I believe devotion can bring discouragement to the life of a believer. One only has to look at the life of someone like Elijah to see that even the most devoted can suffer from discouragement in service to God.
Elijah had a word from God that it would not rain for three years (1 Kings 17:1) and it did not rain until Elijah again received a word from the Lord.
Now it happened after many days that the word of the LORD came to Elijah in the third year, saying, “Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the face of the earth.” 1 Kings 18:1
God then instructed Elijah to call together the 450 prophets of Baal and the dueling sacrifices began. (1 Kings 18:20- 38 ) This is a wonderful story and the writing brings forth powerful mental pictures as Elijah, the devoted servant of God Most High challenges these prophets to do whatever it takes to get a response from their god. The beginning of the end of the challenge starts with Elijah’s prayer revealing his job as God’s mouthpiece:
At the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant and I have done all these things at Your word. 1 Kings 18:36
The challenge ends as God reveals Himself to these people and not only consumes the sacrifice, but the water in the trench! He slays the false prophets, and tells King Ahab to watch for the coming rain. (vvs. 41-46) And seven times later, it rains!
You would think Elijah would be on top of the world! But he is quickly derailed by Ahab’s Jezebel who threatens his life. Elijah “was afraid and ran for his life” and wound up under a broom tree completely discouraged and asking to die! (1 Kings 19:1-4)
I have been discouraged in both ministry and life in general at times. The times I have been very discouraged have come after times of great joy or victory, just like Elijah experienced after God’s display of glory on Mount Carmel. His response to a threat by Ahab’s Jezebel was to run away and hide and to ask God to take his life. (Have you ever wanted to run away or just die because of the situation you faced? I have!) God did not respond harshly to him, He nourished him and gave him rest even while asking him what he was doing out there laying under the broom tree sulking (1 Kings 19:9-14).
What is the key or secret to living devoted while discouraged? How can you and I not wind up under the broom tree or on some kind of medication for depression or anxiety when faced with terrible discouragement in the midst of serving God?
I believe it begins with our thought life. Focusing on all that is wrong is not helpful, is it? I ask myself what I am thinking about that is adding to my discouragement and determine if it is true and real (Phil 4:8) or just something that I am conjuring up in my mind.
Then I move to my actions, what am I doing that may be adding to the problem? Am I just sitting around and staring at the wall, or am I attempting to do something productive? To just sit and mope or meditate on my misery is not helpful at all.
My desires are next. What do I want to see happen or change? Is what I want something that will honor God or self? Do I desire something out of a selfish heart that is focused only on relieving my suffering and misery?
As I move through each of these areas of my heart I am constantly holding up my conclusions to the light of the Word. Does each thought, belief, and desire fold into the Word of God or stand apart from it? Can I honestly say that I am honoring God in each area?
You see, devotion to the Lord is bound to bring times of discouragement! We are fighting against the flow and pushing against the tide of sinful humanity. Our priorities and perspectives are so vastly different from those of the world that they are bound to collide at times. Our flesh cries out at times for what appears to be the easy life of the unbeliever, who is not held to our biblical standards. It seems at times our trials never seem to end but roll in like waves on the sea.
Devotion to God can and often does bring the magnificent highs and lows the Elijah experienced. I can distinctly remember having some of those mountaintop types of experiences as I counseled someone through a particularly difficult case, or brought a couple who had been on the brink of divorce back to reconciliation. There is just nothing like the “spiritual high” that comes from service to the King. On the other hand, I have suffered the agony of defeat (as sportscaster Jim McCay used to say) as one trial and trouble after another crashed upon me and I longed for escape of any kind.
You and I must learn to accept these things as a result of our being united with Christ! Jesus said, “In the world you have tribulation” (John 16:33) and it is as true today as it was when He said it to His disciples.