Topical February 27, 2005
Scripture Reading: Exodus 5-6
Big Question: How can we overcome discouragement?
Discouragement is an enemy that we all have to face. It can come in many forms. It saps our strength to go on because hope and vision become clouded in the midst of life’s circumstance. The battle rages and we become weary.
Discouragement is what can often cause people to quit jobs, divorce spouses, abandon children, leave churches or even sell out their country.
Discouragement is an erosion of courage. It is negative courage which amounts to fear, and the growing despair that fear can foster.
Discouragement can be the greatest factor in losing the battle – whatever that battle is – or might be.
Discouragement is largely and generally a deceiver. By extension, then, discouragement is of the devil. It is one of his tools of deception. And it usually comes in the most furious fashion right before a breakthrough in the clouds.
All we have to do in most cases is hold on until morning.
“Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, "The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him." The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” (La 3:22-26 NivUS)
All this is God’s weather pattern to get us to seek shelter – to come in out of the rain – to stretch our faith by limiting all other options than Himself as the object of our faith.
If God’s faithfulness is great, then our faith in him must also be great. It is a growing faith that overcomes discouragement.
But it would help us greatly to paint that picture a little more vividly so we can hold on to it in those times when color seems to fade to black and white.
As always, the Bible has some colorful examples for us to visualize. We can learn volumes from some of these accounts.
The first one that comes to mind is the plight of the Israelites under bondage for 400 years in Pharaoh’s Egypt.
Exodus 5 tells us the story of how they had to work harder and harder with less and less materials to produce more and more bricks for Pharaoh’s self-glorifying building projects.
This abuse by Pharaoh had much to do with his own fear and jealousy and greed. And it prompted the Israelites to groan and cry out with an appeal. Although Pharaoh didn’t listen or lessen the load, God was raising up a deliverer by the name of Moses.
But what is important to see in this account is even though God tells Moses up front in Exodus 6:1 that he will deliver them, it takes ten miracles over the next six chapters before he brings about the exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land (12:31).
Even after Moses reports to the Israelites that God has promised to deliver them and to make his covenant with them even more personal than ever before – in making himself known to them (6:3), in taking them as his own people and in being their God (6:7), in delivering them from the Egyptians (6:7), and in bringing them to the Promised Land (6:8) – we are told in Exodus 6:9 that the Israelites didn’t even listen to Moses because of their discouragement.
In other words, they were so discouraged from what they had already been through that they couldn’t believe the good news even when they heard it.
Of course, we must keep in mind that it was to Pharaoh himself that the people requested work relief instead of to God, even though God did indeed hear them (6:5) and respond through Moses.
The people needed to learn a lesson in faith – perhaps a hard one.
So if you think they were discouraged at the outset, what is going on here with God are a series of faith lessons that stretch out his deliverance in a mounting crescendo of miracles (water to blood, frogs, gnats, flies, plague on livestock, plague of boils, hail, locusts, darkness, death of firstborn).
Is there potential here for even more discouragement? You bet there is. Our human tendency is to get even more discouraged when we don’t get what we want immediately. The Israelites had to suffer through some of these plagues right along with the Egyptians.
But God wants to deliver us from discouragement since whatsoever is not of faith is sin (Rom. 14:23).
The only cure? God’s gives us what we need, even what we asked for, in his perfect time for a perfect faith healing (or strengthening of faith, if you prefer).
God will glorify himself above our discouragement, even beyond our faith.
He will demand our faith, and if it is frail, he will do whatever he must to strengthen it – even if it is to subject us to more potential discouragement so that the resulting deliverance may be even more stupendous.
He did indeed miraculously deliver the Israelites from Egypt and get them to the Promised Land – but only after continuing to deal with their discouragement.
Nu 32:7 Why do you discourage the Israelites from going over into the land the LORD has given them?
Nu 32:9 After they went up to the Valley of Eshcol and viewed the land, they discouraged the Israelites from entering the land the LORD had given them.
De 1:21 See, the LORD your God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the LORD, the God of your fathers, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged."
De 31:8 The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged."
Jos 1:9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go."
Jos 8:1 Then the LORD said to Joshua, "Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai. For I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land.
Jos 10:25 Joshua said to them, "Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Be strong and courageous. This is what the LORD will do to all the enemies you are going to fight."
You see that this was a consistent problem with the Israelites – just like it is with most of us. God calls upon us to face many enemies, but the greatest one is discouragement or fear itself.
And the greatest resource in conquering that major enemy of fear is God Himself.
2Ch 20:15 He said: "Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the LORD says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.
2Ch 20:17 You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the LORD will be with you.’"
2Ch 32:7 "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him.
It would almost seem that the people that God chose for himself were not the most fearsome on earth but the most fearful – again, kind of like us.
And if you just can’t understand why God would do that, then perhaps God desires that we should break into praise like Paul did in Romans 11:33-36 ---
“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! "Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?" "Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?" For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” (Ro 11:33-36 NivUS)
These words of Paul came after his extended theological argument in Romans 9-11 that the fearful and faithless Israelites would indeed be saved by the mercy of God.
What faith Paul had in God for his people who have persisted in faithlessness even unto the present time!
Paul learned his own faith in God by hard-won experience in overcoming discouragement.
“As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says, "In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you." I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation. We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” (2Co 6:1-10 NivUS)
“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us,” (2Co 1:8-10 NivUS)
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2Co 4:7-9 NivUS)
“I am not saying this because I am in need, for 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 everything through him who gives me strength.” (Php 4:11-13 NivUS)
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” (Ro 8:35 NivUS)
No doubt Paul took this kind of faith from the words of our Lord ---
“"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."” (Joh 16:33 NivUS)
Isn’t that what God wants for us in our discouragement – our faith in him?
Have we faced anything like what Paul did? How about these believers? ---
More Than 100 Christian Children Detained By Eritrean Government Forces
Michael Ireland, Assist News Service
More than 100 children aged between two and 18 were rounded up by a group of policemen as they were in their Christian classes at a church in the east African nation of Eritrea. An eyewitness report at the scene, which was later verified by Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said the police put them in the truck and took them to the nearby Police Station where they registered the children's names and addresses. CSW said after the children were put in a hall at the police station, they started to sing: "I am not afraid of persecution, hardships and even death. Nobody can separate me from the Love of Jesus Christ. He died on the cross and he gave me new life." The policemen ordered the children to stop singing, but the children continued to sing despite their threats. The children were kept at the police station from 10am to 1.30pm and then the children aged two to 14 were released and told to come back on Monday with their parents. The remaining group of 30 children are still detained. The church has been targeted by a special Task Force that has been set up by the Eritrean government dedicated to ridding the country of Pentecostal and Evangelical Christians by the end of 2005.
Colombia: Two Churches Closed Following Guerrilla Threats
Christian Aid Mission
Native missionaries working in remote jungle areas face the constant threat of violence and extortion from Colombia's powerful guerrilla groups. Recently, two local churches supported by Christian Aid were forced to close. Pastors and many church members had to flee the villages where these churches are located following threats and pressure from guerrilla fighters. The fighters, in their efforts to exert total control over the region, were targeting evangelical believers in part because of the effect their gospel was having on fellow guerrillas: those led to the Lord were laying down their weapons and refusing to fight. In the two villages mentioned, they have forbidden evangelical church services to take place and are not allowing any person to travel for missionary purposes. Many Christians throughout rural Colombia face such situations. Traveling to preach the gospel or attend a training meeting is extremely difficult. One missionary writes, "Guerrilla people have constantly threatened us, and many times we have had to obey their commands." These commands include demanding large sums of money from churches at random, as well as a fee at wantonly placed checkpoints along jungle roads. During the course of Colombia's decades-old internal conflict, dozens of pastors have been kidnapped and held for ransom, a common guerrilla method of generating income. Some Christians in rural areas have been killed for being alleged "government spies."
Indian Evangelist's Battered Body Found in Karnataka
On February 11, the body of 25-year-old Christian evangelist Pastor Narayan was found in the small town of Channapatana in Karnataka state, India. Doctors who performed an autopsy said Narayan had been brutally murdered -- the corpse had broken ribs and teeth and injuries to the abdomen. However, "the official report of the autopsy suggested it was a case of suicide," Sajan K. George of the Global Council of Indian Christians told Compass. George suspects Hindu extremists were responsible for Narayan's death and that their sympathizers are engaged in a cover-up. A fact-finding mission to the district revealed that attacks on minority Christians have been going on for years and several churches have been destroyed. George has demanded that the government conduct an official inquiry through the Central Bureau of Investigation.
Ministry Leader Sees Trouble Ahead for Christian Missions
Mary Rettig and Jenni Parker, Agape Press
K.P. Yohannan, founder and president of the Gospel for Asia ministry, reported that six seminary students affiliated with his evangelical ministry were hospitalized after being attacked last weekend in Southern India. He says the Church is encountering increased hostility towards Christianity all over the world.
According to Yohannan, the young missionaries who were attacked were evangelists in training who had been regularly visiting a community of laborers on weekends - praying for the sick, caring for the needy, sharing the love of Christ and offering hope. As a result of the missionaries' steady, compassionate outreach, people's hearts were beginning to respond and their continuous visits were "bringing fruitful results."
The Bible college students were out evangelizing on Sunday, February 13, when they were surrounded, abducted, and beaten unconscious. In the wake of the vicious attack, five men were arrested in a raid conducted by the deputy superintendent of Police. The Hindustan Times reports that the arrested suspects had ties to the RSS, an armed Hindu militant group hostile to Christianity and other religious minorities. In the weeks before the attack, RSS men had apparently warned the seminary students to stop witnessing in the area.
Yohannan says this is not the first time GFA missionaries have been subjected to violent attacks, but the problem seems to have escalated lately. In a recent Associated Press interview, he noted, "We have about 12 or 14 of our missionaries in the last 10 years who have been murdered by extreme fundamentalists. These kinds of things you never heard 25 years ago - such animosity and hatred towards the gospel."
Nevertheless, the GFA's leader says the seminary students in India and others like them are ready and willing to give their lives for the sake of Jesus. Yohannan says all Christians need to be prepared to face extreme persecution because he believes the days ahead will hold more adversity for those who follow Jesus.
Surely any one of these children of God has the potential for discouragement. But they seem far from us – far from our own experience. I brought them to you for comparison.
If they can rise up from their trials in faith, how about us?
Perhaps you face declining health and you are discouraged.
Perhaps you face trouble with addiction and you are discouraged.
Perhaps you face declining income and you are discouraged.
Perhaps you face troubled relationships and you are discouraged.
And how about our church?
Declining income? – and yet see how God has supplied in the past and what he has accomplished.
Declining attendance? – and yet see how God has persisted over the years in his witness through us here.
Declining energy? – and yet see how God continues to bring us new people and families even when others leave.
Let none of us be the one to say, “It is finished.” That was the work of our Lord upon the cross at the turn of world events upon which everything else is being built.
From that point on nothing that is truly done for him, and upon faith in him, is ever a failure.
“For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.” (1Co 3:9-14 NivUS)
“Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1Co 15:58 NivUS)
“Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us,” (2Co 1:21 NivUS)
“Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm.” (2Co 1:24 NivUS)
Timeless Truth: The eve of our greatest discouragement most often comes right before the dawn of our greatest victory (Lam. 3:22-23).
Big Answer: We overcome discouragement by faith in Jesus (John 16.33).