Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Discouragement

Discouragement is a lot like a sinkhole…sinkholes appear out of nowhere and swallow up roads, cars, homes (we all remember the terrible report earlier this summer out of Quebec when an entire family perished when a large sinkhole swallowed their entire house).  And a sinkhole happens in nature because of things like natural disasters, storms, flooding, extreme temperatures.  They happen unexpectedly and uninvited, wearing away under the surface and then manifesting suddenly and we have very little or no control when they do.

We experience sinkholes in life too.  The powerful storms of life flood in and they can wear away at our resolve, washing away our confidence and eroding our courage until it seems like someone has pulled the ground out from under us and we become mired in a pit of discouragement.  These unexpected cave-ins on the road of life cause delays, detours and disappointment.  Extreme circumstances in life come in like a flood and often turn up the heat in our lives to a point where it is just unbearable…and they can leave us struggling with discouragement.

•    You lose your job – you look for weeks that turn into months with no real opportunities on the horizon and you begin to feel like you are no longer useful, like you are a failure and soon the ground gives way and you plummet into that sinkhole…
•    You hear your doctor give a diagnosis that leaves you reeling and you begin a series of treatments and surgeries but nothing seems to be working and the prognosis gets worse and not better – and before you know it, the once solid foundation underneath you crumbles and the earth opens up and swallows you whole…
•    You are speaking with your spouse and you hear the words they say but you are finding it hard to fathom that they could ever be unfaithful to you.  Worse than that, they tell you that its over and they are moving on and you feel the floor beneath you disappear and suddenly you are falling into that pit of discouragement.
•    You work your butt off to succeed in your job or your education and you get to that performance review or that report card and in spite of your best efforts, you don’t make the cut…and its like you are sinking in quicksand.

We all fall into a sinkhole of discouragement at some point in our lives.

Look at the story of Joseph. Poor Joseph…if anyone could have been discouraged – it was Joseph.  Betrayed by his own brothers because of their intense jealousy of him, almost killed by them actually if Reuben hadn’t stepped in…then sold into slavery, falsely accused and imprisoned.  Talk about your sinkhole experience – to the casual observer, Joseph is sinking fast and furious.

But Joseph handles what is happening to him in his life beautifully and out of Joseph’s handling of the situation that he is in, I want to make some important observations that will help us to overcome discouragement.

Charles Stanley observed it this way…
“Disappointments will come and go, but discouragement is a choice that you make.”

And in Joseph’s case, he refused to make the choice to be discouraged.  First observation…

…Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, God is always with you.

Genesis 39:20b-21a (NIV)
But while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him…


For all intents and purposes, to the naked eye, to the casual observer, it seemed like this was it for Joseph.  Oh things might have being going well at one point in Potiphar’s house, but now…now Joseph was in the slammer and one of the most powerful men in Egypt had put him there.

Sure he was innocent…but you know what they say about prisoners in jail right?  They all say they’re innocent.  Joseph really was.

But the indictment against him was ominous.  Raping this powerful mans wife right in his own house? It did not look good for Joseph.

But all along – Joseph has seemed to beat the odds.  He escapes death from his brothers because of Reuben’s intervention.  He lands in the house of Potiphar as a slave – but there, the Lord was with Joseph and he prospered (Gen. 39:2).  Then this devious seduction and Joseph’s refusal and the eventual false accusation and then Joseph lands in jail.  If anyone had the right to be discouraged, it was Joseph.  If anyone could have thought that God had abandoned him, it would have been Joseph.  But he didn’t.

The narrative tells us that even while Joseph was there in prison, the Lord was with him.  There is that phrase again ‘the Lord was with Joseph’.

Somehow through all of what Joseph had been going through, even at his young age he had developed a strong faith and dependence on God.  Joseph trusted God and he LOVED God.  And here is the thing.  When we love God – he is aware of us.  When we love God, we are on His radar.  He knows our address…he knows our name… and he knows what we need. 

1 Corinthians 8:3
But the man who loves God is known by God.


And not only does he know us – like in Joseph’s case, when we go through hard times, He is WITH us.  He is Immanuel – God with us.

Remember Joshua? Joshua was a brand new leader of the children of Israel.  He had observed the leadership of Moses his mentor, but now Moses was dead and ALL of the responsibility of leading these people now rested squarely on his shoulders.  And as he stood before God’s servant – the one who spoke for God – he had a huge task in front of him.  Leading the children of Israel…the whiny, stubborn, complaining, disobedient, sinful, cowardly children of Israel.  But Joshua was encouraged…because of these words from the prophet of God.

Joshua 1:9 (MSG)
Haven't I commanded you? Strength! Courage! Don't be timid; don't get discouraged. God, your God, is with you every step you take.


How awesome for Joshua to be assured that God was with him every step of the way.  He could have strength and courage knowing that God was with him.  And God is with you this morning too.

You might say, "you have no idea what I’m going through. You don’t know how long I’ve carried this burden. You don’t know how dark and alone I feel in my life right now.  You don’t know how desperate my thoughts have been or how hard I’ve prayed with no answer.  You don’t know how far away God seems at this moment in my life.  It’s like He is absent and not listening and I just can’t feel his presence at all."

You’re right – I don’t know. I don’t know what you’re going through or how you feel or what you need even.   But I want you to know today that in spite of what might seem to you like overwhelming evidence to the contrary – God is with you every step you take.  Because his Word says that he is and he is a God of his Word.

Actually, before Moses died, he had given Joshua a little pep talk about his leadership.  And he used some similar words, but he also added something else.

Deuteronomy 31:8 (MSG)
God is striding ahead of you. He's right there with you. He won't let you down; he won't leave you. Don't be intimidated. Don't worry.


Not just WITH you Joshua.  He is striding ahead of you.  Scouting out what comes next. He won’t let you down, won’t disappoint you. He won’t leave you…You’ve got it made! Don’t be discouraged (NIV) and don’t worry. It will all work out OK.

Second thought.

…Even in your darkest moments, there are others who need your encouragement.

So back to our story…Joseph lands in jail and God is with him there.  But there are others with him as well.  And among them are the king’s chief cupbearer and the king’s chief baker.  No indication of what they had done – but nevertheless they had been sent to the prison.

And one night while they were in the prison, both of them had dreams – different dreams – and when they got up in the morning they were troubled about these dreams and what they might mean.

Genesis 40:6-7 (NIV)
When Joseph came to them the next morning, he saw that they were dejected.  So he asked Pharaoh's officials who were in custody with him in his master's house, "Why are your faces so sad today?"


Now remember, Joseph has problems all his own.  He didn’t even deserve to be there in the prison.  And yet he was concerned about what the cupbearer and the baker might be going through.

One sure fire way to get your mind off what is discouraging you or depressing you, is to begin to encourage someone else who is in need.

Blake Mycoskie, the founder and ‘Chief Shoe Giver’ of Tom’s Shoes Inc. said:
“When people start serving others they automatically forget about all their own stress.”

I think he is on to something that my wife and I have talked about in our home before.  Sometimes even we have gotten down and discouraged about any number of things…financial crises, major challenges with our kids, family illness, all kinds of things can creep in and start to consume our thinking and begin to get us down.  But we have all always come back to a very practical truth.  There is always someone else who is going through something and who needs our encouragement and that helps us to get our mind off our own problems.

You think your life stinks?  Just turn on the news or read the newspaper, go to Google News or MSN.ca.  There is always someone out there who is worse off than we are and who is going through something so horrible that we can’t even fathom...that’s when we realize that maybe we aren’t as bad off as we thought.

Joseph was in prison for no reason – and he could have just curled up in a corner and cried ‘poor me’ and no one would have blamed him.  But that’s not what Joseph did.  Instead, he was open to the needs of those around him.  He observed that these men were troubled and dejected…he initiated a conversation with them because he could tell were going through something…and then he offered them his help.  Because encouraging others gets our mind off of what we are going through.  And it keeps our hearts right too.

Joseph had been going through a similar ordeal and so instead of focusing only on his problems and sinking deeper into discouragement, he got his eyes and his attention off of himself and onto others around him.

Rick Warren reminds us that ‘God never wastes a hurt’.  God allows us to go through things so that we can help others who are going through similar circumstances.  And remember, we don’t go through these things alone – God is always with us.

2 Corinthians 1:4 (NLT)
He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.


Whenever I start to think that maybe what I’m going through or what someone close to me is going through is just too much – I am reminded of what Jesus went through for me and of what it says in:

Hebrews 12:1-3 (NKJV)
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.


So Joseph interpreted the dreams of both the cupbearer and the baker.  The cupbearer's dream meant that he was going to be restored to his position in the palace.  Excellent!!  The interpretation to the bakers dream was not so exciting.  He was going to be executed.  And everything came to pass just like Joseph said that it would.

Joseph only asked one thing…he asked that when the cupbearer got back into the palace that he would remember Joseph and mention him to Pharaoh so that he could get out of prison.  He said (40:15) ‘for I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon.

Which brings me to the last observation that I want to make about discouragement.

…When the best intentions of others fail, God does not forget you.

Genesis 40:23 (NIV)
The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.


Can you believe that?  I know that you can.  Because all of us have been let down by someone at some point or another.  People are just not as dependable as we would like them to be.  One commentator explained the cupbearers failure to remember Joseph to Pharaoh this way:

“This was human nature. How prone are men to forget and neglect in prosperity, those who have been their companions in adversity.”
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary

I guarantee you people will let you down.  Your friends, your family, your co-workers, maybe even your small group leader or one of your pastors will let you down at some point or another…and not maliciously or intentionally.  As a matter of fact they might have the very best intentions but for any number of reasons not come through. 

But I want you to know that God will never let you down.  Good thing that Joseph wasn’t just depending on the cupbearer – his trust was in someone much higher up the food chain than that…higher than a servant in the palace, higher than the king himself.  Joseph was trusting in God…like David said in the Psalms.

Psalm 20:7 (NIV)
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.


Joseph knew that God was with him and that God would not abandon him.  Oh, I’m sure he would have preferred had the cupbearer mentioned him to Pharaoh right away and had he not had to wait two more years in that prison until finally God brought about the opportunity for him to be released.  We all think we have a better idea about timing than God.  But nevertheless, Joseph was trusting in God.

And when the opportunity came – he was ready.  He appeared before Pharaoh and boldly told him that he himself couldn’t interpret the dreams, but God would give Pharaoh the correct interpretation of his dreams.  Because Joseph understood that God had been with him all along that He could be trusted.

Remember Moses’ words to Joshua?

Deuteronomy 31:8a (NLT)
Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.


All of us have struggled with discouragement at some point in our lives.  But you get to choose whether discouragement wins out or not.  You need to remember that:

…Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, God is always with you.
…Even in your darkest moments, there are others who need your encouragement.
…When the best intentions of others fail, God does not forget you.


Remember the words of Paul who said:

2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (NLT)
We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.


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