The FISHERS Magazine (Issue 233)

Discouragements: Causes and Remedy
Christian Living

“When the Canaanite, the king of Arad, who lived in the Negeb, heard that Israel was coming by the way of Atharim, he fought against Israel, and took some of them captive. And Israel vowed a vow to the LORD and said, ‘If you will indeed give this people into my hand, then I will devote their cities to destruction.’ And the LORD heeded the voice of Israel and gave over the Canaanites, and they devoted them and their cities to destruction. So, the name of the place was called Hormah.

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.’ Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that He take away the serpents from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.’ So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.”
(Num 21:1-9)

All Christians will face discouragement in their lives, especially if they are trying to live in obedience to God’s Word. We can also be discouraged by criticism from fellow believers or experience conflict while serving together in Christian ministries. How do we cope with discouragement and what is the cure?

When Moses was called by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt into Canaan, the task was made difficult by the constant murmuring and complaining of the people. They were never satisfied with God’s care and provision. There must have been many occasions when Moses regretted taking on the leadership of the Israelites. The experiences of the Israelites and their struggles are recorded in Scripture as an example for Christians so that we do not repeat the same mistakes (1 Cor 10:11).

Causes of Discouragements
What led to the Israelites’ discouragement at this point in their journey? In Num 20:14-21, the Israelites were finally reaching Canaan after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. As they reached Kadesh on the outskirts of Edom, Canaan was actually quite near if they could cut through Edom. Moses sought permission from the king of Edom to pass through their land, promising to avoid the vineyards and fields by travelling along the King’s Highway. They were even prepared to pay for any water consumed by the men and beasts during their passage. Allowing the Israelites to pass through Edom would not have incurred any additional cost for the Edomites but the king of Edom refused to grant them passage. Not only did they refuse the Israelites entry, they came out against them with a large army in a show of military might. The denial of passage through Edom forced the Israelites to go via a longer, more circuitous route to Canaan and they must have felt like giving up.

The Edomites were descendants of Esau, the older brother of Jacob, and were thus related to Israel. The refusal of passage through Edom came from blood relations of Israel and this made it more disappointing for the Israelites. Christians can expect to face opposition from the world when they seek to follow the Lord and walk in His ways. When the hindrances come from fellow Christians and co-workers in the ministry, it makes the trial even more painful. We must leave our grievances in the Lord’s hands because He knows what is best for the glory of God’s Name, even if that means grief for us. Life as a Christian will not be easy and we can groan to God but not groan at God.

However, God did not leave the Edomites unpunished because, in Obadiah 6, God judged the Edomites for their accumulated hostility against the Israelites. God disciplined the Israelites for their wilful disobedience but other nations who harmed or persecuted them received judgment from God.

Troubles Beget More Troubles
When the king of Arad heard about the conflict between Edom and Israel, he must have assumed that Israel had ill intentions on Edom but had turned away because of the powerful army of Edom. When Israel drew near to Arad, the king of Arad raised an army and fought against the Israelites and captured some of them as prisoners.

The Israelites had chosen not to engage in any dispute against the Edomites, but they could not avoid the conflict with the king of Arad. In desperation, Israel made a vow to the LORD that if He would deliver them from their enemies, they would destroy everything that displeased God. They were willing to do anything necessary to overcome the enemies and enter Canaan. The LORD heard their pleas and delivered the king of Arad into their hands and the cities of the Canaanites were destroyed.

There will be times when we think we cannot withstand any more trials and yet God allows more difficulties to enter our lives. Such times of testing humble us and force us to turn to the Lord for strength and help.

Effects of Discouragement
The conflict with Edom and then Arad caused the Israelites to be discouraged and impatient. Perhaps it was the straw that broke the camel’s back and they turned against Moses and God. Numbers 21:4 showed that they were very discouraged by the turn of events. Then, they were tempted to sin.

First, they dishonoured God by speaking against God and His servant, Moses. They blamed God and Moses for their predicament and forgot that Moses was only the instrument God used. God was offended by their murmurings and He disciplined them. They also doubted God’s salvation for the nation and accused Him of bringing them out of Egypt to die in the wilderness. When they were suffering greatly in Egypt, God heard their cries and delivered them but that deliverance was forgotten. All that God had provided for them in their days of wandering was also forgotten. They despised the manna that God had given to them and even described it as “worthless food”. God provided water from the rock when they had no water to drink and yet they accused Him of not caring for them. They denied all that God had done for them through the many years of wandering in the wilderness because all they saw were the obstacles hindering them from entering Canaan.

In moments of discouragement, we can become ungrateful and forget all of God’s past mercies and goodness. When we denigrate God’s past blessings, there is nothing to stop us from showing contempt for God’s present blessings. When life is hard, do we blame God and accuse Him of being uncaring?

Discouraged Christians may lose interest in reading the Bible as they fail to see the relevance of God’s Word. They neglect the worship of God and are tempted to isolate themselves from other Christians. They may be tempted to satisfy their fleshly desires just as the Israelites longed for the leeks and garlic of Egypt during testing.

In moments of discouragement, we need to remember that God’s sovereignty is the basis of our faith in Him. Can we trust in Him no matter what the disappointments? Can we echo Paul and say, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28)? If we lose sight of God’s sovereignty, then we will lose our faith and trust in God’s ability to lead us out of that state of discouragement.

The Discipline of God
It was because God loved the Israelites that He did not leave their murmurings against Him unpunished. He sent fiery serpents into their midst to bite them and many Israelites died. It was a painful lesson as they witnessed God’s discipline in their midst. They asked Moses to pray for them and for God to take away the serpents. When Moses prayed for them, God instructed him to make a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. Anyone who had been bitten by a serpent could look at the bronze serpent and live. Today, the bronze serpent upon a pole is the symbol of medical practice.

We must never forget that God is the same today as He was yesterday and He will also discipline those who murmur and complain against Him in this present day. There are times when discouraged Christians need encouragement but there will also be times when they need to be woken up from their sin if they persist in blaming and wrongly accusing God.

The Cure for Discouragement
While the serpents were the instruments God used to punish the Israelites, they also caused Israel to confess and repent from her sins. Therefore, the people came to Moses and confessed that they had sinned by speaking against God and Moses. They poured out their hearts to God and prayed to be saved. They were a proud and stiff-necked people, and for them to turn around so quickly indicates that God’s discipline had its desired effect.

Confession of sin and admission of guilt are the first steps toward repentance. Regret without confession of sin is just remorse. The human heart can be stubborn and when we have sinned, we blame everyone but ourselves.

Moses prayed and God answered his prayer. The best cure for discouragement is to take it to the Lord in prayer. When discouraged Christians find it difficult to pray, other Christians can spend time praying with them and helping them see God’s answer to prayer.

God instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent, so anyone bitten by the serpents needed to only look up at the bronze serpent and live. This is a picture of our relationship with Christ today.

Have we looked up to Christ when we are discouraged and have fallen into sin? Perhaps we have lost sight of the Lord and His love and care for us; that is why He appears to be so distant and uninvolved in our lives. Jesus Himself reminded us in John 12:32, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself”. That was a statement of how Jesus would be crucified and die on our behalf but it is also a statement reminding us that in our times of greatest need, we need to look up to Jesus. He is now in heaven interceding on our behalf and that is why we need to look to Him for help and strength just as Hebrews 12:2 promises, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

If we are going through discouragement and have sinned against God, we need to turn our eyes upon Jesus. Likewise, Christians who have fallen into sin because of discouragement need to repent and pray for strength and help. If we are aware of other Christians around us going through discouragement, let us be a source of encouragement to them by praying for them and praying with them. Our objective is not to cause them to depend on us just as Moses did not ask the Israelites to look to him, but to God. Christ is the only one who can truly help discouraged Christians.

Tan Chee Eng
- Tan Chee Eng is an elder of The 'Fisherman of Christ' Fellowship.

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