How do I climb out of the pit of discouragement? Part 2

“And he prayed that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!’ ” I Kings 19:4b

We are learning from the prophet Elijah how to climb out of the pit of discouragement. After experiencing a tremendous spiritual victory on Mt. Carmel against the prophets of Baal (I Kings 18:20-40), Elijah encountered resistance from the vicious Queen Jezebel whose god Baal was defeated and her prophets killed (I Kings 19:1-2). When Jezebel threatens his life, Elijah gets scared and runs into the desert and prays that he might die (I Kings 19:3-4). He has gone from the mountaintop of victory to the bottom of the pit of discouragement.

Last time we saw the first step to take out of the pit of discouragement was to focus on the facts, not your feelings (I Kings 19:1-4). To climb higher out of the pit of discouragement, DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF WITH OTHERS (I Kings 19:4b). “And he prayed that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!’ ” (I Kings 19:4b). When Elijah said, “I am no better than my fathers,” he was comparing himself to his ancestors who failed to remove Baal-worship completely from Israel. He was feeling guilty for not being any better than they had been.

When we start comparing ourselves with others, we are going to get discouraged. We may try to motivate ourselves through criticism and condemnation. We do it by “shoulding” ourselves. “I should be more like that person. I should be able to act better and feel better like him or her.” Nagging ourselves like this leads to discouragement.

There is only one person that you can be, and that is you. That is all God expects. When you get to heaven, God is not going to ask you, “Why weren’t you more like him or her?” Most likely He will ask, “Why weren’t you like the person I created you to be?”

The Bible tells us, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10). Before we become Christians, we are defined by our “trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). That is what defined us and drove our lives. But now we are “in Christ” (Ephesians 2:10). We used to be “dead” spiritually (Ephesians 2:1), but now we are God’s “workmanship” (Ephesians 2:10).  

The word “workmanship” comes from the Greek word poiēma which is where we get our English word “poem” from. A poem is a collection of words that are specially chosen and put together so that they make a powerful statement that lasts. God is saying that you are His heavenly poem – you have been specially chosen by God to make a powerful statement about His grace that endures forever.

Another word that describes poiēma is the term “masterpiece.” Like a painting that has been specially created or like a potterer carefully creating something out of clay that is unique and has His personality and stamp put on it. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you are God’s Masterpiece – something He has poured Himself into to change your life. You used to be defined by sin and shame, but now you are defined by being in Christ. And God sees in you holiness … beauty… and goodness. Everything He sees in Jesus Christ He now sees in you.

You may see yourself as this person who has failed or who lacks certain abilities, but God sees you as royalty… as His masterpiece. Perhaps the voices from your past have told you that you were a mistake… that you can’t do anything right. But God is now telling you that you are His masterpiece – a beautiful work of heavenly art that He is putting on display for all to see and admire just how great His grace is toward you. 

The last part of Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are … created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” This verse tells us why God created us. We are “created in Christ Jesus for good works.” That is God’s plan for us. Before we were even born, God planned the “good works,” the specific ministry, He wants us to have. We don’t have to make things happen. We can rely on the Lord to show us the good works He wants us to do.

How do we know God’s plan for us after we believe in Jesus? We look at the way God has shaped us. I have borrowed the acrostic S.H.A.P.E. from Rick Warren’s ministry. God has uniquely shaped us for a reason. Let’s look at five things that shape us to serve the Lord:

S – Spiritual gifts (I Peter 4:10). Ask yourself, “What am I gifted to do for the Lord?” God has given believers in Jesus one or more spiritual gifts with which to serve Him in ministry (Romans 12:3-8; I Corinthians 12:7, 11; Ephesians 4:11-13). The best way to discover your spiritual gifts is to start serving the Lord Jesus in a local church. He will manifest your gifts as you begin to serve.

H – your Heart (I Samuel 12:20b; Romans 15:20; Galatians 4:18; Colossians 3:23-24). Ask yourself, “What do I love to do for the Lord?” There are some things we love to do and there are some things we hate to do. The things we love to do reflect our hearts. Where did we get that natural inclination? God put it in us. The Lord wants our ministries to be a blessing, not a burden. So it is a legitimate question to ask yourself, “What do I love to do?” Why would God give you a ministry that He hasn’t given you a heart for? When you look at your gifts and your heart, what do you love to do? What are you passionate about? What motivates you?  What gets you excited?  That is your heart. Some people love to serve or help others. Others love to influence, improve, perform, repair, prevail, follow the rules, or lead and be in charge.

A – your Ability (Exodus 31:3; I Corinthians 12:6; 2 Corinthians 3:5). Ask yourself, “What natural talent and skills do I have?  What vocational skills have I learned?  What natural talents have I been given by God?“ God wants to use the natural talents and skills you have in ministry. Some of you may have skills in arts and crafts, childbirth, computers, cooking, communication, construction, counseling, decorating, graphics, law, management, mechanics, media, music, safety, security, sewing, singing, song-writing, speaking, and teaching, etc. Be open to God using these natural talents or skills in your ministry.

P – your Personality (I Corinthians 2:11; Galatians 1:13-14). We are all very different.  We have all got different personalities, different blends of temperament.  Ask yourself, Where does my personality best suit me to serve?” If you are an introverted person you would probably not want to get involved in being a greeter at church. That would place a lot of additional stress on your life. When you have an area that you may be gifted to do and a heart to do, but you don’t have the personality to do it, it puts enormous stress on your life. God doesn’t want you to have to do that. 

E – your Experiences. There are four different kinds of experiences you want to look at when you are trying to discover the shape God has given you. First, ask yourself, “What kind of spiritual experiences have I had?” (Galatians 1:12, 15-18; Hebrews 5:12-13). This has to do with the times you have had with the Lord. Maybe you encountered God at a retreat or campground or at home, or as a young person, or during a crisis you went through, and that brought you closer to the Lord. 

Next ask yourself, “What kind of painful experiences have I had?” (2 Corinthians 1:4; 11:23-27; 12:7-10). God often allows us to go through a painful experience and then heals us and comforts us in that experience so that He will give us the ministry of helping other people in that very same thing. Who can relate to somebody who is struggling with alcoholism better than somebody who has been an alcoholic?  Who can better relate to somebody who has lost a child in miscarriage or stillbirth than somebody who has had a miscarriage or stillbirth. God never wastes a painful experience. Even the painful experiences we bring on ourselves through our own decisions, God wants to use in ministry.

Next ask yourself, “What kind of educational experiences have I had?” (Acts 22:3). What have you learned? Maybe you have educational training in computers or dance or debate or auto mechanics or teaching children. God wants to use these experiences in your ministry to others.

Then ask yourself, “What kind of ministry experiences have I had?” (2 Corinthians 9:13). Some of us have already served the Lord in ministry and we have proven ourselves in the body of Christ and can see what God has done in our lives. Others of us may be new to the Christian faith and have not yet served God in a ministry.  

All five of these things shape you and make you, you. When you understand how God has shaped you, then you will know His plan for your life, and how and where He wants you to serve Him.

When we trusted in Christ for salvation, we probably did not realize how much everything changed. We thought we were just forgiven and going to heaven. But God has so much more for us here and now. And He wants us to be encouraged and see ourselves as the new person we are through His eyes. Because when we do, being a Christian is not a matter of living by rules and trying to clean up this and that. It is a matter of living as the royalty that God has made us by the blood of His Son. When we understand this, there will be no need to compare ourselves to others. We will be free to be the unique person God created us in Christ to be.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, when we take our eyes off of You, it is easy to compare ourselves with others and become discouraged. Right now, Lord God, we want to pause and reconnect with You. Please restore our union with You. Help us to see ourselves through Your eyes in Christ. Before Jesus, we used to be defined by our sin and shame, but now we are defined by being in Christ. And You see in us all the holiness … beauty… and goodness that You see in Jesus Christ. Everything You see in Jesus You now see in us. Thank You for the good works You have prepared for us to walk in. Please help each one of us to identify the shape You have given us so we may bring You the most glory by following Your plan for each of our lives. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

How can we follow the risen Lord Jesus without reservation? Part 2

“Jesus said to him, ‘If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.’ ” John 21:22

In John 21:20-23, we are looking at the focusing stage of discipleship in the life of Peter. Last time we learned that we can follow Jesus without reservation when we avoid comparing ourselves with other followers of Christ (John 21:20-21). When the risen Lord Jesus informed Peter that following Christ would cost him his life, Peter then asked the Lord what John could expect (John 21:18-21). Would John also lose his life for following Jesus? Peter seems to be comparing his relationship with Jesus to John’s relationship with Jesus.

All of us can fall into the comparison trap like Peter. We don’t like God’s will for our lives, so we focus on His will for another’s life. If we cannot control God’s will for our own lives, we will try to control His will for another person’s life. How does Jesus respond to this?

John writes, “Jesus said to him, ‘If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.’ ” (John 21:22). Jesus is saying,“If I want John to hang around until I return, what is that to you, Peter? Your responsibility is to follow Me regardless of what happens to John.” What does that mean to Peter? “Lord, that’s not fair. You’re telling me that I’m going to die if I follow You, but John gets to hang around until You return?” And what Jesus is saying is, “Peter, that should not matter to you. You simply follow Me.”

Again, we see Jesus telling Peter to follow Him. This is not referring to Peter’s salvation. Nor does it mean that Peter is going to die. This time following Jesus means something different. “You should not be comparing yourself to other people. Instead, you are to remain focused on following Me regardless of what I have in mind for John or the other disciples,” Jesus says. Peter needed to remain focused on what Jesus has told him regarding the purpose for his life, and just focus on that.

“Jesus essentially told Peter that John’s future was none of his business. Rather than concerning himself with God’s will for other people, even those closest to him, Peter should concentrate on following Jesus faithfully himself. The ‘you’ in the Greek text is emphatic. Even if it was Jesus’ will for John to ‘remain’ alive ‘until’ He returned, that was not to be Peter’s concern.” 1  The emphasis here is “You – follow Me, Peter,” Jesus says. “It doesn’t matter what other people do. Don’t worry about other people.”

The main focus of Christian leadership is not making sure that others are following Christ, but that I am following Christ. 2  My example has far more impact on others than hovering over them to make sure they are following Christ.

“The reference to Jesus’ return is probably a reference to the Rapture, rather than the Second Coming, in view of what Jesus had promised these disciples in 14:1-3.” 3

Peter had to learn to trust Jesus to take care of John while he concentrated on what Jesus was saying to him. What does this say to us? This leads to the second way to follow Jesus without reservation. We must FOCUS ON SERVING JESUS IN OUR OWN UNIQUE MINISTRY TO OTHERS (John 21:22). The Lord saves us individually. He gifts and calls us individually. He speaks to us and directs us individually. Peter momentarily forgot this fact and we do, too, at times. How easy it is for us to focus on God’s will for another person’s life to avoid God’s will for our own lives. When it comes to doing God’s will, God has not said that you must answer for anyone else except yourself. We are to quit looking around for equality. We are to put aside the need to have others do what we are doing, or to endure what we are called to endure.

Dr. Tony Evans makes an important observation. God has a general will for all of his people. This is expressed in his biblical commands for all of his followers. But he also has a specific will for each individual Christian. Jesus graciously revealed to Peter his will for him. But he wasn’t about to tell Peter his specific will for John. We are called to follow Jesus corporately as the church and personally as individuals. Each of us is to have a personal relationship with God through Jesus and seek to discern how he wants us to serve and glorify him. You are not to use God’s specific will for you to measure anyone else, nor are you to take his specific will for another and use it to measure your own circumstances. We are not to sit as judges regarding how God chooses to use other believers.” 4

Some believers are uniquely called by God to endure hardships – imprisonment, the loss of a child, a lingering and crippling illness, financial troubles, a series of unexplainable tragedies – while others are hardly touched by these things. It is so easy for the Peter within us to lash out and lobby for an equal wrong’s amendment before the Lord. Jesus’ response remains the same: “My child, just follow Me. Remember, you are not John, you are Peter.”

Has God called you to a difficult or demanding mission field… or type of ministry … or home situation… or relationship? Has He led you to live sacrificially… to pass up some pleasures? If He has, then follow Him. Forget about the Johns and learn to focus on following Christ. Don’t compare, focus on serving Jesus in your own unique way. 

The Bible tells us, “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” (I Peter 4:10). We should concentrate on following Christ and using the spiritual gifts He has given us as we do that. Disciples are to be taught to focus on their own unique ministry according to their gifting and calling.

Part of discipleship is discovering what our unique ministry is and helping others discover their unique ministries. That unique ministry will almost always be in harmony with how God has gifted us. That is what makes us unique as Christians. So first you need to know what your gift is and then you need to use it.

How do you discover your spiritual gift? Get busy serving the Lord. God can steer a moving car better than a parked car, so get involved in a ministry. If you have a church family, find out from your church leaders how you can serve Christ in your church. Ask yourself, “What do I enjoy doing?”  God is not likely to give you a gift that makes you miserable. So, what is it that you enjoy doing when serving the Lord?

Ask yourself, “What is God blessing?” If you are a teacher, people are being built up through your teaching. If you are an administrator, people and things are being organized. If you have the gift of helps or service, the needs of others are being met in practical ways. If you are an evangelist, people are getting saved. If you have the gift of mercy, people are comforted when they share their problems with you.

Ask yourself, “What do others think?” Ask those who know you well what gifts they see in you. For example, some churches have disciples do a service project outside of the church. Then they have them identify their gifts that were manifested during the project. “Who stepped up to help the group get organized?” This could be someone with the gift of administration or organization. “Who was concerned about reaching lost people?” Those with the gift of evangelism. “Who stepped up to serve behind the scenes?” Those with the gift of service. “Who was concerned about those who were hurting and had a way of helping them talk about their feelings?” Those with the gift of mercy and so on.

It is also important to take training. We offer online discipleship training for men and women. 5 In the Philippines, we trained Christians to multiply disciples of Jesus until all hear His gospel message. The training sharpens a believer’s spiritual gifts and skills.

You could also take a free spiritual gift inventory online. 6 But with that said, I firmly believe it is easier to discover your gift through ministry than to discover your ministry through your gift.

God doesn’t want us comparing ourselves with one another. Like Jesus said to Peter, “What is that to you? You just follow Me. Don’t worry about the other guy. Serve me in the unique way I have gifted you to serve. Let others take responsibility for their commitment to serve Me in the unique way I have gifted and called them.”

Prayer: Lord Jesus, all of us struggle when Your will for our lives seems to involve more pain and suffering than what we perceive others to have. We may be threatened or even jealous when other followers of Christ seem to have more success and less suffering than what we are experiencing. Thank You for calling us back to focusing on You and the unique way You have gifted us and called us to serve You. How silly of us to think that other believers should resemble our gifting and calling when they are also uniquely gifted and called by You. Help us to stay focused on You, Lord Jesus, no matter what the cost. It is in You that we find overflowing joy, peace, and life, not in people or in the things we do. You love us far more than what we do. Please massage this truth into the depths of our hearts and souls. In Your powerful name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 400.

2. Ibid., cites Alexander Balmain Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, 8th ed. (N. c.: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1894; reprint ed. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1971), pg. 528.

3. Constable, pg. 401.

4. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1833.

5. You can download our digital Pressing On discipleship training at www.seeyouinheaven.life.

6. https://gifts.churchgrowth.org/spiritual-gifts-survey/ .