Discouragement. We’ve all felt it. You poured yourself into a teaching or curriculum and it was met with criticism by your audience or even your elder team. Maybe you spent hours preparing for a counseling session with someone you’ve been working with for months and they call you up to say they’re turning to a group of like-minded friends for support instead. Or maybe it is the steady stream of congregants who leave because they feel disconnected in a time when gathering is difficult.
Discouragement is not unique to ministry–it happens in relationships, parenting, work, even at the grocery store. Sometimes, there are seasons where discouragement is all we experience.
Discouragement Can Open a Door to Sin
As believers, one thing we are cautioned against is how easily discouragement can lead to sin (Genesis 4:5-7). In our discouragement we may wallow in it to the point of giving up or seek distractions in an effort to cheer ourselves up. Sometimes, we avoid the feeling altogether and just keep plugging along as if whatever caused the discouragement never happened. There are some, who lash out. Whose discouragement leads to anger, which leads to rage, which manifests in language like, “They just don’t get it. Who needs them?”
All of these responses are sin. And it is this that God cautions Cain against in Genesis 4:5-7. Cain’s offering was just rejected by God and Cain is “very angry”. God says to him in verses 6 and 7, “Why are you angry and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must overrule it” (ESV).
We have the benefit of knowing exactly how sin overtook Cain. It is unlikely any of us will go to that extreme, but when discouragement sinfully leads to self-righteous anger toward others for “not getting it”, aren’t we doing the same in our hearts?
How can we learn to deal with discouragement appropriately? What practical steps can we take to guard our hearts against a sinful outcome in it?
Wallow–a Little Bit
Avoiding the feeling of discouragement doesn’t make it go away. It just stuffs it to the side until the next time you’re feeling discouraged and so on until you’re forced to face one enormous pile of discouragement all at once. You must actually touch it, examine it, pull it apart and seek out why you’re feeling discouraged in the moment.
Did I Fail to Do Well?
Part of that examination is to ask yourself if you failed to do well. Jesus paid the price in full so this isn’t about earning anything. But sometimes, we get the work God asked us to do wrong. Or sometimes people transgress against us. Whatever the scenario, we must objectively seek out any way our hearts were misaligned to the Lord’s or our expectations were misplaced before we assume it was “the other guy”.
To be truly objective we must ask this question, not just of ourselves, but trusted friends in the Lord and the Lord, himself, “God, where did I fail to do well?”
I Failed, Now What?
If you are in sin, repent. Step down or away from a role if your failure is a moral one. If you made a mistake, apologize if the situation warrants it. Either way, give yourself grace as Holy Spirit sanctifies you in the learning process.
I Did Well, Now What?
If you were sinned against, humbly go to the offending party and talk to them. If something beyond your control uprooted your plans, trust God with the outcome. How is he growing you in what happened?
Guard Your Heart
Part of learning from your mistakes and the mistakes of others is preparing for next time. There will be times in the future when you will be discouraged again. Were your expectations in the wrong place? How can you manage them better? Did you uncover that you’ve taken on too much responsibility to the detriment of your ability to do anything well? It’s time to reevaluate commitments, delegate where you can, or just let some things go.
Spend more time in God’s word and in your identity in Christ. Reinvest time keeping your heart in check by reminding yourself of how big God is in comparison to you. Learn from your mistakes, but also from Cain’s. We can infer from God’s character and the language in this passage that God was prepared to forgive Cain. He gave Cain a way out and away from sin, but Cain did not take it. Like 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not allow you to be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may endure it.”
By God’s grace, let us do more than endure the temptation to sin in discouragement. Do as the NASB translation of Genesis 4:7 commands and “master” it.