Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. -- Galatians 6: 9 (NIV)
Let's face it beloved, this life can start to wear on you. We live in an unforgiving world where we work hard, play hard, and eventually live hard. Responsibilities at work, at home and in ministry can all pile up on us if we are not careful. This is just the fertile soil the devil loves to use to plant his lies in our hearts and establish footholds against what we know and believe. When we start to feel down and out the enemy loves to start whispering in our ear about how our efforts are meaningless. How we may as well just give up. Discouragement is ground zero for spiritual warfare and we cannot afford to lose the battle. The first thing we need to realize is that what we are experiencing is nothing new and it is not just happening to us.
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. -- 1Corinthians 10: 13 (NIV)
Beloved, what we feel is common to mankind. We are not alone. Sometimes in Christian circles we do not like to raise our hand and say we need some help or encouragement because Christians routinely bury their wounded. Everyone walks around church as if their lives are above the day to day grind we all face. As if being "blessed and highly favored" removes all of our problems. The same person who seems so spiritual to you on Sunday mornings has the same worries, insecurities, and problems that you have. We all share this common experience called life. No one is above anything. The next time you think that you are somehow deficient for feeling discouraged I want you to ask yourself if you are better than the Prophet Elijah:
Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. "I have had enough, Lord ," he said. "Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors." -- 1Kings 19: 3-4 (NIV)
How many of us have been where Elijah was this day? We have walked into our own wilderness, depressed and despondent and we just say to God -- I have had enough! I have had enough of people in the world mocking what I believe. I have had enough of people playing church while the eternal salvation of so many still remains undecided. I have had enough of not being appreciated. I have had enough of not seeing the fruits of my labor. I have had enough of my disrespectful kids, my unbelieving spouse, or the judgment I receive regularly from those who are supposed to be my brothers and sisters in Christ. Whatever it is that has brought us to our own broom bush that day, we like Elijah, have had enough. Take me home Lord -- I'm no better than so and so. The first lesson today to remember is that discouragement happens to us all. You are never alone. And it is not just Elijah. You have to realize that Peter must have been discouraged after denying Christ three times as Jesus predicted he would. Joseph must have been discouraged when his brothers betrayed him, when Potiphar's wife slandered him, and when the cupbearer forgot about him. These are human beings. They must have been discouraged! I say this is the first lesson because it defeats the lies the enemy wants to plant in your head that somehow you are not "normal" for feeling this way. The devil will try to break you off from everyone at the exact moment you need to be reaching out. Jesus would stop to touch lepers in His day. The least we can do is encourage one another in Christ.
When we look at Elijah here we come to the next lesson and that is that we need to do a better job of remembering all that God has done in our lives. Sometimes we can slip into a "what have you done for me lately" mentality. Sometimes we are poisoned by false teachings that skew the Gospel into an ATM for our whims. The modern day church has confused blessings with materialism. A mega church pastor tweeted yesterday that how he handles his money will determine how much God will trust him with spiritual blessings. That is patently absurd on its face and continues the deception that blessings must be material in nature. We need to get back to remembering what God has done, and then we will feel more secure in our present situation. Elijah had seen God supernaturally feed him by ravens. He had seen the flask of oil of the widow never run dry. He had seen God raise the widow's son from the dead! He had just seen God defeat the 450 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. That's a pretty good resume! Yet what happens? Jezebel threatens his life and he runs away. Something comes against him and he flees into the wilderness and tells God he wants to give up. We are no different. I have wanted to give up many times. Often it feels that this walk is too lonely. That people do not care to listen. Something can come against me and the next thing I know I am sitting under a broom bush asking God to take me home. I forget. I forget the bar he found me in. I forget the transformed life and regenerated heart -- two miracles we should never forget. I forget the true spiritual blessings. The health and job. The calling on my life. If we think hard enough we can remember the life He has brought back from the dead. We can remember the supernatural miracles He has done in our lives. Whatever we are facing should pale in comparison to what God already has done and who He is:
"I am the Lord , the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me? -- Jeremiah 32: 27 (NIV)
Thirdly, we need to stop confusing happiness and joy. The world inspires us to pursue happiness but we must remember that happiness is always conditional. I will be happy if" So often the "if" simply changes once we achieve what we thought would make us happy. Because happiness is predicated upon some outside condition being met, we turn over control of our happiness to that outside condition. That is a recipe for discouragement because the promises of this world are so often fleeting and empty. Joy on the other hand is positional. It is based upon our position in Christ Jesus.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. -- Philippians 4: 4 (ESV)
Don't rejoice in the things of this world. Rejoice in the Lord! There is too much bad theology out there today beloved and it ends up hurting the children of God because they are taught the wrong things. Forget about the grace alone, seeker friendly, purpose driven nonsense. Let us truly break down why our joy is found in Jesus. We live in a temporal world beloved and the Bible describes our life as a glimmer. One day, we all will pass from this mortal coil. We all will stand before a just God that requires punishment for our transgressions. Some may balk at this and ask what kind of loving God this is but how is being just, being unloving? They just caught the bomber from the Boston Marathon attack. How many people think he should be let go? Why would you hold your God to a lower standard? We all know that the wages of sin are death and we all have sinned. Therefore, we all are deserving of death. That is it. We get our 70 + years here and then it is going to get real hot. But praise be to God that He sent His only Son to die in our place. To take the punishment we earned and deserved so that we would have eternal life. You see the damage done by the feel good theologies is that it confuses the issue of what to value. We value this world way too much and downplay the eternal life. Our joy is in Christ not for what we hope He is going to do in our lives but for what He has already done on the cross! Happiness might be conditional but joy is based on the position Jesus has in our lives. He is supposed to be preeminent.
And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. -- Colossians 1: 18 (NIV)
God must have supremacy in our lives beloved. Too often modern Christianity has so compromised the Gospel that we have become one with the world. The lines have blurred so that many think that it is about finding ways to fit Jesus into their lives when their very lives are now supposed to be about Jesus! Where does this writing find you today? If you are sitting under the broom bush and telling God you have had enough then maybe it is time to look at what has the supremacy in your life. Maybe Christ has slipped down to number 2 or 3. That will not do. Why? Because your joy is found in your position in Christ. So, if you marginalize Christ, then you mute your joy. Then we start looking for happiness in other conditions we have no control over. Then like Elijah before us, we just want out. Jesus said that all who were weary should come to Him for He will give them rest. But note that they have to first come to Him.
Lastly, when it comes to being discouraged in ministry we must remember that we do not even begin to see the fruit of our efforts. I understand what it is like to feel as if your toil is for nothing. To feel that no one is listening, no one cares, and no one ever will. Let me ask you this. If you knew for a fact that 20 years of your direct ministry efforts would result in only one person making it into heaven -- would your efforts be worth it? What if that one person was your spouse? Or your mother? Or your child? How about now?
In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven't strayed away! -- Luke 15: 7 (NLT)