By Dr. Lester F. Ayars
Northport Baptist Church
400 Elwood Road –
East Northport, NY 11731 USA
Sermon delivered to the congregation of the Northport Baptist Church
Scripture Text: “And it came to pass, when David and his men were come to Ziklag on the third day, that the Amalekites had invaded the south, and Ziklag, and smitten Ziklag, and burned it with fire; And had taken the women captives, that were therein: they slew not any, either great or small, but carried them away, and went on their way. So David and his men came to the city, and, behold, it was burned with fire; and their wives, and their sons, and their daughters, were taken captives. Then David and the people that were with him lifted up their voice and wept, until they had no more power to weep. And David’s two wives were taken captives, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess, and Abigail the wife of Nabal the Carmelite. And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the Lord his God. And David said to Abiathar the priest, Ahimelech’s son, ‘I pray thee, bring me hither the ephod.’ And Abiathar brought thither the ephod to David. And David inquired at the Lord…”
(1 Samuel 30:1-8a, KJV)
Discouragement: who has not experienced it? Some of you are experiencing it right now. Some of you have already gone through it. If there are some who have not experienced discouragement, you will at some point in your life. In the spiritual realm, there is a war raging between God and Satan. Satan’s strategy is to disable Christians, to cause them not to glorify God, and discouragement is one of his greatest tools.
I know no weapon more powerful than discouragement. I can withstand just about anything, but if I am discouraged, then I am in big trouble. I can withstand the devil. I can withstand cantankerous Christians. I can withstand affliction. I can withstand just about anything except discouragement.
Demolition teams used to take buildings down with a large bulldozer or with a wrecking ball. The ball would swing back and forth, hitting the building, and it would sometimes take days to bring a building down. Engineers discovered that with some advanced engineering and pyrotechnics, you could bring a building down in about 50 seconds by planting dynamite at key structural points of the building. When the charges were ignited, the building would implode. The building didn’t blow out, it caved in. Because the atmospheric pressure pushing in on the materials is greater than the structural strength of the building, it implodes, caves in. In 2 Corinthians, there is a repeated phrase, “for which cause we faint not.” To faint means to implode. It means that the strength of resistance inside us is not as great as the strength of the pressure pushing in from the outside. When you faint, you implode, you cave in, you lose heart, you lose faith and you give up.
There are three levels of discouragement. The first level is mild discouragement, when only our emotions are affected. The second level is stronger discouragement, when your spirit is affected. At this point, other people begin to notice something is wrong, that you are not yourself. Your friends, family, spouse, classmates, co-workers or the people at your church see that something is wrong. Your spirit is noticeably affected. The third level is disabling discouragement, the worst kind. This discouragement renders it impossible for the discouraged person to handle the normal responsibilities of life. They try to escape by sleeping, to dull the pain by drinking; they anesthetize the hopelessness through substance abuse.
- Three Causes of Discouragement
Disappointment comes when things do not happen the way we expect them to happen. We can be disappointed with God because our prayers have gone unanswered. We can be angry with God because He didn’t bring someone into our lives or take someone out of our lives. We are disappointed because we didn’t get the raise or the new position. We experience all kinds of disappointments. We are disappointed in what we think God should have done, disappointed in people, disappointed in institutions. Disappointments are a source of great discouragement.
Back in the 1970’s, when Jimmy Carter was President, before the Soviet Union had become somewhat democratic, there was a great deal of persecution of evangelical believers. Some notable religious leaders were sent to prison camps in Siberia. One of them was a Baptist by the name of Georgi Vins.
One of the great achievements of Jimmy Carter was a negotiation with the Soviets to release Georgi Vins in exchange for the release of a Russian spy that the Americans had captured. Georgi Vins was the leader of the independent Baptists in Russia and was imprisoned for his religious dissidence. His own testimony was, “I was in Siberia and they called for me and gave me a change of clothes and a shave. I thought they were going to execute me.” Without any explanation, they shoved him on an airplane and, “Three days later I was in the White House of the United States of America with the President.” He became the most famous evangelical in the world in terms of name recognition and he had quite a powerful message.
One Saturday, shortly after Georgi Vins arrived in the United States, I received a phone call from a fellow pastor on Long Island and he said, “Les, you will never guess who I have coming tomorrow morning.” I asked him who it was.
He said, “Georgi Vins, the dissident that was released by President Carter from prison in Siberia.”
“How did you get him?” I asked.
“Well, he was in Franklin Square for a missions conference. I happened to attend it and I offered to pay half of his way back to Indiana if he would speak at my church Sunday morning.”
In the meantime, my wheels were spinning wildly. Here was this famous minister with an incredibly current testimony. I said to my friend, “Ken, you’re my buddy, right? We are long-standing friends. Do me a favor. Send Vins to me Sunday night. You don’t need him Sunday morning and Sunday night. You should spread the blessing around. Sunday morning is the premium time, so you have him Sunday morning and I’ll have him Sunday night.”
I could hear the hesitation in his voice, “Well, he wants to get back to Indiana.”
I said, “I’ll pay the other half of his way back home.” He told me that he’d work on it and kind of gave me an affirmative.
This was Saturday night. On Sunday morning, I came to church with an ace in my hand, a Christian celebrity coming to speak at our church. Because I wanted to play it cool, all I said was, “Folks, we are going to have a guest tonight who may be the most famous Christian in the world right now. He has a stirring testimony and I’m not going to tell you who it is. You are going to have to come and find out. If you miss tonight, you will be sorry the rest of your life because it will probably be your only chance to hear this man. So, invite your neighbors, your friends and as many non-Christians as you can and let’s pack the church to hear this powerful testimony.” I gave this announcement at both of the morning services and the church was buzzing with the news of the mystery guest. They were guessing all kinds of different people, even Billy Graham, but I didn’t tell them who it was. I wanted it to be a surprise.
After the service, my music director came to me and said, “Oh, by the way, we are not going to be here tonight. We are scheduled to do a concert in another church on the south shore.” That news did not make my heart rejoice, but there was nothing I could do. He had already made the commitment so I had to let him go in peace. A little while later, our best keyboard player came to me and said, “I am not going to be here Sunday night either. I am going to a concert at a church in another town.” My great evening began to disintegrate.
After lunch on Sunday, the phone rang. It was my friend, the pastor, who said, “By the way, he’s not coming.”
I could not believe it. “What do you mean he’s not coming? Make him come.”
“I can’t make him come,” Ken said.
I said, “I’ll tell you what, I’ll pay his whole way home. I’ll buy his airplane ticket and get his translator back to Indiana. I’ll pay all of his expenses.”
He said, “I’m sorry, but he’s not coming.”
I was immediately discouraged, really discouraged. I was mad at God for letting the whole thing happen. I was mad at my pastor friend for not delivering the famous Christian. I was mad at Georgi Vins for not being willing to come and stretch himself a little bit. I was mad at all my music people for all bailing out on me. I was incredibly unhappy and immensely discouraged. I was disappointed.
When I took the last phone call, the one in which my pastor friend said that Georgi Vins was definitely not coming, I took the phone and went outside because I didn’t want any disruptions while I talked to Ken. We had a phone cord that could stretch about thirty feet, so I was out on the porch while I was talking on the phone. My wife was in the kitchen and she could tell by my body language that I had not received good news. When the phone call was over, she came out and said, “Well, he’s not coming, right?”
“Nope, he’s not coming.” I was angry with Ken, angry with God, angry with everybody.
She said, “Well, let’s pray, honey.”
I said, “You pray.”
She reached for me and said, “Let me pray for you.”
I said, “Don’t touch me. I don’t want to be touched. You go in the house and pray. Don’t touch me.” Have you ever been so discouraged you didn’t want to pray? I was like a porcupine ready to defend itself. Disappointment leads to discouragement.
2) Unwholesome comparison with others brings discouragement.
Unwholesome comparison is comparing the growth of your cell group with somebody else’s cell group, or comparing how quickly you recovered from a surgery versus how quickly somebody else recovered from the same surgery. It is comparing bank accounts, jobs, children’s behavior or a thousand other things. When we compare ourselves unfavorably to other people, the result is discouragement.
I remember one day, years ago, when I was home visiting my father in Texas, I took him to see an old family friend. He had been eager to go but was very quiet during the visit and on the way home he said, “Don’t ever take me there again. I don’t ever want to go there again.”
When I asked him why, he said, “All that guy did was brag about how much money he got from this and how much from that and how much he got from his retirement and the oil well they found on his farm. Whenever I get around him and all his bragging, I feel so discouraged.” Unfavorable comparisons lead to discouragement.
3) An unbroken chain of adversity brings discouragement.
Trouble, trouble, trouble. Sometimes you have problems and when they get better, a different problem confronts you and that problem is followed by another problem. You experience an unbroken chain of adversity. That was David’s situation. King Saul was hunting for him because he wanted to kill him. David joined the enemy army and they rejected him. Returning from battle, he found his town burned with fire and his wives and children captured. In their grief, his own people turned on him, wanting to stone him. All of these circumstances precede the verse that says, “And David was greatly distressed.” He was stressed out. The unbroken chain of adverse circumstances caused great discouragement.
- Encouragement In the Midst of Discouragement
Now, we will explore the three things that David did that led him out of discouragement.
1) David took responsibility for his discouragement.
David did not wait for someone to come along and encourage him. When you are discouraged internally, it is very difficult for people to encourage you. Being discouraged internally is not something that other people can alleviate, it is something that you have to do. Only you can get out of it.
In 1 Samuel 30:6, we read, “But David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.” He had to encourage himself because his discouragement was an internal problem. Ultimately, it is not the circumstances that cause discouragement, it is our reactions to the circumstances. It was not only the disappointment that crippled me on the no-show Georgi Vins weekend, it was how I viewed those things, how I felt about them and how I felt about the people who were involved in the situation.
While the King James Version says, “David encouraged himself in the Lord his God”, the New International Version reads, “But David found strength in the Lord his God.” Now, it is true that David found strength, but there is more going on here than the phrase implies. The Scriptures say that David encouraged himself. This wasn’t something that he just stumbled on and found, it wasn’t something that fell out of heaven on him. It was something he did. David found strength by encouraging himself in the Lord his God. What a great verse! I knew that verse for years before I knew how he did it. One day, as I was reading this passage again, I discovered that the Scriptures do tell us how David encouraged himself.
2) David acknowledged his dependence on God to get him out of discouragement.
The second thing that David did to get out of discouragement was to call for the ephod. 1Samuel 30:7 reads, “And David said to Abiathar the priest, Ahimelech’s son, ‘I pray thee, bring me hither the ephod.’ And Abiathar brought thither the ephod to David.”
The high priest wore many priestly garments. He had a crown and a robe, a belt, a breastplate that was adorned with precious stones in memory of the sons of Israel and he also had something called an ephod. The ephod was like a short-sleeve vest that had either one pocket that went all the way across the front of it or two pockets on either side. In this pocket were two mysterious stones called the Urim and the Thummim. We don’t know very much about these stones. We do know that when the people wanted to hear from God, when they wanted His direction or to discern His will, they would go to the high priest. The high priest, through prayer and through the use of these stones, was able to get direction from God. When David said, “Bring the ephod,” he was indicating a dependence on God to get him out of his problem.
3) David turned to the Word of the Lord.
1 Samuel 30:8 reads, “And David inquired at the Lord…” If David was living today, and if the same scenario took place, the only thing that would be different is that David would say to Abiathar the priest, “GET MY BIBLE!” The purpose of the Urim and Thummim was to find out what God had to say about the situation.
- Antidotes for Discouragement
David discovered three things when he took responsibility for his discouragement and turned to God and His Word to overcome it.
1) He discovered that comparison with others is wrong.
2 Corinthians 10:12(b) reads, “…but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” That is why, for example, the values that underlie beauty pageants are unbiblical. Beauty pageants consist of a series of comparisons with no absolute standard. We all have different talents, abilities, degrees of intelligence, stations in life, etc.; we have different gifts in the Holy Spirit and different opportunities. If we compare ourselves unfavorably with others, we will always be reminded of the devil’s lies, “You’re really not all that good. You’re really a loser. You’re really not up to par. You really don’t cut it. You might as well give up. You don’t have the right stuff.” Scripture contradicts these lies. The parable of the talents illustrates God’s attitude towards the use of the gifts that we have been given. The variety of our giftedness and our opportunities is revealed in that one of the servants was given ten talents, one had five and one had two. Each of the servants was rewarded equally when they used what they had. The servant who got in trouble, ironically, is the one who had the least. He was not rebuked because he had the least, but because he didn’t use what he had. Even God doesn’t make unfavorable comparisons.
In true humility and sincerity, a brother in the men’s worship team referred to this worship team as the “B” team. I waited until we could be alone and I said, “I have a mild rebuke that I feel I should give to you.” He kind of braced himself, because our defenses go up when we hear that we are about to be rebuked. I said, “In the kingdom of God, there is no “B” team. When I went to school we had a “B” team for all our athletic teams and the “B” team was not as good as the “A” team. I reject, and the Bible rejects, the idea of a “B” team in the kingdom of God. If we are all doing our best with what we have been given, then we are all on the “A” team.”
We don’t have “B” team ministries in this church. Every ministry is an “A” team ministry. We don’t compare ourselves. After I gave this message in the last service, a woman said to me, “Pastor, thank you for giving that message. The devil has had me believing the lie that, because I am a new Christian and am not very talented in many areas, I am just a “B” team Christian. Thank you for affirming that I am an “A” team Christian.” So, we should not compare ourselves unfavorably with others.
2) Only the Word of God can correctly interpret adversity.
Job was potentially one of the most discouraged individuals in the Bible. Viewing Job’s adversity through human eyes leads us to compare him with his contemporaries and therefore to misunderstand the purpose of his suffering. Only through the lens of scripture are we able to see God’s higher purpose and glory in adversity. The end result of his suffering was encouragement rather than discouragement. In his epistle, James uses Job’s life as an encouragement to those who suffer, “Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy”(James 5:11). Through the Word of God, we are able to see the fulfillment of God’s purpose in the sufferings of man.
3) Discouragement grows out of disappointment that is actually misplaced faith.
If you expect someone to come through, an individual, an institution or a group of people, the reason you get discouraged when they fail you is that you believed in them and they disappointed you. When I was standing out on the back porch with my prickly “Don’t touch me; pray for me in another room” attitude, God convicted me so that I actually said, “I have sinned against You, Lord because I have misplaced my faith. I have placed my faith in the most famous Baptist minister in the world. I placed my faith in the talents of my music director and my worship team. I placed my faith in my friend who I trusted would deliver this stellar guest.” I was reminded of Psalm 62:5-7(a), in which David speaks to his soul, “My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation: he is my defense; I shall not be moved. In God is my salvation and my glory…” I began to realize what had happened.
Two hours later, we gathered in the sanctuary for the evening service. The place was packed and everybody was looking around for this mystery guest. They were unable to see him, but they thought maybe he was sitting in the front row or maybe he was going to come out of the back doors or down the center aisle to surprise us. Heads were turning around, everyone was anticipating something big.
To top it all off, since I thought that Georgi Vins was coming, I didn’t prepare a sermon. I had a church absolutely full of people with expectations, who brought their unsaved neighbors and friends. I had no sermon. I had no music program. I had no message. But I had one thing. The one thing I had was the one thing that I missed all along. “My soul, wait thou only upon God for my expectation is from him.” I had expected all these different people to deliver when really only God can deliver. When it was time to introduce the mystery guest, I instead introduced the saga of my misery. Then I confessed my sin for placing my faith in different people that I should not have placed my faith in. I proclaimed that I should have trusted in God alone.
I said, “Well, we don’t have the worship team and we don’t have Georgi Vins, but, Hallelujah, we have God Almighty!”
So I preached a little message and 14 people received Christ. All kinds of wonderful things happened and we went out saying, “That was one of the greatest services we ever had because we counted on God and on no one else.”
I challenge you: if you’re discouraged, take responsibility for it. You have no control over what happens to you but you have total control over how you deal with your situation. Encourage yourself by turning to God and to God’s Word. And in God’s Word you will find hope, help, and the strength to overcome discouragement.
“Father, we pray that You will use the Word this morning, use these great, scriptural truths so we may encourage ourselves. Lord, help us to realize that comparison is unbiblical, unholy and unhealthy and leads to misery. Help us not to try to interpret our adverse circumstances apart from what the Bible, Your revealed Word, teaches. Help us, Heavenly Father to not sin against You by placing our faith in someone other than You to do the things that only You can do. I pray that this congregation Father, will go out of here and encourage themselves in the Lord, their God. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.”
- Summary Points:
* Satan’s strategy is to disable Christians…and discouragement is one of his greatest tools.
* When we compare ourselves unfavorably with other people, the result is discouragement.
* When you are discouraged internally, it is very difficult for people to encourage you.
* I reject, and the Bible rejects, the idea of a “B” team in the kingdom of God. If we are all doing our best with what we have been given, then we are all on the “A” team.
* Only through the lens of scripture are we able to see God’s higher purpose and glory in adversity.
* I had expected all these different people to deliver when really only God can deliver.
* You have no control over your circumstances but you have total control over how you deal with your situation