Robert Jeffress - Moving From Discouragement to Hope - Part 1
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". When a promising relationship goes nowhere, when your dream job ends in a nightmare, when the status quo refuses to budge, it's easy to become discouraged. So what should we do when we find ourselves feeling more disheartened than hopeful? Well, today we're going to look at a leader from the Old Testament who teaches us some invaluable lessons on how to conquer the mountain of feeling blue. My message is titled, "Moving from Discouragement to Hope," as we continue our series, "Invincible," on "Pathway to Victory".
Without doubt, Thomas Edison was the greatest inventor in the history of our country. There's a reason he's nicknamed the wizard of Menlo Park. Think of his inventions, the phonograph, the telegraph, the movie camera, the microphone, the incandescent light bulb, the storage battery, just among some of his many accomplishments. But what I admire most about Edison is not his accomplishments, but how he handled failure. He is certainly one of the most resilient human beings in our history. For example, after 10.000 attempts to create the light bulb, he said, "I haven't failed. I just found 10.000 ways that won't work".
Now, that's a good attitude, isn't it? But perhaps the greatest illustration of Edison's resilience is what happened one night in December of 1914. His biographer and his son, Charles, records what happened after 10 years of trying to create the storage battery without any success, his finances depleted, he was going to have to lay off employees. And if that were not enough on this particular night, a fire erupted in the film room. According to Edison's son, Charles, "Within moments, all the packing compounds, celluloid for records, film, and flammable goods had gone up in flames. The fire spread quickly throughout the building. Fire departments from eight neighboring towns converged on Edison's laboratory. But the intensity of the fire was so great, and the water pressure so low, the firefighters might as well have been using squirt guns. There wasn't anything anyone could do but watch the buildings and its contents go up in flames".
Then it dawned on Edison son, Charles, he hadn't seen his father, and he wondered how he would respond to this loss. After all, he was 67 years old, too old to start over again. And as Charles was worrying about his father, suddenly he saw his father running across the yard toward him saying, "Charles, go get your mother. Tell her to get her friends. They'll never see a fire like this again". Charles said the next day his dad called together the employees and announced they were rebuilding. He directed some of the people to go to the Erie railroad to lease a wrecking crane. And then he dispatched others to rent out machine shops around town. Then almost as an afterthought, Edison said, "Oh, by the way, does anybody know where we can get some money"? Charles said his dad concluded, "You can always make capital out of disaster. We've just cleared out a bunch of old rubbish. We'll build bigger and better on the ruins". And then Charles said, "With that, my dad rolled up his coat, curled up on a table, and immediately fell asleep".
Just imagine for a moment that you were driving into your neighborhood after a day of work. You saw smoke coming up from the rooftops, firetrucks whooshed by you, and when you arrived at your home, you discovered it was your own home on fire. How would you respond to that loss? Would you respond like Thomas Edison did? Or would you be more like Mrs. Job who, after her husband experienced tremendous losses, she advised, "Why not curse God and die"? We all have to deal, at some point in our life, with the mountain of discouragement. And like the other nine mountains we're talking about in our series, "Invincible," discouragement, over something big or something small, has a way of overshadowing our lives and separating us from the blessed life God intends for each of us.
Today, we're going to talk about moving from discouragement to hope. What are we talking about when we talk about discouragement? I looked it up in Webster's this week, to discourage literally means to deprive of courage or confidence: to be disheartened. I wrote down some other D words that describe discouragement: demoralized, dismayed, distraught, depressed, defeated, despairing. All of those words describe the year we've just had, don't they? The year 2020 could easily be called the year of discouragement for our nation and for our world. A global pandemic infected millions of people, and killed hundreds of thousands of people in our own country. The coronavirus resulted in the shutting down and bankruptcy of some businesses. Schools sent children home. Church doors were shut. Police departments say that domestic violence increased exponentially. People started panicking. And most of all, people felt the pall of discouragement over them. When will things ever get back to normal again, we wondered. That's what discouragement is.
You know, it doesn't take a global pandemic to experience discouragement. Perhaps you're discouraged from some of the fallout from the virus or something else in your life. You know, as I look at scripture, I find there are at least six causes of discouragement according to the Bible. One is unresolved anger. Psychologists tell us that depression is anger turned inward. Whenever somebody wrongs us, we are disappointed in somebody, sometimes we don't feel like we can express that to them. If it's a mate, we're afraid they'll leave us. If it's an employer and we express our anger, we're afraid they'll fire us, so we turn it inward. It's like a a broken sewer pipe that just flows into our own hearts. Sometimes the anger we feel is over a disappointment in ourself that we feel that builds up.
We saw a great and tragic illustration of that just this week in Atlanta, when that 21-year-old gunman, disappointed in his addiction to sex, decided to express it in a violent way. It had built up and built up and built up, and instead of handling his very real guilt in God's way, he handled it in his own way, and the result was that horrible massacre. That's why Ephesians 4:26-27 say, "Be angry, and don't sin: do not let the sun go down on your anger, and don't give the devil an opportunity".
A second cause of discouragement can be unrealistic anxiety. We talked about worry the last time, how it saps our strength. If not dealt with over a long period of time, it leads to discouragement. Remember the story of Elijah? In 1 kings 18, he had his great battle with the false prophets of Baal, and successfully defeated them and killed them. It was a high point in his ministry. But then in chapter 19, Jezebel, the queen, sent word that she was going to kill Elijah. Verse 2 says, "Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, 'so may the Gods do to me and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them," the prophets, "By tomorrow about this time'. And Elijah was afraid and he arose and he ran for his life," and you know the rest of the story. He sat down under a juniper tree and said, "God, just take my life. I've had it". He was discouraged because of an unrealistic anxiety. He had just killed 800-plus prophets of Baal, and yet one woman who was angry scared the wits out of him. It was unrealistic anxiety, but it led to discouragement.
Thirdly, an undefined purpose in life can cause you to be discouraged. The French poet, Nicholas Boileau, said, "He is most fatigued who know not what to do". He is most fatigued who knows not what to do. There's something about lack of direction that just wears you out and weighs on you. Thomas Carlyle wrote, "A man without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder". Paul had a good cure for that. He said in Ephesians 5:15-17 in the Phillips paraphrase, "Live life, then, with a due sense of responsibility, not as people who don't know the meaning and purpose of life but as those who do. Make the best use of your time, despite all the difficulties of these days. Don't be vague but firmly grasp what you know to be the will of God". That's good advice if you want to avoid discouragement, know what your purpose is.
Fourth, unrelenting grief can lead to discouragement. Some of you here today, some of you watching on "Pathway to Victory" or online, this year's been a year of loss for you. You maybe have lost your job, your livelihood. You've lost friendships, just out of a failure to connect over this last year. Many of you have lost a loved one through death. Anytime you lose anything or anyone significant, there is grief. Jesus experience that. Remember as he stood in front of the sepulcher of his best friend Lazarus who had died, the shortest verse in the Bible? John 11:35, "Jesus wept". And if you look at the grammar of that passage, it literally says Jesus wept and kept on weeping. It was a continual weeping, a sorrow there over the loss of his best friend. Some of you are experiencing grief right now, and it seems like it will never end. But remember what the Psalmist said, Psalm 30:5, "Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning".
Fifth, unexpected infirmities. Sickness, the breakdown of your body, can cause you to grieve. That's just part of old age. I have a friend who says, "Old age is not for sissies," and he's right. Just watching your body and experiencing it deteriorate can be discouraging. Solomon wrote about that in Ecclesiastes 12. He said, "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years draw near when you will say, 'I have no delight in them:' before the sun, and the light, the moon, and the stars are darkened, and the clouds return after the rain".
Listen to how he describes old age. "Remember him in the day that the watchman of the house tremble, and the mighty men stoop". And that's a reference to the loss of strength in the arms and the legs. "The grinding ones stand idle because they are few". That's a reference to the loss of teeth. "And those who look through the windows grow dim". He's talking about the loss of eyesight, perhaps cataracts. "And the doors on the street are shut as the sound of the grinding mill is low". He's talking about the loss of hearing. "And the one will arise at the sound of the bird". You find yourself having difficulty sleeping and getting up early. "And all the daughters of the song will sing softly". Talking about physical infirmities that come with aging. It can be a cause of discouragement.
That reminds me of David Jeremiah's story about the elderly couple in Florida. Jacob was 92 years old, Rebecca was 89, and they were talking about getting married. And as they were discussing their possible wedding, they walked by a drugstore, and Jacob said, "Let's go in here". And so they went in and went back to the pharmacist, and Jacob asked the pharmacist, "We're thinking about getting married. Do you sell heart medicine here"? The pharmacist has said, "Well, yes, we have that". He said, "What about things for circulatory problems? Do you have any medicine for that"? "Yes, we've got that". "What about rheumatism"? "You bet. We can fix you up". "What about sleeping pills and vitamins and geritol"? "You bet. Everything you want". "What about wheelchairs and walkers, do you have those"? "Yes, all shapes, all speeds are available". Jacob looked at Rebecca and said to the pharmacist, "Fine, we'll use this place as our bridal registry". Physical infirmities can be challenging, especially for the elderly.
There's one final cause that's frankly not talked about in Christian circles much, but it needs to be a possible cause of discouragement, and that's untreated chemical imbalances in your body. If you're experiencing continual depression, continual discouragement, this is one possibility you need to check out. You know, God created us not just as spirits, but as body, soul, and spirit. We are spiritual beings, but we are physical beings. And the Bible teaches us that the fall affected all parts of creation, including our bodies. In Romans 8:22, Paul said, "For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now". The whole of creation, that means your body is not the way God originally designed it to be. And that's why we get sick. And we know from science that imbalances of sodium chloride in the brain can prevent the transfer of impulses from one cell to another cell that can lead to depression and discouragement.
That's why you need to go to a Christian physician or a Christian psychiatrist if you're feeling that way to see if that is a possibility. But there's a cure for discouragement, and that's what I want to look at in these final moments together. If you have your Bibles, turn to Nehemiah 4. We're going to look, for the few moments we have left, at a case study in discouragement. The story of Nehemiah illustrates both the causes and the cures for discouragement. Now you remember, there were two history-shaping events in Israel's history that formed her character more than any other. One was the 400 years in slavery in Egypt that ended with the Exodus. The other milestone event was the exile for 70 years in Babylon. Remember after Jerusalem was overthrown, the people were taken captive to Babylon. They longed for their return, and finally, after the end of 70 years, they returned to rebuild the temple and to rebuild the wall. And Nehemiah was tasked the rebuilding of the wall.
It was a mammoth construction project that he completed in 52 days, but not without opposition. He faced discouragement from the people, he faced opposition from those already living in the land, and when we come to Nehemiah 4, and I hope you've turned there, we're halfway through that 52-day construction project. And Nehemiah records this, the people were discouraged. I want you to notice the four reasons they were discouraged, the four Ds that add up to discouragement. First of all, the people were drained. Look at verse 10, halfway through the project it says, "And the strength of the burden bearers is failing". Hasil in Hebrew. Literally, the people are stumbling, they are staggering, they are toddling. There's something about a major project that drains you.
Vince Lombardi famously said, "Fatigue makes cowards of us all". When our bodies grow tired, we become discouraged. Weary people are whiny people, never forget that. And that was true of the Israelites. By the way, do you know the most dangerous time in a major project in your life? It's the halfway point. I don't care whether you're talking about a construction project, or a degree that you're pursuing at a university, or a diet that you're on, the most dangerous time is that halfway point when you've got as much ahead of you as you do behind you. And if you're not careful, you can get discouraged. If you're not careful on a diet, after that halfway point, you can think, man, this is never going to end, and you reach for that bag of Oreos. Don't do it. You can think when you have a construction point, look at how much I've got left to do. I might as well give up. Or halfway through a degree program. One of the wisest things you can do is, halfway through a project, take a day off, take a week off, and celebrate what you've already accomplished, instead of looking ahead at all that is ahead of you.
Secondly, the people were not only drained, they were disgruntled. Look again at verse 10. "Yet there is much rubbish". That is life verse for every parent of a teenager. Look around, there is much rubbish. Whenever you're involved in something big and worthwhile, there's going to be a lot of garbage, literal and figurative, around. There's going to be a lot of stuff around you that can cause discouragement.
Third, notice the progression here. They were drained, they were disgruntled, they became dejected. Look at verse 10 again, "And we ourselves are unable to rebuild the wall". They said, "We're in over our heads. We just can't do it. We might as well hang it up".
And that led to the final D, they were distressed. The people were distressed. They were so discouraged that they came to the point, they said, "We can't handle one more problem. We've had it. If we get one more piece of bad news, we're going to collapse". Have you ever felt that way in your life? Where you get to the point you say, I can't take one more bad thing happening. Doesn't matter how big or small it is, I can't take one more thing. And usually that one more thing ends up happening. The enemy knows he's got you when you say, "I can't handle one more thing". That's what happened to the Israelites when they were at the end of themselves. Look at verse 11. "Our enemies said, 'they will not know or see until we come among them, kill them, and put a stop to the work'". Now, that's what the enemies were saying, but how did those building the wall know about it? Look at, this is so key, verse 12. "Then the Jews, our own people, who lived near the enemies came and told us 10 times, 'they will come up against us from every place where you turn'". Do you know people who love to deliver bad news?