One of the dangers of discouragement is that it might lead to a feeling of futility. If you feel an effort you make to change is futile, you might give up too soon, before experiencing the change that the Lord is leading you toward.
Imagine a couple going on a walk in the wilderness on a wintery afternoon. When they start out, it’s beautifully sunny. There’s a fresh blanket of snow on the ground from the night before. They are warmly dressed and enjoying each other’s company. As they walk and talk and enjoy the sunset, they realize that clouds are rolling in. They start back, but it gets dark quickly, the wind picks up, and they find themselves in a blizzard. Doing the best they can with what little bearings they have, they trudge ahead. Suddenly they realize that despite their efforts, they have not made any progress. They thought they were going in a straight line, but in reality they were going in a circle. Lost, tired, and discouraged, they huddle together and pray. Their simple answer to prayer surprised them: “Keep moving.” If they had simply stayed put, they would have died in the cold. By trying again, they not only stayed warm, but they adjusted their direction and made it to safety.
In the early history of the Bible, Moses was called to lead his people out of slavery in Egypt. After being prompted by a series of devastating plagues, the Pharaoh finally consented to let the people go into the wilderness for what he thought would be a 3-day activity of worship. When Moses got everyone on their way, they came to an obstacle they hadn’t expected, a body of water they couldn’t cross and Pharaoh’s angry army approaching them from behind. They were stuck. Not knowing what to do, Moses stopped and prayed. The surprisingly simple answer to his prayer was “Go forward.” As long as Moses and the people stood waiting for something dramatic to happen, nothing happened. Once they began moving ahead, in spite of the obstacle, a way forward appeared and enabled them to continue to freedom.
Seasoned desert hikers, especially in the heat, know to carry plenty of water and to ration it out during the trek. If you run out of water, you face serious danger. Sometimes it is important to stop, find shelter, pray, and wait for help. Other times, such prayer is not enough. You have to move forward and make it to safety. This task is about persistence.
Winston Churchill is known for an encouraging message during a graduation speech. The story goes that when he rose to speak he simply said with confidence and boldness, “Never give up.” Then he sat down. The person who introduced him was shocked at such brevity, so he went back to the microphone and encouraged Mr. Churchill to come back up and share a bit more of his wisdom and experience. So he did, and this is what he said, “Never, ever give up” and then he sat down again. Memorable words! It was his way of emphasizing the attitude that helped the Allies win the war.
There are certainly many things that are not worthwhile continuing to pursue at all, and we ought to simply give them up: Insignificant goals that once held our interest but no longer matter. Habits that are unhealthy, attitudes that lead to harming others or to self-harm.
Other things are so important that they are worth striving for no matter what, such as practices that promote spiritual health and growth. Yet, we often resist prioritizing these and moving forward into spiritual safety and freedom. This week, take the opportunity to explore your resistance and your attitude of giving up. Pray to the Lord for guidance, and then do whatever will help you move ahead.
Additional quotations for reflection:
And the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry to Me? Tell the Children of Israel to go forward.” Exodus 14:15
When Jesus had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” Luke 5:4-8
When Jesus saw a certain man lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. John 5:6-9
“Go wash in the pool of Siloam.” So he went and washed and came back seeing. John 9:7
Be faithful until death and I will give you the crown of life. Revelation 2:10
People who are being tested often slacken their hands, resorting exclusively to prayers, which they pour forth ardently. They do not realize that prayer does no good then and that they need instead to fight the falsity and evil the hells inject. The weapons for the battle are religious truths. Truth does help, because it strengthens goodness and truth in its opposition to falsity and evil. What is more, we must fight as if on our own during our struggles and trials, while still acknowledging and believing that it is the Lord who acts…
Besides, people who engage in no other definite activity than prayer when they are being tried do not know that they would not be ready for heaven—and consequently could not be saved—if their crisis were interrupted before being brought all the way to its conclusion. This is another reason the prayers of people under trial are not much listened to. The Lord seeks the final goal, which is our salvation. He alone knows what the end is; we do not; and he does not act on prayers rebelling against the salvation he has in view…
When prayer has a divine origin, it always contains the thought and belief that the Lord alone knows whether the object of the prayer is useful or not. The person praying therefore submits the hearing of the prayer to the Lord and immediately adds the plea, “Lord, let your will be done, not mine,” in keeping with the Lord’s words during his heaviest trial, in Gethsemane. Secrets of Heaven 8179 – Swedenborg