Updated: Jun 4, 2020
I like words, I find them interesting. Have you thought about the word discouragement? It means to "deprive or cause a loss of courage." It comes from the Old French to dishearten, the French word for heart is le ceour, so to dis-cour-age is to remove the heart for something.
In terms of evangelism I find that people often lack courage to share their faith, they are discouraged. In terms of a strategy of war, if the enemy of God's people can undermine confidence in the good news, that is major victory for the kingdom of darkness. The message is stifled before it is even spoken.
Discouragement is common to all, we all suffer from it. However, as disciples of Jesus we must learn to overcome discouragement, we must find ways to be en-couraged, to rediscover a heart for the good news.
In John 21:1-3, there is a story of the disciples going back to the trade they knew, they were fishermen. When we are discouraged we often think "I will return to something I might actually be good at!"
"Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing."
Peter was discouraged. He had denied Jesus three times. His heart was broken. Discouragement is infectious, Peter took more of the disciples with him (including Thomas the doubter, that must have been a fun fishing trip). Despite being professional fishermen they caught nothing. Can you imagine how that felt? Peter was already discouraged and now he wasn't even good at what he knew best.
What do we do in that situation? There are two choices really, two paths to follow. We either let our discouragement disqualify us, or re-connect with the focus of our good news, the person of Jesus.
Look at what happens in John 21:4-7:
"Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered.
He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water."
Peter is forever the heart man. He jumps into the water. He wants to re-connect with Jesus, he needs some heart surgery. It wasn't about success or productivity, it is about connection. The large catch of fish is a by-product of listening and hearing the words of Jesus. Our priority is to attend to our heart.
A heart focused on Jesus is the antidote to discouragement. An antidote is sometimes called a reversal agent. Jesus is a reversal agent to discouragement.
Yet Jesus does not dismiss their discouragement. He recognises that something needs to shift in order to move from discouragement to encouragement. In John 21:8-9 it says:
"The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread."
Jesus sets up an opportunity for connection, to speak to their heart. It's basically a BBQ. At this point, the disciples are still uncertain it is really Jesus, so he does something familiar with them, and their eyes are opened. If you are discouraged, do something familiar with Jesus. Do something you recognise as a connection point.
Jesus asks Peter three times "do you love me?" It's a heart question. When Peter overcomes his hurt, Jesus tells him "Feed my sheep" which is a metaphor for gathering and caring for the people. The state of our heart releases or hinders us. If our heart is downcast, if we are beating ourself up for failing somehow, or if we are harbouring offence of any kind, it is hard to be a good news person.
That's why discouragement is a tactic of the enemy. We need to be aware of this and at all times carry a heart monitor. This discouragement ploy is often a subtle tactic, one that creeps up on us in a war of attrition. Evangelists can get worn down and worn out. Or if you are trying to share your faith and keep being rejected it is discouraging.
So what do we do?
First of all, be aware of the state of your heart. Are you discouraged? If so, recognise it, ask yourself what is causing this discouragement. Take this discouragement to God. In 1 Samuel 30:6 it says:
"David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. But David found strength in the Lord his God."
It is about connection. Do whatever it takes to re-connect, the by-product is fruitfulness, passion and longevity. I would encourage evangelists to find a like minded group, a posse of evangelists to encourage one another. Perhaps this blog could be a springboard to do such a thing?
Finally recognise that discouragement is part of the process, we need to learn to manage it. It is a faith muscle that grows with pressure and perseverance and if we handle it well it will make us stronger and more determined.
If you are an evangelist, feel free to share your encouraging stories with others.