What is discouragement? To be discouraged is to be deprived of courage or confidence. Those who are discouraged believe that there is little or no hope regarding a particular subject or endeavor. Typically, the discouragement is limited to that specific matter. However, when discouragement touches many aspects of one's life, depression results.
Let us consider several ways in which people often discourage others (regardless of whether such is intended or not).
1. Insensitivity may result in discouragement. Many criticisms are just down right insensitive; they are not helpful at all. I believe there is a place for constructive criticism as well as light-hearted humor among good friends, but caution must always be exercised in this regard. What is intended as a helpful suggestion or innocent jest is sometimes interpreted as an attack. Christians must do their best to be sensitive to other people (cf. Phil. 2:3,4).
2. Intimidation may result in discouragement. When a person is bullied or browbeaten, he may lose heart and confidence. Intimidation can happen in almost any relationship if the authority figure is not careful (e.g., between a parent and child, husband and wife, employer and employee, teacher and student, etc.). Although there are different roles and positions of authority in life, no one has the right to mistreat those under his authority and care.
3. Domination may result in discouragement. To dominate someone is to protect them and shelter them to an extreme. The unspoken message is that the person is incapable of doing things on his own or even taking care of himself. When this is recognized by the one being dominated, it generally leads to discouragement and feelings of helplessness. The dominating person often believes he is doing what is best for the other individual, even though he is unknowingly hindering that individual's growth and maturity and likely causing discouragement.
4. Negligence may result in discouragement. When a person feels overlooked, it will either dash his spirits or cause him to seek attention in less than desirable ways. Many children feel neglected by worldly-minded parents who do not make time for them, thinking that since their children are able to feed, bathe, and dress themselves that they are fully equipped to handle life with little to no parental guidance or instruction. When one is neglected, he feels empty and lonely; discouragement is bound to set in.
One might be inclined to think that a child of God should never suffer discouragement or depression. In a perfect world with perfectly mature Christians, that would be the case. But, we are lacking in both of those characteristics today. We do live in a difficult world and not a single one of us has perfect maturity. It is a fact that some Christians have weak faith and are lacking in genuine hope. They may have an improper focus, being very much wrapped-up in the world. When significant problems arise for such believers, they may be devastated. Jesus' parable of the sower describes this very thing. Matthew 13:20-22 - "But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful." Ideally, Christians should always see the light at the end of the tunnel. Regardless of what burden they are bearing (e.g., the loss of a job, one's health, one's spouse, a child, one's home, etc.), followers of Christ need to develop a deep-rooted faith--a faith that refuses to be choked out. One of the primary reasons why we need encouragement from fellow Christians is to remind us to refocus and to trust God, especially when we are suffering. Without this building up and giving of support, discouragement would conquer even the strongest children of God.
We will continue our consideration of this important theme in our next lesson.