(Extensive inspiration for this message, and this series taken from Francis Frangipane’s "This Day We Fight".)
(Video Clip – Bob Lujano, from “Murderball” available at ScreenVue.com)
Bob Lujano. As he said, he contracted a very rare form of meningitis at age nine. Lost most of his arms, both legs, and was almost pronounced dead. He now drives, lives independently, cooks for himself, has a job were he types on a regular keyboard, and is even a world-class athlete – competing for the United States in the Paralympics as a Wheelchair Rugby player!
Bob is not likely the first story of this nature you have seen, and I don’t know about you. . .but whenever I see a story like Bob’s, I have the same thought. When I see the inspirational documentation of people who overcome great setbacks. Maybe an episode of Extreme Makeover Home Edition. Maybe the story of an inner city kid that against all odds goes on to professional greatness. Maybe the story portrayed in the new movie release “The Pursuit of Happiness” that documents the life of a man who literally has to raise his young son in a New York subway bathroom. From homeless to CEO.
Whenever I see such stories. Hear of such incredible life accomplishments. I always have the same thought. Here it is: “I am such a wimp.” Ever thought that? Ever felt that way? Ever looked at the great perseverance of someone and thought, “Man, I am such a wimp.”
Because you see it really takes very little to discourage me. Forget loss of limbs. Forget near death battles. Forget living on the streets. You pretty much just have to say the wrong things to me, and my spirit will drop.
- “I don’t like your haircut.”
- “That sermon seemed a bit long.”
- “That vest is a little tight. You putting on weight?”
I’m just being honest with you. Just being as transparent as can be. That is about all it takes to open the door of my life to discouragement.
And you all can sit there in astonishment and say, “Yea, you truly are a wimp.” Or you can be honest and admit that a few words just about do it for you as well. Right?
In fact, after more than three years as pastor here. I have noticed that most of us spend most of our time, just waiting for the next shoe to drop, and waiting to be plunged into the pool of discouragement.
We are in the midst of a series exploring some tough battles. Some roadblocks on our journey towards true victory and freedom. Last week we looked at how we can get focused on our past failures, and they can paralyze us.
And again, if I can just be really honest with you today, it stinks to preach this stuff. Because when a pastor ventures into the world of exposing the enemies tricks and schemes, and encourages people to rise up against Satan, guess what? Sometimes he just chooses to mount a full assault against that pastor.
So many moments in the past few weeks have stunk for me emotionally. This past week, I think every single point of failure in my life, past and present, was directly or indirectly brought to my attention. The enemy looked me square in the eye and said, “You want to tell people not to live in the past. Not to dwell on past shortcomings. Let’s just see how you do, Pastor.”
Now, I’ve tried to combat the enemy with positive steps. I awoke on Tuesday morning to head out to an exciting day of inspiration and reflection at a pastor’s conference. Went out to warm up the car at 7:20, and found a flat tire. My conference started at 8, a 30 minute drive away. I’ve had three flat tires in my 38 years of life. Three! “But ol’ Pastor Chip, you want to preach this week on discouragement, let’s see how you hold up. Try this. (sound of air leaking from tire.).”
Nevertheless. Here we go. I’m not preaching to you. I’m growing and being stretched with you. This year we will win. But first, we pray. (Pray – “more than conquerors”)
This swinging door of discouragement is not new to God’s people. Going from the mountaintop to the valley. I think of Elijah. From Mt. Carmel to underneath a little tree. In fact, today I want us to quickly look at an Old Testament example that I think we can relate to.
You may remember, thousands of years ago, the nation of Israel was defeated, and taken into captivity by King Nebuchadnezzar. They were dragged off to Babylon, where we learn in Jeremiah 29 they would have to live, dwell, raise their families for how many years? (70)
Well, the 70 years did pass, and it would seem that this season of hardship was over. The prophet Daniel initiates a period of prayer and fasting in the life of Israel, and the Lord personally begins to work and move on their behalf.
In fact, we can read in 2 Chronicles 36 that the Lord Himself comes to the King of Persia, King Cyrus, a Gentile, and directly appoints him to initiate the building of the temple in Jerusalem. So Cyrus takes a national offering, restores the treasures that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the Holy City, and issues a decree authorizing the people of God to return to Jerusalem.
What an incredible scene this must have been. After 70 years of captivity. To be returning home. To be heading back to Jerusalem to restore the House of God, and doing it all with the blessing of the king! I can guarantee you that the Israelites were stoked about all this!
So with all this inspiration, motivation, and energy moving through the people, they return to Jerusalem and begin building the temple. Then we come to the book of Ezra. Ezra, chapter 4. Grab a Bible, and turn there with me. Ezra, chapter 4 (read through verse 3).
Zerubbabel, Jeshua, the other leaders can smell a rat, and they want no part of it. If God has appointed them to build this temple. If God has been able to move upon the King of Persia. If God is able to use His power and might to orchestrate this great rebuilding effort, then who needs the help of some conniving, idol worshiping adversaries. Right?
Verse 4 (read through verse 5).
Whoa! What just happened? Rewind. Okay, 70 years of captivity. God moves upon the King. The nation is allowed to return to their home. The temple is being built. Things are cruising along really well. Better read that again (re-read verses 4 through 5).
Okay, check this out. These turkeys begin talking into the ears of the Israelites. They write a letter to King Artaxerxes, who ends up issuing a letter demanding that the work on the temple stop. And look at verse 24 (read).
Scholars estimate that this work of restoring the temple stopped for almost 20 years. 20 years! And it was stopped in part because of blackmails, and false accusations, and political fear. . .but what are we told was the start of this downward spiral? “Then the people of the land. . .” What? “Discouraged the people of Judah.”
Discouraged. Hear me today, as I hear myself, discouragement is an enemy that is powerful in its ability to paralyze us in our Christian walk towards victory. It is at times subtle. Often unforeseen. And if not discerned, crippling.
So, by definition, what is discouragement? Here in 2 Samuel when it says that the people of Israel were discouraged, what is at the root of that phrase?
The Hebrew word that is used here in Ezra is rawFAW. Say that with me. . .rawFAW. And it is used 46 times in the Hebrew scriptures, and is translated many different ways throughout those usages, but they are all pretty much on the negative side. Listen to these translations or renderings of this word rawFAW: to weaken. . .forsake. . .abate. . .cease. . .to sink. . .let drop. . .be disheartened. That is what it means to rawFAW.
So in this passage, most of our translations use the word weaken, or discouraged. And when we move it to our English language, and apply the word we think best describes what the original language was talking about, we end up with this word that has two parts to it. Dis, which is a prefix which means such things as the opposite of, or to deprive of or the exclusion or expelling of, and courage.
You still with me? Say rawFAW. So for someone to rawFAW you, for someone to discourage you, is for someone to deprive you, to exclude you, to make you the opposite of someone with courage. Sounds about right, doesn’t it?
How many of you are ready to conquer the world when you are discouraged? How many of you are ready to take on great challenges, scale new heights, launch new adventures, build a temple for the Almighty God when you are discouraged? How many of you are ready to fight the enemy, battle the spiritual, physical, mental and emotional demons of your life, when you are discouraged? Me neither.
And that is why discouragement is a powerful tool of the enemy in its ability to paralyze us in our Christian walk towards victory. Subtle, but powerful. And if not discerned, crippling.
How does this happen? How does discouragement enter into our lives and our spirit?
It is really quite simple. Through our senses. Ready for this? This is how it works. Our senses receive negative information, our attention, our mind, our spirit turns its focus towards those negative pieces of data, and discouragement enters our life.
For example. One of our senses is the ability to hear, right? Think about this. What kind of things do we hear? What kind of things enter our hearing that discourage us? Just call out some brief answers. A couple words or sentences. (Field answers)
Did you hear those? Through our sense of hearing, negative information enters into our life, our attention and spirit turn towards those negative pieces of data, and discouragement gains a grip on our lives.
Let’s look at another sense. The ability to see. That is one of our five senses, right? Vision. What kind of things do we see? What kind of things enter into our vision that discourages us? (Field answers)
See how that happens? Through our sense of vision, seeing, negative information enters into our life, our spirit turns its focus towards those negative pieces of data, and discouragement gains a grip on our lives.
We have other senses. Five of them if I remember my elementary education. Touch. You reach out to hold a spouses hand, and they pull away. You hug someone, but don’t receive a hug in return. A parent hauls back and hits you. Through touch, discouragement can enter your life.
Taste. Talk about subtle deception. Through the great taste of that first drink, an alcoholic can be born. Through the delicious flavor of food, the discouragement of a lifelong battle with obesity enters a person’s life.
What’s left? Hearing, seeing, touching, tasting. Smell. Ever sat down next to a homeless for a conversation? I have. The smell doesn’t repulse me. It discourages me. What can I do? How can I help this person? It’s useless.
With me so far? Discouragement, this absence of courage to face life, entering into our lives through our senses, and a shift of our spirit and focus to those various negative pieces of data that discourage us. That drain us, that deprive us of courage.
So how do we experience victory over this roadblock of discouragement? Here are some suggestions from God’s Word. First. . .
1. CHANGE CLOTHES
Turn with me to the book of Isaiah. Isaiah 61. This is a great passage if you are trying to breakthrough the road block of discouragement. Isaiah 61 (read through verse 3).
A beautiful headdress rather than ashes. And this passage talks about the garment of praise. Trading the faint spirit, or some translations say, the spirit of heaviness for a garment of praise.
I tell you what, when I come into this service every week, I can sense in my spirit what clothes we are wearing. Myself. The praise team. The congregation. I can sense whether a spirit of heaviness is resting upon us. Maybe we have experienced disappointment during the week. Condemnation. Fear. Whatever the case, there are some Sundays when that faint spirit, that spirit of heaviness sits upon me personally, or I can sense it upon our congregation collectively.
And when that happens, we need to change clothes. We need to put on the garment of praise. Understand, it is just that time when you don’t want to praise God that you need to praise God.
Happens all the time. People get discouraged. They get weary. They are just ready to collapse. So what do they do? They skip church. They stay in bed on Sunday mornings. The spirit of heaviness becomes a spirit of passivity, and like King David, we are sleeping through the day.
We have to rise up. Change clothes. Put on a garment of praise. And experience victory over discouragement. Repeat this prayer after me. Clothes your eyes, but open your voices, and say this prayer after me. . .
“In Jesus’ name, I submit to God, and I ask my Heavenly Father, to free me from a spirit of heaviness. Help me change clothes. Clothe me in a garment of praise. Clothe my family members with a garment of praise. Clothe me co-workers with a garment of praise. Break us free from the spirit of heaviness. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”
We need to change clothes, and we need to. . .
2. CHANGE INFLUENCERS
If this point is starting to sound familiar. It should. The more I see discouragement in my own life. The more I wrestle with my own spiritual battles, and confrontations with the enemy. The more I observe those around me. I see that often the battles we are waging are because of the people we are surrounded by.
Understand, we wrestle not with flesh and blood, but with what? (Principalities and powers) But those principalities, and powers, and spiritual hosts of wickedness need something to work through. And often they will work through those people that influence your life to fill your senses with negative data that leads to your discouragement.
Look what began the stopping of the building of the temple. Some dudes came along and started whispering some sweet nothings into the ears of God’s people. Right? And who did God’s people listen to? The wrong influencers.
Look at what happened when they once again turned their senses to the right influencers. Look at Ezra 5 (read verses 1 & 2).
Then, the reverse process takes place. Eventually a decree comes from the King to restart the temple, but the people didn’t wait until they got that decree. When they changed influencers, when they listened to the prophets of God. The people arose, shook of the spirit of heaviness, the spirit of passivity, got up out of bed. . .and built the temple.
Who are you listening to? Who are you watching? Who has influence on your life? Are they encouragers, or discouragers? We might have to change our circle of influencers. And one more thing we might have to change. We might have to. . .
3. CHANGE OUR VIEW OF CHRIST
If you still have a Bible open, turn to the book of Isaiah, chapter 42. Isaiah 42 (read through verse 4). Man, this is good stuff. Don’t miss this.
Some of us get discouraged because we think that Christ has had enough of us. He is fed up with us. We are down and out, and He can’t wait to finish us off. We have messed up too often, too bad, and in too many places.
But look at this picture of the Christ that we receive from Isaiah. “A bruised reed He will not break, and a faintly burning wick He will not quench.”
Listen to what one author writes about this view of Christ (Lucado reading from “He Still Moves Stones”).
So here we are. A rag tag band of believers. Desperately wanting to experience the abundant life. Desiring to live a life of freedom and victory. But struggling with the memories of our past. Struggling with the discouragement of our present. And ready to do something about it.
So we change our view of Christ from the punishing Pharaoh to the compassionate tender of bruised reeds and faintly burning wicks. We surround ourselves with the body of Christ, and allow our senses to pick-up message of hope, promise, and freedom. And we shake off the spirit of heaviness. We brush the ashes from our heads, and we arise wearing a garment of praise.
Not because it is easy. Not because it is even my natural desire when I walk outside on a cold morning and look upon a flat tire. But because we know that the weapons of our warfare are mighty for pulling down strongholds, and though we are wasting away on the outside, internally we can be renewed day, by day, by day through the power of the Lord of Hosts.
Pray aloud with me. Repeat these words after me as a declaration this morning:
“Lord, you were neither disheartened, nor crushed, as You lived Your life. The Father upheld You in Your mission. I ask You today to uphold me. Grant me new strength, restore my soul, and empower me by Your Holy Spirit. For Your glory I pray. Amen!”