There is a plague sweeping the country which is more pervasive even than AIDS. It's not the Beijing flu, or cancer, or even the common cold. This plague, however, can be just as deadly as the most dreaded disease known to man. This plague is called "discouragement". In a recent article in a national magazine, we are told that depression and despair are at epidemic proportions. Nearly 30,000 Americans kill themselves each year in overt acts of suicide. Another 100,000 attempt to take their own lives. Countless thousands more are killing themselves slowly by less obvious means such as overeating, alcohol and drug abuse, addiction to work, etc. In addition to these, there are millions more who daily seek to diminish themselves through humiliation and other psychological forms of punishment.
Discouragement is a feeling that comes upon many people at different times in their lives. Discouragement is not a sin. It is not even a sign that you are in a place of sin. But how we handle discouragement can affect our spiritual life and growth.
Many things are true about discouragement. At least three things, however, make it such a potent problem.
One characteristic which makes discouragement such a dreaded problem is that it is universal. In other words, discouragement strikes everyone. None of us are immune to discouragement. Everyone you have ever known has been discouraged at one time or another. Wrack your brain as you may, and you cannot think of anyone who has avoided discouragement. Young or old, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, black or white, red or yellow, advantaged or disadvantaged, non-Christian or Christian, everyone gets discouraged.
A second characteristic of discouragement is that it is recurring. Being discouraged once does not give you an immunity to the disease. You can be discouraged over and over again. In fact, you can even be discouraged by the fact that you are discouraged a lot. There is no antibody which can be injected to give you immunity. Discouragement comes and goes and comes back again.
A third characteristic of discouragement is that it is highly contagious. Discouragement spreads by even casual contact. People can become discouraged because you are discouraged. You can become discouraged because other people are discouraged.
You might be familiar with the story of the man standing on a bridge prepared to jump to his death. A passerby came along, stopped his car and attempted to talk some sense into the man. He asked the man why he was going to jump. In his total discouragement, the man replied that there were too many things wrong in this world to continue living. The passerby tried to reason with the man saying that things weren't as bleak as they looked. For ten or fifteen minutes, the conversation went on - and finally they both jumped! Discouragement is contagious.
Who is subject to discouragement? Is it possible for Christians to become so low and downcast they feel they can't go on - and they come to the brink of giving up? Think about it for a moment. I'm talking now about committed believers who walked with God and have seen victory after victory in their lives. Is it possible for such Christians to be so pressed down and troubled, to be in such despair and despondency they become convinced they're not going to make it? Absolutely - yes!
Let's look at some biblical examples of saints who suffered from discouragement:
Job 1:1 (NKJV) There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil.
Scripture says that Job was an upright man who feared God and shunned evil. Job had a deep relationship with God. But then Job faced the crisis of his life: He had lost his entire family, all his possessions, everything. And his body was covered with boils from head to toe. He had come to a place where he could not take any more suffering. And he cried out:
Job 6:4 (NKJV) For the arrows of the Almighty are within me; My spirit drinks in their poison; The terrors of God are arrayed against me.
Job 6:8-9 (NKJV) "Oh, that I might have my request, That God would grant me the thing that I long for! 9 That it would please God to crush me, That He would loose His hand and cut me off!
Job was saying, "I have only one request - to die! I've had it, God. Kill me!" Would you say that Job was discouraged? He sure was. And he wasn't the only man of God who suffered with discouragement.
Jeremiah was a mighty prophet of God. This holy man walked with God and was fearless before men. He had an ear attuned to heaven - a pipeline to God's throne - and spoke as the Lord's voice to his generation. No one could stand against his power and authority. He shook his listeners to the core!
Yet Jeremiah also came to a place of total despair. The Lord allowed him to experience a despondency few people have ever known. And Jeremiah came to the brink of giving up! The prophet was convinced he had fallen under some kind of deception.
Jeremiah 20:7 (NASB) O LORD, Thou hast deceived me and I was deceived; Thou hast overcome me and prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; Everyone mocks me.
Consider these words of Jeremiah - the godly man who thundered prophecies to the nations:
Jeremiah 20:14-18 (NKJV) Cursed be the day in which I was born! Let the day not be blessed in which my mother bore me! 15 Let the man be cursed Who brought news to my father, saying, "A male child has been born to you!" Making him very glad. 16 And let that man be like the cities Which the LORD overthrew, and did not relent; Let him hear the cry in the morning And the shouting at noon, 17 Because he did not kill me from the womb, That my mother might have been my grave, And her womb always enlarged with me. 18 Why did I come forth from the womb to see labor and sorrow, That my days should be consumed with shame?
Do these sound like the words of a fearless prophet of God? Jeremiah was so overwhelmed by trouble and affliction, he wished he had died in his mother's womb!
Jeremiah the prophet knew what it was to be discouraged. God had given him a most unpopular message to deliver to his people. When people came to him to ask him to pray for them - to ask him to seek God's word for them - the message he was given by God was never the message they wanted to hear. Therefore, rather than heeding the message he brought on behalf of God, they sought to kill the messenger. They threw him into an empty cistern. They were going to leave him in the cistern until he died of thirst or starvation. There was no water in the cistern, but there was a thick layer of mud. And we are told that Jeremiah "sank down into the mud." There have been times when I have sunk down into the mud of life, haven't you?
Another great man of God who suffered from discouragement was Elijah. Elijah knew the supernatural workings of God firsthand. He had brought a dead child back to life. And now, he stood before Ahab and prayed the very heavens shut. He told Ahab, "I've been on my knees before a holy God. And I tell you, it won't rain again until I say so!"
Talk about power - Elijah first shut the heavens, and then he opened them again! When he prayed later, rain fell on the land once more. But that's not all; Elijah then outran Ahab's chariot - and he was in his eighties at the time! He poured twelve barrels of water over the altar, and called down fire from heaven to consume it. What a sight that must have been!
Elijah's greatest desire was to see revival in Israel. For years he had been saddened by the wickedness of God's people - and now he believed his prayers were being answered. He thought he was witnessing the start of a great reformation in Israel.
But Jezebel quickly stepped in and squashed the revival. Moreover, she threatened to kill Elijah. Suddenly, this once-fearless man was running for his life! He ended up in a desolate spot in the wilderness, where he sat down under a juniper tree:
1 Kings 19:4 (NKJV) But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, "It is enough! Now, LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!"
Does that sound familiar? Elijah had literally given his life for revival, both in prayer and in action. And now he believed he was a total failure! He grew depressed, crying, "It is enough! Now, LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!"
Have you ever dropped out for a while, as Elijah did? Have you ever gone into hiding - so hurt, so down, you didn't want to see or talk to anyone? Yours may be a cave of silence - a withdrawal from people and responsibilities.
One of the biggest obstacles we face in life is discouragement. Once we get discouraged, it's hard to keep going - it's hard to find the will to keep going. When Jesus was arrested and put to death, his disciples were overcome with discouragement. His most vocal follower, the Apostle Peter, denied him, deserted him, and ran for his life. Let's look at how the Apostle Peter dealt with his discouragement, and how he was able to overcome it. First of all, let's consider...
1.THE CAUSE OF DISCOURAGEMENT
Discouragement is caused by unmet expectations. We become discouraged when we don't meet our expectations, or when life doesn't meet our expectations, when others don't meet our expectations, or when God doesn't meet our expectations. We act as though we live in a cause-and-effect world, and that things are supposed to turn out a certain way. We believe that if we continue to do "A", eventually it will result in "B"-but life simply doesn't work that way.
A venture capitalist said that though he rarely sees a poorly presented business plan, less than 5% of the proposals his firm reviews ever get capitalized. Of those 5%, only 1 in 10 meet their projections. This can be very discouraging for a businessman. You work hard, you put in extra hours, you follow each step and see to every detail-but the effort is a bust.
Parents often become discouraged. Many moms and dads do everything they know to do, yet in spite of their efforts, their children just don't turn out the way they expected. Pastors are also vulnerable to discouragement. Sometimes it seems that our efforts have no impact on the life of the church. We pray, we study, we preach, we plan...but we don't see any visible results. It is hard not to resign ourselves to long term discouragement.
A young man went to see a fortune-teller. She studied his hand and told him, "You will be poor and completely miserable until you are 41 years old." The man said, "Then what will happen? Will I become rich?" "No," said the fortune teller. "You'll always be poor, but you'll become accustomed to it so that it no longer makes you miserable."
Peter experienced discouragement when Jesus died. He was discouraged because the death of Christ destroyed his expectations of how Jesus should establish His earthly kingdom. Peter was also discouraged, because during the process he failed to meet his own expectations. Listen to what Peter said to Jesus:
Matthew 26:33 (GWT) Peter said to him, "Even if everyone else abandons you, I never will."
When Peter said this:
Matthew 26:34-35 (GWT) Jesus replied to Peter, "I can guarantee this truth: Before a rooster crows tonight, you will say three times that you don't know me." 35 Peter told him, "Even if I have to die with you, I'll never say that I don't know you!" All the other disciples said the same thing.
Peter put a tremendous amount of faith in himself-too much, in fact. When he failed to meet his own expectations, he became discouraged. That's the cause of discouragement-failed expectations. However, if we examine them closely, we'll often find that our expectations are unrealistic. Peter's expectations were unrealistic. Jesus told Peter they were unrealistic, yet Peter refused to listen. Secondly, let's examine...
2. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF A DISCOURAGED PERSON
When we become discouraged, we tend to follow certain predictable behavior patterns in an attempt to overcome our discouragement. First of all...
A. We compromise.
In the 18th chapter of John, when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, Peter drew his sword and struck the high priest's servant, cutting off his ear. In doing this, Peter compromised the teaching of Christ. Everything that Jesus had said about non-violence and non-resistance was disregarded. Instead, Peter took matters into his own hands. Of course, his plan didn't work. He lowered his standards, but not his expectations. When Peter attacked the high priest's servant, his expectations were still unrealistically high, but his commitment to obedience of the teachings of Christ had dropped several notches. We're the same way. When we become discouraged, we cling to unrealistic expectations, and we'll do anything to make them happen-even if we have to sell our standards to do it.
B. We quit. Discouragement leads to despair. This is what Peter experienced after he denied knowing Jesus. The Bible says:
Luke 22:62 (NKJV) So Peter went out and wept bitterly.
The song "He's Alive" by Don Francisco captures the despair that Peter must have experienced that night. It says:
When at last it came to choices, I denied I knew His name. Even if He was alive, it wouldn't be the same.
That's despair! - the feeling that all hope is lost, and nothing can change things now. Peter experienced it. I've experienced it. You probably have, too.
C. We withdraw.
John 20:19 (NKJV) Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, "Peace be with you."
When a person is in the depths of despair, they stay at home, they become uninvolved, they withdraw into a shell of self-pity. As long as the disciples were hiding behind locked doors, they were unable to finish the task that Jesus had given them. When we withdraw, we become completely unproductive-and we're not able to accomplish the task that Jesus has given us.
Two pastors went visiting. One of the houses they went to was completely dark. The one pastor said, "It looks like no one is home. The other pastor said, "There's someone here," and rang the doorbell. After several minutes, Joanne came to the door and invited them inside. They went into a cluttered room where the only light was coming through a crack in the drawn curtains. Joanne said to them, "Sorry it's so dark in here. I can't bring myself to turn on a light." Joanne's husband had left several weeks before, and since the day he had walked out the door, she had sat in the dark house, crying. Because of disappointment, she had completely withdrawn from the world.
D. We escape.
The 12-step term for this is "medicate." We look for something to alleviate the pain of discouragement and despair. For Peter, it was fishing; he just went back to his work. One thing is certain, he didn't stay to suffer through the death of Jesus.
A successful businessman was being interviewed on "Good Morning America" and was asked, "What is the secret to your success." The man said, "A bad marriage. I couldn't stand to be at home so I stayed at the office until I stumbled onto success." He said it with a laugh, but he gave the impression that he was only half-joking.
What do you do to escape the pain of discouragement? Some of us pour ourselves into our work, or a hobby, or we overeat, or we watch too much TV, or we go shopping, or we try to make ourselves numb with alcohol-there are many things we can do to try to cover up the pain of discouragement. The problem is that after we return from our escape, our problems still exist. In fact, they're usually worse.
None of these options-compromising, quitting, withdrawing, or escaping solve the problem. We only end up cynical, skeptical, bitter; and-like Job, Jerimiah, Elijah, and Peter at rock bottom. What should we do when we become discouraged? Let's examine...
3. THE CURE FOR DISCOURAGEMENT
Consider the empty tomb:
John 20:6 (NKJV) Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there,
When Peter saw evidence that Jesus had been resurrected, he began to have a glimmer of hope. The gospel of Luke tells us that after Peter examined the empty tomb, "he went away to his home, wondering about what had happened" (Luke 24:12). At this point, it may have seemed too good to be true, but there was a spark of hope.
The empty tomb is our spark of hope. It tells us that God has the power to work in our lives today. Karl Barth said "...the resurrection of Christ teaches us that our enemies - sin, the curse, and death - are destroyed. They may still behave as though the game were not decided, but ultimately they can cause no more mischief. We still have to reckon with them; but we need fear them no longer."
The empty tomb reminds us that no situation is hopeless. Peter began winning the battle against discouragement when he encountered the empty tomb. I don't know what is the source of your discouragement today, but whatever it is, remember the resurrection. Consider the empty tomb. It is proof that Jesus has power over sin and death-and He has power over any challenge we may face.
Consider the Sovereign Lord:
Isaiah 6:1 (NKJV) In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple.
Uzziah had been king for 52 years. He was a good king, a great military man. Five years before Uzziah's death, Tiglath-Pileser, the Assyrian general, was on their northern border. He was cause for concern, but Uzziah was there and they had confidence in him. But when Uzziah died, it caused great fear. Now what? Well Isaiah goes into the temple and sees the Lord. In effect, he is saying, "In the day the human king died, I saw the King of Kings." He sees God on the throne, he is still in control. No matter how bad things look, God is still on the throne. We often act as if God had been dethroned.
Psalms 103:19 (NKJV) The LORD has established His throne in heaven, And His kingdom rules over all.
His kingdom rules over ALL. Don't let circumstances discourage you, God is in control. If we look at life from the human viewpoint, we will have nothing but sorrow and discouragement. But if you look at life from the divine viewpoint, you can rest in God's sovereign care.
Expect the unexpected.
John 21:4 (NKJV) But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.
Peter and several of the other disciples decided to go fishing together. They spent the night on the water, but caught nothing. Early in the morning, a man standing on the shore called out to them, "Do you have any fish?" They answered, "No." The stranger told them to throw their net on the other side of the boat and they would find some fish. When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. John told Peter, "It is the Lord." That was all Peter needed to hear: he jumped out of the boat and swam to shore. Peter had gone to sea that night to fish. He didn't expect to see Jesus. Peter was beginning to learn an important principle: expect the unexpected. You never know when Jesus is going to surprise you with His power. You may be on your way to leave flowers at a tomb, you may be out fishing, you may be in a prayer meeting-you never know when He will surprise you with His power.
You may be like the man who lay for 38 years beside the pool of Bethesda, who was convinced that it was useless to hope for a miracle. You may be like the disabled man who sat in front of the temple gate day after day begging for money, when what he really wanted was to be healed. You may be like Lazarus, who died thinking that his closest friend wasn't there to comfort him in his hour of death. You may be like Martha, who thought that God waited too long to show up and now her brother was dead. You may be like the woman at the well, whose search for love led her through a series of failed relationships. You may be like Peter, who made mistake upon mistake and who, in a moment of weakness, deserted the one whom he loved more than any other.
All of these individuals have one thing in common. They all had reached the point of being discouraged, and then they had an unexpected encounter with the power of God.
Believer, if you are discouraged, don't think you are experiencing some strange, unique battle. On the contrary - you are in good company! Recall Job, Jeremiah, Elijah, and Peter. What you are going through is common to believers throughout the centuries. Remember the truth of:
1 Corinthians 10:13 (NKJV) No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
God will get you through the trial of discouragement - trust Him. The great missionary to China, Hudson Taylor, had those days when the dark clouds of discouragement hung heavy above him. Burdened by meager finances and personal grief (he buried his wife and some children in China), he persisted against strong resistance. He would often say: "It doesn't matter, really how great the pressure is. It only matters where the pressure lies. See that it never comes between you and the Lord - then the greater the pressure, the more it presses you to His breast." Let the discouragements of life draw you closer to God, not push you away from Him.
Some of you here today may be overwhelmed by discouragement. Maybe it's your job, or your family, or your marriage, or your financial situation - it could be anything. Maybe you're asking yourself "Why should I keep on? What's the use? Why don't I just quit?" I can give you a reason. The tomb is empty. Jesus is alive today, and He is seated on the throne of the universe. That means we can expect the unexpected. You never know when Jesus is going to surprise you with His power. Maybe we can't control the so-called principle of cause-and-effect. Maybe we can't get the results we want when we want them. But we can be faithful. We can keep on. Things won't always be the way they are today. And because the tomb is empty, and Jesus Christ is reigning, we have a right to expect the unexpected.