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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Avoiding Discouragement

Dr. Gary Roberts
Robertson School of Government

He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done (Matthew 26:42, KJV).

As we approach Good Friday and the upcoming joyous good news of the resurrection, it is critical to reflect on the passionate suffering of Jesus. In order for us to experience the resurrection power of Christ, we must walk through the dark valleys when God’s presence seems distant or nonexistent.

 It is precisely at these times that our faith is being stretched and perfected. As the great 19th century evangelist Smith Wigglesworth stated, it is not what we feel, or think that matters, it is what we believe! This is a very comforting, but challenging concept.

Jesus learned obedience by trusting God’s purpose and plan for his life in spite of his dire circumstances and the powerful human emotions that created powerful sources of temptation. The great examples of this testing include the temptation in the wilderness, his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane (please take this cup away from me, but I want your will, not mine, be done), and at Calvary where he was separated from God when he bore the sins of humanity, thereby paving the way for salvation. We cannot mature in Christ until we are able to trust the Word in spite of the logic of the intellect, the influence of emotional reasoning, and the vagaries of changing circumstances. If we are governed by external circumstances or inner emotions, we are double-minded and unstable in our ways. In our personal trials it is critical to recall both the examples and principles of divine protection in Scripture and to recall our personal experiences of God’s providential intervention to resist discouragement. That is why the Lord commands us to remember our past deliverances and make “markers” to commemorate the event.

I am comforted by Scripture and recalling my past experiences of the bountiful fruit produced by trusting God during the dry times. This principle was clearly illustrated in a conversation with my accountability partner during a very difficult season in which God’s presence seemed distant or non-existent. We discussed our mutual challenges of trusting God when His presence seemed to flee from us. He later noted that he perceived the Holy Spirit during our talk even though I was not experiencing God’s personal presence in a direct sensory fashion. God remains within our heart and the Holy Spirit communicates God’s presence in us to others. God will then use the other person to encourage us in this wonderful feedback loop of the Holy Spirit to human heart/mind communication. We are vessels through which God uses our gifts and abilities to promote his perfect will.

The temptation that we face is to falsely conclude that when we “feel” isolated from God that His witness and power through us are neutralized. It reminds me of a Regent chapel service featuring Reinhardt Bonnke. He was asked does he always feel the presence of the Holy Spirit and his reply was an emphatic “no”. He, like all Christians, experiences “dry” times, but when they arrive he “appropriates” the power of the Holy Spirit by faith. In our insecurity and narcissism, we make the mistake of equating emotion with substance thereby increasing our susceptibility to acting on temptation and choosing discouragement and despair over faith. The end result is that we impede the work of the Holy Spirit by believing the prideful lie that God can only work in us when we perceive Him consciously. Satan does this to steal our confidence and generate discouragement to weaken our motivation with the goal of spoiling our fruits, invalidating the power of our witness, and impeding our purpose in Christ. Let us choose to believe the good news of Christ and embrace faith over discouragement.

He is risen!

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