Every Christian deals with discouragement. The question for each of us is not whether discouragement will come, but where we will turn when it does.
TGC Council members John Piper and H. B. Charles Jr. sat down to discuss their own favorite Bible passages for battling discouragement. When his soul is downcast, Charles has two go-to books. When he needs hope, strength, and joy, he turns to the Psalms. And when discouraged by his weakness, he looks to 2 Corinthians to remind himself that “God uses our weakness as a platform for his glory.”
Piper has a two-pronged approach. He memorizes Bible promises that address specific areas of discouragement. But he also keeps a few general promises for all occasions, especially those times when discouragement is so great that his mind goes blank and he can’t remember the topical promises he’s memorized. One of these all-purpose promises is Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare his own son but gave him up for us all, how will he not with him freely give us all things?”
Memorizing the promises of God is one effective way to wield the shield of faith when Satan fires the flaming arrows of discouragement at us.
Listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition Podcast.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
H.B. Charles: When I am facing ministry discouragement, there are two places regularly in my personal reading. I am reading the Psalms, and I just find hope, and strength, and joy in them. But the other place when I am particularly struggling is I go to the Letters of Paul and more specifically, to 2 Corinthians.
And the theme of 2 Corinthians where God uses our weakness as a platform for his glory, it’s a . . . in some way, it’s just a remarkable way to defend yourself by agreeing with your opponents that you are a weak man, and there is nothing spectacular about you, and that it is all of God.
And for this reason, he doesn’t lose heart. Second Corinthians, when I am down is the place where I just turn again and again. And throughout those chapters, find great encouragement, and strength, and hope.
John Piper: It is a great book. Cast down, right at the brink of death . . .
Piper: . . . that was to make me rely.
Charles: Yeah. I think it’s from there in the beginning of the book to the thorn in the flesh, and toward the end, it’s strengthening grace.
Piper: Yeah. Yeah. Discouragement comes in so many forms, and it can be caused by so many things that the . . . What I’ve tried to do is memorize a cluster of verses that apply to different kinds of discouragement.
And here’s what I mean. If it’s money, okay, we’ve got money issues. It’s not good. We’re not going to have enough this month or the church is having a money issue or whatever. I mean, there are tailor-made Hebrews 13:5 and 6. “Keep your life free from the love of money. Be content with what you have for he has said, ‘I’ll never leave you. I’ll never forsake you.’ Therefore, we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my Helper. I will not fear. What can man do to him?'” So, that is a promise given precisely to help me deal with the discouragement of money.
Piper: And there’s just so many others. If it’s death, I mean, you’re sick say, and you don’t know if you’re even going to live through this disease.
There are so many promises that are designed to keep you from being discouraged about death. None of us lives to himself. None of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord. If we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. I mean, why is that in the Bible?
Piper: It’s like to keep you from being discouraged when you get this awful death sentence that the doctor just spoke in your life.
Guidance is a huge one, right? I got a call from . . . I won’t say who it was. People will know . . . somebody, last night crying. I said, “What’s wrong?” And they said, “I can’t tell you. Just pray.”
I said, “Come on. You got to tell me something.” “Well, I just got a lot of decisions to make.” I said, “Okay. We got promises for that.”
Piper: We got promises for guidance. You know, “Good and upright is the Lord. Therefore, he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right and teaches the humble his way.” I go back to Psalms 25 over and over when I’m just confused, and I don’t know which way to go.
So, my point is, there are tailor-made promises for specific kinds of encouragement. But here’s what I find is that often, my mind, and not just because it’s 73 years-old because this happened 40 years ago, would go blank on me.
Like I need a promise and there’s nothing there. And so, I’ve got one or two that I stick in no matter what the issue is. Like, okay, and Isaiah 41:10 is the go-to of our family. “Fear not for I’m with you. Be not dismayed for I am your God. I’ll help you.”
That’s the keyword. “I’ll help you.” “I will help you. I’ll strengthen you. I’ll hold you up with my victorious right hand.” The simple statement coming straight from God, “I will help you,” that works no matter what the discouragement is. And the other one is Romans 8:32. “He who did not spare his own son but gave him up for us all, how will he not with him freely give us all things?”
Now, that means “all things you need to do what I want you to do. It doesn’t mean you’re going to get your, you know, big $18,000 ring, and wear a $10,000 suit, and fly a jet all over the world, and drop your prosperity gospel on the people in Africa. No, that’s not what it means, because the next verse is that we are being killed all day long.
Piper: 32, 35. We’re being killed all day long. This is not prosperity preaching. This is everything you need. “I’ll give it to you. You need to do my will. If you need to die well, I’ll help you die well. If you’re going to be sick well, I’ll help you be sick well.” And it’s the logic. It’s the logic of Romans 8:32. He didn’t spare his own son.
Piper: Oh my. So, I just hope all the folks who share this question of where do you go for encouragement? The Bible is rich. In fact, where does it say, uh, is it Romans 15:4 . . . “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction by the steadfastness and encouragement of scriptures, you might have hope.” Everything. Every sentence in the Old Testament right there understood is written that we might have hope, not discouragement. Wow!