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Defeating Discouragement

Sermon
Mission Possible!
Cycle B sermons for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany Based on Gospel Texts
Yard sales are interesting to me. I don’t frequent them very often, but I am always fascinated by the fact that “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.” Someone can’t wait to get rid of old tapes and records — doesn’t want them cluttering up the house anymore. Along comes a complete stranger and he just can’t believe anyone would want to sell them. He buys them for a steal and drives home with a big smile thinking he just committed robbery. He brings the records home, clutters up his own house with them, and he’s as happy as can be. Human beings can be strange sometimes.

Satan once had a yard sale. He thought he’d get rid of some of his old tools that were cluttering up his house. There was gossip, slander, adultery, lying, greed, power-hunger, and lust laid out on the tables. Interested buyers were perusing the tables looking for a good buy.

One customer, however, strolled way back in the garage and found on a shelf a very shiny tool. It looked well cared for. He brought it out to Satan and asked if it was for sale. “Oh, no!” Satan answered. “That’s my tool. Without it I couldn’t wreck the world! It’s my secret weapon!” “But what is it?” the customer inquired. “It’s the tool of discouragement,” the devil said.

Nothing takes the life right out of you more than discouragement. A discouraged spirit is a powerless spirit. It is an awful feeling — it feels like the wind has been knocked out of your soul.

I’m sure that is how the man possessed by an evil spirit felt when he met Jesus. He was so discouraged that he was too blind to see that Jesus wanted to heal him of his demons. The gospel of Mark states that Jesus told the man to be quiet and then ordered the evil spirit to come out of him. If we could just quiet the demons within us that bring discouragement that easily. Sometimes it is hard to do.

She lost her job at the agency three years ago. This tough economy has made it difficult for her to find a job. She has managed to make ends meet waiting tables. She often cries herself to sleep at night thinking that three years ago she had a corner office. Now, she has a sore back from cleaning tables. She doesn’t know how much longer she can do it. There is discouragement.

They were happily married for twenty years, or so he thought. He came home one day and she was gone. There was a note on the kitchen table that read, “I don’t want to be married to you anymore.” It took his breath away. He can’t wrap his mind around it. He hasn’t slept in weeks. There is discouragement.

She loved where she used to live. She had lots of friends and a great school. But Daddy needed to find work elsewhere. So they moved far away. Different school. Different neighborhood. Different culture. They make fun of her accent at school. She can’t find anyone to sit with at lunch, so she eats her lunch alone on a hard bench outside. She hides her tears as people walk by. There is discouragement.

Discouragement is an awful thing. Life pulls the rug right from under you, and you have nothing to hold onto. Your confidence is shattered. A sense of well-being is a distant memory. Your motivation has evaporated. Have you ever felt that way? If you have, do you remember how you got over it?

Some people never do get over it. A traumatizing event occurs, discouragement sets in, and they are never the same. Every day is a battle with discouragement. They just can’t seem to get over what happened to them. In every circumstance, they are a victim. In every relationship, they are a victim. In every conflict, they are a victim. Do you know anybody like that? Discouragement is a strong force.

We’ve all been discouraged. We know how debilitating it can be. I’ve always wondered why some people seem to bounce back from it while others wallow in it forever. I know people who have gone through unspeakable things throughout their lives and they just keep on going and never miss a beat. I know others who experience one set back in life and they live in the pit the rest of their lives.

I have always been curious as to what makes that difference. That wouldn’t be a bad research project — why some people get over discouragement and disappointment and others don’t. What’s the difference? Genetics? Upbringing? Mental attitude? Religion? A change in lifestyle?

Maybe that’s it — a change. When you’re discouraged nothing seems better than change, any change, anywhere other than where you are and what you are feeling. I know a lot of people who think change is the answer. If you have a bad experience at work, quit and go look for another one. If you are disappointed in your spouse, call the divorce attorney. Are you disappointed in your friends? Cuss them out and go find new ones. Are you discouraged by the way you look? Get plastic surgery.

I heard about a middle-aged woman who had a heart attack and was taken to the hospital. While on the operating table she had a near-death experience. During that experience she saw God and asked if this was it. God said, “No, you have another thirty years to live.”

Upon her recovery she decided to just stay in the hospital and have a face lift, liposuction, Botox, tummy tuck, the works. She even had someone come in and change her hair color. She never liked the way she looked, so she figured since she had another thirty years she might as well make the most of it.

She walked out of the hospital after the last operation and was killed by an ambulance speeding by. She arrived in front of God and complained, “I thought you said I had another thirty years.” God replied, “I didn’t recognize you.”

Maybe making a drastic change isn’t always the answer to discouragement! You know, sometimes making a lot of changes can be a form of running away. But we can’t run away from our feelings or from who we are. Running away never solves anything.

The Bible has a lot of wisdom. It probably would not be a bad idea to consult the Bible on an issue like discouragement. And you know who I think would be a good person to ask about how to get over discouragement? Isaiah. Isaiah was very wise. Isaiah knew about discouragement. The prophet wept over the suffering of Israel. Isaiah saw the coming of the Babylonian army and watched as they destroyed Jerusalem. The prophet, along with the rest of God’s people, was held captive and he watched as his nation was ruined. His heart sank as he watched God’s people become discouraged and bitter. He was called to encourage the people of God.

Yeah, I think Isaiah would be a good person to seek advice from about discouragement. I believe the wisdom he gave to the beat-up nation of Israel is good enough for us today:
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
(Isaiah 40:28-31)

That sounds more like it, doesn’t it? That’s what we need — to run and not be weary, to walk and not faint — to soar like an eagle. Have you ever seen an eagle fly? It is one of the most beautiful sights in the entire world! The eagle spreads its wings, exerting very little effort, allowing the wind to carry it along as it climbs higher in the sky. Wouldn’t it be great to live life that way? I know many people who would love to live life that way. I know people in the pit who would love to soar like an eagle. Are you one of them?

I’m glad Isaiah mentions walking and not fainting. So much of life is about walking, going one step at time. Someone once said that “the problem with life is that it is so daily.” It is true, day after day, one little thing after another, life is so daily. Yet Isaiah says we can have sustaining strength that empowers us day after day.

That’s sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? I want to have that kind of energy and strength in life! So, how do we get it? Isaiah tells us exactly how to get this kind of power for living. It is right there in the text. The key is right under our nose. I’m going to tell you what it is, and it can change your life.

Before we can truly hear and apply the key to power for living, we have to embrace an eternal truth that people trip over all the time. It is our unwillingness to accept this truth that causes so much of our suffering and our inability to get over discouragement. Ready? Here it is: Anyone who seeks to live by their own power will eventually break down. Isaiah put it this way, “Even youths will faint and be weary and the young will fall exhausted.” Count on it. No matter how young you are, how self-sufficient you may be, or how independent you may feel, if you try to live your life on your own power, you will break down. You will fail. You will give out. You will be discouraged over and over again.

This is a truth so many of us resist. We don’t want to be told that we can’t stand on our own two feet. We don’t want to be told that we can’t handle life on our own. We don’t want to be told that we are vulnerable.

A few years ago pop singer Madonna did the half-time show at the Super Bowl. It was quite a spectacle. Vogue magazine gave the show rave reviews. You know why they thought the show was so good? Because, for a moment, they felt that Madonna looked like she was in her twenties again. Our culture does not like to hear that “youth will faint and be weary and the young will fall exhausted,” but it is true as the day is long.

It is only when we stop resisting this truth that we open ourselves to the power over discouragement. What is that power? It is the power of God! If there is one thing this passage teaches us, it is that God has power and God gives power. Isaiah tells us that God gives power not to those who think they are strong, not to those who pull themselves up by their own boot straps, not to those who think they can handle life on their own, not to those who are proud of their fragile self-sufficiency. Isaiah says God gives power to the weak, the vulnerable, the open, the powerless, the willing, those who are yielding to him.

If you are discouraged today, the worst thing you can do is to try to overcome by sheer will power. The best thing you can do is what Isaiah directs us to do: “Wait for the Lord.” Now, this is not a passive, lazy waiting. This is a hopeful waiting, a purposeful waiting. It is a waiting that knows in God’s good time God will provide God’s good answer. This is a waiting that holds on for God’s response. Some call it faith.

Unfortunately, faith is misunderstood. So many people see faith as simply a means to end — faith is crossing our fingers to God and hoping hard enough that things turn out the way we want. And when they do, well, we had faith. That’s not faith. Someone once said that “faith is not the means by which we achieve victory; faith is the victory itself.” Victory is achieved when we trust God’s timing and wait hopefully for him. Victory over discouragement is achieved when we stop rushing ahead of God, quiet our hearts before him, and wait for his strength.

Some of you may be thinking, “Okay, I’ve got my Bible open on my lap and I’m saying, I am waiting on you, God. Is that it? Is that all I have to do?” Well, it is not a bad start, but there is a little more to it than that. The key that unlocks God’s soaring power in your life is found in one little word in verse 31 — “renewed.” In Hebrew the word literally means “exchange” — to exchange one thing for another — to hand God one thing and receive something else from him — to let go of one thing and gain something new. According to Isaiah, God’s strength comes only when this exchange is made. We have to give something up. We have to make room for God’s strength.

Now, what in the world do you think we would have to give up in order to gain God’s strength? Can’t we just get God’s strength? Would you believe there are obstacles in our lives that hinder our ability to receive God’s strength? Would you believe there are things that clutter up our souls so much that there is no room for God’s strength? For some it is pride. For others it is control. Still, for some, it is a sinful habit which diminishes them but they can’t seem to let it go.

A few years ago my friend and his family were on vacation in Sweden. One day they went to a children’s zoo. They had a great time, but while my friend was in the zoo he witnessed something very strange. He watched as little kids with pacifiers in their mouths dropped their pacifiers into this big pit. One by one they would come and drop their binkies, and then they would start crying and reach back for them. My friend was more than curious, so he walked up to the pit and saw hundreds of pacifiers on the ground. He was baffled, so he asked an attendant who spoke English what was happening. The attendant told him it was “pacifier heaven.” The attendant went on to tell him that within that particular town in Sweden there is a long-standing tradition that when kids are at an age when they need to give up their pacifiers, the family takes them to “pacifier heaven,” and they give them up.

It is time to give up the pacifier of control. It is time to stop trying to live life on our own power. It is time to stop pushing our agenda over God’s agenda. You want to soar like an eagle? Give up your control for God’s control.

Give up the pacifier — exchange your weakness for God’s strength. Amen.
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