By Rev SEIK PITOI
LAST week we looked at the dreaded disease of discouragement.
In the story of Nehemiah in the Bible, we saw how the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem was interrupted time and again by those who opposed it. Despite the attacks of discouragement from various sources, Nehemiah and his team persisted until they completed the wall. From that story, we were able to get some valuable insights to help us in our times of discouragement.
In today’s article, we will take a further look at discouragement. In the case of Nehemiah, we saw the opposition from the outside. However, we will now see that a more subtle attack we may encounter is when it comes from within. That is what we will be looking at today.
The fifth column
There is a story about an incident in the Spanish Civil War where the term “the fifth column” was coined. General Emilio Mola Vidal had four army columns moving in on the city of Madrid. However, when asked which column would take the city, he said it was the fifth column. They were already in the city! In other words, they would take the city from within.
In life, one may find it bearable to face opposition from outside. That is usually the case and it is often expected. For instance, you have a dream to build a bakery business. You buy the equipment and other resources you will need. You have secured the finances required and have purchased the land where your bakery will stand. But at the last minute, opposition arises.
Another gentleman, who has an existing bakery, challenges you for the land. He has documents saying he is the original landowner. You take the matter to court and that delays your progress. In this case, the opposition is from the outside. That ‘outside’ attack from your competitor actually makes you more determined than ever to win the case and get your bakery up and running successfully.
However, when the attack takes place from within, it can be very discouraging. For instance, your most trusted business partner has been stealing from your company. While you were being preoccupied with protecting your business from the outside, someone close to you has been siphoning off your profits. You feel betrayed and angry. That attack is from within and it can be very frustrating.
A similar scenario where discouragement sets in is in the area of ministry. As a pastor, I have had my moments and I have also seen what many of my colleagues go through. Ministers often wonder why some people whom we have given our lives to serve can be so unappreciative. We find it is easier fighting on the front lines rescuing souls from the kingdom of darkness, praying for and delivering people with needs, and encouraging those who are down and out.
Attacks from within
That is where our energy and efforts should be spent. But at times, the attack comes from within. It is greatly discouraging when those whom you have sacrificed your whole life for turn around and malign you, challenge your pastoral authority or try to damage your reputation for no reason at all. That is a classic tactic of the devil using his “fifth column” to attack you. Not a few pastors have suffered burnout and stress, and even leave the ministry. It is mostly due to attacks from within.
But a servant is not above his master (Matt 10:24). When analysing the life if the Lord Jesus, we see that He too suffered both types of attacks – from outside and within. The Lord demonstrated His sovereignty over the powers of darkness. He bound evil spirits and cast them out from people, healed the sick, raised the dead and performed all manner of miracles. He was and is sovereign over all the powers of the evil one (e.g., Matt 4:23; John 11:43; Eph 1:20-21).
But the attack from within at His betrayal by one of those closest to Him – Judas Iscariot – was probably the most discouraging. Even before we get to the betrayal, consider Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He’s praying with three of His disciples – Peter, James and John. At the time when He needed them the most, just prior to His arrest, He pleaded with the men to stay awake and pray with Him for just an hour. But every time He checked, they were sleeping. Soon, His betrayer arrived with the guards to arrest Him (Matt 26: 36-46).
I’m sure, being left all alone by His friends to pray all night was painful. In being fully human with feelings and emotions, Jesus expressed how distressed and despondent He was when He said, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (verse 38). Luke also records that, “being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground”. (Luke 22:44).
Medical science tells us that there have been cases in which “persons in a debilitated state of body, or through horror of soul, have had their sweat tinged with blood.
Cases sometimes happen in which, through mental pressure, the pores may be so dilated that the blood may issue from them; so that there may be a bloody sweat.” This great aguish of the soul is the pinnacle of discouragement. It was suffered by our Lord Jesus!
Thankfully, the story does not end there. We know that the story continues to the cross of Calvary. The Lord Jesus was crucified and died. However, on the third day, He rose again, triumphing once again over all the principalities and powers of the kingdom of darkness (Phil 2: 8-11)
His despondency and seeming defeat was turned around. He was now the victor; the winner. Despondency, discouragement and despair turned to victory, triumph and glory!
Likewise, your story doesn’t end with defeat and discouragement. Despite the attacks from within and without, stand firm and trust God to see you through.
Be encouraged to know that those little hiccups in life will make you wiser and stronger, and with determination and faith in God, you will come through.
Let me end with this poem that I wrote some years ago about sailing along life’s journey. Despite the discouragement and obstacles along the way, press on towards the finishing mark to receive your prize!
The crown of glory
As you begin to set sail
On life’s ocean trail
Be sure you’re aware
Of every trap and snare
Contrary winds blow
You’ll be hounded as a foe
But keep in your heart
That blessed finishing mark
For an enemy we know
Plots and schemes to overthrow
A child of the Lord above
The God of mercy and love
So stick to the way
The Master mapped for your day
The path for your life
Where blessings are rife
God knows when you remain
In his will and domain
Though hindrances may arise
You’ll be destined for your prize
So arise, royalty
Smile, child of the Majesty
And receive your glorious reward
That God to you shall award…
The victor’s crown of glory!