Discouragement attempts to persuade Christians to believe that our faith holds no treasure, the cross is emptied of its power, and we cannot trust God to provide for us. We assume if we’ve professed faith, we should always feel #blessed. When we don’t discern God’s tangible provision, we assume he hasn’t provided good, riches, or blessing and we behave as though we must squint to catch a glimpse of God’s meager provision in our daily life.
We’re often not convinced by God’s goodness or provision because he provides differently than we expect and slower than we’d like. When we pause to read Scripture or pray in accordance with God’s promises, we expect to see an immediate return on investment. We want microwaveable mercies so that healing happens fast and minute-by-minute miracles so we don’t lose focus or faith.
We assume if we’ve professed faith, we should always feel #blessed.
We’re not trained or skilled in looking for the riches of God’s mercies because our culture has trained us to “get it, girl!” by going in search of whatever we want and not settling until we’ve “believed and received.” But what if we haven’t learned to treasure what we should or desire what God wants? We are often emptied of our ability to trust God because we wrongly presume upon mercies that aren’t promised instead of looking to God’s promises and trusting he’ll provide good.
God’s Covenant Promises
In the Old Testament, God establishes covenant promises with Israel in order to sustain his people during their slavery, wilderness wandering, rebellion, and uncertainty. These covenant promises become the driving force of God’s encouragement to his people: the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants each act as a compass, pointing Israel back in the direction of God when they’re lost or wandering.
First, in the Abrahamic covenant, God promises to make Abraham the father of many nations, with descendants as numerous as the stars. Then, through the Mosaic covenant, God promises to deliver Moses and the Israelite people from slavery and captivity to a good land. Finally, in the Davidic covenant, God assures Israel as they yearn for their own king to rule over their land that he will appoint one of their descendants to sit on the throne and reign forever.
God makes promises to his people in order to clearly declare his good intentions, remind them of his presence and provision, and encourage them to trust that he’ll carry out his plans throughout all of creation. In each of these covenants, God encourages his people in order to prepare them to wait and watch for his better provision until it comes in full.
Not a Magic Wand
Christians today are often tempted to believe that if they experienced the presence of God like Abraham, Moses, and David, their faith would be strong too. But these men died before receiving what God had promised. Friend, Hebrews 11:39–40 tells us that we have a better vantage point from which to view our inheritance with the saints. We’re able to glimpse and be encouraged by the promised covenant and the fulfillment of Christ in a way that Abraham, Moses, and David weren’t able to imagine. And yet, thousands of years later, we all wait eagerly together by the hope of the very same good promise.
As you and I continue to reap the benefits of God’s Word—reading, reminding our hearts of our source of hope, and repeating God’s promises to one another—we must be cautious not to manipulate God’s promises into words of encouragement that the Spirit hasn’t intended. The Word must speak pointedly as a sword of truth, not as a magic wand to grant wishes.
What the Covenants Don’t Promise
We are prone to see the Abrahamic covenant as God’s promise to provide Abraham and Sarah with a baby and then assume God will grant us a baby too. When we apply God’s promises in this way, we behave as though we know God’s will for our lives and that we’re responsible for feeling our way forward in the dark. But God never asked us to solve our own problems, impress him with our creativity or resourcefulness, or dig ourselves out of trouble with our own self-help solutions. When we believe we must work to earn God’s blessing or approval, discouragement is sure to follow.
God’s promise to Abraham was not meant to be satisfied through the opening of any praying woman’s womb. God already fulfilled his promise to Abraham long ago on Calvary when through Christ’s death he granted new life to all those who would believe in him. So while God doesn’t open every womb, he’s done something extraordinarily better—he’s opened a way for new birth so that you could be grafted into his family, accepted as his child, and encouraged through the sacrifice of his son.
We must be cautious not to manipulate God’s promises into words of encouragement that the Spirit hasn’t intended.
Similarly, the Mosaic covenant was not God’s promise to fully deliver you from slavery to food, alcohol, or shopping. He might, or you might struggle as long as you live on this broken earth. But because Christ already fulfilled the Mosaic covenant promise, you can trust he will one day present you blameless, free from the chains of your sin and slavery. Christ anchors you to this new covenant promise and encourages you to await the better land where you will enjoy eternal freedom.
And last, the Davidic covenant doesn’t promise us victory or fame here. But through Christ, we’re joined to all the people of God through the new covenant of grace and encouraged by our citizenship in a heavenly kingdom where we’ll be joint heirs with Christ.
Wait and Watch
Today, God encourages his people in order to prepare us to wait and watch for Christ’s return when he’ll fully usher in his better provision in the new kingdom to come. Reap the rich rewards of the covenant of grace by applying the promised encouragement as it was meant to be.
Christ’s divine power has granted to you “all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him” as well as “his precious and very great promises” so that you might partake of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:3, 4) that fills your heart with his wisdom and understanding, his mercy and grace, his power, his strength, his comfort, and his ability to sustain you by his Word.
This article is adapted from Lindsey Carlson’s book, A Better Encouragement: Trading Self-Help for True Hope (TGC/Crossway, June 2022).