“Let’s Make a Deal!”
Week Two: Dealing with Discouragement
Last week we started a short series called, “Let’s Make a Deal,” because ALL of us are “dealing” with something right now. Last week we talked about DEALING WITH DISAPPOINTMENTS. We looked at David, the shepherd boy turned king, and the kinds of struggles he had dealing with his father-in-law, Saul; and how we, too, can face our disappointments from a healthy, biblical perspective. You can read last week’s message through our website, Byhaliaumc.org.
This morning we’re going to dig a little deeper by Dealing with Discouragement. You may be wondering, what’s the difference between “disappointment” and “discouragement?” To me, to be disappointed is “to feel sad or displeased because of the defeat of one’s hopes or expectations.” To be discouraged is to lose courage, confidence, or hope in a situation. As I see it, discouragement is one step below disappointment. I can be disappointed at someone without losing hope in that person. If I become discouraged, I’ve lost hope. To help us look at overcoming discouragement, let’s invite the prophet Elijah into the conversation.
If you’ve got your Bible’s handy, turn to 1 Kings 19. We will be looking at the first 18 verses; but first let me set the stage for us. The prophet Elijah comes onto the scene of biblical history without much fanfare. Listen to the introduction of Elijah two chapters earlier: “Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”
There’s no call on Elijah’s life recorded in scripture like there is for Isaiah or Jeremiah. There’s no back story. All we know is that he’s from Tishbe, an ancient hamlet in the region of Gilead (east of the Jordan River)…AND…he’s a prophet because he is speaking FOR God TO King Ahab. Elijah is a prophet to the Northern Kingdom of Israel of the divided kingdom seven kings after King Solomon.
If we had read a few verses back, we would see that the Bible describes King Ahab as being “more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any king before him.” He married a Sidonian princess named Jezebel and adopted her worship practices. Jezebel worshipped Baal, the god of weather—rain, wind, lightening, seasons, etc.
The irony is not lost on us that the ONE curse that God gives Ahab and, by extension the entire Northern Kingdom, is that He would not allow it to rain until he said so…through Elijah, whose name means, My God is Yahweh. “As surely as the God of Israel, whom I serve…”
If we were to read through chapter 17 we would see how God provided for Elijah through the drought and famine…first by being fed by Ravens and drinking from the Kerith Ravine, and then by the Widow at Zarephath, whose jar of flour and jug of oil never ran out until it rained 3 ½ years later.
And…if we were to read chapter 18, we would see how God mightily used Elijah to defeat the prophets of Baal during the showdown on Mount Carmel. One of my all-time favorite lines in the OT are the words Elijah speaks to the people of Israel: “How long with you go on limping between two opinions. If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” The irony is that when the prophets of Baal attempted to get their god to send down fire, they cut themselves and limped around the altar.
After they failed, Elijah calls on the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and God showed up and showed out—sending down fire to consume the water-soaked bull sacrifice, the wood, the stones, everything. Then Elijah had all 450 prophets of Baal slaughtered. It was a BIG WIN for God and for Elijah his prophet.
And if THAT weren’t enough, Elijah had the joyous pleasure of telling King Ahab that it was about to rain after 3 ½ years! And sure enough…after starting out as a cloud the size of a man’s hand…a deluge ensued!
It would not be hyperbole to call Elijah’s actions on the part of God super-natural. He could easily have been called one of God’s Avengers. You have Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Captain America, Spider-Man, and now “Rain-man.” Okay, that was a bad joke. But you get the point.
Now, let’s pick up in our chapter 19 to see how quickly the tide can turn for our hero prophet. [READ 19:1-18] One minute a fearless, faith-filled, committed follower of Yahweh. The next minute a discouraged, fear-struck man on the run.
Was he REALLY that scared of one woman? Could Jezebel strike fear in the heart of such a valiant and vocal prophet of the Most High? I’m not sure. Scripture said he “ran for his life,” to be sure. But maybe it had more to do with the continued idolatrous culture in which he lived.
I think he ran because he became discouraged with life’s circumstances. Elijah hoped that after all the miracles the Israelites saw performed on Mount Carmel, Ahab and Jezebel would repent and put God first, but they did not. King Ahab and Jezebel were as stubborn and hard hearted, and Elijah felt discouraged, exhausted, and told himself that his entire ministry was a waste.
So, he ran into the wilderness, sat under a bush, and prayed to die. Discouragement. It can happen even to the strongest and best of people. I draw hope from the fact that people like Elijah, Jeremiah, and even Peter and Paul got discouraged on occasion.
Despite our persistent and fervent prayers, sometimes things don’t turn out the way we’d hoped they would. We may be doing everything right when it comes to our devotion to God, and STILL our spouse doesn’t respond to our spiritual leadership. Our kids STILL seem to be wrecking their lives with ungodly choices. Our job STILL seems unfulfilling and circular. Our health STILL seems to be on the decline. The money STILL runs out before the month does! Our schools don’t seem to be improving. Our nation is sharply divided over key issues like boarder security, abortion, and same-sex marriage. The church seems silent when it should be standing in the gap!
How does today’s hero overcome his discouragement? Let’s look at his encounter with the Lord in chapter 19 to learn some lessons in dealing with discouragement. What are some biblical truths found here?
1.BE HONEST. It does you no good to pretend you don’t feel what you feel. You can’t take action against a negative feeling until you first admit you have it. A maturing Christian doesn’t deny being discouraged. Instead, he/she has learned how to process them biblically. Elijah was honest with himself and God. He ran for his life, sat down and prayed to God that He might take his life.
2.TAKE CARE OF YOUR BODY. If your body isn’t working, your mind, emotions and will are also weakened. Elijah laid down and slept. He acknowledged not only his emotional discouragement but also his physical depravity.
Let’s remember that there has been a 3+ year famine in the land. No one had quite the energy they would normally have with a full stomach. Elijah was likely weak after the big showdown and the wilderness walk. He was also feeling very dejected and discouraged. Depression may have been setting in.
I think that’s why the Angel of the Lord told Elijah to get up and eat the bread and water twice. The first time he fell back to sleep…still emotionally and physically exhausted. I love how God tended to Elijah’s body first. Sometimes the circumstances of life drain us dry, and we need to press pause and simply rest and refresh.
Some of us stop eating when we’re stressed or depressed. Others of us (ME) binge eat. Neither is good for us. We also lose sleep. But sooner or later our bodies go into self-defense mode and shut down. We MUST take care of our physical bodies if we have any hope of addressing our mental and emotional health.
Psychologists and medical physicians agree that physical exercise, restful sleep, and healthy eating habits are essential to good mental and emotional health. If you’re discouraged or depressed, go for a walk. Play a round of golf or some other physical activity. Eat healthy meals with minimal sweets. Take care of your body.
After being strengthened by the food and water, Elijah traveled 40 days and 40 nights to Mt. Horeb…a.k.a. Mt. Sinai. The very place that Yahweh met Moses and gave the Law, God now meets Elijah and gives him not only encouragement but a new mission. This leads me to the third point.
Pay attention to your thought life. Elijah was telling himself lies. He even conveyed those lies to the Lord, saying that HE was the only prophet of Yahweh left. But that’s not true. King Ahab’s palace administrator named Obadiah had hidden 100 prophets in two caves. Elijah even knew about this before the showdown on Mt. Carmel. Later, the voice of God tells Elijah that he had reserved 7,000 Israelites who have not worshipped Baal.
Sadly, we can tell ourselves lies about ourselves and others that—if left unchecked—become absolute truths to us. “I’m never going to get out of this mess.” “My life is ruined forever.” “God could never forgive me.” “My kids will never return to the Lord.” If we tell ourselves these lies (and they’re lies because we just don’t know the future and can never say never), then they become reality for us. We must take care of our thought life.
Maturing as believers means we learn to think truthfully. Philippians 4:8 saysà Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
God did not immediately correct Elijah’s stinking thinking. First, he tells Elijah to “go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” This leads us to point #4.
4. Get where you can see God. When we become discouraged, our default position to be retreat. Hide away from the world. But retreat = defeat! Instead we need to force ourselves out of our self-pity party and be where God is. That doesn’t necessarily mean going to church…BUT being with true followers of Jesus who love you and want God’s best for you is WAY better than watching a sermon on YouTube, Facebook Live, or TV!
“Being where God is” may include honest prayer, reading God’s Word, taking a walk in nature, serving others in need. Move beyond your paralyzing discouragement and look for God. Elijah is told to climb a mountain. You may be told to fall on your face. Just get where you can see Him and where He’s got your attention.
For Elijah, it wasn’t in wind, earthquake, or fire. It was in a still, small voice. Elijah hears for the second (but really the first) time, “What are you doing here?” It’s not a geography question. God wants to know why Elijah is discouraged. And for the second time, Elijah declares his reason for discouragement: He has been ineffective at winning the Israelites back to serving and worshipping Yahweh. They still reject God and his covenant along with his preachers. Now, they want Elijah dead, too. Let’s look at a 5th and final point.
1.Train yourself to “see” life from more than one perspective. If we believe Elijah’s perspective to be the only truth, then we might join him in his pity-party. No more preachers. No more worship of God. All is lost. But if we have spent time with God and learned God’s perspective, things will become more clear.
God is in control. God is sovereign. The nation of Israel will not get away with rejecting God. The Lord tells Elijah to change the leadership so God can change the situation. With a new king over Aram/Syria (Hazael), a new king over Israel (Jehu), and a new prophet (Elisha), the people of Israel will be punished for their idolatry and unfaithfulness. Elijah couldn’t see that. He had to be shown this truth from the Lord.
Not only that, but the Lord had reserved 7,000 Israelites who had not bowed the knee to Baal. A remnant. Elijah couldn’t see that either…until the Lord revealed it. I think it was Donald Rumsfeld, former Secretary of Defense following the 911 attacks, who made famous the phrase, “We don’t know what we don’t know.” I think it’s true. We don’t know what we don’t know…BUT GOD DOES. We must train ourselves to see from God’s perspective, not just our own.
That requires knowing Christ on a more intimate level. Abide in Him and He in you. Here’s another famous phrase…this time by our Lord and Savior: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1). Jesus is giving us a command…actually, two. He knew his disciples would be tempted to fear, to be discouraged. Things were going to look very bad, like the whole mission was imploding. What were they to do instead of being afraid? Believe! “Believe in God; believe also in me.” In other words, “Don’t let your hearts be ruled by what you see. Let them be ruled by what I promise you.” And that’s what he’s saying to you and me too.
Jon Bloom, staff writer for John Piper’s webpage, DesiringGod.org, says that when we are discouraged, it’s time to fight, not pout or shrink. Think of discouragement as your faith being choked. When you’re choking, it’s not the time to plop down in front of the TV with a plate of comfort food to self-medicate. You need to dislodge the obstruction so you can breathe. You need to fight for life. You may need to get someone to give you the Heimlich.
Go get encouragement. Don’t let discouragement choke you. It’s dislodged by believing God’s promises. He gave us the Bible so that “through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Let me leave you with some selections of biblical encouragement:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:35, 37)
“It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”(Deuteronomy 31:8)
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. (Isaiah 26:3)
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”(John 14:27)
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
Prayer and Closing Song
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:13)