If I asked you to list the dangers involved in heading out into a dark forest for a hike, could you come up with a few? And if I told you there would be no food or water until you made your way out, oh and by the way, I’m not sure how long it will take you, could you add to the list? I’m sure dehydration, starvation, wild animals, getting lost, hypothermia or hyperthermia would all top the list. But what about discouragement?
Discouragement is your enemy. Discouragement is a natural response and we all face it from time to time, but there is great danger in allowing discouragement to set up camp in your mind. The moment we become discouraged, we’re faced with the tough choice of what to do? Discouragement makes us want to quit, turn back, give up, and immediately question all the choices we’ve made to get where we are. It’s ok to feel discouraged; how you respond to discouragement is up to you.
In Numbers 21, the Israelites had just defeated the Canaanites. God had intervened and delivered them into their hands. And in the NEXT verse they’re loathing their journey to the promise land.
And the Lord hearkened to the voice of Israel, and delivered up the Canaanites; and they utterly destroyed them and their cities: and he called the name of the place Hormah. And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. —Numbers 21:3-6
“The soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way.” In other words, they were discouraged because of the journey, the path, and the direction in which God was leading them. We all suffer through things that are unfair, unjust, and a consequence of the fallen world we live in. And then there are times we just have to go through the fire to be refined. It’s hard to know which is which sometimes, but either way, when we face discouragement there is but one solution to get through. Prayer.
In the classic movie “It’s a wonderful Life” the main character is overcome with discouragement. His friends could see the downward spiral coming, and they gathered to pray for him. And when they prayed, in the movie, it touches heaven, and an angel is assigned to go help George, the character. But before he goes, the angel asks, “What's wrong with George Bailey? Is he sick? Does he have some horrible disease?" And the answer is a classic: "Worse than that, he is discouraged."
Worse than some horrible disease, he is discouraged. The devil knows that the greatest thing he can use against the believer is discouragement, because you're never really defeated until you're defeated on the inside. That's why Numbers 21 said, "The soul of the people was greatly discouraged," because of the way God was leading them. And then, the very next verse says that serpents were released because of discouragement. When you allow discouragement to set up camp in your life, it attracts serpents. Our enemy is attracted to an atmosphere of discouragement. He takes advantage of our weak moments to heap despair on top of despair. We cannot dwell in disappointment. Remember, this was Israel we’re talking about in Numbers 21—God’s People who felt discouraged. It is not a sin or anything to be ashamed of; it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. It’s ok to get help. It’s ok to seek counsel. In the movie, George’s friends gathered and prayed. You need someone to help you get through, because the goal is to not allow discouragement to take over.
The way of God, the why of God, and the waiting on God; it’s usually one of these three reasons that we feel discouraged. We thought there would be an easy way, but it's a hard, wilderness way. And then there’s the why. We don't always have answers to our questions, no explanations as to why it seems everything's going wrong. And then there’s the wait. We're waiting and waiting for the promise, for the dream, or for the breakthrough. This breeds discouragement. But the Bible also teaches us there is time and season for everything.
“While the earth remains, Seedtime and harvest, Cold and heat, Winter and summer, And day and night Shall not cease.” —Genesis 8:22
The harvest time is coming. The “due season” is ahead. Hear the Word of the Lord today. Many people are trying to get “fruit” in the season before it's due. We’re seeking answers before it’s time. We’re looking for victory on our own terms. And the important thing is to remember, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son (Galatians 4:4).” When the day of Pentecost was fully come, God poured out His Spirit (see Acts 2:1). We cannot force something to happen out of season; we must learn to wait upon the Lord, and when it’s the right time, He comes through!
To be discouraged is to lose all courage. It will keep you from stepping out, from trying, and from taking risks. Discouragement will make you a coward if you let it stay. No matter what you’re going through, your God is greater. He is greater than depression. He is greater than financial problems. Your God is greater than cancer, the loss of a loved one, or the break-up of a marriage. Your God is greater, so be encouraged. David encouraged himself in the Lord, not in his circumstances.
In Psalm 73 David tells us exactly what he was feeling and he shares all the questions circling in his mind. He says the wicked haven’t a care in the world and go on increasing in wealth, while he wakes up to new punishments every day. Has all his worship been in vain? But then David goes on to say, he couldn’t even bring himself to say those thoughts out loud because he knew the truth:
Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Who have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. — Psalm 73:23-26
We have minimized the danger of discouragement. Don't play with it. Get help. There's nothing wrong with telling somebody, "I'm discouraged, I'm depressed, and I can't get out. I can't get up." There's no shame in it. Reach out for help. If you can’t turn to God on your own, find friends to pray on your behalf. Find a counselor. Find help. Don’t try to conquer it alone. Yes, the “giants” may be bigger than you, but who said it’s you against them? Put your God up against your giants. Measure your problem against God, not yourself.
God gave Moses the remedy for discouragement out in the wilderness. Back to Numbers 21 when they were dying from the serpents that discouragement had brought upon them, God told Moses to make a serpent of brass, put it on a pole, lift it up, and all those who had been bitten would be healed when they looked upon it. Today we know exactly whom God sent for us to gaze upon. No matter what you’re facing, you have to look up. You have to look to Jesus to pull you through. We must get to the place that instead of getting shook up we look up. Let it be your first response when you feel discouragement creeping in.
Lift Him up when you're discouraged. Pray, praise, lift Him up, look up, and keep looking up! The devil doesn't mind you remembering that time in your past when you made it through. He doesn’t mind you gazing into the future and hoping some time down the road God will come through for you. But what really makes the enemy nervous is when you believe THAT TIME, THIS TIME, AND EVERY TIME God will not forsake you, He won’t forget you, He will not fail you!