Pride and Discouragement

I’m a good public speaker. I say that without reserve. I have few strengths, but I know that’s one of them. I’ve given talks on technology, on autism, on arts integration, and I’ve delivered more than a few sermons in my time. My style is fast-paced, witty, sometimes appropriately sarcastic, and I enjoy ending on an inspiring note. In a sermon, I’ll seldom keep you sitting for longer than twenty minutes (thank you, Mark Twain), and I slave over having some of the best sermon slides you’ll see in a church of Christ. I take pride in my speaking ability. As I said, it’s one of my few real strengths.

I sometimes find it disheartening, then, how seldom I get to speak. Right now, we do not have an employed pulpit preacher at our congregation, and a group of men are distributing the preaching among a few guys in the congregation. I look at some upcoming topics, and I immediately think of the research I’ve done on that subject or how my line of work positions me perfectly to address that issue, and then someone else gets picked to talk. Sometimes months go by between my being able to exercise my one strong talent.

And it rankles when I feel passed over. I have to check my attitude when I see individuals who are not very good public speakers get placed in the pulpit again and again while I merely sit and take notes for the congregational blog, at times desperately trying to reword parts of their lessons to better communicate the points they are making. Then the speaking list for the next couple of months appears, and I see myself not on it again. I feel I’ve been punched in the stomach.

What sours my attitude all the more is that, in my own head, I think I know who is discouraging my inclusion as a speaker, and I think I know why – which leads to battling feelings of bitterness and resentment. I have to stop and check my attitude during Bible class, during meetings, even during social events. I’ve also had to quell a certain amount of internal participation discouragement in general, a feeling that makes me want to withdraw from participating altogether, so maybe I’ll stop accidentally reinforcing those negative stereotypes I think others have of me. I think, “If they’re just going to assume this of me anyway, why bother?”

But the truth is, I have to remind myself it comes down to pride. Yes, I’m a pretty good speaker – certainly better than average. But that should not afford me special treatment. I John 2:16 reminds us that pride is of the world; it has nothing to do with spiritual service. Mark 7:22 says that pride defiles a man, and Proverbs 29:23 says pride will ultimately bring you low. That’s what pride is doing to me when I let these things discourage me, when I let pride tell me that I don’t want to lead worship, or lead Bible class, or participate in other ways because that pride has been hurt.

What ways do you find pride getting in the way of your own godly service? In what ways do you catch yourself putting self before Christ? There are many ways our pride can misguide us, but we just have to be reflective, knowing that God lifts up the humbled heart, that he exalts the prostrate spirit. I think I know where I have to overcome pride in my own life. Where do you face similar challenges?

Christianity is Not a Detour

What do we do when we come up on detours in our daily commutes? Do we ignore them and get stuck in a position where we have to turn around? Do we follow them? Have you ever been on a detour where you’ve been unquestionably lost? We might have missed a sign while following other cars; a marker may have been misplaced or marked incorrectly; and we unquestioningly ended up in entirely the wrong place. We not only completely avoided the dangerous area of road, but we also managed to accidentally avoid our destination.

A Road, Not a Detour

In John 17:15, Jesus prays for the well-being of His disciples, and He prays that they might have the protection they need to keep them from evil. See, our faith is not a detour around the trials and temptations of this world. Instead, it is a path right through the dangers of our world to lead us to a safe destination in the end. In this same prayer, Jesus prays that His disciples not be “of the world,” in verse 14, even while they live “in the world” (verse 11). Where our faith is the road we travel, the things of this world can serve as detours themselves, distracting us from our chosen path.

In Luke 6:12-13, when Jesus chooses his disciples, He does not conduct interviews, check references, or cite popular opinion polls. No, instead He prays to God for guidance. When we seek out these other things – popular opinion, following others – we are easily detoured. Only by trusting in God and living prayerfully can we hope to keep on the correct path without diversion. Then we can be in the world without being of the world, just as a ship must be in the sea without the sea being in the ship.

Remembering Our Surroundings

Staying on God’s path does not mean disregarding this world He created. In fact, the deeper our connection with God, the deeper our connection with the world around us. Knowing Christ awakens a more powerful concern for those around us. Even though it’s a pain, road construction usually makes our commutes a little better when it is finished. Can we say the same about ourselves? Do we leave this world a better place when we pass by?

Roads always have to be torn up before they can be rebuilt, and we will have disagreements and moments or stress with our fellow workers in Christ. We might feel torn up, or we might tear into another. We can, however, learn from those times and work toward building each other up, reconstructing ourselves into a stronger church. The problem comes when a road is torn up and forgotten. Sometimes we might hurt a brother or sister, tear them down unintentionally even, and be negligent in our responsibility to build them back up.

Bringing Others to God’s Road (And Keeping Ourselves On Too)

Remember Saul of I Samuel 17:11. All he did was complain about Goliath, looking to man for the solution instead of to God. What about Paul and Silas in prison. Instead of dealing with their situation as ones with no hope, they lived the path they followed and brought another along with them in the end. WHen we’re working with others, are we trying to bring them to God’s highway or to our own?

When we come to a crisis in our spiritual path, how do we respond? In Genesis 22, Abraham responds to a crisis presented by God with faith and obedience. We will be tested in this life. We will come to forks in our road. When we hit these rough spots, we should be relying on God’s directions more than man’s. We can scour all over our Bibles and see people who have responded to crisis in faith (Paul, Apollos, Timothy) versus those who were detoured by roadblocks in their paths (Demas, John Mark, Ananias and Sapphira). Who will we be more like?

What road are you on? Have you chosen broader and easier paths, or have you chosen to walk in Jesus footsteps up the narrow way of salvation? Only one will take you to a final destination with God, but, in striving toward that goal, we cannot be derailed by the detours in our lives. If we place our faith and hope in Him, if He is the source of our strength and hope, then we can find our way home, even when they way seems dark.

lesson by Mike Mahoney

Elijah and Discouragement

Through I Kings 18-19, Elijah experiences an emotional roller coaster. Elijah brings a drought to the land through God’s power, and, when he comes to see Ahab again, the king is very hostile toward Elijah. In turn, Elijah proposes a challenge: set up two alters, one to Baal and one to Jehovah, and Baal’s priests would pray for their God to consume their sacrifice in fire. Elijah would do the same. Baal’s priests cry out, dance, and cut themselves to no avail. Elijah then evokes God with a small, quiet prayer after having his alter deluged with water, and fire from God incinerates the sacrifice and alter.

The people enthusiastically turn to God, praising Him and killing the prophets of Baal. The drought ends. It is a monumental victory, but it is very short-lived. By chapter 19, Jezebel proclaims death on Elijah and promises his end within a day. Elijah flees beyond the political influence of Ahab and Jezebel, collapses by a juniper tree, and asks God to take his life.

Causes of Spiritual Discouragement

James 5 reminds us that Elijah is simply a man like you or me – subject to times of triumph and times of despair. He is no more a stranger to discouragement than any of us. We see him despairing his life, but God is there to provide the cure to Elijah’s discouragement, but how does a prophet as successful as Elijah go from such success into the depths of discouragement?

  • Emotional Stress. Elijah feels the stress and strain of trying to convert a godless nation. The king and queen are set against him. He feels alone as we might when we see those we know and love rejecting God, when we feel that our faith is rejected at every turn.
  • Exhaustion. Elijah does a great deal of traveling in I Kings 18 alone, before and after the strenuous events on Mount Carmel. He is also worn out from the constant pressure of resisting the pressures around him. Likewise, we are always over-booked and overextended. We don’t take time to be still, to pray, to feed on God’s word, and to meditate. Like Elijah, we just wear ourselves out.
  • Great Accomplishments. Think about what Elijah accomplishes by the end of I Kings 18. How does he maintain that momentum? How can he top that? Elijah feels personally responsible for keeping the tide turned, and, when he cannot maintain that success, he feels a failure. The highs in our lives can lead directly into lows when we realize the difficulty in maintaining that momentum.

How then does this discouragement manifest itself in Elijah? First, he isolates himself in I Kings 19:3-4. “I just want to be alone.” However, it is not good for us to be alone in our discouragement. Then, Elijah loses perspective in I Kings 19:10 when he expresses he is the only one seeking God in Israel. He knows otherwise, but he pushes that knowledge out of his own mind in despair. Finally, Elijah descends into self-pity, and, when we pity ourselves, we become self-centered and selfish.

Curing Discouragement

We can relate to the causes and effects of discouragement we see in Elijah’s lives. How do we move on, though? We can begin by looking at the way God brings Elijah out of his despair.

  • Get Up. In I Kings 19:5-8, the angel twice instructs Elijah to rise. Verses 11-15 record God twice giving Elijah direction to “go.” God tells the prophet to get up and take positive action. Sometimes a small shift in the right direction makes all the difference. When we are down in the depths of discouragement, the first thing we should do is get involved in positive service.
  • Grow Up. I Kings 19:11-13 records God drawing Elijah’s attention to His presence in the quiet things. He reminds Elijah to spiritually grow up and stop looking for God in his own way. Paul makes the same admonition in I Corinthians 3:1-3 when he calls for Christians to grow out of physical jealousies. Sometimes, we simply need to work to maturation.
  • Gird Up. Toward the end of I Kings 19, God reminds Elijah there is still work to be done, and he will need help to do it. We need to be able to accept help. We need our own Elisha to help us change our outlook at times. I Peter 1:13 calls on us to gird our minds for action in God’s service.

God has given us reason to trust and hope in Him. We are no strangers to discouragement and struggles, but we can always look up to Him who loves us and created us. As Romans 8:31-39 reminds us, nothing can separate us from God’s love. None can oppose us when God is with us. We can take confidence in our God and face our discouragements with the knowledge that He is with us.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Unity in Love and Edification

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

– Romans 12:9-18

The church at Corinth was one with problems. It was a congregation of differences and disputes, each group, no doubt, thinking they knew best. Each member of every faction within the group thinking they were the ones in the right. Time and again in this letter, Paul comes back to the idea of thinking we know. These problems build up to chapters 12-14 and their focus on self in their spiritual gifts.

Some members at Corinth feel superior to others because of the gifts they possess. By I Corinthians 14:1, Paul tells the group to let love be their guide after he carefully explains what love entails in chapter 13. Romans 14:19 expresses this idea as pursuing or seeking love. In this, Paul places an emphasis in exhortation. He defines what it means to be spiritual, and he makes a connection between love and unity.

Edification & Exhortation

Do we make edification a goal of our spirituality? Notice I Corinthians 14. Numerous times in this chapter, Paul writes of edification. In context, this congregation has individuals who wish to interrupt worship to demonstrate their own spiritual gifts, but Paul warns against setting our brothers and sisters at naught in amplifying self. Applying this to ourselves, do we place our preferences, our desires, our opinions ahead of the needs of our brothers and sisters?

We all have favorite topics of study; we have favorite songs to lift up before God; we have speakers with whom we connect better than others. We will never have unanimous, synonymous, and equal edification in every service. We have to be able to yield to our brethren, recognizing some things edify my brothers and sisters more than myself.

Returning to Romans 14:19, let us earnestly pursue peace and edification in our spiritual lives. Romans 15:2 and Ephesians 4:29 also remind us on the priority we should be giving to one another. So long as we are making the edification, the exhortation, and the consolation of one another our goal, then we will be likewise edified.

Defining Spirituality

In I Corinthians 14:37, Paul writes that we should pay attention to what he is writing if we think ourselves spiritual. Again, this in the context of elevating self and imposing self on worshipping God. Do we know what it means to be spiritual? Is it simply having been baptized? Is it observing the Lord’s Supper? Is it the ability to lead in worship? Do we look at our own contributions to our congregations to define our level of spirituality.

I Corinthians 10:1-5 uses our spiritual forerunners as examples, having been baptized in the cloud and sea, having drunk from a spiritual rock. God, however, was not pleased with them despite these evidences of spirituality. Hebrews 6 speaks of those who consider themselves spiritual but have fallen away from enlightenment.

It is not the outward that brings us closer to God. Rather, it is what comes from inside; it is the meaning behind our worship. True spirituality is seen in our devotion to God and our devotion to one another. John 4:24 calls for spiritual worship rooted in truth. In I Peter 2:5 calls us to offer spiritual sacrifices, and Hebrews 13:15-16 calls helping one another pleasing sacrifice to God. Finally, Hebrews 6:9-10 calls on us to work love toward one another, working toward salvation in that.

Love & Unity

We sometimes treat I Corinthians 13 as if it stands alone from the rest of the book, but it comes in the middle of this discussion on unity and edification in the face of a splintering congregation. Ephesians 4:1-4, Colossians 3:13-14, Philippians 2:1-5, John 13:34-35 – these and more tell us to work for unity in love, being patient with one another. Paul illustrates this in I Corinthians 12, comparing the numerous members of the physical body with the diversity found in the body of Christ.

Just as a human body is united in its efforts to care for every part, so too should we care for each other. We may not perceive ourselves as important as other members, but Paul makes it clear we are all essential. We are all needed, and we should all be unified in our work for the Lord. We may not have unanimity, but we can have unity. Remember Psalm 133, describing the beauty of brotherly love and unity, comparing it to that first consecration of God’s priesthood and to the water that starts as dew on a mountain that will flow into rivers and lakes below.

Conclusion

We are perhaps more similar to the church at Corinth than we are willing to admit. We can grow closer in unity, though, if we can focus on unity in love, developing a true sense of spirituality, and prioritizing our brothers and sisters over ourselves. We can be a whole body by placing self aside, de-emphasizing our own desires and opinions, and by lifting each other up to the Lord as we work together toward Heaven.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Giant Killing

The story of David and Goliath is a familiar one. In I Samuel 17, Goliath poses a threat to the nation of Israel. He defies the armies of Israel. He defies the power of their God. For forty days, none rise up to face Goliath until David intercedes. Many tell him he is unable to overcome, even the king, but David places his trust in God. In his confrontation, David demonstrates faith and trust in God despite a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. His companions focus on the difficulty, but David focuses on God. His attitude contrasts from those who would shirk away or discourage him. Instead, David seeks to glorify God in facing Goliath, and he takes action. He meets his challenge with God on his side.

Facing Our Own Giants

We face giants in our own lives. We all come up against obstacles we perceive as insurmountable. These distract us from our service to God; they take our focus from Him; they derail our faithful service. We may be caught up in secular interests that consume our time and our energy. We may be consumed with desire and lust. We may be dealing with discouragement, or we may just lack purpose or focus, not knowing how to move forward.

I John 2:15 warns us against getting caught up in the things of this world, for all of it is temporary. Our time on this world is limited. Jesus, in Matthew 6, reinforces the temporary nature of this world, but we may be like the young ruler who is unable to simply let go of the power his possessions have over him. Luke 12:15 records Jesus warning us against covetousness, for our worth is not defined by our things. From here, Jesus tells a parable of a man who begins to trust in and focus on his material successes. He forgets all else in the face of his possessions, but that wealth does nothing to save him when his time expires.

Regarding our fleshly desires, I Peter 2:11 tells us these battle over our souls. Paul, in II Timothy 2:22, encourages the young Christian Timothy to replace those passions with faith, love, and peace. In Romans 13:11, Paul calls on us to wake up from the desires and immorality that might have guided us in the past. Rather, we should seek refuge in Christ, turning to Him to help us defeat that giant in our lives.

We may battle discouragement, but Isaiah 35:3 reminds us that God can strengthen and encourage us when we are weak or afraid. Acts 11:23 records a man named Barnabas who is well-known for his role in encouraging others. I Thessalonians 5:14 then reminds us that we should be fulfilling that same role. We should be looking for those who need encouragement, and, when we need encouragement, we should be able to know we can turn to one another for edification.

Finding Our Direction

One more obstacle is one of focus – or the lack thereof. Returning to I Samuel 17, David finds purpose in defeating Goliath. He discovers the rewards the king will bestow upon the one who defeats Goliath, and he also seeks to glorify God in removing the obstacle of Goliath. David sees a goal; he prepares for the upcoming conflict; and he runs toward his challenge. He identifies the giant in his life, but he does not hide from it.

We sometimes talk about what we should do, about what others should do. If we have the faith found in I John 5:4, if we have the trust we read of in I John 4:4, if we have the humble attitude we find in Philippians 2:5-8, and if we are able to put our faith into action as in James 2:15-18 – then we can rise up like David and face down the giants in our own lives. Philippians 4:13 assure us we can do all things through Him who strengthens us. David brings down Goliath with God’s help. We can face those giants in our own lives with Him.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Do Not Fear; Only Believe

While he yet spake, they come from the ruler of the synagogue’s house saying, “Thy daughter is dead: why troublest thou the Teacher any further?”

But Jesus, not heeding the word spoken, saith unto the ruler of the synagogue, “Fear not, only believe” (Mark 5:35-36).

The dreaded news had arrived.

Jairus knew that the time was short; he hastened to Jesus and implored Him to heal his daughter, sick near death (cf. Mark 5:22-23).  Jairus knew that if Jesus got to her before she died she could be delivered from the illness.  But the crowd pressed firmly upon Jesus, and He took time out to hear the confession of faith of the woman healed from the issue of blood (cf. Mark 5:24-34).

Too much time had been taken.  The girl was dead.

This news is brought to Jairus; according to those who came from his house, there was no more need to bother Jesus the Teacher.  And yet, in the midst of this despair and distress, Jesus provides a compelling message for Jairus: do not fear – only believe. What would Jairus do?

It would be entirely understandable if he went with conventional wisdom and no longer bothered the Teacher.  His daughter was dead.  One of the few guarantees in life is that once you are dead, you are dead and finished.  Sure, Jesus had healed all kinds of sick people and cast out many demons – but He had not yet raised anyone from the dead.  It was a great hope while it lasted – but now all hope was gone.  The girl was no more.

Yet, on the other hand, why is Jesus so nonchalant about the matter?  Did Jesus not know how close she was to death?  Why did Jesus delay?  Why does He not pay any attention to the terrible news?  Jesus is being hailed as the Prophet, the Son of God, with great authority.  And now He says to not fear but only believe.

How many times do we find ourselves in a position similar to that of Jairus?  There are many times in our lives when our situation seems bleak and hopeless.  According to all appearances and conventional wisdom, there is nothing left to do but lose hope and be afraid.  Distress encompasses us.  Trials beset us.  We have all kinds of reasons to no longer trouble the Teacher and to go on our own way.

And yet the voice of Jesus may still call to us to not fear and only believe. This message should not be distorted or improperly expanded to indicate that all we ever need to do is just believe.  Trust and confidence in God and Christ demand that we do what they say to do – if we do not do the Lord’s commandments, we prove that we are not trusting in Him (cf. Romans 6:16-23, James 2:14-26, 1 Peter 1:22, 1 John 2:3-6).

But there are many times in life when, if we were walking by sight/appearance, we would lose hope.  It is in those times that we must walk by faith – trusting that the Lord is there, that the Lord is good, and that God is willing to do far more than even what we desire (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:7, Ephesians 3:20-21).  God can do the mighty actions; it is our place to trust in Him.

But there have always been and always will be reason to laugh at that trust.  There are always reasons to lose all hope and to be afraid.  There is never a lack of political uncertainty, economic uncertainty, medical uncertainty, and even environmental uncertainty.  There are always various reasons to doubt God, to be afraid of what is happening to us or what we fear is about to happen to us, and to decide to no longer bother the Teacher.

We can read about Jairus’ choice: he believed and Jesus raised his daughter from the dead and restored her to full health (Mark 5:37-43).  God was able to do more for him than he could have imagined.  And so it is with us.  Whenever we are assailed by doubt, fear, uncertainty, and hopelessness, let us remember the words of our Lord.

Do not fear.  Only believe.

lesson by Ethan R. Longhenry