Finding Encouragement in the Midst of Discouragement

Introduction:

Everyone feels discouraged at some time. Have you? It might be your health, your job, your marriage, your family, your church, or even your living situation. As we return to work after the holidays, you may be feeling that your holiday wasn’t quite as good as you had hoped, or simply that it is over, and you are back to the daily grind.

When we read through the Bible we encounter plenty of discouraged people. The biblical writers didn’t try and gloss over their struggles, but instead wrote about them and gave the solutions.

Firstly, meet some other discouraged souls

We don’t have to look far in the Bible to find people who are down in the mouth:

  • Israel: things haven’t become better quicker. (Num.11: 1-6) Here we see Israel deeply discouraged as they wander in the desert. They are sick of eating manna, and can’t see any end in sight. Sometimes that is how you and I feel – life is a treadmill and nothing ever changes or improves, like sickness, pain, limited finance, and problems with kids, and we get despondent.
  • Moses: overwhelmed by life (Num.11:10-15) Israel’s discouragement was catching, as is often the case, and Moses ends up down in the dumps too. Because there are no secrets when you’re all living in tents, Moses hears the weeping and complaining of the people (10), and the burden gets to him (11), and he ends up feeling suicidal (15). Why? Moses felt alone in his position, and that he alone had to try and fix all the problems of Israel by himself. Have you ever felt this way? Sometimes we feel stuck – in our work, at home with the kids, – and no one to help us.
  • Elijah: loneliness/remnant (1 Ki. 19:1-4) God has just performed a miraculous sign through Elijah, but it has resulted in unparalleled hostility to God’s servant. Everyone wants to get Elijah, and he feels lonely and vulnerable. “The prophet’s depression here reached its lowest point. He was still suffering from the reaction of overstrained feeling; he was weary with nights and days of travel; he was faint with the sun’s heat; he was exhausted for want of food; he was for the first time alone – alone in the awful solitude and silence of the great white desert. Such solitude might brace the soul in certain moods; but in others it must utterly overwhelm and crush. Thus the prophet at length gave way completely – made his prayer that he might die – and, exhausted sank, to sleep.” (Albert Barnes)
  • Job: overwhelming personal tragedy and suffering. (Job 10:1) Job is a man who has suffered incredible bereavement, sickness and financial ruin. He has got every reason to be discouraged, and the people closest to him think that it is so bad that he should just kill himself (2:9). Some of us experience incredible difficulties in life – everything that could be wrong is wrong, every sickness that could afflict us is visited upon us, and even those we love can only shake their heads and wonder how we keep going.

So, from these people we see we’re not alone in feeling discouraged at times. We also see that there are many different causes to our discouragement, as there was with the saints of the past. What remedies can we find?

Secondly, consider the remedies for particular discouragements (as above)

Starting with the last of these individuals and their discouragements we will find the particular remedies they need:

  • Job: seeing God’s sovereign control. As Job suffered the unbearable discouragement of bereavement and ruin, he also suffered false accusations of some hidden sin in his life. As his friends wrongly concluded, why else would God do this? For Job, the light that shone on his situation was when God revealed his sovereign plan for Job’s life, and Job could say, “I know that You can do all things…”(42:1ff). Once Job sees that, everything improves.
  • Elijah: a meal, sleep, and reminder you’re not alone. Sometimes the solution to your discouragement may be a lot more mundane. God simply gave Elijah him a good meal and a sleep (he was obviously run down) (19:5-8), and then reminded him that he wasn’t alone in his fight of faith, but there were 7,000 others who served God (18). So often we are discouraged when like Elijah we are tired, stress, and navel-gazing, that is, holding our own little pity-party. Getting out and seeing other believers is encouraging for us when we feel discouraged through loneliness and hostility.
  • Moses: sharing the load. With our poor overburdened leader Moses it was a matter of sharing the load. God delegated his Spirit to seventy others (Num.11:16ff) to help Moses. Sometimes we’re simply trying to do too much. As they say, writing cheques that the mind and body can’t honour! When we fail to live up to our expectations discouragement easily overtakes us and we see only our failure, not our successes.
  • Israel: contentment and thankfulness. Finally, Israel needed to learn contentment. They were complaining about having to eat manna (4ff), but as God points out, if it was quail, they would eat it till it ‘comes out their nostrils’ (19)! So, even as they eat the quail God strikes them with a plague because of their unthankful discontent. Sounds like NZ today. Contentment with what we have can go a long way to avoiding discouragement and then murmuring against God’s goodness.

Finally, be encouraged by the hope of Christ

In Hebrews 12 we read a surprising passage designed to encourage Christians to persevere in their faith. The author calls his readers to ‘run’ the Christian race set before them with endurance, ‘looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of their faith.’

Then, he describes the state of Jesus’ mind as he faced the cross, that it was ‘for the joy set before him’ that he was able to ‘endure the cross and despise the shame.’ In anticipation of the deep joy that would be his as he saved his people from their sins, as he looked forward to his reward.

What is he saying? That, the joy beyond the cross was so much greater than the suffering of the cross and the shame of being crucified like a despised criminal, so that Jesus could go through it. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t a breeze or a mere nothing – it was suffering and shame – such that, beforehand he pleaded with his Father to be spared it, and sweat drops of blood in the garden. But, the joy was so much greater, that he was able to endure the cross, and count as nothing the shame.

Is this your understanding of what it means to be a Christian? There is deep, unspeakable joy on the other side, such that your current sickness, marital struggles, stresses at work, financial woes, problems with your kids, need of a bed, etcetera, etcetera, will all seem as nothing and well-worth it for the joy of faithfully persevering in your relationship with the Lord Jesus?

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