*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.
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)