This morning I was discouraged and frustrated about something. My wife sensed it, so she cheerfully began to sing this chorus:
Cheer up, you saints of God, there’s nothing to worry about,
Nothing to make you feel afraid, nothing to make you doubt!
Our God has never failed, so why not trust Him and shout?
You’ll be glad you trusted Him tomorrow!
The problem is that when we’re downcast, if we start talking about the situation, we usually end up voicing our complaints and doubts and speaking defeat. That’s what I did when I replied half-jokingly: “Fold up, ye saints of God, there’s nothing to be happy about!” I was just singing it lightheartedly, but it was really the way I was feeling—and it was kind of nice for a while. “Poor me!”
When you have the “poor me’s,” you’re usually just trying to get attention and sympathy. When the children of Israel complained in the wilderness, they were trying to make Moses and the Lord feel sorry for them (Exodus 16:2-3). Your pride is wounded, your ego has been a little deflated, your self-confidence has been a little shaken, and you begin to wonder then if everything is a mistake. Maybe you are never right about anything! In come Mr. and Mrs. Doubt and all the little Doubtlets, and Mr. and Mrs. Devil and all the little Devils, and you pull up a chair and invite them to talk it over—and pretty soon you start agreeing with them. “Yes, that’s right! I never was very much of a Christian after all! How could God use me? I don’t really have a very victorious, overcoming life, and I’m not perfect. I’m just a big mess. I might as well quit!”
It’s because you get your eyes on yourself instead of the Lord—introspection instead of Heaven-spection. You think so much about yourself and your own faults, frailties, mistakes, and sins that your “self” really gets you down. The Devil can tell you a lot of truth about yourself that’s horrible, not to speak of the lies he tells you, so if you start listening to the Devil, there’s no endto it. If you listen to him, he can make you sound even worse than you really are, and that’s pretty bad!
Then you start listening to your critics, or perhaps some friend or member of your family makes some casual remark that they don’t really mean or that you misinterpret, and the Devil exaggerates the situation until you get disheartened and feel like giving up.
It reminds me of King David when he said, “Now I shall perish someday by the hand of Saul” (1 Samuel 27:1). How could David have made a song out of that? It would have sounded terrible! “Someday I shall surely die! Someday I will be defeated. Someday the Devil will get me. Someday my enemies will kill me. Maybe it’s not worth it after all! God has failed me. I’m a failure. I might as well quit!”—Which was exactly what the Devil wanted to persuade David to do by that barrage of doubt and self-pity.
How could David have made a song out of that? What kind of doleful dirge, sung in a mournful minor key, would that have been? I guess that’s why you never find that in one of David’s psalms. David evidently said it, because he’s quoted in the Bible as saying it—one of those brief little outbursts prompted by the Devil that manages to get through before we catch ourselves and realize how bad it really sounds. But David had enough sense not to make a song out of it and keep singing that tune. Instead, in the Book of Psalms he takes a positive approach, defying his enemies and praising God in spite of his troubles, because he knew that God would work everything out, because He always had and because He promised to.
When you’re discouraged, the Devil makes you mad at the truth because he’s about to be defeated by it. He makes you angry when people try to cheer you up, and makes you upset at the very people who are trying to help you, because you can’t enjoy your misery as much if they’re trying to make you happy. You’re ashamed because your defeatism looks so bad alongside their victorious attitude, so you attempt to cover up in a fit of fury against them, or you try to find fault with them and others and everything—even God—to excuse your own stinking self for being such a grouch.
So this morning I was tempted to get mad at my wife when she tried to cheer me up with that song, and I responded, “Oh, yeah?” and jokingly began to sing the reverse: “Fold up, you saints of God, there’s nothing to be happy about; everything to make you feel afraid, everything to make you doubt.” That far was a little funny because it was so obviously defiant and my sin was so apparent, but when I got to the next line and saw what the reverse of the song was leading to, it scared me and I didn’t care to go on singing it. I knew God wasn’t wrong and He had never failed. So how could I sing, “Our God has always failed, so why not murmur and doubt? You’ll be sorry you trusted Him tomorrow!” If there’s anything I know, it is that God has never failed and I’ve always been glad I trusted Him tomorrow. So I knew that was a lie and I just couldn’t possibly sing the song in reverse, no matter how bad I felt. It just wasn’t the truth!
Look what a horrible lie even that little song is, if you sing it in reverse. That’s the way the Devil operates: He starts out seemingly innocent and honest with something that doesn’t seem too bad. “Fold up, ye saints of God, there’s nothing to be happy about”—which is the way we sometimes feel when we get discouraged. But it’s the horror that this leads to that shakes us up and shocks us into realizing what a liar the Devil is and how bad a state we’re getting into.
Thank God for His shock treatments when we realize what a terrible thing we’re saying or doing as a result of some little doubt or fear or disobedience that we started with. One of the things that helped snap me out of it was when I realized what a terrible example I was being to my wife, who was trying to lift me up and encourage me, while I was resisting it. Even if I was half joking, the danger of dragging her down with me finally woke me up. I realized that I had to get the victory for her sake, if nothing else!
My grandfather used to say, “If you must go to Hell, at least don’t let somebody else stumble over you into Hell too!” But this isn’t possible, because if you’re going to Hell you’re bound to drag others with you. Everybody has influence. No man lives to himself, and no man dies to himself (Romans 14:7). Each of our lives is bound to affect others. No man is an island. Everybody’s influencing somebody, even when they seem to be alone.
Sometimes just a word or a glance or a smile can make a big difference—how we act or sound or seem. If it’s not cheerful and victorious and uplifting, then it could easily hurt others and pull them down with us. We’re either going to pull people up to our level or drag them down to it, one or the other. There’s no in between, no neutral ground. We’re going to be either hot or cold eventually—and lukewarmness is the worst form of coldness, because it doesn’t know it’s cold (Revelation 3:15-16).
In this sense, that old poem about the high road and the low road is deceptive:
To every soul there opens a road:
To the high soul, the high road,
And the low soul, the low;
But the vast multitude drifts back and forth,
On the misty flats between.
—John Oxenham (1852-1941). “The Ways,” paraphrased.
The vast multitude, let me tell you, is not drifting back and forth! They’re settling down to the bottom, but so gradually that they don’t even know it!
Just a little bit of doubt, a little bit of fear, a little bit of complaint, a little bit of discouragement, can grow and grow until you are completely defeated and a terrible influence on others. It seems innocent enough at first, and the Devil tries to persuade you that it’s not so bad, but it has a bitter end!
You’ll go one way or the other—up or down! There’s no standing still. You’re either climbing and getting to the top, or you’re sinking and drifting downward, ever downward! And when you start going down, there’s no stopping place. You never stop until you hit bottom—unless you repent and snap out of it and ask God to forgive you and throw out the Devil’s whole pack of lies and all your doubts and fears and discouragement, and follow Jesus and His Word, and hold on to His promises. The future is as bright as the promises of God! You’ve got to keep your eyes on Jesus, because there’s no other way to look but down—and that’s the pit, the dismal abyss of horrible nothingness.
You’re going to either be positive or negative, one or the other. You can’t be just a little bit of both. That’s what the Devil will try to tell you: “It doesn’t hurt to be just a little disheartened, to feel just a little bit sorry for yourself. After all, you deserve to enjoy a little bit of discouragement so you can get some sympathy from others. Why not? Misery loves company! Let’s make everybody else a little bit miserable, too, so we can all enjoy it!”
The minute you start listening to the Devil you’re done for, because there’s no end to it, no stopping place! He’ll never quit until he’s dragged you to the very bottom and left you utterly defeated, a terrible reproach to the cause of Christ and a drag on everybody around you. That’s the Devil’s kind of witnessing! That’s the result of putting his doubts and fears into words and sharing his lies with others. It has just the opposite effect of witnessing the truth of God and His Word. It drags others down and causes them to become unhappy, discouraged, doubting, fearing, and complaining just like you are.
Words are real things! They bless or they curse; they lift up or they knock down; they save or they damn. There’s no in between! Jesus said that each of us will have to account for every idle word. “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the Day of Judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37).
So, if you’re discouraged, friend, for God’s sake don’t murmur, complain, and voice your doubts and fears to others! “Confess your trespasses to one another” (James 5:16), yes, but don’t go around spreading your doubts, discouragement, worries, and woes to other unsuspecting souls. Keep those things to yourself, and just share them with God.—Or if you sincerely want help, ask someone who is spiritually strong to advise and pray for you. Others have enough troubles of their own without you dumping on them. They may already have burdens more than they can bear. Yours may be the last straw.
When the Lord said, “Bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2), He didn’t mean that kind—a burden of doubt and anxiety and a lack of trust and faith in God. He meant to get under the load somebody else has and help them to lift it—not dump yours on top of somebody else who’s already overloaded! It means to help lift, not hinder, to ease the load—somebody else’s load—not your own.
As for us, Paul says, “Each one shall bear his own load” (Galatians 6:5), and, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). Ask God for help, and if you really are overloaded, He’ll help you. If you really need help, tell it to Jesus first of all. Seek the Lord. “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain you” (Psalm 55:22). If you’re weighed down with care at the end of the day, just roll it over on Jesus and go to sleep—and let Him stay up all night. Don’t worry about it. Let the Lord do the worrying. His shoulders are broad enough to carry any load—all the burdens of the world put together, including His own!
It reminds me of the story of the little girl who prayed: “Please take care of Yourself, dear God, because if anything were to happen to You, we’d all be sunk!” That’s for sure, because every one of us is a big mess. If we don’t keep our eyes on the Lord and our mind on His Word, we’re doomed to defeat, doubt, disillusionment, and final failure!
Sometimes you don’t know what to believe: Somebody says, “Hang on!” and somebody else says, “Let go!” Well, if you put each in the right context, they’re both right: Let go of the Devil’s discouragement, doubts, fears, and burdens, and hang on to the Lord. Hitch your wagon to His star and there’ll be no stopping you! But if you fill the wagon with all the rocks the Devil would like to pile on, you’ll sink for sure. Just roll them overboard and let them fall behind, while you go on with the Lord.
Maybe you think the Lord can’t bear the weight of some of your problems. Some people are like that. They remind me of the fellow who was crossing a frozen river one winter, many years ago. Fearful that he might fall through the ice and drown, he was crawling very slowly and cautiously on his hands and knees. Hearing a noise in the distance, he looked behind him and saw a team of four horses confidently coming towards him, pulling a large wagon full of heavy scrap iron over the very ice on which he was so hesitantly crawling. Let me tell you, God can take it! He can handle any load you want to give Him.
You’ve got to have some faith in God or you’re sunk, for without Him you can do nothing (John 15:5). If you don’t hold on to the Lord, you’re lost. Anything, everybody and everything can get you down—in fact, almost nothing. Your spiritual balance will be so delicate that nobody will be able to say anything to you for fear that it will tip you off balance and you’ll crash. The slightest provocation, exaggeration, or insinuation, and you’re defeated. Your Christian veneer, that nice Christian polish, is so thin that it’s easily scratched. It’s only on the surface, so it only takes one little scratch to expose the horrible truth underneath.
Some people are so delicate that they can’t take the slightest bit of pressure. They collapse because they’re not holding on to the Lord, they’re not standing on the Word, they do not believe in His promises. They’re depending on some supposed righteousness of their own, some greatness they think they have. And let me tell you, that kind of sanctimonious hypocrisy can’t stand the shock treatments of the Devil. It shatters very easily. Then everyone else is given a terrible look at all the horror within, because they didn’t really hold on to the Lord and keep their eyes on Heaven. Remember the little saying:
All through life, my brother, if you’d be a happy soul,
Keep your eye upon the doughnut, not upon the hole!
Keep your eyes on Heaven. Keep your eyes on the goal, and the victory in your soul. Always shout, never doubt! When the Devil tempts you to get down and discouraged, fight! Don’t even listen to him, much less surrender. Start doing something positive. Start saying something cheerful and encouraging—like my wife did for me this morning, when she began to sing, “Cheer up, you saints of God” in her sweet way, the best she could, trying to remind me to trust the Lord.
Don’t just stand there, do something! Sing, shout, praise the Lord, quote Scriptures! Hit the Devil back! Rebuke him with the Word! That’s what Jesus did when the Devil tempted and lied to Him in the wilderness. He just quoted the Scriptures: “It is written” (Matthew 4:3-10). The Devil is a liar and the father of it (John 8:44), and he can’t take the Word. “Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). He will turn tail and run. Put on the helmet of salvation and the breastplate of righteousness, use the shield of faith to quench all the fiery darts of the Evil One; gird yourself with the truth; be shod with the Gospel of peace, and take up that white-hot sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, and cut the Devil to the heart (Ephesians 6:10-17). Drive him away! Tell him that you have no part in him, and he has no part in you!
Then get busy working. Tell others about Jesus and salvation. Get positive. Help somebody else. Get so busy with someone else’s troubles that you can’t think about your own stinking self. Get so busy trying to make somebody else happy that you can’t help but be happy yourself.
Talk about Jesus. Talk about the Word of God. Talk about the needs of others. Talk about the good things. “Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (Philippians 4:8). “Speak evil of no one”—not even yourself (Titus 3:2).
Keep the faith! Keep your eyes on Jesus! Get busy helping somebody that needs help, and forget your own stupid self. Of course you’re a failure! Of course you’re a big mess! We all are! When we start looking at ourselves, we really get down.
Let’s get going with God! He’s the only One who can make it, and He’ll pull you through if you just give Him a chance. Hang on to His Word, and let Him hang on to you. Let go and let God! There’s an old song that says, “He’ll hold me fast!” I can’t hold myself. I can’t help myself. Only God can help me. He’s my only hope.
“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Savior, who alone is wise,” commit your way, your life, your mind, your thoughts, your time (Jude 24-25). “For I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (2 Timothy 1:12). Only He can do it! Just give Him a chance. Keep your eyes on Jesus. Let’s talk about Jesus! Let’s talk about love—His love!
As you pour out, He’ll pour in, and you can never outpour Him! It’s like the little discovery I made the other day when I was trying to get some scum off the surface of a pot of water. Every time I tried to pour it off, it just got more stirred up. Finally I got the idea of putting the pot under a faucet of running water. This caused the water level in the pot to rise until it overflowed. The scum on the top just rolled off and went down the drain.
God does something similar with us in the refining fires of His trials and tests. He puts our “pot” over the fire and brings us to a boil so all the scum and dross comes to the top. It was always there, but it just didn’t come to the surface where everybody could see it until God put us on the fire. That’s what the fire is for—to get rid of our dross. We have to let Him boil it off and get rid of it!
Don’t tell us how bad you are. We don’t want to know! We want to think about Jesus. Let’s talk about Jesus! Don’t voice your doubts and fears and lack of faith. We don’t want to hear about it. We want to hear about Jesus. Keep your eyes on Jesus! As the famous old hymn says,
Only Jesus, only Jesus, only He can satisfy.
Every burden becomes a blessing,
When I know my Lord is nigh!