It’s easy to become discouraged when trying to live our life in a way that is at odds with the mainstream ideals of the world. Quite simply, a Christian life in this age could be a hard one. When we choose to apply godly virtue and obedience in our thoughts and actions, we choose to elevate our standards for the sake of pleasing God, not man. Often, taking this course of action will be opposed to social norms and expectations of our peers, and on occasion, it could even be in conflict with the laws of the land. There is no shortage of pressure to conform to the ways of the world, and compromise our Christian convictions. As the Bible forebodes, “… Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:14).
Even though it might be “a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (compare Hebrews 10:31) and while it is an ongoing challenge to commit our lives to righteousness, we must realize that we will be successful if we don’t give up. The Gospel of the Kingdom of God explains that it is God’s great pleasure to give us eternal life. From the beginning, God’s plan involved challenging mankind to overcome our carnal nature, and not succumb to sin. Certainly, this way of life is at times a hard one, but it is not impossible to pursue it.
God knows that everyone He calls will struggle to succeed, and for this reason He offers tremendous support. To begin with, the Holy Spirit of God the Father and of Jesus Christ dwells within everyone who has been properly baptized, strengthening righteous convictions and granting godly understanding. This gift provides a necessary means of overcoming sin. But the support provided by the Holy Spirit alone is not enough. We must apply our own effort to repent of our sins, and conform our behavior to righteousness. To face this challenge can be intimidating, and even induce fear of failure.
Something that should give us comfort when we face fear and discouragement in living a Christian life is that we’re not alone. Countless people have faced the same challenges and emerged successfully. I believe that it is safe to say that all of them needed encouragement.
When Joshua was leading the nation of Israel into the Promised Land, God recognized that he needed encouragement. As the story begins, he is encouraged repeatedly, but the best summary can be found in Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” God was aware of the great challenge that Joshua faced and anticipated that he might react fearfully. Bringing hundreds of thousands of people into a land filled with foreigners must have been a daunting responsibility. But Joshua followed God’s instructions, providing us with a tremendous example of faith. Joshua overcame any fear in large part because he was encouraged by the promises made by God.
In the letters that Paul wrote, there is a strong theme of encouragement in most of them. Many of the people in the young church congregations had their own unique struggles. In some cases, Paul had to admonish and correct their behavior, but even so, it was for the purpose of encouraging them to get on the right track and overcome sin. Paul recognized that it was important to encourage those who were struggling so that people did not become disheartened by the difficulty of living a Christian life and give up.
In his letter to Timothy, Paul offers some very personal encouragement. He writes, “Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:6-7). Timothy is reminded by Paul about his commission, and that he has nothing to be afraid of when facing the challenges faced in fulfilling his ministry. Even though these reminders were sent to Timothy intending to give him some individual encouragement nearly 2,000 years ago, we too should be encouraged by these same words. When we have the Holy Spirit, we can stir it up and put it to work, overcoming sin, and replacing it with godly love. This is God’s purpose for us (compare 2 Timothy 1:9).
Certainly, we can find encouragement through the knowledge of God’s purpose for us and through the words of the Bible, but encouragement must not end once we receive it. On the contrary, we have a responsibility to perpetuate it. “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25). As Christian brethren, we must remember to offer strength to others. Even when we might feel weak ourselves, an encouraging reassurance offered to someone else can be extremely helpful. As much as we might need encouragement ourselves, we need to offer encouragement to others as well.
There is no question that we can find many reasons to be discouraged in our Christian walk, if that’s where we focus our attention. However, these are poisonous distractions. Rather than focusing on the “reasons” why we might fail, we must remember to nurture our sources of positive encouragement that lead us to success. We find strength from our brethren, from the words of the Bible, and above all, from God’s faith in us.