Although the occasions can be many, there are two basic reasons for discouragement—internal and external. The internal occurs when for some reason we have given way to sin, and the external occurs when we are buffeted by circumstances, as Job was, but without sin. And, of course, it is possible to get discouraged in both ways. How are we to understand this? How are we to respond to it?
“Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God” (Ps. 42:11).
Summary of the Text
We have dealt with this psalm in detail before, and so here we will just consider the implications of this one verse. First, the psalmist presupposes that the condition of peace is normal. He is cast down and disquieted, and he wants to know the reason why. This disturbance of his soul is the thing that requires explanation. “Why are you cast down?” he asks himself (v. 11). Second, the psalmist remonstrates with himself. He talks to himself, which is a good alternative to listening to himself. He preaches to himself, and it is a convicting sermon. Third, he comes to a pointed exhortation, commanding himself to hope in God. Not only this, but he anticipates that he will in fact obey the command, for he will in the future praise God.
When we speak peace to our hearts, we can do it in accordance with the Scriptures, or we can do it in accordance with our own pipe dreams. For example, someone who has become and idolater by turning away from the Lord can speak peace to his own heart, in his own name and on his own authority. “And it come to pass, when he heareth the words of this curse, that he bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart, to add drunkenness to thirst” (Dt. 29:19). What I am declaring here are the words of the gospel, and the gospel does not sew cushions for sin.
Remember that your salvation has occurred because God has included you in His triune life. The gospel is triune, just like the God who established the gospel. And this is why peace for your distress is triune peace. What do I mean? God the Father has declared that the comfort of peace is to be announced to us (Is. 40:1-2). Christ has become our peace by His own blood (Eph. 2:13-14). And why would the Father not give to us what Christ has purchased for us? And the Spirit of the Lord came upon Christ so that He might comfort those who mourn, that He might bind up the brokenhearted (Luke 4:18). Because Christ died, the executor of His testament is the Holy Spirit. Remember then, when you are struggling with discouragement, that Father, Son, and Spirit, are all engaged on your behalf.
Discouragement in Sin
One reason why Christians are discouraged in their attempts to live the Christian life is that they are attempting to run the race with cords around their feet, and a 150 pound backpack on (Heb. 12:1). And so the way out of discouragement in sin is repentance. Discouragement in such cases is disciplinary, and God’s hand is heavy upon you for a reason. Make sure to repent the sin all the way down to its foundations, and secondly, make sure to repent of the right sin. Don’t go snipe hunting in your conscience.
Discouragement in Afflication
But don’t make the mistake of thinking that hard circumstances mean that you must have sinned. This was the error of Job’s failed comforters (Job 2:11), and it was the error of the disciples concerning the man born blind (John 9:2-3). But at the least, every trial contains a temptation to murmur, an invitation to think that the God of universe has bungled matters when it comes to your case. But God does all things perfectly well (Rom. 8:28).
When Christians sin, or when they struggle with affliction, there is an accuser of the brethren in heaven who accuses them there. But, thanks to God, we have an Advocate there on our behalf. Christ is our attorney, defending us before the Father (1 Jn. 1:1-2). But the devil does not just accuse you in the heavenly courts—he also accuses you to you. What kind of Christian do you think you are? We have an Advocate on earth, as well as in heaven (John 14:16). The same word describes the office of the Son and the Spirit. Whether you stand accused in heaven or on earth, you have a court-assigned defender. And neither the Son nor the Spirit have ever lost a case. “How could they get me off ?’ you might wonder. “I’m guilty.” They successfully defend sinners like you and me because they never, ever argue from your virtues or mine. Their case presupposes our guilt. They always plead the blood of Christ, shed on earth, and then they plead the blood of Christ, sprinkled on the altar of heaven.
Pictures of Your Peace
The Puritan William Bridge pictured it this way. First, distinguish the money in your bank account, and the money in your wallet. There is your basic, foundational wealth, and there is the money you have on you. If you are mugged, then the thieves can only take what you have on your person. They cannot get at your bank account, which is not on you. In the same way, a hard day can only disturb that day’s peace. You have a fundamental peace that a rainy day cannot touch (Rom. 5:1). Second, distinguish peace in the seed and peace in the flower. Often peace in the seed looks like trouble. When you were converted, you were now troubled over things that never bothered you before. Don’t be troubled over that kind of trouble. And third, distinguish peace from a distance, where you can only see the dancing, and everybody looks crazy, and peace up close, when you can hear the music.
The peace of God is a guardian, a fence, but it does not encircle your vices and sins. Rather, your hearts and minds are protected by the peace of God, which passes all understanding (Phil. 4:7).