Sometimes God calls us to go through tough times in life in order to trust him more. If I asked how many of you have been there and done that I’m sure many of you would raise your hand. Struggles and hardships are often part of life. You would have thought that the Apostle Paul, following his conversion experience, would have had it easier. After all, look at the nasty stuff he did to Christians before he became one. Horrible things, and he even admitted he was the ‘worst of sinners,’ yet saved by the grace of God and Jesus told him he would be his witness to the Gentile nations bringing the love of God to them. As you read his story in the Book of Acts, or check out his letters to the churches, you find he suffered a lot for the sake of the gospel. Beaten at times, thrown out of synagogues, hunted by those who opposed him, put in prison in a deep, deep cave, surviving a horrible storm, bitten by a poisonous snake, hauled off to jail, losing his vision, had a trial, and kept under arrest chained to some guards 24/7. That’s quite a lot for just one man. And that does not tell the whole story.
In all this, and much more. Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say again REJOICE! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” Here are words that we need to engrave on our minds daily. Maybe not you, but certainly I do. Paul continues, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in EVERYTHING, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Who wouldn’t find hope and comfort from those words. They hit home. We sometimes want to ask God why we need to go through stuff and we kind of have a pity-party of our own. Sometimes we get depressed because we look at others and see how well they are doing and you struggle. But you want to know a secret? We really don’t know what others are going through. We really don’t know all their aches and pains because many don’t want to share those things. But things happen to good people. This is not a perfect world. Sickness, death, anxiety, anger, discouragement happens. You face them daily. Some are the tools of the devil. In fact, I read about that just recently.
It was advertised that the Devil was putting all his tools on sale. On that date the tools were laid out. They had prices marked for public inspection, and there were a lot of treacherous instruments: hatred, envy, jealousy, deceit, pride, lying, and so on. Laid apart from the rest of the Devil’s tools was another tool. It was worn more than any of the others and was priced very high. “What’s the name of this tool?” asked one of the customers. “That,” the Devil replied, “is discouragement.” “Why have you priced it so high?” “Because discouragement is more useful to me than all the others. I can pry open and get inside a person’s heart when I can’t get near with any other tools. It’s badly worn because I use it on almost everyone, since so few people know it belongs to me.”
Discouragement is still the Devil’s tool. Not many people realize he’s using it on us. Even the most blessed people, the most successful, the most spiritually mature, face constant disappointment and discouragement. If you think I’m wrong, look at our prayer list sometime and think what some of them might be going through.
This past week they found a spot in my bladder and I will be having surgery to remove it. It’s no big deal, right? It’s not a major surgery like some of you have had to face. They don’t cut on me, but they go into my bladder and laser the spot. My doctor says they can do this for the next 20 years or more and I said, “right!” I hate to tell you how many of those surgeries I’ve had since 2000. My anxiety rises to the top level when it’s time for those scopes, praying this one will the one that will say see you in 6 months or in a year. But it did not happen this time. It’s time to face surgery once again, even though it is simple, it still is surgery.
I say this for this reason. It was disappointing that they found something. Like many of you, you are always hoping nothing is there. When they do tests, you are hopeful that everything is going to be okay and they won’t find anything. But in some cases, they do, and well, you have to deal with it. You come from that visit with the doctor discouraged if they find something. You know, we all have to deal with the discouragements in life somehow, sometime. It’s not just illnesses, but a whole lot of things that bring on discouragements or disappointments. Remember that’s the most wildly used tool of the Devil.
As I was thinking about that and thinking about this morning’s message I thought how fine God loving Christians, when hearing some bad news, sometimes get discouraged. We pray. We lean on God. We do all the right things. Yet when some unwanted news hits, our first reaction, if we would admit it, is being disappointed or discouraged. We wish we could rejoice like Paul says, but, when push comes to shove, sometimes we end up having our own pity-party. Maybe not you. But my mind was doing that this week. So much to do in May, June and July I have no time for surgery, even if it is simple and it never sets me back. I just have to take it easy for a day or two, or little longer.
Then there came a word from above to me. An old hymn… words that spoke about discouragement. It begins, “Why should I feel discouraged? Why should my heart feel lonely?” I couldn’t get those words out of my head. Then God really spoke when I remembered the chorus… “His eye is on the sparrow, and he watches over you.” It changed everything. “I sing because I’m happy. I sing because I’m free. His eye is on the sparrow and he watches over you.”
So I went to where I could find encouragement and comfort. I went to God’s Word. I remembered the story of a fellow that had multiple disappointments in his life. His story goes like this. He was born into a large family, next to the last child. His mother was the love of the life of his father, but she could not have any children. Finally, God granted her the blessings of having two sons but she died during childbirth of the younger son. Their names you perhaps have already guessed. One was Joseph, the other Benjamin sons of Jacob and Rachel.
Joseph became Jacob’s favorite son. He was the one who had dreams of things that would be. His father gave him a special coat of many colors and when Joseph wore it, well, he stood out in a crowd. His brothers hated that coat and they came to hate Joseph for his many dreams he would tell, and because he was dad’s favorite.
One day, Joseph went to check on his brothers for his dad. When they saw him coming nasty thoughts came into their minds. “Let’s get rid of Joseph today. No one is around. We can tell dad that a lion, or a bear, or even a wild goat got a hold of him and before we could rescue him, he was dead, and all that was left was his coat.” They agreed.
When Joseph joyfully arrived at the camp site they took hold of him and threw him in a pit. The dirty deed was done. The plan was taking shape.
The next day they decided to get rid of Joseph. They had his coat, killed an animal, used its blood to be on Joseph’s coat to show their dad that he had died. Meanwhile, Joseph was in the pit of discouragement. No way of escaping.
Jealousy is a tool of the Devil and can cause people to do some strange things. His brothers were jealous of the attention their dad gave Joseph. It was bad enough at first, but when Jacob gave him that special coat, well, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back and in their jealousy, they decided to get rid of the one they hated.
Joseph, in that pit perhaps might have been hoping his brothers would change their minds and let bygones be bygones, and they could have a good laugh and head home. After all, all’s well that ends well. When morning came, they dragged him out of the pit, God intervened. In the distance the brothers saw a caravan coming their way. They bound Joseph and offered to sell him for a few bucks. The deal was made. Joseph was heading for Egypt where he ends up as a slave in Potiphar’s house. While there, Potiphar’s wife took a liking to him. Perhaps her husband was too busy getting rich that she made a play for Joseph. But Joseph said no, never. He was loyal to his God, and to his employment. But one day, Potiphar’s wife went to the extreme. She tried to seduce Joseph, but he got away leaving his robe behind as he ran naked from the home.
Ah yes, Rejection, another tool of the Devil that makes people do some awful things. For Potiphar’s wife she became angry because Joseph rejected her over and over. No matter how provocative she dressed, Joseph’s eyes and heart focused on his God. One day when it was only Joseph and her, she tried to lure into her bed, but Joseph ran off and all she had left in her hands was his robe. Angry after this rejection, she made up a story that Joseph had tried to seduce her, and she fought him off and he ran out of the house. “See.” She said. “I have his robe that he left behind.” An angry Potiphar had Joseph arrested and throne in prison with no hope of being released.
It wasn’t Joseph’s fault that he was a hunk. It was how God made him. But now he finds himself taking away from society and in a cell, maybe never to see the light of day again. His stay in Egypt looked unpromising.
However, God blessed Joseph even in jail. He could have sung the jail house blues, but, well he made the best of it. One day the jailer made him a leader. Joseph hung in there trying to keep the faith, wondering what was next. His faith was still strong, maybe a few doubts, a little discouragement from time to time, but he endured the bumps in his life.
One day God brought two fellows to that jail. They both had dreams that disturbed them and Joseph was able to tell them what their dreams meant. One was favorable, the other wasn’t. To the one who had the favorable dream he asked that when he was released, please put a bug in Pharaoh’s ear about him in order for him to be released. You see, he was Pharaoh’s butler. But because he was so happy being Pharaoh’s butler again, he didn’t do it. And Joseph was left to rot in prison.
Can we say being forgotten is also a tool of Satan? You feel like no one cares. So much for Joseph’s spiritual life. It must have been tough. But Joseph must have forgot one thing. God never forgets.
Finally, the time came when Pharaoh had a dream, and no one could understand it and perhaps God put a bug in the mind of the butler of how Joseph interpreted his dream, so he told Pharaoh he knew someone that might be able to help him out. They summoned Joseph, who interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh which led to his promotion to be number two in the land. And then when you come to the end of the story you find that this was all of God’s plan. He went from prisoner to prince, from chains to freedom to being honored and remembered in Egypt for saving that nation. 13 chapters are devoted to this story of God’s salvation and grace.
You ever been discouraged? You ever found yourself in a pit of despair? If not, well done! But if you have, and sometimes you just can’t seem to shake it. Remember Joseph’s story. Remember Paul’s call to rejoice in all things. Be anxious about nothing. The thing we Christians need to remember is that God is still our God, and that he will work it all out just as he did for Joseph when he went from one pit to the other. He, like Paul, fought the good fight. The one thing we know is that God is always on our side. He never promised a rose garden, but he promises he will watch over us. He never promised we wouldn’t face adversity, but he did promise he would never leave us. We are the sparrows of this world, and God watches over us.
Maybe you didn’t need this lesson this morning, but I did. In my messages, God speaks to me first, before I bring them to you. I needed to be remind that this little bump in the road is just an inconvenience, as it has been every time I go through it. The advice is the same whether you’re in a small pit or a large hole. Our God is still God. Prayer does work, as does our God. Our hope is still built on Jesus. And with that in mind our God will see us through it all. Through it all, I’ve learned to trust in God. And by the way…. Yes, it still is well with my soul, even though Satan might lay down some bumps I have to travel over, I know my God will smooth out the road.
One day, that doctor will scope me and say all is well and see you in 6 months or a year.
There is a commercial of two people in a deep hole, let’s say a deep pit, calling for help. They are looking up and they see a dog that just happened to come along. They yell for the dog to go for help. In a few moments someone peeks his head over the side of the hole alongside the dog. When the stranded folks see that it’s a dentist they yell to the dog to go find someone else. But the dentist lowers a rope and pulls them to safety.
Let us remember, God always lowers a rope to pull us out of despair. He brings us to safety. His eye is on the sparrows, and he watches over us.
So as the hymn goes, “Why should I feel discouraged. Why should the shadows come? Why should my heart be lonely…? When Jesus is my portion, my constant Friend is he. His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.”
My victory and your victory can be found in relying on our faith in our God. So may it be always. Amen!