We have all encountered discouragement in one form or another. It can come to us in many ways and forms; through a piece of bad news, doubt about ourselves, a fear of the future, a project not going as well as expected.
For a Christian discouragement is one of the easiest and most dangerous things to fall into and therefore it is something we must actively guard against.
There’s an old fable that says the Devil once held a sale and offered all the tools of his trade to anyone who would pay their price. They were spread out on the table and each one labeled. Hatred, malice, envy, despair, sickness, sensuality – all the weapons that everyone knows so well. But off to one side lay a harmless looking wood-shaped instrument marked “discouragement.” It was old and worn looking but it was priced far about the rest. When asked the reason why, the Devil replied, “Because I can use this one so much more easily than the others. No one knows that it belongs to me, so with it I can open doors that are tightly bolted against the others. Once I get inside I can use any tool that suits me best.”
J. O. Fraser said, “Discouragement is a ploy of the devil to get a foot hole in our lives in order to destroy our effectiveness as Christians.”
This is very true. Discouragement is the gateway into which despair, anger, envy, depression and much more can enter our lives.
Discouragement can creep up on us suddenly – just one event; just one phone call can begin the slide.
William Ward has one of the best definitions of discouragement: Discouragement is dissatisfaction with the past, distaste for the present, and distrust of the future. It is ingratitude for the blessings of yesterday, indifference to the opportunities of today, and insecurity regarding strength for tomorrow. It is unawareness of the presence of beauty, unconcern for the needs of our fellowman, and unbelief in the promises of old. It is impatience with time, immaturity of thought, and impoliteness to God.
Discouragement happens when we make a negative judgment about what the future holds based on what we see or have encountered in the present or the past. The negative judgment may not be accurate or even true, but once we make that judgment our lives begin to revolve around it. Our whole outlook and focus become based on the judgment we have made regardless of whether its true or not.
Let me give you a trival example of this. Friday night at 4:30pm your boss says that he wants to see you at 9:00am on Monday morning in his office. You spend the whole weekend convinced that you are going to be fired. You are grumpy, irritated with your family and frantic with worry. You start to convince yourself life is about to become tough and maybe unbearable. You doubt yourself and think that you are useless – you can’t even hold a job down. Monday morning comes and you find that your boss wanted to congratulate you on a fine job done and to talk about future projects for you to be involved with.
Mark Twain perceptively said, “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”
The issue is that discouragement takes our eyes of God, makes us doubt God’s goodness to us, His care for us; it makes us doubt ourselves and it allows the enemy to shake us.
Charles H. Spurgeon wrote: “Discouragement creeps over my heart and makes me go with heaviness to my work. It is dreadfully weakening.”
We must learn to fight against discouragement as Christians and as a Church. I know you have faced discouragement in the past and there will be many times as a Church we will be tempted to be discouraged in the future. It will come. But may I be so bold as to suggest that a Christian, who keeps both their spiritual as well as their physical eyes open really should never fall into discouragement. With our eyes fixed on God we will be able to see beyond the physical situation and see the spiritual truths and reality which gives us what we need to combat what we face.
I say that knowing that we all will feel the beginnings of discouragement. Some of the very greatest men of scripture experienced discouragement. We see depression and discouragement from Moses, Joshua, Hezekiah, Job, and Jeremiah. Discouragement will try to drag us down, but we must be able to repel it when it does come.
Our passage from the Old Testament is about Elijah and his battle with discouragement.
We all know the background to this passage – Elijah has just had a stunning victory over the priests of Baal in chp 18. Elijah challenged them to a test of their respective gods. Each prepared an altar and a sacrifice and then the Baal priests called on Baal to come and receive the sacrifice. They shouted and cried and even cut themselves but nothing happened. Elijah then calls on God and the sacrifice on the stone altar, which has been drench with water, was consumed with fire from heaven. A stunning and awesome sign of God’s power. Elijah has the priests of Baal killed. And then Elijah receives a letter from Jezebel, who is somewhat miffed at Elijah’s victory and she says to him So let the gods do to me and more also if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time. And then Elijah flees for his life.
The threat of the future – that Jezebel will try and kill him, overrides everything else and Elijah becomes scared and runs.
Discouragement makes us act in unreasonable ways and there is no more of an unreasonable reaction than Elijah, who having proved that there is no other god that his God – a God who can cause fire to fall from heaven – than running from a threat of Jezebel.
All of a sudden Elijah’s ministry is stalled and he has hidden in a cave.
Notice two things: Firstly, God comes to Elijah. What are you doing here Elijah? What a wonderful word! God seeks out Elijah and asks him why he is in the cave. We cannot go anywhere to be out of the reach of God’s eye, his arm or his word. God knew where Elijah was and he always knows where we are – physically and spiritually.
There is no reason why Elijah should be in the cave but the Lord wants to listen to his child and gives Elijah the opportunity to pour out his heart. His description is dramatic and has inaccuracies in it. We all tend to over exaggerate when we are discouraged: “Everything has fallen apart” “My life has come to an end” “I’ll never recover” “Everyone hates me”. God bids him to come and stand before him – as a child of God and as a prophet should do. We are given the authority to stand before God in our prayers and Elijah should have gone to God first instead of hiding – just as we should always go to God instead of hding. God then reveals himself in wind, earthquake and fire, all of which are associated with God’s advent:
2Sam. 22:11 “And He rode on a cherub and flew;
And He 1appeared on the wings of the wind.
Psa. 11:6 Upon the wicked He will rain 1snares;
Fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup.
Is. 29:6 From the LORD of hosts you will be punished with thunder and earthquake and loud noise,
With whirlwind and tempest and the flame of a consuming fire.
But the most powerful manifestation is found in the small voice – in the WORD of God. It is through His Word that we know God and know of his promises and truths to us.
Notice secondly that it is through his Word that God tackles Elijah’s discouragement, refocuses Elijah onto his calling and ministry and corrects Elijah’s erroneous thinking – go and do what I have called you to do and you are not the only prophet left.
The word of God is the source of helping us from discouragement. God comes to us through the Word of God and by the Holy Spirit and gives us the truths we need to refocus back on the Lord.
I wonder if God might be saying to some of us this morning What are you doing here? Maybe you have become discouraged and have hidden in a cave of self pity. Maybe it seems everything is against you and you can’t see the wood for the trees.
God is calling you to look back at him. How? Listen to his word. Hear his promises. Hear his truths. Set aside your false judgment of the future with the true truth of Christ.
Peter says that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. When we read scripture we know it comes from God to us, not by man to us. We must grasp this fact – that the Bible is God’s truth TO US.
There is no future, no matter how bad we can imagine it to be that can overcome the future God has for us as his Children.
We all need to guard ourselves from falling into discouragement. And even Jesus recognized this fact.
For many the transfiguration is a mystery. Why does this happen? Jesus knew that the disciples where going to be shaken when he died and even after his resurrection there will temptation to doubt everything that had happened to question what they experienced. Here Jesus gives them a glimpse of his glory to show that his sufferings were voluntary. Jesus could at any point have returned to the glory of heaven. He choose not to. We have the representation of the law, Moses and the prophets, Elijah talking to Jesus. Why? Jesus fulfills the law and the prophets and Elijah and Moses represent the law and the prophets. Why are there three disciples? Three was the number of witnesses needed to verify an event – these three were to be the witnesses to the rest of the disciples to stop them being discouraged in the time after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Hence Jesus’ command not to speak of this until after his resurrection.
Jesus provided the disciples all they needed to keep them from being consumed by discouragement. Peter, John and James could attest to the glorious manifestation of Jesus.
And all we need to keep us from discouragement is found in our living active relationship with God – in his word to us and the testimony of the spirit which dwells in us.
When you feel discouragement beginning to rear it’s ugly head we must tell ourselves over and over again of God’s word, his promises and the Lord’s history in being faithful to us. As the Psalmist did in his depression and discouragement, we say to ourselves:
Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him
For the help of His countenance Psalms 42:5