What Can Be Done About Discouragement?
HOW can a person fight discouragement? This was the question put to several traveling overseers, who regularly visit congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their answers can help us to analyze the causes of discouragement and the remedies for this condition that can affect any Christian.
More than an analysis is needed to deal with discouragement, but the symptoms may include a lack of interest in prayer or in personal study, a slacking off in meeting attendance, the absence of enthusiasm, and even a certain coldness toward Christian companions. One of the most telling signs, however, is a drop in zeal for evangelizing. Let us examine the symptoms and consider some remedies.
Discouragement in Our Evangelizing Work
Jesus Christ was aware of the difficulties associated with the commission to make disciples. (Matthew 28:19, 20) He sent his followers forth as “sheep amidst wolves,” knowing that their preaching activity would bring persecution upon them. (Matthew 10:16-23) Yet, this was not a reason for them to become discouraged. In fact, God’s servants who have prayerfully relied on Jehovah have often been strengthened by persecution.—Acts 4:29-31; 5:41, 42.
Even when Christ’s disciples were not suffering intense persecution, they were not always favorably received. (Matthew 10:11-15) Likewise, the preaching work of Jehovah’s Witnesses is not always performed with ease today.a To many people, belief in God is a personal matter that they do not wish to discuss. Others want nothing to do with a religious organization toward which they have certain prejudices. Without a doubt, indifference, the lack of results, or various other problems can be formidable sources of discouragement. How can these obstacles be overcome?
Obtaining Better Results
The joy that we draw from our ministry is partly related to the results obtained. How, then, can we have a more productive ministry? Well, we are “fishers of men.” (Mark 1:16-18) Fishermen in ancient Israel went fishing at night when they could catch the most fish. We too need to analyze our territory so that we go “fishing” when the majority of the people are at home and are more receptive to our message. This may be in the evening, on weekends, or at some other time. According to one traveling overseer, this is practical in areas where people work all day. He notes that evening witnessing often brings excellent results. Telephone or informal witnessing also enables us to reach more people.
Perseverance in the ministry produces good results. In Eastern Europe and in certain African countries, the Kingdom-preaching work is progressing well, and this has resulted in fine increases. Similarly, many congregations have been formed in areas long considered unproductive or even in territory covered very frequently. However, what if yours is not producing such results?
Maintaining a Good Attitude
Having clearly in mind the goals set by Jesus will help us not to become discouraged in the face of indifference in the ministry. Christ wanted his disciples to search out deserving ones, not to perform mass conversions. On several occasions he pointed out that the vast majority would not accept the good news, just as most Israelites did not listen to the prophets of old.—Ezekiel 9:4; Matthew 10:11-15; Mark 4:14-20.
The “good news of the kingdom” is received with gratitude by individuals “conscious of their spiritual need.” (Matthew 5:3; 24:14) They want to serve God in the way that he specifies. Hence, the results of our activity are related more to the heart condition of the people than to our aptitude for presenting the message. Of course, we need to do our best to make the good news appealing. Yet, the results depend on God, for Jesus said: “No man can come to me unless the Father, who sent me, draws him.”—John 6:44.
Our evangelizing work makes Jehovah’s name known. Whether people listen or not, our preaching activity contributes to the sanctification of Jehovah’s holy name. Furthermore, by means of our evangelizing work, we prove that we are Christ’s disciples, and we have the privilege of sharing in the most important mission being carried out in our day.—Matthew 6:9; John 15:8.
Discouragement and Relationships
Certain human relationships, either in the family or in the congregation, can cause discouragement. For instance, there is the feeling of not being understood. The imperfections of fellow believers may also discourage us. Once again, the Scriptures can be of great help to us.
“The whole association of brothers” worldwide makes up a large spiritual family. (1 Peter 2:17) But the feeling of belonging to a united people can fade when difficulties arise because of personality conflicts. Evidently, first-century Christians were not immune to such problems, since the apostle Paul repeatedly had to remind them to live together in unity. For example, he exhorted two Christian women—Euodia and Syntyche—to resolve their differences.—1 Corinthians 1:10; Ephesians 4:1-3; Philippians 4:2, 3.
If this is the problem, how can we rekindle a sincere love for our brothers and sisters? By reminding ourselves that Christ died for them and that they, like us, have exercised faith in his ransom sacrifice. We can also bear in mind that many of our brothers are prepared to imitate Jesus Christ by risking their lives for us.
Some years ago, in Paris, France, a young Witness did not hesitate to grab hold of a suitcase containing a bomb that had been put outside the Kingdom Hall. He ran down several flights of stairs before throwing it into a fountain, where it exploded. Asked what motivated him to risk his life in this way, he answered: “I realized that our lives were in danger. So I thought it was better for me to die alone than for all of us to be killed.”b What a blessing it is to have such companions who are ready to follow Jesus’ example so closely!
Additionally, we can meditate on the spirit of cooperation that existed among Jehovah’s Witnesses who were in the concentration camps during World War II.c More recently, our brothers and sisters in Malawi just as faithfully stood their ground as true Christians. Does not the thought that our brothers in the local congregation would act in the same way under adverse circumstances move us to overlook or at least minimize daily tensions and difficulties? If we cultivate the mind of Christ, our everyday relations with fellow worshipers will be a source of refreshment, not discouragement.
Discouraging Personal Feelings
“Expectation postponed is making the heart sick, but the thing desired is a tree of life when it does come.” (Proverbs 13:12) In the eyes of some of Jehovah’s servants, the end of this system of things is not coming soon enough. Christians find the period in which we are living ‘critical and hard to deal with,’ just as many unbelievers do.—2 Timothy 3:1-5.
In contrast with unbelievers, however, Christians should rejoice to see in these trialsome conditions the “sign” of Jesus’ presence, which indicates that God’s Kingdom will soon bring an end to this wicked system of things. (Matthew 24:3-14) Even when the situation gets worse—as it certainly will during the “great tribulation”—these events are a source of joy to us because they herald God’s incoming new world.—Matthew 24:21; 2 Peter 3:13.
Mentally putting off the Kingdom’s intervention in present-day affairs could cause a Christian to devote more and more time to material pursuits. If he were to allow such things as secular work and entertainment to take up all his time and energy, it would be hard for him to fulfill his Scriptural responsibilities properly. (Matthew 6:24, 33, 34) Such an attitude promotes frustration and thus discouragement. One traveling overseer commented: “It is unrealistic to attempt to build a poor imitation of the new system in this system of things.”
Two of the Best Remedies
Once a diagnosis has been made, how can an individual find a good remedy? Personal study is one of the best methods available. Why? “It reminds us why we have to do what we do,” remarked a traveling overseer. Still another explained: “Preaching merely out of obligation becomes burdensome in time.” But good personal study helps us to regain a sharp view of our role as we get closer to the end. In the same line of thought, the Scriptures repeatedly remind us of the need to be well fed spiritually in order to have true happiness in doing God’s will.—Psalm 1:1-3; 19:7-10; 119:1, 2.
Elders can help others to overcome discouragement by making encouraging shepherding calls on them. During these private visits, elders can show that each of us is greatly appreciated and occupies an important place among Jehovah’s people. (1 Corinthians 12:20-26) Referring to fellow Christians, one elder said: “To underscore their value, I remind them of what they have accomplished in the past. I point out that they are precious in Jehovah’s eyes and that the blood of his Son has been given in their behalf. This reasoning is always well received. Once this has been backed up with solid Biblical references, those who are discouraged are in a position to set new goals, such as family prayer and study and Bible reading.”—Hebrews 6:10.
During shepherding calls, elders need to be careful not to make it appear that God is impossible to please. Instead, the elders can help discouraged fellow worshipers to see that the load on Jesus’ followers is light. Consequently, our Christian service is a source of joy.—Matthew 11:28-30.
Whatever its causes, discouragement is a scourge that must be fought. Remember, though, that we are not alone in this fight. If we are discouraged, let us accept the help of our Christian companions, especially the elders. By doing so, we may lessen feelings of discouragement.
Above all, we need to turn to God for help in overcoming discouragement. If we prayerfully rely on Jehovah, he may help us to vanquish discouragement entirely. (Psalm 55:22; Philippians 4:6, 7) In any case, as his people we can share the sentiments of the psalmist who sang: “Happy are the people knowing the joyful shouting. O Jehovah, in the light of your face they keep walking. In your name they are joyful all day long and in your righteousness they are exalted. For you are the beauty of their strength; and by your goodwill our horn is exalted.”—Psalm 89:15-17.
a See the article “The House-to-House Challenge” in The Watchtower, May 15, 1981.
c See the articles “I Survived the ‘Death March’” in The Watchtower of August 15, 1980, and “Keeping Integrity in Nazi Germany” in Awake! of June 22, 1985.
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Upbuilding shepherding calls by loving elders can help Christians overcome discouragement