Combating Discouragement in the New Year

As we approach the end of another year, many of us look to January 1st like the refresh button on an app. When an app slows down or stops loading, we quickly attempt a refresh so that progress will continue. So it is with a new year. Goals and ambitions begin to decelerate or stop altogether toward the end of November, but there is the hope of January to start anew. With this refresh, however, can come thoughts of all the goals that we haven’t yet reached—thoughts that we are not where we wanted to be at this point in our lives. It’s easy in January to think of the ways we haven’t achieved at work, at school, with our kids, with our finances, in our relationships, etc. This can lead to discouragement, or even despair, and then… a fresh resolve to set more goals and work harder to achieve them.

Now, I am certainly not against resolve or ambition. When motivated rightly and informed by Scripture, these are blessed qualities in our pursuit of Christlikeness. But often the discouragement we feel at the end of the year comes from forgetting who Christ made us to be and trying to find our value in some unreached ambition. The narrative of the shepherds in Luke 2:8-20 can help bring us joy regardless of whether we are where we wanted to be at this point in our lives.

In the first century Roman empire, shepherds were a disregarded, even despised, group. Considered untrustworthy and unclean, they were not an audience anyone would expect to receive the Messiah’s birth announcement. Yet, not only did they receive the birth announcement, they were the only ones God chose to receive it. On top of that, when the angel appears to herald this good news to the shepherds, he says, “For unto you is born this day … a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (2:11). While the good news of Jesus’ birth was for “all the people” (v. 10), the angel indicates that the salvation this baby brings is personal. It is a salvation these shepherds will receive as individuals, though they are outcasts in their society.

The angel goes on to tell the shepherds how they can find this baby and how they will know that he is telling them the truth. He will be “wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (v. 12). Then, the shepherds respond in faith as they head to Bethlehem “with haste” (v. 16) to see “this thing that has happened.” Upon finding the baby just as the angel told them, the shepherds “made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child” (v. 17). By God’s grace, these despised shepherds become eager ambassadors for this baby who is Savior, Christ, and Lord.

Outside of this text, we never hear of these shepherds again in Scripture. As far as we know, they returned to their duties as shepherds with the glorious knowledge that the Savior had arrived. We are not told that they advanced to a higher position in society or that they were now labeled “prestigious” for having received the holy birth announcement. It is likely that these shepherds remained shepherds, but they were now shepherds whom God transformed into ambassadors of the Savior King.

My question for us as we battle the discouragement of “underachieving” is this: What’s more important than being an ambassador to King Jesus? No matter what family you were born into, what job you have, how much money you make, how your kids are progressing, or what others think of you, you are an ambassador of King Jesus if you have trusted Him for your soul’s rescue. The Savior has been born “unto you” and you have the wonderful privilege of telling sinners who He is and what He’s done. It doesn’t matter what the world respects and celebrates. Like the shepherds, you can be the riff-raff of society, and yet, have the settled joy of knowing that the God of the universe bestowed upon you the honor of proclaiming His Son. What’s more important than that?

This new year, let that reality sink in. And as you make goals, make them because God has already made you an ambassador to the King.

Note: This article originally appeared on We encourage you to visit the Center for Biblical  Counseling and Discipleship where you can find helpful, biblical resources by a number of trusted pastors and authors.

Brent Osterberg




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