I asked Lisa, a graduate of our local Christian counseling program, what was the most important thing she learned in three years. She didn't miss a beat: "The heart is active, not passive." That changes everything.
I was accustomed to thinking of discouragement as something that happens to a person. But on closer examination of discouragement in my existential experience, I have been taken aback by how -volitional or "active" it is. To go around saying, "I am -discouraged," as if it's a saddle someone strapped to your back while you kicked and screamed against it, is akin to Aaron's version of how he made the golden calf: "So they gave me [the gold], and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf" (Exodus 32:24). Um, no.
I have noticed that I actually choose discouragement. Sounds nuts, but a quiet little heart transaction takes place at some point (typically, in my case, very early in the game) in which I say to myself, "I don't want to fight this thing. I'm going to just give in to it."
Sometimes I give in to the discouragement because I have been round this block so often that God can't possibly forgive and reinstate me again-at least not until I show Him a good two weeks of being -properly miserable. If this is your problem too, I have a verse for us: "'Yet even now,' declares the Lord, 'return to Me with all your heart'" (Joel 2:12). I often rest my whole life on that "yet even now."
To be tempted is to enter a cave. It's a deep cave but most of us never find that out. We bail almost at the entrance, and few ever see the dark parts of the interior, nor feel the full force of the darkness. Jesus ventured in all the way, and wrestled Minotaur and Cyclops. Don't ever say it wasn't fair that Jesus had a leg up on us in temptation because He didn't have a sin nature.
"Fight the good fight of the faith" (1 Timothy 6:12) has always struck me as a good slogan or political rallying song. I had no idea what it meant. Now I see that it has nothing external about it at all. You will never see someone "fight the good fight of the faith." It all happened when you weren't there, alone on a long country walk, just between him and the Lord. That's where the blood and sweat and the dying occurred. By the time you spotted the fellow out in public-in the visible battlefield, or at a PTO meeting, or pushing away some lucrative job offer, or not leaving his wife-the heavy lifting was already done. One often detects a certain peace in the presence of such people.
Some have observed that in the few days before a -person's suicide, he seemed serene and almost cheerful. That's because his mind was made up. He was stressed the week earlier, at the time that he was still wrestling with the decision, but now he is resolved and the internal -wrangling is over.
All of which instructs me that everything that matters is internal-and so we come full circle to all those biblical teachings about the heart that we passed over as if too obvious. There are no larger battles than the private internal ones. I am almost ready to say there are no other battles at all.
And the corollary is that there is no Christian life except the moment-by-moment kind-more pointedly, the moment-by-moment choice to believe God. The Christian life is not lived on the level of doctrine, or our various observances, or our political action, though these are all required. And what that moment-by-moment faith in God looks like is a brawl. If there is no constant battle, there is -probably no authentic life. The battle can be joyful, but it is a battle. And it comes with a promise:
"Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him" (James 1:12).