Why Are We So Discouraged?
It happened once again. After I spoke to a substantial crowd on themes from my new book Saving a Sick America, people lined up to thank me for the encouragement, their faces beaming with joy.
Of course, I was glad to hear that they were encouraged and uplifted. After all, my intent was to give hope and build faith. (One gentleman told me that I have “contagious convictions.”)
But what concerns me is that so many believers are so discouraged these days. Why are we so down in the dumps? Why the gloomy mentality?
This Too Shall Pass
Life always has its up and downs, so that’s nothing new. And all of us — as individuals or families or communities or even countries — will pass through dark times.
But are things that much darker today than in past times in America? Is it darker today than during the Great Depression or the Civil War? Are we more hurting and divided today than we were during the turbulent 1960s, which were marked by the assassinations of JFK, RFK, and Dr. King as well torn apart by protests against the Vietnam War?
Yet there appears to be a deeper feeling of hopelessness these days, a deeper sense of futility and despair. Why?
I seemed to be divinely wired to be an optimist, to the point that one of my 13-year-old grandsons recently said to me (when it looked like we might miss our return flight home), “Grandpa, sometimes you’re too optimistic.” (It turns out my optimism was right and we didn’t miss the flight, which I was all too happy to rub in playfully.)
Another Great Awakening
But when I preach about the possibility of another Great Awakening coming to America, I do so with sobriety. In other words, I don’t give words of encouragement out of a starry-eyed, unrealistic optimism. To the contrary, I do so recognizing how grave our national condition is.
In short, without divine intervention, America could be on the verge of collapse. Our situation is critical, and the Christian audiences to whom I speak are in full agreement with that assessment. I don’t need to convince them that things are messed up.
But these are people of faith, people who have persevered through many difficulties and trials. Among them are cancer survivors and courageous leaders and young people of conviction and parents raising godly kids. Yet, overall, so many seem so discouraged, with little hope that God will move again in our land. Why?
Many of those listening to me go to healthy churches, and I’m fairly sure their pastors preach uplifting sermons (as opposed to depressing sermons). Yet when I proclaim, “It’s not too late for America!” or, “I didn’t get the memo to throw in the towel!” you can feel fresh hope spread through the room.
What is it that brings such hope? From what listeners and readers tell me, it is when I share quotes from the past, when leaders in America thought it was too late for the church — or the nation. I’m talking about quotes from the 1730s in the days of the colonies. Or quotes from the early 1800s, right after the Revolutionary War. Or quotes from the 1960s, asking if God was dead.
And in each case, an awakening followed — the First Great Awakening and the Second Great Awakening and the Jesus Revolution, respectively.
This brings great encouragement, as God’s people are reminded of two things: 1) We’ve been in very serious condition before; 2) revival impacted many lives dramatically.
But there’s still something that troubles me.
The Hope-Starved Church
There’s an unusual amount of pessimism in the American church today, which is why so many believers are hope-starved. And this is despite the all-too-common, superficial, “happy God, happy gospel, happy life” message we so often hear from our pulpits today. It seems the pep talks aren’t producing the desired results. The discouragement is too thick. Could it be that we have allowed ourselves to be saturated with bad news?
By “bad news” I mean a constant flood of news about all the bad things that are happening in our world, as well as negative perspectives on the world around us via news commentators and social media.
Has God wired us to absorb all this every day — from the latest natural disasters to the latest gory murder (replete with horrific details) to the latest sexual scandal to the latest terrorist attack to the latest political controversy? Are we meant to be inundated with negative opinions and ugly attacks 24 hours a day? Are we meant to be bombarded by tragic stories around the clock?
When I hear bad news, I have an outlet. I can write about it or talk about it a redemptive way. And I can be stirred to action by the latest attack or controversy.
But most of us don’t have those kinds of outlets, and we just absorb the gloom and the doom, getting saturated and soaked in discouragement. Everyone’s problems become our problems, and the non-stop flow of news (and, often, vicious debate about the news) floods our airwaves and inboxes and social media feeds — and our hearts and minds and thoughts.
In contrast, we hear very little good news, very little faith-building news, very little edifying news. And compared to the time we spend taking in worldly news and fleshly opinions, we spend precious little time meditating on the Scriptures and reading (or sharing) encouraging testimonies.
Stay in the Word
Not surprisingly, the friends of mine who tend to be strongest in faith make it their habit to bathe their minds with worship and the Word, and they are far more likely to repeat something positive than something negative. And rather than this making them unfit to deal with real-life problems, it is their strong faith that enables them to overcome.
Perhaps it’s time we take charge of our thought lives, determining to shut the door to the constant flood of negativity and to renew our minds with the living Word of a living God. Perhaps it’s time that we focus more on Jesus than on Washington, more on the promises of God than on political divides, more on the Lord’s power to restore than the devil’s power to destroy, more on what He is doing than what people are doing?
It might just change our lives. Prepare to be encouraged!