Let’s state the obvious: no one is without their times of discouragement. At some point, all of us face moments when we feel like things aren’t looking up and we wonder if all the effort is worth it. And it matters not if this discouragement stems from circumstances or relationships, the end result is the same—we consider quitting.
Pastors are not exempt either. We’re part of the “no one” of the first paragraph, too. In the middle of ministry, sometimes the machine side of it can grind away at you to the point that anywhere you look seems greener. Deep inside you know it’s a seductive illusion, a mirage in the desert of discouragement. But as one who’s been there more times than I want to admit, those images seem to offer a quenching solution to the dryness of our immediate situation.
I’ve come to learn that discouragement never disappears. It’s simply something we will battle as mortals in a fallen world. So I’m content knowing that in this life discouragement is part of the journey. However, that realization is not an acceptance of it’s ownership of my life. Discouragement may never totally die this side of the grave, but it can be defeated regularly. Consequently, it’s regularity and severity can be effectively crippled. Maybe not demolished, but for sure diminished.
How? In a word, gratitude. Nothing takes the ax to discouragement like thankfulness.
The Boomerang of Gratitude
You see, the encouragement that comes from gratitude to others has a boomerang effect—it actually ends up encouraging us! I’ve discovered that as I consistently express gratitude to others for specific aspects of their life, my own perspective changes, even in that very moment, and discouragement begins to lessen. And as I ponder even more God’s work in the lives of others, and take the time to express it in some tangible way, discouragement eventually leaves.
I wonder if this is, in some way, what Solomon had in mind when he wrote,
“Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down,
but a good word makes him glad.”
Textually, the “him” of the last phrase is probably the one who receives the “good word.” Yet, I’ve often wondered if in giving a good word—being grateful and encouraging someone—we benefit in the same way. After all, if in the middle of our own anxiety we give a good word to others, it is completely plausible that we would “receive” (i.e., hear) that as well and be enriched by it.
And, admittedly, the “good word” isn’t necessarily defined as a grateful word. Yet, it’s hard to imagine a good word to an anxious heart that doesn’t have roots in, and eventually lead to, grateful-laden encouragement and perspective-changing thankfulness.
Perhaps this understanding is more of an application than the strict interpretation, but even in the application we can see the powerful effect of a good word of gratitude to both the sender and receiver. Which is why I say without hesitation, from experience, Scripture, and reason, that nothing makes the putrid smell of discouragement flee like the fresh air of gratitude.
Putting it into Practice
This is precisely why, when the clouds of discouragement start forming over me, the main (and first) thing I do is express gratitude. Verbalize my appreciation. Voice my thankfulness. As best I can, I simply believe what the Holy Spirit inspired Solomon to record, and trust that the weight I’m sensing bearing down on me will be supernaturally lifted as I help someone else carry theirs through a good word of encouragement.
How? In plainest of terms, I simply tell someone how and why I’m thankful for them. I try and do this within minutes of noticing my distorted view taking hold (i.e., discouragement) because the sooner I fight it the quicker it flees. I have found that not giving it time to ‘root’ is one way to eliminate the unwanted fruit. Often it’s a call. Or a text. Sometimes an email. At times I just head down to a connected office and share with one of our staff. In other situations it’s my wife, or one of our children. I’ve dialed up my parents, written former pastors I’ve worked for, messaged a long-time friend or new acquaintance. The list could go on. I just know that the main way to get the advantage in a match with discouragement is to promptly and genuinely say thanks. Gratitude works wonders in both the giver and recipient!
So go ahead—next time discouragement looms, immediately spot who you’re thankful for and why. Then tell them promptly. That’s right—in some way let them know. Make the call. Write the email. Mail the letter. Send the text. Say the words. You’ll both be glad you did.
“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5:18)