God with us in our discouragement (Horizons 3)

“God’s Promise: I Am With You”
Lesson 3: Deuteronomy 31:1-8; Joshua 1:1-9; Haggai 1:1-15, 2:1-9

We all face times of discouragement. Discouragement comes from many different sources. We are flattened when we have worked long and hard on a project, and a boulder-sized obstacle arises. Then we wonder if it is worth carrying on. We are dismayed when, despite committed and loving church members, worship attendance continues to decline in our increasingly secular culture. In a new exciting job, we become cautious after experiencing that our new colleagues have far less than a team spirit. We worry and seek help when our child changes from a carefree, affectionate, 12-year-old boy into a sullen, angry person. As older people, we grieve over the loss of friends, health and mobility. We are depressed when there is conflict in our beloved church and we do not see how the breach can be fixed.

Certainly, losing heart is a condition that all human beings face at some point. God has to keep repeating the words “Be strong, be brave, be courageous, because I am with you” to generation after generation of leaders of the people of Israel. Joshua, after the death of Moses, leads the people into the Promised Land — a land where there are enemies and fortified towns. The prophet Haggai speaks God’s word of challenge and encouragement to the exiles returning home to a devastated temple and land. “The Book of Haggai teaches all of us who tend to be overwhelmed by the size of the task before us, and discouraged by the seeming smallness of our efforts, that when we work on God’s behalf, we participate in God’s work and the results are, therefore, not entirely dependent on us” (God’s Promise, page 31).

God is not saying to us: “Buck up. Get going. You can do it.” God’s promise to be with us tells us that we are not abandoned as we seek to do God’s will. We can face impediments because God’s presence and purposes are working in and through us. As we depend on God through daily praise, thanksgiving and supplication in our daily prayer and our continuing study of Scripture, we find ourselves strengthened by God.

In Joshua 1:7-9, God says to Joshua: “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it … meditate on it day and night. … For then you shall make your way prosperous.” To trust God and act in accordance with God’s word is a tall order for many of us. If we are comfortable, we tend to rely on ourselves and not upon God. We tend to act as if what we do as faith communities depends on us. Parker Palmer in his book, “Let Your Life Speak,” calls this functional atheism. “This is the unconscious, unexamined conviction that if anything decent is going to happen here, we are the ones who must make it happen.”

Taking courage from the presence of God can be agonizing for us. It means letting go of control and being open to God. It means that we recognize that God’s will and work are beyond our skillset.

There are several hymns and poems that identify our struggle to keep the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods.” For example, “O Jesus, I Have Promised” has a line about our struggle to keep God first: “O let me feel Thee near me! My foes are ever near me, around me and within.” The hymn, “Just as I am, Without One Plea,” also speaks to our inner struggles to be faithful to God and our need for God to help us. Sometimes, trusting God is just taking a step towards God and opening up to God’s promises to relieve, cleanse and guide us.

When we trust God’s presence with us, amazing things do happen. Grieving people feel supported by God. An unexpected check arrives for a ministry for battered and homeless women. People fill the fellowship hall to pack 10,000 meals for the hungry with Rise Up Against Hunger. Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission co-workers are sustained by our prayers and gifts. Churches become open to new possibilities rather than clinging to the “glory days” when the church was full.

If we only rely on our own power, we will get worn down and burned out. Relying on the power, love and presence of God in Jesus Christ brings new life to us. In Christ we find hope, courage and the presence of God with us.

RosalindBanburyRosalind Banbury is the interim pastor of  Tinkling Spring Presbyterian Church in Fishersville, Virginia.

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