I recently had a conversation online with a Christian leader who was complaining about the COVID-19 situation and lockdown. Within his complaint, I saw several potential areas that he and his local church could leverage for outreach, and tried to encourage him towards becoming excited by the way our powerful God isn’t limited by social distancing. With every suggestion, he found another excuse, and eventually he stopped responding.
This interaction spurred Peter and me to carefully examine our own lives. How might we also be engaging in complaint, and draining away our own gratitude and excitement for what God is doing in this situation? How might we be missing out on opportunities for outreach because we are distracted by our own discouragement?
We came away with a few important ideas that I thought I would share with you today.
1. As hard as this time is, we need to adopt a mentality of gratitude. We cannot afford to let our lives be dominated by a spirit of complaint.
If we allow ourselves to only focus on the negatives in this season, this can cause us to miss the myriad positive possibilities. This is what the people of Israel did when they wandered the desert. They allowed their spirit of complaint to lead them away from following God.
As many of you know, I was a shut-in with a back injury for a couple of years. The question I had to ask myself then, and that I am asking again now, is: do I want to be someone who learns everything she possibly can from this situation? Or, will I allow that same spirit of complaint to blind me to the wondrous things that God is doing now?
Song suggestion: Give Thanks
2. Discouragement is a temptation. If we completely give ourselves over to it, we stop walking by faith.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we should deny or ignore our feelings of discouragement. Those feelings will keep ticking away, like a time bomb, and lead us into crisis if we don’t deal with them.
That being said, we can choose to bring our discouragement to Jesus and leave it in His hands. We may need to enlist the help of a few trusted friends to encourage and pray for us. We may shout at the ceiling, shed many tears, and pour our hearts out to those selected friends. But even when we're at our most helpless, we still have a choice in how to respond.
Nowhere in the Bible does it say, “Complain always, and again I say complain.” We are commanded to rejoice, to give thanks, and to bring our requests and petitions to the Lord. These things are the outworking of our faith in God.
Over the course of COVID-19, the percentage of Canadians who self-identify as mentally healthy has dropped from 68% to 55% . Discouragement can be contagious. Consider carefully your message on social media. Is this really the place to showcase every aspect of the ongoing struggle? Do we want to be known as spreaders of discouragement; or as spreaders of joy, gratitude, and faith?
Personally, I want to be someone who comes alongside the discouraged in empathy and compassion; someone who gropes with them for the hand of Jesus, so that we can both raise our eyes to Him and allow His Living Water to refresh and restore us.
I want to be someone who challenges others to peek into the reality we cannot physically see, and recognize what a great God we serve: a God who is not limited by time or space. A God who is still at work in this situation, and who delights to use His children in powerful ways for His kingdom and His glory.
3. Joy is a choice. It is possible when we fix our eyes on Jesus, and not on our problems.
Rather than focussing on problems that are larger than ourselves, it possible to focus our gaze on the God who is larger than everything. When He fills our view, our problems somehow seem so much smaller simply because they are small compared to Him.
In the midst of coronavirus, we can spur others on in their faith. We can “walk by faith not by sight”, and choose to live in victory. This is not a false victory or a flimsy mental construct. Our victory was purchased for us two thousand years ago with Jesus’ blood. The knowledge that He has already conquered the things that conquer us allows us to be bold and courageous as we step forth in obedience to His call and commands.
Song suggestion: Praise You in This Storm
4. When we allow the things that discourage us to become too big, our concept of God shrinks.
When this happens, our mental image of God no longer matches reality. Our minds replace the all-powerful Creator of the universe with an impotent being who is no God at all. Life becomes drudgery, void of victory and joy. We shuffle along, with barely the energy to raise our feet from the ground.
But, this is a recoverable mistake.
I recovered from it myself once more just recently.
We need only lift our eyes to heaven and see the glory of the majesty of the One enthroned there. Read the Psalms. Read old journal entries from years ago in happier times. Remember the lessons you learned then. Remember that the God you knew then has not changed. Choose joy. Choose to proclaim, “I don’t see it, but I know that You are working. I choose to trust You.”
5. If I allow myself to develop a complaining spirit, I will be blinded to the wondrous things that God is doing right now.
The Israelites encountered this problem. God did miraculous things for them in the wilderness, but rather than marvel at His provision and care, they flitted from complaint to complaint.
“Instead of allowing God to transform them into a people who honoured Him, the Israelites allowed themselves to be led by fear. So, they were thrown out at Canaan’s door and didn’t experience the sweetness of trusting God.” 
How careful we need to be to not allow a spirit of impatience to dominate our own mentality. We don’t want to be consigned to forty years of wandering in a metaphorical desert because we refuse to learn in the time He has set aside for us now.
Song suggestion: No Stone
I especially love one line from this next song suggestion: "The power that was in the tomb is present now here in this room." Praise God that this is as true today as it was yesterday and as it will be tomorrow!
6. Where am I making excuses in my own life? Where am I allowing the things that physically restrict me to also restrict my imagination for how the current situation can be used for God’s kingdom and glory?
Energy is a limited commodity. We only have so much of it to spare. If we are dieting, we may not have the energy and self-control to train for a massive marathon. If we have a major project at work which requires us to work 90-hour weeks, we may not have the energy to engage in our hobbies.
When we focus on discouragement, and don’t fight back, we lose the energy we might have poured into creativity and imagination.
- What would happen if we took hold of every discouraged thought, turned it around in our minds, and carefully examined how the circumstances that discourage us might be used productively for God‘s kingdom?
- What would happen if each of us spend a little bit of time dreaming about creating something new to reach previously-unreached people with the good news about Jesus?
- What would happen if we did not allow ourselves to wallow or make excuses, but instead decided to spend a certain amount of time each day in expanding God’s kingdom in some way, no matter how small?
7. Where am I, as a leader, leading people into ungodly attitudes?
If I am a leader in my local church, then the bar is higher for me. The Bible says that at the end of time leaders will be judged more harshly than others for their actions and attitudes.  We have been given a special charge, and we will be held accountable for how we use it.
For years, we have taught from the pulpit the concept that “church is not a building; church is the people.”
Now, we have been taken out of our buildings. How interesting it is that all we want to do is run back to them.
If the church is not closed down but has simply relocated online, this begs the question: did we truly believe what we were teaching then?
Do we truly believe what we’re teaching now?
If we allow a tone of bitterness and disgruntlement to infuse our lives, where is there room for the joy, peace, and contentment that the apostle Paul exhorts us to? He'd suffered far more than most of us when he said, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” 
These sage words are still true:
Sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny. 
Before we do or say anything, let us pledge to bring our thoughts and actions before the throne of grace, ask Jesus through his Holy Spirit to examine and correct our words and attitudes, and submit them to Him in their entirety. Let us not hold too tightly to our preferred course of action, but allow Him to be the rudder that steers our ship.
This is living by faith. Faith does not make a goal and then claim it in the name of Jesus. That is just using Jesus as a talisman to get what we want. The Lord God Almighty will not be used in that way.
No, true faith allows Jesus to make the goal, and then obediently follows Him wherever He leads.
Song suggestion: Oceans
 National Post, 10 December 2020. I'm sorry, I can’t seem to find the specific article anymore. Whoops! EDIT (JAN 16, 2021): I've now found the probable source fo the National Post article, and made adjustments based on the numbers there. The original source is likely: “Impacts on Mental Health,” Statistics Canada, last updated 20 October 2020, https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/11-631-x/2020004/s3-eng.htm.
 2 Corinthians 5:7.
 Valerie Limmer, On the Potter’s Wheel, (Mustang: Tate Publishing, 2016), 130.
 James 3:1.
 Philippians 4:11-13.
 "Watch Your Thoughts, They Become Words; Watch Your Words, They Become Actions.” Quote Investigator. Last updated 10 January 2013. https://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/01/10/watch-your-thoughts/