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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Allen Jackson » Allen Jackson - Defeating Discouragement - Part 1

Allen Jackson - Defeating Discouragement - Part 1

Allen Jackson - Defeating Discouragement - Part 1
TOPICS: Discouragement, Overcoming In Training

Really, lessons in overcoming. How do we learn to overcome? And my imagination, my hope is this: that we will either add a new tool to your spiritual toolbox, or that you will gain in your dexterity and your use of the tool. Because overcoming is a critical component of living a successful life of a Christ follower. It's not optional. It's not just for super-Christians or hyper-Christians or zealots or crackpots; it's for everybody. Let's start in Romans 12, in verse 21. It says, "Don't be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good". Those are the choices the scripture gives us. You and I are participating in one of those two tracks. We're either helping to overcome evil, or we're being overcome by it. There is no third option. There's no neutral position of just holding your own, maintaining the status quo.

In Revelation chapter 2, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God". Many of you will know that the book of Revelation begins with letters to seven separate churches, and there's something of a diagnostic presented to each church. The Lord reveals the strengths and weaknesses of each, and then a resolution to the challenges they face. But there's one thing consistent across all seven of those churches in Revelation, each of them are given the assignment to overcome. And it says specifically, "Those that are listening to the Spirit will overcome". And then at the conclusion of the book of Revelation in chapter 21, I gave you one verse, says, "He who overcomes will inherit all of this, and I will be his God and he will be my son".

The kingdom of God and the the benefits of being a participant come to one particular group of people: those who overcome. In the middle of the book of Revelation it says there was war in heaven. There was war on the earth between the believers in Jesus Christ, and Satan. And they, the believers on earth, overcame Satan by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony. One way of understanding the book of Revelation is that it is a primer on learning to be an overcomer. Every church that we're introduced to at the beginning of Revelation is told to overcome, and the rewards at the end of the battle, the end of the story, are given to the overcomers. The choice you and I have to make is whether or not we're going to choose to overcome evil in our lives.

Now, I'd like to take one specific invitation with this particular lesson, and that's talk a bit about overcoming discouragement and despair. They won't just go away because we wish them away. They won't just go away because our circumstances change. They don't go away because of birthdays or because your family scenario changes. You know, a lot of times we can imagine we'll be happier with the next season of life. "If I can just graduate from the program I'm in and move on to the next. If I could just be married, I'll be better. If I could just have children, I'll be better. If the children would just leave, I'd be better". Or, "If the children could just have some children, I'd be better". Or, "If they just come get the children they had and take 'em away, I'd be even better".

You know, it's easy to imagine there's some scenario, but the reality seems to be elsewhere. And so we're gonna talk about overcoming discouragement and despair and hopelessness. We're the most blessed people on the planet. We have more abundance, more options, more freedoms, more liberties, more blessings, and yet we describe more antidepressants than almost any other category of drug. It's a challenge for us, and it's a challenge for those of us that fill churches; it's not someplace else. So I wanna start with this notion of hope and hopelessness. What does it mean to have hope, and what's it mean to be without hope? Two polar opposites, but sometimes the road between the two is not that distant.

In 1 Thessalonians chapter 5, in verse 8 says, "Let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet". The imagery here is helpful to me. It's the imagery of a helmet, something you fit over your head to protect your brain, to protect your head, and all the vital functions that it performs for us. And then that helmet, in this case, is the helmet of hope. Hope protects our minds, and it leads us to this notion that our minds, in truth, are a battlefield. The outcome of your life, the momentum of your life, the potential of your life is determined in your thoughts far, long before it's worked out in your actions and your behaviors. In your mind and my mind are battlefields between good and evil.

So we talk about being an overcomer, that's gonna include how we think and the thoughts that we hold and the emotions that flood us and the messages we take from our own selves. There's a battle going on for far too long in the Christian world; we've been a little naive on this point. We thought that the battle in our mind was simply between whether we said profane words or righteous words, or whether we occasionally looked at pornography or not, and I don't wanna endorse those things or minimize the destructive nature of them, but the battle in our mind is far more complex than that. Far more personal than that. And we wanna learn how to cooperate with God, in fact, at the beginning of that verse is we have to learn to be self-controlled.

I wanna give you three simple ideas to cultivate, to reflect on, to think about, to let grow on the inside of you. The first one is that one person with a God perspective can make a difference. Just one person. Christ in you will make a difference. Far too often, I think we're discouraged because there's not more Christ followers. Maybe you're the only person of faith in the office where you work. That's not an awful thing, that's called a lighthouse. That's important, that's an assignment. It's a kingdom assignment. Don't pray to get transferred. When you get all those folks believing and born again and reading their Bibles, then you can move. "Well, I wanted to work where there was like lots of Christians and we could hold hands at noon and sing 'Kumbaya.'"

Well, you better get busy. Or maybe, "I live on a block and none of my neighbors are Christians". It's why God moved you there. "Well, isn't there another answer? Couldn't I just move"? Yeah, and God will find more pagans to populate the neighborhood around you when you get there. One God person makes a difference. A second idea is that we lose hope when we lose sight of the one who brings us hope. Your hope, hope in your life, is connected to a person, not a circumstance or a bank balance or the weather or the school your children are attending or the team they're invited to participate on.

Hope is about a person, and without Jesus Christ as the anchor for your hope, despair will flood you. 'Cause you're gonna put your hope in something that's transient, something that is deteriorating, something that is not trustworthy. And when you put your trust in something that disappoints you, disappointment and despair move in. So our hope is connected to a person, and his name is Jesus. He's the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He's coming back to the earth to rule and reign in righteousness and truth and justice. He is our hope. Amen.

And the third idea I just wanna plant for your own reflection is that our God is able. Our God is able. It's a little unfortunate in the abundance of expressions of Christianity that we have, it's easy to imagine our faith in the context of the church we attend or the denomination to which we belong or the theology that we've embraced or the translation of the Bible that we read or the style of worship that we prefer, none of those things are wrong or evil in and of themselves, but folks, God is bigger than all of those things. Our God is the creator of all things. With a nod of his head, he can part an ocean. He can open a blind eye or unstop a deaf ear. He can bring the dead to life again. He watches over the paths of nations and intervenes in the course of human history.

Our God is able. He's not intimidated or frightened or bullied. When he looks at the wickedness and the vileness of men, he doesn't wring his hands in despair and say, "What will I do"? Our God is able. And somehow we've diminished our God into creedal statements and pithy little phrases and 30 minute presentations, and we don't want him to encroach in our lives. I want God to fill my life as fully as possible. It's the greatest power available to human beings. The church of Jesus Christ is the hope of the earth. Christ in you makes a difference because our God is able. God doesn't look at evil or darkness or wickedness and wring his hands in fear or dread or intimidation. Amen.

Now, I wanna give you those ideas, but I wanna take it a step further with you. And I wanna suggest that to hold hope in your heart and your life that courage is a requirement. I don't know that we often think about courage in the context of our faith. We often talk about courage in other places, in other context. But to be a Christ follower, to lead a life of faith will require of you courage. There's many ways I could develop that from scripture, but I'll give you a single verse. In Joshua chapter 1, and verse 9 God is speaking to Joshua. It's really the beginning of a new commission for Joshua. And God said, "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".

And you know enough about biblical interpretation by now. If God says to Joshua not to be discouraged or not to be terrified, what's the challenge Joshua is facing? He's frightened and discouraged. And God said, "You don't have to do that". But he gave him a commandment. He didn't give him a suggestion or a nudge or a hint or a prompt. He didn't just hit him with a text message. He gave him a commandment. He said, "Be strong and courageous". It strikes me what he didn't say. He didn't say, "Joshua, you need to go to the tabernacle and worship more". He didn't say, "Review the commandments Moses brought down the mountain". He didn't say, "Joshua, be certain and keep all the law".

All of those are important things, but he said, "Joshua, be strong and courageous". I suspect you could make heaven without a systematic theology, but I don't think you'll make it without strength and courage. Joshua has one of the more difficult job descriptions in the Bible. He is Moses's successor. That's not an easy assignment. You know Moses, right? He's the guy that walked into Pharaoh's office and said, "You know, those Hebrew people, they're leaving with me". And Pharaoh said, "Probably not," and kind of a battle breaks out, the plagues, remember those stories? Y'all never heard of Moses. Okay, you have. Good. I mean Moses did okay, right. He parts the Red Sea. He gets manna in the wilderness. He's feeding hundreds of thousands of people without Costco or Sam's.

Moses goes up Mount Sinai, comes back with the Ten Commandments cut in stone. Moses spent so much time with God his face glowed in the dark. He had to wear a veil. Anybody have that problem? Fellas, how many of your face glows from such holiness that your wife says, "Put a rag over it and face the wall, I can't sleep". Yeah, me either. But Moses was not able to lead the Hebrew people into the Promised Land. God said, "You can't do that, Moses". So when Moses is done, God says to Joshua, "That's your assignment".

I would submit you, that could be discouraging. The greatest leader that the Hebrew people had ever known. And God says to Joshua, "You're gonna do that". Joshua started his life as a slave in the brick pits of Egypt. That intrigues me. Joshua has experienced the supernatural of God for a period of more than 40 years. He's seen the waters parted, he's seen the plagues, he's eaten manna every day for years. He knows the supernatural presence of God, and yet Joshua is battling with fear and discouragement.

See, I don't want you to think that because you have that struggle in your heart that you're a beginner or that you're a weak Christ follower or that you have missed the Lord or that you aren't following in his footsteps or that God isn't leading you; those are lies. Joshua is a man of God uniquely prepared for an assignment to lead God's people into his Promised Land. He's a man with a long record, years and years, decades of experiencing the supernatural presence of God, being tutored by Moses, and yet he's battling fear and discouragement. And God says, "Be strong and courageous". I want you to know, it needs to be in your awareness, on your radar, that strength and courage are necessary components to be a person of faith. It's important.

What do you imagine the opposite of courage to be? Fear? I don't believe so. I think you can do courageous things while you still struggle with fear. The opposite of courage, it seems to me, is to be discouraged. The little prefix "dis-" means without. To be discouraged is to be absent of courage. The contrast to that is to have courage, and that's to be encouraged. The little prefix en- means with. To be encouraged is to be with courage, to have courage.

Now, the lesson is: you and I need to understand what brings discouragement to us, and do our best to diminish it. And we need to understand what's necessary for us to be encouraged, to be with courage, because we have been commanded to have strength and courage. And don't just assume they'll come to you. We're responsible for our spiritual well-being. We're responsible for our spiritual nutrition. We have to understand one of the values of being with the people of God is it's encouraging that there are other people seeking God. 'Cause sometimes you just think you're nuts and you're the only one, right? Don't raise your hand, but we've all been there. You know, get Elijah syndrome. "I'm the only one left". And God said, "Oh, get over yourself. I got 7,000 more".

Encouraged and discouraged are very important components of your life. Don't spend discretionary time with discouraging people. I don't mean that their stories are, sometimes people's life stories are difficult and painful. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about people that take your courage and God away from you. Don't do that. I like to hang around people that help strengthen my courage in the Lord, that bolster it. Don't you? You can face difficult circumstances and painful places in life and still have courage.

Now, let's add one more layer to this discussion. I'm gonna suggest to you that there's a relationship between discouragement, being without courage, and your selfish nature. Yourself. The word self is used in scripture and has a rather specific meaning, particularly in the New Testament. It's often used to refer to our old nature, our carnal nature. That part of us that we've inherited from Adam. Our fallen nature, our rebellious nature, our soulish nature. Now, when you're born again, when you make a profession of faith in Jesus, the Bible says that you're becoming... Corinthians, it says, "A totally new creation". In John 3 it says, "You're born again," actually, "A new birth".

There is something spiritual that takes place in you. Your spirit is made new, made alive to God, but you still got your earth suit. When you make a profession of faith, it's not like, you don't wake up with a new body, right? Well, you still got your old, soulish self. Your soul is your mind, your will, and your emotions. And although there's been a spiritual birth in you, we are told that we're responsible for the renewing of our mind. Wow. Look with me in Ephesians, I gave you a verse. Ephesians 4, in verse 22 it says, "You were taught," he's writing to the church at Ephesus. "You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; and to be made new in the attitude of your minds".

Now, the language is pretty active. It says we're to put off our old, selfish, carnal nature. In the way we would take off a jacket. And why would you take it off? It's corrupt. That's the word, it's corrupt, it's decaying. It's necrotic, it's rotting. You don't wanna wear it, take it off. It's anchored to something that's passing away. It's a part of this temporal world. It's not helpful. It says, "Take it off". But then we're given an alternative in verse 24. It says, "Put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness". We're gonna put something on in place of that decrepit, decaying, necrotic mess, and we're gonna put on our new self created for us by God that will enable righteousness and holiness to emerge in our life.

So we're gonna take off that old, soulish nature, and put on the nature of God. We're told to do that, that's not something God does for us. We put on this helmet of salvation. Your soul, my soul, our mind, our will, and our emotions. Our old, carnal, soulish self says to us all the time, "I want. I think. I feel. And you should pay attention to what I want and I think and I feel". And if you don't have the council of scripture, if you don't have God's wisdom in the Holy Spirit to help you, you'll spend your life chasing down satisfaction for your soulish self. You can be born again. You could have made a profession of faith in Jesus, been baptized, read your Bible, sit in church, and never taken off that old, soulish nature. And you will spend much of your life and time and energy satisfying, "What I want and I feel and I think".

Maybe you're not wicked, immature. And if we're gonna be overcomers, if we're gonna overcome evil, we're gonna have to grow up in the Lord in some new ways. I think we face a challenge in the church. I think we've really imagined that maturing in the Lord is not particularly a pleasant thing. We're not even certain it's a good thing, so we're kind of reluctant to mature in the Lord. We're kind of happy, you know, I think, I don't even wanna say it out loud, but the mindset I observe is: "Listen, I wanna go to heaven in the event that there is one. And in the event that there might be a hell, I choose heaven. So tell me what I need to do to get my passport stamped. But once I've got that, I'm really not looking to be like a hyper-Christian or a super-Christian, I just wanna be one that gets in under the bar". I mean, we don't say that 'cause it's a little offensive just to say it, but it seems like it's the way that... maturing might not really be good for us.

Folks, I wanna suggest that the best things in life come when you mature and grow up. They really do. I mean, every time you hold a newborn baby, I'm amazed at the wonder of God and creation. How you can look at a brand-new baby and not believe in a God eludes me. But you don't wanna stay in that condition. Where every need you have has to be attended to by someone else. As beautiful as that new child is, it's the promise of the child that is the wonder. The growth, the development, the ability to learn, to gain physical dexterity, to process responsibilities, all of those wonders in every life stage, they never go away. As long as you're under the sun, you're continuing to grow and mature and develop.

We wanna grow up spiritually, it'll bring good things to you. So we're talking about putting off your old, carnal, soulish self, and putting on a new self in godliness and righteousness and holiness; it won't diminish you, it will strengthen you. And if we're ever gonna gain momentum in it, we're gonna have to decide it's a good thing. You don't look convinced. Been around little people lately. You know, if you're with a three-year-old when they're hungry, they pretty much make an announcement. "I'm hungry". They just look at you like you've got a menu from the local restaurant in your back pocket. "Well, absolutely. What would you like"? And if you're not paying attention the first time they say it, they just find the volume knob and turn it up. "I said I'm hungry"! They just look at you. They don't care what your financial condition is, they don't care what you're doing, they don't care how busy you are, they are hungry. They have expressed a desire. And your assignment in life is to meet that need.

Now, I have also observed when they say, "I'm hungry," what they mean is they're hungry for chicken nuggets or pizza. They don't mean they're looking for a double portion of asparagus. They will accept ice cream, but they're hungry. Now, that's not wrong for the emotional place they are. That announcement's appropriate. When they're hungry, it's good to know. But if they make it to 40 and they make it to the public square and they begin the announcement, "I'm hungry," as if someone else should be responsible, that someone else should stop whatever they're doing, and that volume is the only thing necessary to get that need met, that's more tragic than it is cute. And we've been a little guilty in the church. We've been a little more childlike. It's cute when we're new Christians and God honors it and helps us with that, but there comes a point when he says, "I need you to help me overcome evil. You have an assignment on planet Earth".

If you're watching the world around us and you're not grieving for the spiritual condition of our generation, you're not paying careful enough attention. We are watching a tug of war between good and evil, and we have a role to play. Let's pray:

Father, give us the discernment to recognize what you're doing and the courage and the boldness to stand for the truth. Forgive us for our ambivalence. We choose you with our whole hearts. In Jesus's name, amen.

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