Harold Bullock: Satan had a yard sale a while back. He'd been watching the development of the internet and realized that most of his tools were going to have to have an internet interface. So, he would unload what he was using currently and have the new stuff built. Fellow visiting his garage sale looked around, scanned every table. And as he looked around the yard he saw, standing in little groups, different kinds of tools. Some of them bright and shiny, other not so pretty.
On one side, there were a whole arrangement of tools for tearing other people down and making them into stepping stones. In another place, there were a lot of really shiny things. Some lenses. One of them, you could look through and magnify your own importance. Or, you could turn it the other way and it really helped you with belittling people.
Against a wall, there was a lot of gardening equipment. Implements guaranteed to help pride grow. The rake of scorn. A shovel of jealousy. One that helped you dig a pit for you neighbor. Tools like gossip, backbiting, selfishness, apathy. Most of those were pretty bright and shiny, and very pleasing to the eye.
But as he browsed along, he noticed a very well-worn, rather nondescript tool lying in one corner. It was a heavy hammer. It was old, with its square face now rounded on the edges from long use. He found it curious that this one tool had a higher price tag than everything else. He asked Satan, "Why? What about this old thing is so expensive?"
Satan said, "Oh, they put that out by mistake. It's not for sale. Not for sale at any price. I'll never sell that one." The puzzled man asked him, "Why?" Satan grinned. He said, "It doesn't look that good, but that's actually my most effective tool. If it wasn't so plain looking, people might see it for what it is." "Well, what is it?" The man asked. Satan grinned. "That tool is discouragement. When I can't bring someone down with the other tools, yeah, they take a lot less energy to use, but when I can't bring them down with the other tools, I can bring them down with this one."
"I use discouragement because so few people realize it belongs to me. Nothing stops someone in their tracks like discouragement. No matter how rich or poor, how exceptional, how ordinary, it stops them all. It can keep people stuck where they are for years. And when I hammer people again, and again, and again with it, they grow hopeless. They get to the point they can't pray, they can't worship. They basically become a victim of their environment. All the good stuff just drains right out of them. Courage. Vision. Faith. Hope. And the will to make a difference for God's kingdom. Once I get them discouraged, I have them neutralized. They end with only enough energy just to feel sorry for themselves. No more. When I hammer them again and again, they stop."
I'm Harold Bullock. I'm a senior pastor here at Hope. I haven't been to the garage sale, but I have sure experienced the equipment used on me. Especially discouragement, and that's what we're going to talk about today. When you yield your life to Jesus Christ, things change. The world is still the world, but all kinds of things change for you.
And one of them that changes is discouragement. Discouragement doesn't go away, but how you deal with it means it doesn't have to master you. So, we're going to take a more detailed look at it today as we wrap up our series on This Changes Everything.
The first fact about discouragement is I fight through discouragement. That's not exactly welcome news. But this is how life is. Were you discouraged this week, at least once? For most of us, it's actually several times a week. But we tend to think discouragement is just something we feel. Actually, it's more than that. Discouragement of the self is a loss of confidence, or enthusiasm, or the will to act. Something happens. You were ready to go and thought we could do this, and now you're not so sure. Or, you were ready to go and excited, and now you just don't have any heart for it. Or, you were ready to go and ready to make a difference, and now you don't even have the will to do anything. You're discouraged.
Discouragement has a lot of synonyms. Maybe you'll recognize some of these. Downhearted. "I'm just really downhearted." Friend, you are discouraged. That's a synonym. Downhearted. You're discouraged.
"I just feel all dejected." Well, you're actually discouraged. That's what's going on.
"I'm depressed." That's sort of discouragement three times over. That's the worst case of it. But you're discouraged. That's what's going on.
"I just feel demoralized." Well, you're discouraged. That's what's happening.
"I'm just disappointed." Well, yeah. Yeah, you are. And probably you're also discouraged. That's what you're feeling right now.
"I've just been despondent lately." Well, you're discouraged. You are despondent. You don't feel responsive to the things happening around you. But it's because you're discouraged.
"I just feel hopeless." Yeah. And you are discouraged.
"It all seems just gloomy to me." Well, you're discouraged. That's why.
Very interesting. Discouragement hits, we stop. 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 is a very interesting set of verses. It's a core of how you need to move forward in life. Paul writes this. "Be watchful. Stand firm in your faith. Be courageous. Be strong. Let all that you do be done in love." He's talking, just in general, as we move forward in life, you're going to have to be watchful. Watch out, because there is stuff that can take you out.
Stand firm in your faith. That means against adversity. Things aren't going your way. You have to stand firm.
Be courageous. When do you need to be courageous? In the middle of trouble. Whenever it's not convenient to be courageous. Be courageous.
Be strong. When do you need to be strong? Well, particularly when things aren't going well. Let all that you do be done in love. Pay very much attention, very exactly, to what you're doing. Make sure it's in love and not just in other stuff.
Discouragement actually undermines me. The enemy's tool is designed to stop me and to make bad things happen for me. God gives you and me responsibilities to do what He wants. Some of them are common to us. We all have different lives. We have different challenges. We have different places in life. And we have responsibilities that go with those. God wants us to do what He wants with our responsibilities. But that requires three things.
First is courage to move forward. Second is toughness. A basic toughness to handle things rightly. Second. And then, third is precision. Courage, toughness, and precision. I guide exactly by God's directions. These things are said in the Old Testament several times. But here they are. Be courageous, be strong. But all that you do, that is, pay attention precisely to what you're doing, let all of it be in love. Courage, toughness, precision.
Discouragement. Discouragement stops my forward motion. When I am discouraged, I have had my courage removed from me. It's not there anymore. And the courage is what moves you forward. Actually, things tend to start crumbling there. Discouragement starts me crumbling. I first lose my desire to move forward. Discouragement happens, I just don't want to move forward. Then, I go slack-handed with my responsibilities. I'm supposed to be tough. Supposed to get a real grip on them and do them, do what God wants, and I just begin to go slack-handed. If I am doing my responsibilities, I'm just slopping around, not really doing what I need to.
And then, after a while, I come to the point that I want to rebel against God's guidelines. I want to abandon his directions. Precision, precisely doing what he wants. Huh. I'm not having any fun. I may as well do what I want.
There are a lot of different ways to get to discouragement. Let me show you a diagram. I can be expecting something and get disappointed. Then I get discouraged. I can be trying really hard at something and then fail, and get discouraged. I can be moving ahead, then I hit difficulty. Then I get discouraged. Or, I can be moving ahead and something really fearful comes up. Some difficulty, some danger. I just get all discouraged. Or, I can do something mistaken. I can make a mistake and just get all discouraged. I can go sad and then discouraged. I can be hurting, and then someone does something that hurts me again, and I get discouraged.
There a lot of ways to get there, but once you get there, the path forward is pretty clear. I'm going to be discouraged. If I keep hanging on, there's going to be worse trouble. And then, I'll move on into depression, and I just won't move, period. This happens a lot of different ways. This is one of the reasons why it's so normal. Because there are all kinds of ways to get there. But if you stay there, you're in trouble.
I need to remember that I'm in a battle. I have to fight through discouragement. Discouragement comes. "I don't want to fight. I just want to collapse." Well, you need to fight. You need to put on your armor. Show you a picture. This is an actual old Roman helmet. It was burnished up, and it still has a lot of the red on it. You see the side panels. Those are for the cheeks. They're flaps to stop a sword. That back, that little bill sticking out the back, is for a sword blow. Stop it from hitting you in the neck. This helmet is for serious business. You don't wear this to parties. You wear it to a fight. Paul talks about putting on our armor.
So, you're going to have to fight. You're going to have to fight through discouragement. So, how do you fight your way out of the discouragement trap once you're there? I mean, you didn't plan on getting there, but it happened, and here you are. How do you get out? Let me show you another diagram. This is basically the path out. I'm discouraged. If you get discouraged, don't be discouraged over it. Fight. If I'm discouraged, I realize that I'm going to have to trust God and I'm going to have to focus on dealing with what I need to, and then, I'm going to have to fight through. And, in process, I need to handle my responsibilities. Otherwise, as I stay in my discouragement, I won't handle things, stuff will start to pile up. Green, hairy things will start to grow in the refrigerator because I'm not cleaning anything anymore. And then, depression sets in, and that makes it all worse.
You have to fight. To fight through discouragement, first of all, pray. Pray for endurance. Romans 15:5 says that God is a God who will give endurance and encouragement. Ask God, "Father, I'm discouraged. Please give me endurance, give me encouragement," and God will. Pray for it. And then, if this is something that's going to push on for a while, the discouragement, read the scripture. The next verse, Romans 15:4, the verse right before the last one, says that it's by the encouragement of scriptures that we have hope. You want to get out of the pit. You want hope. Get into the scriptures. I'd recommend you read the historical books, Joshua to Ester.
These are all about people who are just ordinary people. They face problems and God works with them. It's a tremendous help to you. And then, read the psalms. The psalms are very helpful. If you just feel like bawling your eyes out, there are psalms that will really help you do that and get to hope, then. So, get into them. Start reading. As good as the series was, Harry Potter will not bring you that hope. Actually, binge watching The Avengers will not give you that kind of hope. This only comes out of scriptures. There is a power there that just doesn't exist in any other stuff. Some things may lift your spirits. But this will actually give you encouragement and hope.
Third, cooperate with the training. All the tough stuff that shows up is being used by God to help develop you. That's not a message we like to here. Hebrews 12:7 says, "Endure hardship as discipline. God is treating you as sons. Cooperate with the Father, for what son is not disciplined by his father?" Hm. Hardship shows up, and God is going to use this to discipline. Sometimes this word discipline means I am being corrected for doing wrong. But there's another facet to the word that means I'm being put through strength training for great development.
So, how do you become a stronger Christian? You lift heavier weights. For me, personally, when I discovered this, this was not encouraging. I had to fight through that one. But this is how things are. Nothing is out of the control of God. These things come for lots of reasons, but one of them is to develop us. Romans 5 says, "We rejoice in our sufferings." Strange statement. "Knowing that suffering produces endurance. And then, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. And hope doesn't disappoint us." There's a sequence here. I'd like you to see it. A diagram. Difficulty comes, and then, endurance.
Most of us don't have to endure parties. Some of us do. But parties are easy. It's the difficult things that you have to endure through. And endure means that you go all the way through the thing. You keep on doing the right thing again, and again, and again, and again, in the middle of difficulty. Endurance. Endurance produces character. And here's how it produces it. In the middle of difficulty, it is not convenient to do the right thing. So, you do the right thing. And the difficulty doesn't go away, so you have to do it again. And it doesn't go away, so we have to do it again, and again, and again, and again. After a while, you quit hoping it will go away. You just committed to doing the right thing no matter what. That's character. It develops in the character.
And then, character produces an upbeat look in life that you don't get in other ways. Most of us struggle with being upbeat. Some of us are just sort of naturally that way. But this kind of upbeat comes because you know what you have gone through, by God's help, and you know you can move forward with him. It's a different kind. So, cooperate with the training. Don't believe the sky has fallen. You may feel like it. Don't believe the sky has fallen. Cooperate with God. Tell God, "I don't know what all you're trying to do, but I want to do what you want to do to help me."
And then, lastly, use good sense. Good sense is always helpful. So, for instance, don't try to control what you can't. If you have children, you need to control them. But, by the time they turn 40 or 50 years old, you should have quit. That's just not good sense. There are things you can't control. Let go. Focus on what you can.
Do something constructive. If you are discouraged and feeling draggy, do something that's constructive. You'll get out of it. Years ago, I was sitting at our dining table, and I said it out loud to my wife ... I was working on some church stuff and she was in the kitchen washing dishes a short distance away. I said to her, I said, "I just feel really discouraged." She knew about this, doing something constructive. So, she turned toward me, and she smiled, and she said, "Would you like to dry dishes?" And I thought, "No." But she had reminded me. So, I got up and went to the kitchen, dried dishes, and it all went away. Do something constructive. Make a list. Do something that's constructive.
Don't do the Dobby. Dobby is a house elf in Harry Potter. He arrives for the first time in Harry's room whenever his foster parents are wanting him to be extremely quiet because the father is entertaining a business client. Dobby comes in at this very inappropriate time. Take a look at this clip.
It's very common for us, whenever we make a mistake or we fail, to beat ourselves up over it. Do you do that? Very few of us ram our heads into the chest of drawers. But, you know, we do other things. We feel we have to stay down for a while. Just down, discouraged, in order to pay for what we've done. Don't do that. Christ Jesus died to pay the price for your rebellions and your mistakes. Confess sin, thank God, and move on. If you do this, you will play into the enemy's hands. Don't do it.
Lastly, talk the truth to yourself. Your ears will believe what your mouth says, my friend. You start off, "Oh, this is awful," Your ears hear, "Oh, this is awful," And they go, "Oh, yeah." If you start off with scripture like, "Be watchful. Stand firm." The versus that we looked at earlier. You start off with that, your ears will start believing that, too. Don't talk yourself downward into a spiral. Talk the truth. Say the word of God. Memorize some things, some verses that will help you, like the 1 Corinthians 16. You have that on the back of your handout.
Talk the truth to yourself and fight through. It may be a month of fighting. You have to fight through. It may be hammer blow, after hammer blow, after hammer blow. You have to fight through. Get on God's armor. More about that in a moment.
One of the greatest discouragements in all of life is the thought of your own death. The death of others really hurts us. It also reminds us of our own death. Christ also changes this for us. If I'm going to look at death in light of what scripture says, I see death as the arrival of life. This is crucial. You're going to choose it some way. You'll choose some viewing point. I see it as the arrival of life. Let me show you a picture. Take this and put it in your mind. This is an access button. You hit it, the door opens. Whenever you and I, if you're a Christ follower, you come down to die, you're getting ready to hit the access button. The opportunity has come.
I will be swallowed up by life, not by death. Death, in a lot of cultures, is presented as a monster that swallows people up. And actually, some of the Old Testament talks about this. And looking from other side of it, it seems like it has, because that person's gone. We all have Earth suits. That's what your body is. You exist without it, but it lets you be active on this planet. And it wears out. And it seems like the person's just been swallowed up, the person we knew.
But, for those of us who know Christ, we're not swallowed up by death. We're swallowed up by life. Here's 2 Corinthians 5. This is a very important verse. "While we are still in this tent ... " Paul writes. He himself may be facing death. " ... We sigh. We're longing that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life." That this body will die. "I long for the new one I will get," He's saying. "When I die, I am swallowed up by life. This is life opening up for me."
So, we are always of, what is that? We're always of good courage. Courage. Not depression. Courage. Courage lets us move forward. We're always of good courage. We know that while we are in the body, we are away from The Lord. We would rather be away from the body and at home with The Lord. Being with Jesus is the best place you can be.
So, whether at home or away, Paul says, we make it our aim to please him. It doesn't matter if I die. My goal is still to please him. If I'm here, my goal is to please him. It's the same. If I do die, greater life than I've ever known opens up for me. To be with Christ is far better, Paul says.
Philippians 1. "For to me, to live is Christ," He writes, and he's at the point where he could be killed. "To die is a promotion. It's gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I don't know. I'm torn between the two. I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better." He goes on to talk about how if he stays, he'll be a help to them. To be with Christ is far better. To remain is opportunity for, what, Netflix? Vacation? Bigger house? To remain is opportunity for fruitful labor. I can still do some things that count for God while I'm alive.
There's nothing wrong with a bigger house, if you can afford it without sacrificing everything else. Netflix, well, it depends on what you're watching. But that's what life is about. You don't understand life. You need to get a grip on it before it departs. To remain is opportunity for fruitful labor. I know this is true. I know it's going to be true. I know that I will be swallowed up by life because of three things the Bible says. Number one, Christ really lived, and died, and rose again. This is reality. For me, as I was a young man, this was crucial. Because I didn't want to stake my life on somebody's myth. Along the way, I worked through a book that dealt with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It was by a guy who originally wanted to disprove it. After 10 years of trying to disprove it, he became a Christ follower.
But he goes through all the possible arguments against Christ's resurrection in detail. It's painstaking. Actually, it's sort of painful. But I wanted to know, because if Christ is real, I was going to say no to things that people would die for. And I was going to say yes to things that people ran from. I wanted to know. And it is real. You can follow the evidence yourself.
Secondly, the change in me when the Holy Spirit entered. He came into my life. I was young. But I remember some things. And I especially have seen the changes since then. This doesn't happen to normal humans. It happens with outside help.
And the third thing is the fruit of endurance. I've gone through a lot of hard things, and I've come through them, and there are changes in me that are helpful. The same things destroy people. I know this is true.
So, the greatest discouragement, my death, you should think about like this. From the throne of God, life is speeding toward me like a meteor, and one day, it will hit me, and I will have the fuller, richer life than I could have ever imagined. I will be swallowed up by life. And until it happens, I'm trusting God. But my trust in God is not just, "Oh, I hope so." It's, "I know that." I have to choose it.
One last thought for you on this matter of discouragement, whether it's discouraging circumstances or it's the thought of death. I need a warfare mindset. This is something that I have to live with. If I'm going to fight through discouragement, I need a warfare mindset. That is, this life has some battles in it. I'm going to have to fight through some things. That's not an encouraging word, actually, but it is real. You can live with reality. I'm going to have to fight through things.
Romans 13:11 says this. "The hour has come for you ... " He's talking to the whole church. " ... To wake up, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed." What he's saying is that whatever time you first believed, either in your own personal life, you're further toward the journey to death, being swallowed up by life, or the Christ return, whichever comes. But it's closer now than it has been. The clock is ticking, dude, to say it a different way. The night is nearly over. The day is almost here.
So, let's put aside the deeds of darkness. What he's saying, he's not saying, "The day is here." He's saying the day is at hand. It's almost here. It's like, whenever you go outside, before the sun comes up. You see the sky streaked with orange. The sun's not up yet. But the night is disappearing fast. He's saying this is where we are in time. It doesn't matter if it was 2000 years ago or right now. Christ Jesus will return. The full day will be here. The night is evaporating. This world's passing away.
So, you yourself are closer to salvation, one way or the other. So, wake up. Lay aside the night clothes. The deeds of darkness. Put on the armor of light. The image is, like, armor that would glisten as the light comes. Now, what I felt about the return of The Lord earlier was, the return of The Lord might be near, so we need to put on our party clothes. This is not party clothes. Hm. There will be a party later, but this timeframe involves battle.
So, you put on the armor. And the armor of light, particularly, is the stuff of Christian living. You put on righteousness. You put on honesty. You put on truth. You put on compassion. These things sink with the light itself. And they protect you. The night's over. The day is at hand. My salvation is nearer than ever, so I wear the armor of light. I put it on.
Here's your good picture to remember, when it comes to discouragement. This is what you do with discouragement. For me, personally, I have had literally months on end where it's been hammer blow, after hammer blow, after hammer blow. What do you do with that? It hurts, but you've got a choice. You can have a lot worse trouble, or you can start slugging back. You fight through this. You must. If you will fight, you will come to the point that you're through it. It may be an hour. It may be a day. It may be a month. But the alternative is to collapse and watch the trouble just gather around you. Fight through it. This is your image. Wear the armor.
If you wanted to put it into summary, this would be it. Wake up and suit up. Or, dream on and get beat down. This is the choice. Discouragement. Huge tool of the enemy. Discouragement. It just seems so ordinary, you don't realize it comes from him. But if you are to be of good courage, then to be discouraged is not in line with God's will for you. So, suit up. When Christ comes into a life, He changes things. And He changes a lot of the stuff that's just so much a part of our lives. I'm not saying that He makes the things that discourage you go away. No. No. But He gives you tools for fighting through this stuff, not becoming the victim of it.
So, trust Him. Get into the scriptures. Take practical steps. Slug on through. You'll come through this. And then, a little while later, you'll get another round. Suit up. Let me lead us in prayer.
Father, thank you for the fact that Christ changes things. Thank you that change comes not because we can pump ourselves so full of emotion, but because you really do change us. Thank you for His death and resurrection, through which we have forgiveness of all sins, past, present, and future. Thank you for you coming to live within us in the Holy Spirit and giving us power and insight we never had before. And thank you, Lord, for the circumstances of life, where you allow us to work for you and to learn about you by joining in your fight. We ask you, help us, Father. We really want to walk in the light of who you are. So, as stuff shows up, we ask you, Father, help us. Remind us of the armor and remind us of your power. You've taken us through much, and we trust in. In Jesus' name. Amen.