DEALING WITH DISCOURAGEMENT
John 20:1-18 • by Steve May
I was eighteen when I got my first job in sales. It was a summer job; I was going to earn money for college. I was hired by a company who offered memberships to a tape club. I love music, so naturally I thought everyone in the world would want to sign up for this fabulous-yet-affordable program. Along with a half-dozen guys and girls my age, I went through an eight-hour training session, I memorized a lengthy sales presentation, I was given a list of 40 prospects to contact, and I hit the road.
For seven days I called on the people on my list. To my surprise, most of them refused to let me in. Those who did would most often sit and glare at me during my entire presentation. No one bought. Since the job was "straight-commission" I had nothing to show for the 40 plus hours I had worked that week.
When I went to the sales meeting the following Monday morning, I was absolutely despondent. I was convinced that I had to be the worst salesman in history. When I arrived at the sales meeting, I was surprised to see that of the six people in our training class, I was the only one who showed up. All the others had quit during the previous week. The sales manager said to me, "Steve, you showed up today. That means you've got what it takes to make it sales." I didn't have the heart to tell him that I had only showed up to turn in my sales book. Since he believed in me, I decided I would give it one more week before calling it quits. He then told me, "Unfortunately, since we have had trouble staffing this office, the district manager has decided to shut it down. They're sending me to Tulsa. If you are interested, you're welcome to come along." I respectfully declined his offer. It would be a long time before I had the courage to try a job in sales again.
One of the biggest obstacles we face in life is discouragement. Once we get discouraged it's hard to keep going-it's hard to find the will to keep going. When Jesus was arrested and put to death, his disciples were overcome with discouragement. His most vocal follower, the Apostle Peter, denied him, deserted him, and ran for his life. Today we're going to look at how the Apostle Peter dealt with his discouragement, and how he was able to overcome it. First of all, let's consider...
1.THE CAUSE OF DISCOURAGEMENT
Discouragement is caused by unmet expectations. We become discouraged when we don't meet our expectations, or when life doesn't meet our expectations, when others don't meet our expectations, or when God doesn't meet our expectations. We act as though we live in a cause-and-effect world, and that things are supposed to turn out a certain way. We believe that if we continue to do "A", eventually it will result in "B"-but life simply doesn't work that way.
A venture capitalist told me recently that though he rarely sees a poorly presented business plan, less than 5% of the proposals his firm reviews ever get capitalized. Of those 5%, only 1 in 10 meet their projections. This can be very discouraging for a businessman. You work hard, you put in extra hours, you follow each step and see to every detail-but the effort is a bust.
Parents often become discouraged. Many moms and dads do everything they know to do, yet in spite of their efforts, their children just don't turn out the way they expected. Ministers are also vulnerable to discouragement. Sometimes it seems that our efforts have no impact on the life of the church. We pray, we study, we preach, we visit, we plan...but we don't see any visible results. It is hard not to resign ourselves to long term discouragement.
A young man went to see a fortune-teller. She studied his hand and told him, "You will be poor and completely miserable until you are 41 years old." The man said, "Then what will happen? Will I become rich?" "No," said the fortune teller. "You'll always be poor, but you'll become accustomed to it so that it no longer makes you miserable."
Peter experienced discouragement when Jesus died. He was discouraged because the death of Christ destroyed his expectations of how Jesus should establish His earthly kingdom. Peter was also discouraged because during the process he failed to meet his own expectations. Listen to what Peter said to Jesus...
"Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will." (Matthew 26:33)
When Peter said this, Jesus told Peter, "This very night...you will disown me three times." And Peter's response was...
"Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you." (Matthew 26:35)
Peter put a tremendous amount of faith in himself-too much, in fact. When he failed to meet his own expectations he became discouraged. That's the cause of discouragement-failed expectations. However, if we examine them closely, we'll often find that our expectations are unrealistic. Peter's expectations were unrealistic. Jesus told Peter they were unrealistic, yet Peter refused to listen. Secondly, let's examine...
2. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF A DISCOURAGED PERSON
When we become discouraged we tend to follow certain predictable behavior patterns in an attempt to overcome our discouragement. First of all...
a. We compromise.
In the 18th chapter of John, when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, Peter drew his sword and struck the high priest's servant, cutting off his ear. In doing this Peter compromised the teaching of Christ. Everything that Jesus had said about non-violence and non-resistance was disregarded. Instead, Peter took matters into his own hands. Of course, his plan didn't work. He lowered his standards, but not his expectations. When Peter attacked the high priest's servant, his expectations were still unrealistically high, but his commitment to obedience of the teachings of Christ had dropped several notches. We're the same way. When we become discouraged we cling to unrealistic expectations, and we'll do anything to make them happen-even if we have to sell our standards to do it.
b. We quit.
Discouragement leads to despair. This is what Peter experienced after he denied knowing Jesus. The Bible says...
"Peter went outside and wept bitterly." (Luke 22:62)
The song "He's Alive" by Don Francisco captures the despair that Peter must have experienced that night. It says...
When at last it came to choices, I denied I knew His name.
Even if He was alive, it wouldn't be the same.
That's despair: The feeling that all hope is lost, and nothing can change things now. Peter experienced it. I've experienced it. You probably have, too.
c. We withdraw.
"The disciples were together with the doors locked for fear of the Jews." (John 20:19)
When a person is in the depths of despair they stay at home, they become uninvolved, they withdraw into a shell of self-pity. As long as the disciples were hiding behind locked doors they were unable to finish the task that Jesus had given them. When we withdraw we become completely unproductive-and we're not able to accomplish the task that Jesus has given us.
When I first entered the ministry I was working as an associate pastor. The senior pastor and I went visiting. One of the houses we went to was completely dark. I made the comment that it looked like no one was home. The pastor said, "There's someone here," and rang the doorbell. After several minutes Joanne came to the door and invited us inside. We went into a cluttered room where the only light was coming through a crack in the drawn curtains. Joanne said to us, "Sorry it's so dark in here. I can't bring myself to turn on a light." Joanne's husband had left several weeks before, and since the day he had walked out the door, she had sat in the dark house, crying. Because of disappointment, she had completely withdrawn from the world.
d. We escape.
The 12-step term for this is "medicate." We look for something to alleviate the pain of discouragement and despair. For Peter, it was fishing. He just went back to his work. One thing is certain, he didn't stay to suffer through the death of Jesus.
A successful businessman was being interviewed on Good Morning America and was asked, "What is the secret to your success." The man said, "A bad marriage. I couldn't stand to be at home so I stayed at the office until I stumbled onto success." He said it with a laugh, but he gave the impression that he was only half-joking.
What do you do to escape the pain of discouragement? Some of us pour ourselves into our work, or a hobby, or we overeat, or we watch too much TV, or we go shopping, or we try to make ourselves numb with alcohol-there are many things we can do to try to cover up the pain of discouragement. The problem is that after we return from our escape, our problems still exist. In fact, they're usually worse.
None of these options-compromising, quitting, withdrawing, or escaping-solve the problem. We only end up cynical, skeptical, bitter, and-like Peter-at rock bottom. What should we do when we become discouraged? Let's examine...
3. THE CURE FOR DISCOURAGEMENT
Consider the empty tomb.
Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there...(John 20:6)
When Peter saw evidence that Jesus had been resurrected, he began to have a glimmer of hope. The gospel of Luke tells us that after Peter examined the empty tomb "he went away to his home, wondering about what had happened." (Luke 24:12) At this point it may have seemed too good to be true, but there was a spark of hope.
The empty tomb is our spark of hope. It tells us that God has the power to work in our lives today. Karl Barth said "...the resurrection of Christ teaches us that our enemies-sin, the curse, and death-are destroyed. They may still behave as though the game were not decided, but ultimately they can cause no more mischief. We still have to reckon with them; but we need fear them no longer."
The empty tomb reminds us that no situation is hopeless. Peter began winning the battle against discouragement when he encountered the empty tomb. I don't know what is the source of your discouragement today, but whatever it is, remember the resurrection. Consider the empty tomb. It is proof that Jesus has power over sin and death-and He has power over any challenge we may face. You see, because of the empty tomb, we can...
Expect the unexpected.
Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. (John 21:4)
Peter and several of the other disciples decided to go fishing together. They spent the night on the water, but caught nothing. Early in the morning, a man standing on the shore called out to them, "Do you have any fish?" They answered, "No." The stranger told them to throw their net on their other side of the boat and they would find some fish. When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. John told Peter, "It is the Lord." That was all Peter needed to hear: he jumped out of the boat and swam to shore. Peter had gone to sea that night to fish. He didn't expect to see Jesus. Peter was beginning to learn an important principle: expect the unexpected. You never know when Jesus is going to surprise you with a miracle. You may be on your way to leave flowers at a tomb, you may be out fishing, you may be in a prayer meeting-you never know when He will surprise you with a miracle.
You may be like the man who lay for 38 years beside the pool of Bethesda, who was convinced that it was useless to hope for a miracle. You may be like the disabled man who sat in front of the temple gate day after day begging for money, when what he really wanted was to be healed. You may be like Lazarus, who died thinking that his closest friend wasn't there to comfort him in his hour of death. You may be like Martha, who thought that God waited too long to show up and now her brother was dead. You may be like the woman at the well, whose search for love led her through a series of failed relationships. You may be like Peter, who made mistake upon mistake and who, in a moment of weakness, deserted the one whom he loved more than any other.
All of these individuals have one thing in common. They all had reached the point of being discouraged, and then they had an unexpected encounter with the power of God.
Some of you here today may be overwhelmed by discouragement. Maybe it's your job, or your family, or your marriage, or your financial situation-it could be anything. Maybe you're asking yourself "Why should I keep on?...What's the use?...Why don't I just quit?" I can give you a reason. The tomb is empty. Jesus is alive today, and He is at work in our lives. That means we can expect the unexpected. You never know when Jesus is going to surprise you with a miracle. Maybe we can't control the so-called principle of cause-and-effect. Maybe we can't get the results we want when we want them. But we can be faithful. We can keep on. Things won't always be the way they are today. And because the tomb is empty, we have a right to expect the unexpected.