The holiday season has always been one of the highlights of the year for me. As the chill of winter approaches, I look forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas—occasions to celebrate the blessings God has given, especially the birth of our Savior. But through my life and years of ministry, I’ve seen how these holidays can also be difficult—how despair often lurks close by, following us from errand to errand and event to event—threatening to weigh down our journey to the manger of Christ’s birth.
The sad reality is that our lives don’t always look like a picture-perfect Christmas card. Loss, loneliness, health concerns, relational conflicts, financial and other problems know no season. And sometimes they come when the rest of the world is celebrating. The stark contrast can leave us feeling even more defeated and discouraged.
Where can we go for help when life looks hopeless?
When we see no way out of despair or trouble of some kind, most of us want the company of someone who’s gone through a similar situation and understands our struggle. Perhaps that’s why we so readily identify with biblical characters like David or the apostle Paul, who experienced the discouragement of afflictions.
In 2 Corinthians 1:8, Paul writes of one of the most difficult times in his life, “We were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life.” This crushing experience was so overwhelming that he saw no way out and felt his life was soon to end: “Indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves” (2 Corinthians 1:9).
Whether you feel slowly pressed into hopelessness by the accumulation of many everyday stresses or life has been upended by one overwhelmingly difficult and painful situation, what you need is encouragement. The Greek word translated as “comfort” or “encouragement” is paraklésis, which means “a calling to one’s aid.” And isn’t that what we need when we’re overwhelmed—someone who will stay with us, walk beside us through the dark valley and somehow lift us up when we grow weak?
The triune God is our source of encouragement.
When Paul was at his lowest point, “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” came alongside to encourage him in the midst of his affliction (2 Corinthians 1:3). Do you see the Lord as an encourager, or does He seem more like a condemning judge to you? Sometimes we develop a lopsided perspective of God, which doesn’t include encouragement as one of His attributes.
Sometimes we develop a lopsided perspective of God, which doesn’t include encouragement as one of His attributes.
God’s comforting nature is displayed by all three members of the Trinity, not simply by the Father of mercies. Paul said, “Just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:5). And in John 14:16, Jesus described the indwelling Holy Spirit as “another Helper,” which in the Greek language means a comforter or encourager of the same kind—in other words, equal to Jesus Himself.
All members of the Trinity are coequal with one another, and the entire Godhead is at work lifting us up, giving comfort and support in adversity. Upon salvation, we aren’t expected to fend for ourselves. God tenderly cares for us as His children, and He’s promised never to leave or forsake us. Even when we feel as if we’re all alone in our struggles, God is there, carrying us through when we have no more strength to continue.
If we never had troubles, we’d never know this comforting aspect of God or depend upon Him as we should. In fact, He sometimes allows us to go through suffering and hardships that are beyond our ability to bear “so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God” (2 Corinthians 1:9). He sovereignly rules over every situation we face, setting limitations on the intensity and determining the depth, length, and darkness of the valley we walk—all with the purpose of bringing us through, looking more like His beloved Son and having a closer relationship with Him.
How does God encourage us?
With so many assurances of His comfort, why are there times when we can’t sense it? We’re struggling and sinking, and feel as if He’s left us on our own. Perhaps the problem is that we have not availed ourselves of His means of encouragement.
Prayer. Our first response to pain or trouble should be to go to the Lord in prayer, pouring out all of our questions and concerns to Him, our loving Father. God is always with us, wherever we go and whatever we’re doing. Our circumstances might make us feel otherwise, but if we find a moment to commune with God, we can be filled with His light, wisdom, love, and peace.
The Scriptures. Secondly, in times of pain or trouble we can prayerfully go to God’s Word, asking the Holy Spirit to help us read and understand what’s in it. This is one of the primary ways that the Lord speaks to us and restores our hope. Psalm 119:49-50 says, “Remember the word to Your servant, in which You have made me hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, that Your word has revived me.”
If you don’t know where to begin, go to the book of Psalms. There you will find David calling out to God in despair while at the same time drawing near to Him for comfort. We can also derive encouragement from biblical accounts of people like Paul who have gone through suffering while trusting in the Lord.
As the Holy Spirit implants God’s Word into our heart and mind, our perspective will change. We will realize the truth of Paul’s words—that compared to the eternal weight of glory awaiting us, our trials on earth are but momentary (2 Corinthians 4:17). Our circumstances may not change, but our attitude will. Instead of focusing on our difficulties and pain, our eyes will be fixed on the Lord and His Word, and our trust in Him will grow.
The church. God’s encouragement is also given to us through fellow believers. Christians are not supposed to live in isolation but as a community of believers who love and care for each other. When one person is struggling, the others come alongside to help. And as each of us draws near to God and receives His comfort, we are then enabled to encourage others with the same comfort we received (2 Corinthians 1:4).
He sovereignly rules over every situation we face, setting limitations on the intensity and determining the depth, length, and darkness of the valley we walk.
How we respond to discouragement is crucial.
One of Satan’s choice tactics is discouragement. If he can bring us to despair, our spiritual growth will be limited, our fruitfulness hampered, and our worship hindered. We’ll often begin to think that God has abandoned us or is angry, yet this is when we should remember that He’s the one who can bring hope and encouragement in our time of need.
So often we want God to do our bidding and rescue us immediately, but what He’s offering us is so much greater.
When the bottom drops out of your life and you are filled with anxiety, fear, or sorrow, are you going to withdraw into a shell of pain? Will you get angry or throw a pity party? None of these responses will bring relief, and they may actually lead to further suffering.
Perhaps you’ve called out to the Lord for help but have been disappointed that He didn’t change your situation. So often we want God to do our bidding and rescue us immediately, but what He’s offering us is so much greater—the comfort that comes from knowing Him. In those quiet moments alone with the Lord, He offers us strength and encouragement to persevere and grace to trust and delight in Him alone. There is nothing in the world to match the intimacy we find in His presence during times of need. I pray you’ll live confidently and love boldly—and that as you draw near to God and His people, you discover the grace of being fully His.