining tool to make us more like Jesus (see Romans 8:29).
The psalmist was no stranger to discouragement, and his response was to remember God and trust the promises of the Word:
“Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.
My soul is downcast within me;
therefore I will remember you” (Psalm 42:5–6).