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Shafts From The Devil's Armoury

The Psalms are like a mirror. We see in them, reflected from the experience of men so long ago, the very thoughts which ebb and flow in our own hearts. Who has not at some time echoed the words of the Psalmist, who wrote,

Why art thou cast down, 0 my soul?

And why art thou disquieted within me?" (Psalms 42.11,43.5).

There are times of depression and weariness when the soul seems overclouded with gloom. They can be dangerous times. For our arch-enemy is adept at exploiting our weakness, and when discouragement darkens the spirit, he is ready to thrust home the taunting question,

Where is thy God?"

The Psalmist felt this reproach as a sword in the bones. Reproach is a sword that strikes at the heart of our faith in the living God. The insinuation is that if we have a living God who loves and cares for us, why should He allow the troubles which have cast us down? In Psalms 42 and 43, each fiery dart of doubt was quenched by the large shield of faith, a faith repeated so triumphantly in the beautiful refrain,

"Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise Him,

Who is the health of my countenance, and my God."

Yet some of God's greatest servants have been brought low by discouragement, despite their brilliant faith, in trials of a different order. "Written aforetime for our learning," we may look together at a few of these examples, that the "patience and comfort of the Scriptures" may fortify our own hope.

THE DISCOURAGEMENT OF DISAPPOINTED HOPE (1 Kings 19).

No wonder Elijah's hopes had soared! Fire from heaven had vindicated Jehovah's Name; the prophets of Baal had been vanquished; abundance of rain had been poured out in response to his fervent prayer. Surely all this would lead to national repentance and revival ! It seemed not, for Jezebel still despised the riches of God's goodness and forbearance and longsuffering. Impenitent, she would but further treasure up for herself wrath in the day of wrath. Elijah fled before her murderous threat. The clouds of hopelessness and despair blanketed his spirit as he lay beneath the juniper tree. This great disappointment affected him deeply. He lamented the failure of his mission; he prayed that he might die; he declared that in all Israel he alone was left in loyalty to Jehovah. Discouragement had coloured his whole outlook, so that he no longer saw things as God saw them. For God's purposes would march on despite the disappointing anti-climax after Carmel. Elisha would pursue his marvellous ministry in Israel; Ahab and Jezebel would be destroyed; there were still seven thousand known to God in Israel who had never compromised with Baal; Elijah himself would never die! God dealt very tenderly with his discouraged prophet.

We, too, have disappointed hopes. With us there is at times a tendency to be cast down if the type of blessing we hoped for does not follow a time of special testimony in the gospel. This aspect of things may fill our vision, so that we do not see in their true perspective other important aspects of our testimony. Because a certain pattern of response by the unsaved has not followed our witness, Satan asks our discouraged souls, Where is thy God?" perhaps also introducing doubts about the effect of our separated position on our gospel witness. Elijah's God is our God. He is able to revive and strengthen us, and restore our spiritual balance, as we get alone with Him, to hear afresh the still small voice of the Spirit. Would Elijah's testimony at Carmel have had any greater value to God if there had followed the national revival for which the prophet craved? No, he was fulfilling his responsibility in God's service, whether they heard or whether they forbore. His self-reproach and disconsolation were unwarranted. We may harm ourselves by a similar reaction to disappointing results from our testimony. For whatever the apparent results may be in a world fast hardening towards the time of the end, we have been called to a separate witness in the churches of God. We have been called out to give effect to the whole will of God. With all the limitations which this may impose on the scale of our gospel testimony, our calling in separated testimony to the truth is an aspect of God's purpose in our time towards which we have a special responsibility. We should pray for a right balance, and refuse to allow discouragement to upset our understanding of the place God has assigned us in testimony to the truth for our time. Nor does this imply diffidence as to exercise in the gospel. Yearning for the lost, prayerful concern and zeal in gospel witness, should all be ours; but these things we should do and not leave the other undone.

DISCOURAGEMENT THROUGH BURDENS OF RESPONSIBILITY

"Wherefore hast Thou evil entreated thy servant? ... that Thou layest the burden of all this people upon me? ... I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me. And if Thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray Thee, out of hand ... and let me not see my wretchedness."(Numbers 11. 11-15).

This does seem strange language from the lips of Moses, the man of God! Yet glancing over the period from Marah (Exodus 15.28) to Taberah (Numbers 11.8), one can appreciate a little of what this great man had borne in his leadership of God's people. He had known a tremendous strain of responsibility, which could be only partly relieved by Jethro's wise advice (Exodus 18). There had been successive crises of rebellion against Jehovah, and it is a wearing thing to be faced with repeated opposition and unreasonable criticism from those to whom one might rightly look for loyal support. Israel's simmering unbelief boiled up in angry rebellion whenever the heat of trial was intensified. Now the mixed multitude had fallen a lusting, and Israel murmured in sensual desire for the flesh pots of Egypt.

Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, every man at the door of his tent," and the chilly discouragement pervading the camp entered into his own soul. With his eyes momentarily off the great Burden-Bearer, he felt distracted by the weight of responsibility he was called upon to bear, hence the outpouring of his complaint before the LORD, beseeching the LORD to relieve him of the leadership of Israel, and choosing rather to die.

God's purposes were far otherwise ! Years of useful service yet lay before Moses. Not until the people reached the borders of Canaan the second time would he die, having first viewed the promised land. Well it is that " like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear Him." When Moses was beside himself, God graciously made allowance for his circumstances, and enabled him to regain his balance. To many who bear heavy responsibility among God's people, there may come times of similar despair. Do the problems seem too complex, the support insufficient? Does Satan challenge, "Where is thy God?" Then draw fresh courage from Moses' experience, when God drew him up from the slough of despond to set his feet once more upon the high places of trust and triumph.

DISCOURAGEMENT THROUGH MISUNDERSTANDING OF GOD'S PURPOSE

"Art Thou He that cometh, or look we for another?" (Matthew 11. 8).

It was John the Baptist's question from prison, the enquiry of a man baffled and cast down by an unlooked-for turn of events. His discouraged soul groped for a solution of the strange problem why he should be unjustly imprisoned after the great stirring in Israel as a result of his call to repentance in preparation of the way of the Lord. Our thoughts are not God's thoughts! We may have in our own minds a pattern which we feel should develop if God is using our lives, while all the time God's plan for us may be far otherwise. John was to glorify God through death as a relatively young man. He would earn the Master's highest commendation (Matthew 11. 11), yet at this juncture he was disturbed because he had not understood the purpose of God in his suffering. With gracious understanding the Lord Jesus met John's enquiry. In the presence of John's messengers, many mighty works were done. They were bidden to testify to John of all they had seen and heard, and "blessed is he, whosoever shall find none occasion of stumbling in Me." The Lord Jesus knows how to sustain with words him that is weary. Never Himself to fall nor be discouraged, He nevertheless appreciated the frailty of His servants. As we wait on Him, He will reassure us, perhaps by correcting our mistaken notions of the particular purpose He has in our lives.

DISCOURAGEMENT THROUGH OVERWHELMING SUFFERING

"Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery,

And life unto the bitter in soul;

Which long for death, but it cometh not;

And dig for it more than for hid treasures?" (Job 3.20, 21).

The loss of all his children, his possessions and his health had been Job's unhappy lot, a fiery furnace of affliction, heated seven times. The most distressing feature was that he had been "perfect and upright, one that feared God, and eschewed evil." In his heart rankled the question which has troubled the mind of many a sufferer since-" Why? " The adversary was not far away with his sinister challenge, "Where is thy God? " for through Job's wife he urged, "Dost thou still hold fast thine integrity? renounce God, and die." But Job did not renounce God. He held fast his integrity, speaking of God the thing that was right. His faith and patience triumphed, and we have seen the end of the Lord, that He is full of pity and merciful. Between the beginning and end of the trial lay ordeals of deep discouragement, when his spirit was overwhelmed with sorrow. From Job's experience many sufferers have drawn encouragement during their times of trial. They have been helped to look beyond the things that are seen to the related unseen things. For Job in his wretchedness, holding fast his integrity although baffled and dismayed, was the object of heaven's wondering delight. Satan was rebuffed in the presence of God through the sorrows of Job on earth. There may still often be that same connexion between the sufferings of some of God's saints and the great unseen conflict, where spiritual values are put so severely to the test, and where God chooses to magnify His triumphs through the very weakness of the earthen vessel.

"Be sober, be watchful: your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom withstand stedfast in your faith, knowing that the same sufferings are accomplished in your brethren who are in the world. And the God of all grace, who called you unto His eternal glory in Christ, after that ye have suffered a little while, shall Himself perfect, stablish, strengthen you" (1 Peter 5.8-10).