Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.
Galatians 6:9 NASB95
To lose heart is to feel like you can’t do something you’ve been trying to do.
It makes us want to give up. I think it’s easy for any of us to lose heart, but in my experience, it’s not always easy to see when it’s happening.
When I ran cross country in high school, there was one guy I hated running against: Todd from Monroe High School. He was so good. Halfway through our races, he was always so far ahead of me that I would start searching for reasons to quit. “I think I felt a sore throat before this race, I better take it easy,” I would tell myself. “Cross country is a stupid sport, why am I enduring all this pain anyway? Maybe Todd is a robot and not actually human.”
That is what it feels like to lose heart. My true feelings of frustration and failure were painful, so I shifted my focus to everything else: a sore throat, the sport of cross country, and of course Todd.
Today I am no longer running cross country, but I can still experience that feeling of “I just can’t do what I’m trying to do.” The stress and negativity we’ve all experienced in the last few years is enough to make anyone lose heart; in fact, in a 2022 survey, 27% of US adults said that most days they are so stressed they can’t function. That percentage jumps to 46% for those under the age of 35.
When I feel this way, I often find myself right back where I was in high school—deflecting my emotions onto people, circumstances, or even God. I tell myself that there are some things about following God that are just too hard, and I search for reasons that I can’t or don’t have to do them.
In these moments, it is incredibly important to understand that God is not the source of my discouragement; he is the solution to it. This is a big topic in Deep Spirituality’s new book, He’s Not Who You Think He Is, because discouragement is one of the biggest things that affects our view of God.
“The next time we fail to live up to the rules and feel accused or overwhelmed with guilt, we must remember that God understands. He understands our discouragement and defeat, our regret and loss. He knows our feelings of loneliness and embarrassment and the burning desire to run from responsibility. He understands that we may be feeling completely alone. We should not run from him in fear, but run to him in relief and with a soft heart.”
Russ Ewell, He’s Not Who You Think He Is, (p. 34).
God is always ready to help us when we get discouraged (see Psalm 34:18). In this Bible study on losing heart, we’ll learn to recognize seven common signs of discouragement so that we can run to God in relief and find the comfort and refreshment we need in our relationship with him.
Searching for reasons to quit instead of searching for ways to live like Jesus
And as for [the rest of] you, believers, do not grow tired or lose heart in doing good [but continue doing what is right without weakening].
2 Thessalonians 3:13 AMP
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV
When we lose heart, we lose our motivation to “continue doing what is right.” This leads to quitting—either inwardly or outwardly (or both).
When we quit inwardly, we still go through the motions of religiosity but we take our eyes off of Jesus. We stop trying to live like he did. Quitting outwardly means giving up on doing good. Our outward behavior changes, and we stop doing things we used to do for God and other people.
“Doing good” could mean many things, and one thing Jesus specifically told his followers not to quit on was prayer.
Now Jesus was telling the disciples a parable to make the point that at all times they ought to pray and not give up and lose heart.
Luke 18:1 AMP
Our prayer life is a reflection of our faith, and it’s something we will want to quit on when we get discouraged. We might not quit praying altogether, especially if we have been churchgoers for a long time. I still go through the motions of prayer when I’ve lost heart, but I don’t believe that prayer is the answer.
The same is true in other areas of my faith. I search for reasons to quit on doing good, much like I did when I couldn’t win my cross country races. I tell myself things like,
- “Is it really that important to read the Bible every day?”
- “Maybe we don’t have to follow every part of the Bible.”
- “I’ve sacrificed a lot for God, so now it’s time to do some things I want.”
- “Are close friendships with other Christians really that important?”
- “My life is so difficult, I can’t be expected to reach out and love other people.”
Doing good continually requires faith. We have to believe all these things (and more) help us grow closer to God and make a difference in the world around us, even if we can’t see it right away. If we don’t, we will want to quit on them eventually.
Pause and reflect
- What are some areas of “doing good” that you’ve wanted to give up on? Reflecting on these areas is important because it shows us where we may have lost heart and where we need God’s help to find hope again.
Focusing more on our circumstances than our God-confidence
Sometimes our discouragement is revealed in the way we respond to challenging circumstances.
Say to him, ‘Be careful, stay calm, and don’t be afraid. Don’t lose heart because of the fierce anger of Rezin from Aram and Remaliah’s son. These two are smoldering logs.’
Isaiah 7:4 GWT
When we lose heart, we also lose confidence when our circumstances get difficult or uncertain. We cower in the face of challenges instead of standing up to them.
In this story, two foreign kings had formed an alliance and were marching up to fight against Jerusalem. God’s message to Jerusalem’s king, Ahaz, was to stay calm. The circumstances were certainly scary, but they weren’t too big for God. In God’s sight, these two fierce kings were nothing more than smoldering logs.
Discouragement makes us focus on the things we can see because we find it hard to believe God is working in ways we can’t see. We spend our energy trying to change, fix, or escape challenges instead of fixing our eyes on God and trying to become internally stronger and more confident. As a result, the opposition and battles of life tend to knock us over.
Pause and reflect
- What are some areas in which you feel like God is calling you to stay calm and trust him to work?
Doubting that God has a purpose and vision for us
Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.
2 Corinthians 4:1-2 NIV
God gives us a ministry, and that ministry is key to preventing us from losing heart. This passage is not only for people who work in the ministry as a career;
God has a personal ministry—a purpose, a mission, and a vision—for each of us. He wants us to help other people and be a part of changing lives.
Believing in God’s purpose for our lives keeps us holding on to and speaking the truth of the Bible in an uncompromising way. Losing sight of God’s purpose for us will make us lose heart, leading to discouragement when we go through the trials of life.
There are many reasons we can lose heart in living out our purpose; maybe we feel like we have tried to help others and failed, or we can’t even keep up with our own lives let alone help someone else. Whatever the reason might be, we can beat our discouragement by deciding to believe that God has a unique destiny for our lives. Even our mistakes and spiritual failures can be part of it.
Pause and reflect
- Do you believe God has a “ministry” for you? What do you think it might be?
Distorting the Word of God instead of letting it change us
For our next often-undetected sign of discouragement, let’s go back one more time to 2 Corinthians 4:
… nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.
2 Corinthians 4:1-2 NIV
To “distort” something is to twist it out of its true meaning. When we lose heart, we begin to distort the Word of God. We still read it, but we twist it to support our desires or choices instead of bending our will to submit to God’s Word.
To “distort the Word of God” may sound extreme, especially for those of us who are devoted churchgoers, but it’s actually very easy to do. For example, if I don’t believe I can change something that the Bible tells me to change, I start to morph the Bible to say what I want it to say. I make excuses, find ways to dismiss parts of the passages, and only look at the parts that agree with my opinion and perspective.
Instead of changing the Bible, we can let God change our inner selves. His Word can change any area that feels too difficult for us to change:
Is not My word like fire [that consumes all that cannot endure the test]?” says the LORD, “and like a hammer that breaks the [most stubborn] rock [in pieces]?
Jeremiah 23:29 AMP
Pause and reflect
- Are there any areas of your life in which you feel like you just can’t do what the Bible says?
- How do you think your discouragement about that could lead you to “distort the Word of God”?
Relying on deception instead of transparency
Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception.
2 Corinthians 4:1-2 NIV
For me, using deception means I stop being transparent and honest about what is going on in my heart. Losing heart makes me do this for several reasons:
- I don’t believe certain things in my life can change, so I don’t see any point in talking about them.
- I can’t handle the pain of talking about certain things, so I avoid and ignore them.
- I feel embarrassed about areas of weakness or failure in my life and I fear what others will think of me, so I don’t tell them what’s going on.
This is why my high-school self tried to come up with reasons to justify quitting cross country instead of admitting the truth of how I felt. It seemed much easier to shift the blame to something or someone else than to be honest with myself and others.
Light produces good things in our lives (Ephesians 5:9), and as we open up with God and our trusted friends our faith will grow.
Pause and reflect
- Are there any areas in which your discouragement has led you to rely on deception instead of truth?
Feeling disconnected and alone instead of encouraged and close
Their insults are painful and make me lose heart; I look for sympathy, but receive none, for comforters, but find none.
Psalm 69:20 NET
Losing heart and feeling alone go hand-in-hand. This is what David describes in Psalm 69; in the absence of comfort and sympathy from friends, he was left only with the insults of his enemies, and he was losing heart.
Without the encouragement of our spiritual friends, we’ll get very discouraged when difficulties come our way.
When we arrived in Macedonia, there was no rest for us. We faced conflict from every direction, with battles on the outside and fear on the inside. But God, who encourages those who are discouraged, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus.
2 Corinthians 7:5-6 NLT
God will provide friends to encourage us, just like he did for the apostle Paul in this passage from 2 Corinthians. But we have to accept, welcome, and even invite people into our lives who help our faith. When we are discouraged, sometimes we feel embarrassed about our needs, or we worry we’ll burden other people, or we doubt that anyone would want to talk to us. All of these obstacles will stop us from allowing God to encourage us through our spiritual friends.
Pause and reflect
- How do you tend to handle difficult or discouraging situations? Do you try to figure them out alone, or rely on faithful friends for help, advice, and perspective?
Slipping back into our old ways instead of moving forward
In the same way you received Jesus our Lord and Messiah by faith, continue your journey of faith, progressing further into your union with him! Your spiritual roots go deeply into his life as you are continually infused with strength, encouraged in every way.
Colossians 2:6-7 TPT
Faith is never static; I am either growing in my faith because my relationship with God is getting closer and deeper, or I am regressing to become what I used to be before knowing God.
We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!
Hebrews 5:11-12 NIV
When we lose heart in our spiritual lives, we tend to regress to who we were before God influenced us and changed us.
I grew up going to church every week, and I was accustomed to myself and others saying one thing about God and then living very differently. I had a comfortability with hypocrisy, pretense, and superficiality. As I learned to build my own relationship with God, I changed a lot of those mindsets and learned to embrace authenticity and depth. But when I lose heart, I regress to becoming very religious and heartless again.
Whether or not you grew up going to church, we all have parts of ourselves that we regress into when we’ve settled into discouragement. We look backwards and slip into our old patterns of handling the stress of life.
Regressions can be religious like mine, or they can be what the Bible calls “worldly”—craving pleasure, status, possessions, or any number of physical things instead of God.
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.
Galatians 1:6-7 NIV
In the book of Galatians, Paul addresses people who had abandoned the grace of Christ to follow a “different gospel”—their old religious ways. We can do the same, and we can recognize this regression by some clear behavior:
- Pretending/Hypocrisy: We desert the “grace of Christ” so we have a hard time being honest about our sins. We rely on pretending to be someone we’re not and looking good on the outside instead of being honest and relying on forgiveness (Matthew 23:25-28).
- Status seeking/power grabbing: We don’t live by Jesus’s teachings of self-sacrifice, service, and humility. Instead, we live by a different gospel of attention, power, and success (Matthew 23:5-12).
- Self-righteousness: We puff up our egos with good deeds and look down on others who don’t do things the same way we do. We have difficulty identifying our flaws but can clearly see the flaws of others (Luke 18:9-14).
Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father…The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting…
1 John 2:15-17 MSG
- Wanting, wanting, wanting: Those who don’t have as much of a religious background will probably become more worldly when they are regressing in their faith. When we’re becoming more worldly, we tend to want more of the world’s ways and the world’s goods. We make decisions driven by our cravings for more money, more pleasure, more comfort, and more success.
Progressing means letting everything we go through help us get to know God better. Instead of reverting back to our old ways of handling life, we learn from our trials and grow in our maturity and character (James 1:2-4). We look to the future instead of getting stuck in the past. We embrace each new stage of our journey with humility, ready to grow and learn more.
Pause and reflect
- Is your faith currently progressing or regressing?
- Do you relate more to religious regression or worldly regression?
How to defeat discouragement, according to the Bible
Okay, now that we’ve thoroughly identified discouragement in our life, let’s look at four simple things we can do so that we don’t lose heart.
Read to renew our strength
We can avoid losing our heart (or get it back if we’ve lost it) and build our spiritual confidence by developing a relationship with God that renews us from the inside out.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NIV
It is easy for me to blame external factors or other people in my life instead of seeing that my discouragement is an internal issue that can only be addressed by changing my relationship with God. I can blame my “light and momentary troubles” for why I am losing heart, but God says that just the opposite is true. He allows these difficulties because it is through them that we develop a faith that helps us to become exactly who God wants us to be.
Reading the Bible renews our internal strength, no matter what we are going through. Filling our minds with God’s Word helps us think spiritually about our troubles. It focuses our eyes on God instead of ourselves or our circumstances.
As we read the Bible, we can learn to handle opposition and difficulty the way Jesus did—by looking forward faithfully—instead of growing weary and losing heart.
Pray to see what God is doing
From the ends of the earth, I call to you when I begin to lose heart. Lead me to the rock that is high above me.
Psalm 61:2 GW
Prayer is one of the best places to start when we’re trying to defeat discouragement. God is a safe place and he is powerful; we can ask him to show us what he is doing in our lives, which is usually beyond what we can see or imagine.
When we’re honest, the very discouragement that weighs us down can bring us closer to God and friends.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.
Psalm 34:18 NLT
The feeling of brokenheartedness is a lonely one, but it doesn’t have to be. The moment we are honest and vulnerable with what’s on our hearts is the very moment we can feel closest and draw comfort from God. His strength can renew us in ways that are not physically possible.
Reach out to connect
Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, But a good (encouraging) word makes it glad.
Proverbs 12:25 AMP
Encouragement keeps us going in hard times and makes our burdens lighter. If we try to handle the difficulties of life on our own, we will probably lose heart. We all need encouragement to keep going when things get hard, and God often gives that to us through our faithful friends who build us up with Scriptures and prayer.
Therefore encourage and comfort one another and build up one another, just as you are doing.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 AMP
Connection with spiritual friends and a spiritual community is incredibly helpful when we have lost heart. Our friends can build us up, give us perspective, share helpful passages of the Bible, and pray for us. They can give us courage to take on areas we might be afraid of.
The choice we have to make is to reach out instead of isolating so that we can grow together with other people through our challenges.
Live to inspire others
From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent [change your inner self-your old way of thinking, regret past sins, live your life in a way that proves repentance; seek God’s purpose for your life], for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Matthew 4:17 AMP
Repentance is the process of turning away from our sins and turning to God instead. Despite what we might think, repentance is actually a very refreshing and forward-looking process. I often only think of the “regret past sins” part of how this passage describes repentance and change. However, “seek God’s purpose for your life” is also a pivotal part of repentance. In order to get my passion back, I have to set my heart on understanding how to live God’s purpose for my life now.
God’s purpose is always for us to love and lead people to get to know him. That is what changes people’s lives and changes the world. Instead of losing heart as we go through life, God wants us to seek his purpose wherever we are and in whatever we are doing. Passion comes from never losing the belief that we matter and God has us here for a specific purpose to change people’s lives.
God is good (James 1:16-17); he is not the source of bad things in our lives, but he will work through them for a good purpose (Romans 8:28). One way he does this is bringing us alongside someone else in need of hope, knowing that the experience of sharing comfort with someone will help us as much as it helps them.
When we live our lives to inspire others, we can approach our challenges without losing heart because we know good will come from them.
Pause and reflect
- Which of these four actions would be most helpful for you in defeating your discouragement this week?
It is perhaps easier than ever before to lose heart. We need to check ourselves and see if we have any of the signs that we have quit internally on God, the Bible, and our convictions. However, as he always does, God gives us a way to renew and get our passion back. Rather than our difficulties making us weaker, they can make us stronger if we find our way back to God:
It won’t be long now, he’s on the way; he’ll show up most any minute. But anyone who is right with me thrives on loyal trust; if he cuts and runs, I won’t be very happy. But we’re not quitters who lose out. Oh, no! We’ll stay with it and survive, trusting all the way.
Hebrews 10:32 MSG