Text: Ezra 4:1-23 | Listen to Message
Fighting for Hope
I don’t mean to be a downer, but if you’re not discouraged about something right now, you’re probably in the minority. Discouragement is that common. And it requires no definition or explanation – you know it when you feel it.
Discouragement is also self-perpetuating in that it typically drives us to actions (and inactions) that make our situation worse, rather than better. All too often, discouragement death spirals into full-blown depression and despair.
As C.S. Lewis implies in The Screwtape Letters, discouragement is a particularly effective weapon of our adversary, the devil. Satan doesn’t need to get us to overtly rebel or hate God, he only needs distract us with discouragement. As Derek Kidner explains, “Satan lurks behind the scenes, as is his frequent strategy, content to lie hidden, hoping that the Lord’s servants will forget all about him and take their frustration out on God instead” (TOTC: Ezra and Nehemiah, p. 47).
So you can’t take discouragement lying down. You can’t just wait it out while you grovel and complain and feel sorry for yourself. You might get sympathy that way, but sympathy won’t conquer discouragement. It won’t lead you out the other side of your trials with a stronger faith and an unquenchable hope. You’re going to have to fight back.
And to equip you in that fight, Ezra 4 shows us four weapons to combat discouragement:
One of the main reasons trials are so discouraging to us is that we simply don’t expect them. We expect a pain- and trouble-free life, so we’re ill-equipped to respond thoughtfully when hardships come. Instead, we’re shocked and devastated, and we lose heart.
But if Jesus and the apostles are to be believed, trials are an ordinary part of life in this broken world (John 16:33; 1 Peter 4:12; 1 John 3:13). Ezra himself shows us that opposition comes from all different angles, all the time. At some point or another, you’re bound to be disheartened by things like hypocrisy, psychological attacks, injustice, slander, or the steady drip of some annoying thing that just won’t go away.
Your first weapon to fight discouragement is simply the perspective to say, “Okay, this is hard, this hurts, but I’ve prepared my heart for this. God said there’d be days and seasons like this.”
The key verse of Ezra-Nehemiah says, “The hand (or power) of our God is for good on all who seek Him” (Ezra 8:22). So seek Him! Discouragement is fought in all those little moments you seek God’s face and choose to worship and depend on Him, rather than focusing on and obsessing over that person or thing that’s got you discouraged in the first place.
If you’re going to defeat discouragement, you need to wield God’s power, not your own. So keep walking in repentance and faith. Keep putting on the whole armor of God so that you carry all the offensive and defensive weapons of the Gospel that Christ has put at your disposal (Ephesians 6:10-18).
In the midst of your discouragement, train your heart and mind to rehearse the full Gospel reality of your situation. Acknowledge that trials are a part of your situation, but ask yourself what else is true because of Jesus. Don’t limit the scope of your own vision; look for the promises of God that surround and undergird your pain.
For example, Jesus says, “In the world you will have tribulation.” That’s part of your reality. “But I have overcome the world,” he goes on to say in the next breath. Seeing those kinds of statements juxtaposed next to one another is a key resource God intends for you to use against discouragement.
The promise of God is not that you won’t ever be discouraged. It’s that you won’t ever be alone in the midst of your discouragement. On your worst days, God is with you and for you because of Jesus. And that’s because every conceivable source of discouragement was poured out on him, in full, on the cross. He bore the assaults of despair that we deserve for our unbelief, and he triumphed over them. Now nothing can separate us from his love.
When people get discouraged, they tend to lose sight of their purpose. They tend to stop doing the things they ought to do . . . so things pile up and discouragement gets worse. So one of the greatest weapons against discouragement is simply doing the next right thing in faith. Ask God what He would have you do, and then do it. Stay on course, even if you’re taking baby steps.
Satan wants to use discouragement to get you to quit. “Discouraged about your marriage? Quit!” Satan says. “Discouraged about something that happened at your church? Quit! Discouraged about how God never seems to be speaking to you when you read your Bible? Discouraged about how He never seems to be listening to you when you pray? Quit!”
That’s the worst thing you can do. Hear instead the voice of God saying, “I have reasons for your marriage. Don’t quit! I’m doing things through my Word even when you don’t feel it. Don’t quit! I’m listening when you think I’m out to lunch. Don’t quit! Your church is sanctifying you, because you actually don’t grow that much when you get everything you want, right when you want it. Don’t quit!”
So look for the purposes of God when you’re discouraged. Stay in His will and keep working, even as you trust Him to work.
If you want to defeat discouragement, rather than succumbing to it, you need God’s perspective, power, promise, and purpose. And in each of these, you will find hope – hope that throws light on your hopelessness and says, “Jesus has already won.”