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James Merritt - Life Lift

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    James Merritt - Life Lift
TOPICS: Discouragement

I want you to turn to 1 Kings 19. We're going to study a man today that was absolutely at the bottom of the barrel of discouragement. In fact, it's kind of surprising to see who he was. His name was Elijah, and he's known as one of the greatest prophets. He may be the most famous prophet in all of the Bible. Now, one of the most amazing things about Elijah is he was discouraged when, when you look at where he was in his life, he should have been encouraged. He was down when he should have been up. He had just achieved one of the greatest singlehanded victories in history. He faced greater odds than General Custer, but he came out victorious.

You may not know the story, but he had gone toe to toe with 450 false prophets of the pagan god Baal. He decided to meet them on Main Street at high noon. He said, "Okay, let's just see who's worshiping the right God. Are you worshiping the right god, Baal? Or am I worshiping the right God, the God that I call 'Jehovah' or 'Yahweh'? Who's worshiping the right God"? And they went 1 on 1, or actually, 1 to 450, in this spiritual contest where the loser would die, and he won. Well, before that, he had prophesied a nationwide drought that would affect the entire land, and it happened just as he said. Not only did his prayers cause God to stop the rain, and rivers dried up, and lakes dried up, and sand turned to more sand, but then when he prayed again, he moved God to start the rain, and the rivers filled up, and the lakes got full again.

Well, even before that, he had done the unthinkable. He had done the impossible. He had literally raised the son of a widow from the dead. And so, here he is right now. He is at the absolute peak of his spiritual power. He's at the absolute top of his national popularity, and yet he's at the bottom of the barrel of discouragement. You say, "Why was he discouraged"? I mean, he had all these things going for him. He could raise the dead. He could stop the rain. He could start the rain. He could take 450 prophets out just like that. Why was he so discouraged? And this is what's amazing, because of one angry, ticked-off woman. Now, I know there's some of you men that are probably sayin' right now, "I get it, been there. They certainly have that kind of power".

Well, it was one woman. Now many of you know her name. If you don't, probably the most infamous name in the Bible, at least for a lady. Her name was Jezebel. Now, if you don't know anything about Jezebel, let me just put it this way, and then you'll understand. If you are a single man out there right now, never marry a woman named Jezebel. Just don't even go there, okay? She was not happy with Elijah. Number one, she wasn't happy because he had just taken out 450 of her prophets. She wasn't happy about that. But more than that, there was a national revival stirring up. People were getting close to God. They were beginning to turn their back on her and the king, and they were beginning to turn toward God, and she didn't like it. And oh, by the way, she was the wife of this wicked king named Ahab.

So, now we're gonna pick up the story in 1 Kings chapter 19: "Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done," how he had taken out the prophets, how he was raising people from the dead, how he was preaching the Word of God, how a revival was breaking out, "and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, 'So may the gods,'" by the way, the false gods that he knew about. "So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow".

Now, here's what had happened. This wicked queen had put a contract out on his life. Well, first of all, he'd already raised a son from the dead, so he knew God had the power of life and death. Number two, he had already taken out the 450 prophets of Baal. He knew she didn't have any spiritual power. But he forgot all that. He forgot all about God. He put God in the rearview mirror, and just like that, he went from the mountaintop of victory to the valley of discouragement. But he came through it, and I wanna share with you how he did it because you can do it as well. And here's what I want you to take out the door. Are you ready? When you get discouraged, don't give up, look up. When you get discouraged...not if, you will. And when you get discouraged, don't give up, look up.

So, you're discouraged today, you're down and out, you're in the middle of a big pity party. You think, "Okay, I've just reached the end of the line, can't go any further". Let me tell you what to do. Three simple steps, they're all right out of this text. Number one, realize it. When you're discouraged, first step you gotta take is realize it. Whenever you're dealing with any type of emotional issue, the first thing you've got to do is just own up to the fact that you're dealing with it. Honesty is the best policy. See, one of the biggest mistakes I made in my ministry is when I get discouraged, I don't tend to tell anybody. I don't want anybody to know that I'm down. I don't want anybody to see any weakness in my life. And usually, the person that sees it, and sometimes has to suffer the consequences, is my sweet dear wife, Teresa.

Well, you need to be honest with yourself and be willing to admit, "I am in the emotional dumps". Because sometimes we either get discouraged because of things that happen to us, or we get discouraged because of something that someone says to us. And let's face it, we all occasionally feel like Charlie Brown. You know, Charlie Brown had his own discourager. You remember her name. Her name was Lucy. Lucy was always ready to tell Charlie what a loser he was. She was already to put him down in the valley of discouragement. As a matter of fact, in one of these comic strips that Charles Schulz wrote, she said this to Charlie Brown. She said: "Charlie Brown, you are a foul ball in the line drive of life. You are 3 putts on the 18th green. You are a seven-ten split in the tenth frame. You are a dropped rod and reel in the lake of life. You are a missed free throw, a shanked nine iron, a called third strike. Have I made myself clear"?

Do you know any Lucys? Maybe you're married to a Lucy. Maybe your spouse is married to a Lucy. Or maybe you're one of those people, you say, "Man, I don't even need a Lucy. I'm my own Lucy. Nobody gets down on me better than me. I'm an expert at getting down on myself". Well, at least Elijah was honest enough to admit that he was so defeated and he was so discouraged that he even said this. Listen to this. He said, "It is enough". That is, "I've had it, can't take anymore, I'm done". "Now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers".

See, discouragement will make you act like a failure. It'll make you think like a failure. It will make you talk like a failure. It will make you see like a failure. It will make you hear like a failure. And it will make you just absolutely convinced you are a failure. So, let me remind you again, some of the greatest, godliest people in the Bible battled discouragement. Moses got discouraged because he couldn't lead the people of Israel. They wouldn't follow his leadership. Elijah, we see, was discouraged, because a woman wanted to kill him. Job was discouraged because of all the suffering he had to go through. Even Jesus got so discouraged that in the garden of Eden, he prayed the only prayer he knew God could not say, "Yes," to.

Great people battle discouragement. Good people battle discouragement. Godly people battle discouragement. Kings and prime ministers and presidents and CEOs, everybody battles discouragement. So, my first piece of advice to you is this: If you are discouraged, quit trying to hide it. Quit trying to keep it under the ground. Tell somebody, let somebody know. Don't be afraid or ashamed to admit it. Don't be afraid to tell someone. Let somebody in on the fact, "Look, I am discouraged".

Number one, realize it. Number two, reason it, reason it. Now, let me tell you what I mean by that. One of the best things that you can do when you're discouraged is to force yourself to sit down and just truly analyze, why are you discouraged? Well, this is one of the best things I've ever done when I get discouraged. I'll stop and I'll say, "Okay, now wait a minute. Why am I so discouraged? And is this even a valid reason why that this should discourage me"? And so I'll begin to think of everything that might be causing my discouragement. Let me tell you why this is so important. There have been a number of times in my life when I've sat down and just took a deep breath and said, "Okay, why are you so discouraged"? It didn't take me long to realize, "That shouldn't discourage me. Either, A, I can fix it. B, it's going to pass. C, I know eventually things are going to get better". And so, I'll realize at times, "I really should not be discouraged".

See, one of the things that we see in Elijah's life is he was discouraged after just coming off one of the greatest feats any prophet had ever achieved. He had achieved an unbelievable victory. His approval ratings were skyrocketing, and yet he's discouraged. You know, one of the things I've noticed about my own life, and I bet you'll realize it too. Have you ever noticed how you can get discouraged after you've come off maybe a great thing that happened in your life, or some great accomplishment that you were able to put off? You know, it's really amazing how sometimes you'll get discouraged. You think things are not going so well, but things really are going just great. And you see, Elijah did two things you should never ever do when you get discouraged, and let me just warn you before I tell you what these are.

If you ever do either one of these two things when you get discouraged, you will just make your discouragement even worse. And what's even worse than that is, if you're not careful, then you can turn your discouragement into depression. First of all, don't give in. Don't give in. That's what Elijah did. Listen to what happened in 1 Kings 19, verse 3. As soon as he found out there was a contract on his life, here's how he responded: "Then he was afraid". Translation: "Then he was discouraged". All the courage had drained out of his life. "And he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and he left his servant there".

Elijah gave in to the first thing that discouragement will bring you, and that is fear. See, that's what discouragement does. Discouragement will drain all the courage out of you. And instead of being full of faith, you will be full of fear. And then, when you're full of fear, what do you do? Then you run and then you hide. And the cardinal sin people commit when they get discouraged is to do just what he did. They get into a shell. They isolate themselves. They're afraid to face up to the fact that they're discouraged. They don't want anybody else to know that they're discouraged. So, first of all, don't give in. If you're discouraged, don't give in to fear. Don't give in to this feeling, "It'll never work out, I'm doomed".

Number two, don't give up. Don't give up. Listen to what happens next: "But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness and he came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, 'It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.'" This is as good place to remind you of something. Listen carefully, this is important. God is in the encouraging business. Satan is in the discouraging business. In fact, the Greek word for "Holy Spirit" is a word that means "called alongside to help and encourage". I don't believe there's a greater weapon in the arsenal of the devil to try to stop a believer in their tracks than the weapon of discouragement.

So, get to the root of the problem. Reason out why you are discouraged, and then take the third step to overcome it. Third step is, you remedy it. You remedy it. Let me just stop and say this. I don't wanna come down too hard on you if you're discouraged. I'm not tryin' to make you feel worse, okay? So let me just make somethin' very plain. This is so important that you hear this. There is nothing wrong or sinful about getting discouraged. There's nothing wrong with it, nothing sinful about it. There's nothing wrong or sinful with being discouraged, but there is something wrong with staying discouraged. In fact, do you know one of the reasons why this Book was written? This Book wasn't just written to tell us how to relate to God, though that's the number-one reason. It wasn't even just written to tell us how to get to heaven, though that is one reason it was written.

You know why this Book was written? Listen to what the Apostle Paul said. He said: "For whatever was written in former days," that's this Book. "For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through," say that word with me, "encouragement". "That through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope". "We might have hope". God has given us a Book that is filled with encouragement. Why do you think the stories, the great stories of the Bible are in there? Just so we could make Hollywood movies out of them? Just so that we could show them on a documentary on television? Just so that we could read 'em as bedtime stories to our children? No, do you know why these great stories are in the Bible? For our encouragement. I mean, even this story was written for our encouragement.

See, there are some practical things you can do that Elijah did to overcome discouragement. You don't have to let discouragement be the tail that wags the dog of your life. Listen, this is important. You can literally act your way into feeling encouraged, and that's a whole lot easier than trying to feel your way into acting encouraged. Did you hear what I said? See, the solution is not, "Well, I'll just try to work myself up and feel encouraged, and then I'll act". You'll never beat it that way. You've got to act your way into feeling encouraged. You say, "How do you do that"? Let me give you some steps that Elijah took to overcome his discouragement. The first one may surprise you. First of all, lie down.

You say, "What"? No, I'm being serious. Take a break, lie down. Listen to what he did in verse 5: "And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, 'Arise and eat.' And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and he drank and lay down again". Remember I told you how exhausted he was, how emaciated he was, how dehydrated he was, how thirsty that he was, how tired that he was? Well, discouragement will usually do two things to you. It will rob you of your appetite, and it'll rob you of sleep. Discouraged people don't sleep well. They don't eat a lot.

So, the first thing that Elijah did was he took a nap, got some sleep, ate a good meal. Now, let me just tell you somethin'. One of the most spiritual things you can do in your life is rest. One of the most spiritual things you can do in your life is to relax, to take a nap, to get some sleep, to fix yourself some food. Listen, taking a vacation is not just a recreational deal. It's a spiritual deal. Sometimes one of the most spiritual things you can do is take your kids to Six Flags. Now, you better be full of the Holy Spirit when you do that, but one of the most spiritual things you can do is just take a break and just relax and get away. I can tell you, baggy eyes and an empty stomach is not gonna help you overcome discouragement.

So, the first thing you need to do: lie down. Second thing you need to do: look up. See, when you're discouraged, you'll tend to focus more and more on your discouragement, and then when you begin to focus on your discouragement, it's kinda like being in what's called a "death spiral". You just, you're in a spin and you can't get out of it. And then discouragement will lead you into depression. And then depression will sink you into the quicksand of despair. And when you get into the quicksand of despair, and here's how you'll know it when you do. When you've gone from discouragement to depression to despair, then you do the one last thing that you think will make you feel better. You know what that is? You throw a pity party. That's what you do. That's what Elijah did. Listen to what he said in verse 4: "'I've had enough, Lord,' he said. 'Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.'"

Now, the Merritt translation of that's a lot easier: "Woe is me. Don't you feel sorry for me"? Elijah had completely forgotten God, and he threw the one party that no one ever comes to except you, and that is a pity party. Let me just warn you of something. Okay, God doesn't do pity parties, and let me just tell you something else. Nobody else does either. Nobody's comin' to your pity party. I'm not comin'. They're not comin'. And if they do come, they're not gonna bring a gift. Nobody does pity parties, and you will never solve a problem in your life by looking down. Now, look, what happens next changed everything. Listen to verse 8: "And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God".

Elijah's directed by the angel to go to the mount of God. What is the mount of God? The mount of God is where God was wanting to meet Elijah. And when you're discouraged, let me tell you something. God wants you to go to the mount. There's a place where God wants you to meet him. And when you go to the mount of God and you meet with the God of the mountain, there's only one direction you can look. You know where that is? Up. You don't ever look down at God. You always look up to God. When you go to the mount of God, you look up. And see, to overcome your discouragement, you can't look inward. You can't look downward. You can't even look outward. You've got to look upward because when you're looking at no one but God, listen, when you're looking at no one but God and nothing else but God, that's when you could put everything in its proper perspective.

That's when you can say, "Why am I so discouraged, God? You can handle this. God, you can take care of this. God, you can get me through this. God, I am not in this alone". So, when you lie down, and then when you look up, then you can take the third step, and that's this: listen hard, listen hard. So, here's what we're going to read: "And he said, 'Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.' And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rock. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after fire there was the sound of a low whisper".

So, you wanna overcome your discouragement? You gotta quit thinkin' about yourself. You gotta quit thinkin' about your problems. You gotta quit thinkin' about what caused that discouragement. And you've got to start thinking about God because it is when you're in the valley of discouragement that God can speak the loudest. And it's when you're in the valley of discouragement you can hear God the best. Now, let me tell you what I've saved for last. Disappointment, which really causes discouragement, disappointment is often his appointment. Yep, sometimes God allows you to go down into the valley of discouragement, not to discourage you, but to encourage you.

Sometimes God lets you get into these situations, where you say, "I can't do this anymore. I can't take this anymore. I cannot go any further". And God says, "Well, great, now I've got you right where I want you". Quit looking down, quit looking in, quit looking out, and start looking up. Look away from whatever's causing your discouragement to an all-powerful, Almighty God, who can give you encouragement. And listen, one of the greatest ways to do that, one of the things that got me through that time of discouragement in my life, I just stayed in the Word of God. I kept reading about what God said to me and what God said for me because, you see, you cannot hear God, and you'll not listen to God, until God speaks to you. And God speaks loudest through his Word.

And if you don't hear anything else I say, listen to this next principle. Never let your problems outweigh God's promises. Never let your problems outweigh God's promises. No matter what you're discouraged about, no matter how much you think you have a reason to be discouraged, God has already promised, "Hey, I'm gonna work everything out for your good, and everything out for my glory". You see, the truth of the matter is this. Discouragement is an opportunity to experience God's encouragement. God loves to encourage us in the midst of our greatest discouragement. Billy Graham put it this way. He said: "Mountaintops are for views and inspiration, but fruit is grown in the valleys".

That is so true. It's easy to forget God when you reach the mountaintop of victory. But you are reminded of your need for God when you are in the valley of discouragement and disappointment and disillusionment and defeat. So I close with this. One of the greatest movies I think ever made, won the Academy Award for Best Picture, made many, many years ago, if you've never seen it, get it and see it. It was called "Chariots of Fire". It's a must see. It's the story of two men who competed in the Olympics at the turn of the century. One of the runners was Harold Abrahams. He was a dedicated young Jewish man. The other man, the other runner, Eric Liddell, was a lightning-fast young Scotsman and a wonderfully devout Christian.

In one of the most dramatic scenes, Liddell was about to run the race, and as the starter pistol fired, he had this habit of kinda throwing his head back as he started off. And he shot ahead of the pack, but as he did, he was intentionally knocked to the ground by one of his opponents. He was lying in the center of the track as the other runners quickly outdistanced themselves from him, and the truth of the matter is, many runners, if not most runners, would have just given up. But Liddell, with this determined look on his face, rose up, looked up to heaven, threw his head back, and while he was praising God, began to run as hard as he could. Soon, he was closing in on the other runners, and in a dramatic last-minute finish, giving it everything he had, he inched forward and he won the race, and he won the gold medal.

So, life had knocked you flat on your back. You're lying on the track, and it looks like that goal you were after, it looks like what you were trying to achieve, it looks like that finish line you were trying to cross is getting farther and farther away from you. Let me just say this. If that's you today, you need a life lift. And if you are falling flat on your face, you can get up because Jesus will pick you up, and he will see to it that you cross the finish line.
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