And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. (Numbers 21:4)
Discouragement often lurks in the shadow of victory
Some of the deepest discouragements can fall hard on the heels of some of our greatest victories. In Numbers 21 the people of Israel came upon the land of king Arad the Canaanite. The people of Canaan did not want the Jews in their lands and when this king heard of their arrival on the borders of his land, he attacked and took some of the Israelites captive (Numbers 21:1).
In response, Israel prayed and asked for vengeance against this king on behalf of their brethren.
And the LORD hearkened to the voice of Israel, and delivered up the Canaanites; and they utterly destroyed them and their cities: and he called the name of the place Hormah. (Numbers 21:3)
Living in and for the moment brings only momentary joy
For Israel, this was a great moment and that was their problem. The majority of them only lived in the moment and because of that, it wasn’t long before they were complaining again. They’d just won a great battle and now it was back to the grind, back to wandering through the harsh, unforgiving desert. Scripture says they were “much discouraged because of the way.” I don’t think we can criticize them too much, because if God were to lead us through rough terrain in the desert, we’d be complaining, too. Like us, all the Israelites could see was what was right in front of them and that way was hard.
Real life in Christ is hard
No one promised that the way of sanctification would be easy. When Jesus ministered on the earth, He spent most of His time discouraging would-be disciples. Why? Because the Christian walk is not an easy one. It’s a walk that goes against the grain of society and almost always meets with resistance. Some of the resistance is external. Most of it is internal.
Lord willing, our church will be starting up a chapter of Freedom That Lasts, a faith-based addiction recovery ministry. We’re going to be dealing mostly with addicts and the majority of those who come to us are looking for relief. You can’t blame them. By the time addicts come to a ministry like ours, they’ve come to the realization that they are trapped by their addictions and powerless to break free. They want help and we give them help. On the first Friday they come to us, they’re often excited. They hear great doctrine and they see God’s love for them demonstrated through God’s people. Then they have to survive the following week. Between Fridays, we lose some of them because after the excitement of coming to a place geared toward encouraging them in the right direction, they have to face the realities of their lives, and for most of them it’s a desert place full of things determined to defeat them. They become “discouraged because of the way.”
Triggers, triggers everywhere!
If you’re facing a sin habit, you know what that’s like. You come to a point where you decide: “I’m going to forsake my way and go God’s way.” It’s a powerful and exciting moment. Then you have to deal with the rest of the week where you come face to face with the same triggers you’ve always had to face and you find yourself falling back on that old habit. It’s discouraging.
The addicts who come to us at Freedom That Lasts face the same kinds of struggles. By God’s grace, some come back to us and they get a little more help and a little more encouragement. They start to get some relief. But soon they realize relief isn’t enough.
Sobriety is not enough
If sobriety is your only goal, you are certain to be discouraged. Because you can be sober and still live under a cloud of defeat that sobriety cannot cure. Real victory does not come from religious experience or from religion. Real victory comes from a relationship with God.
Real joy can only be found in a real relationship with Christ
In amongst the complaining Israelites in those wilderness wanderings were two men who faced the same hardships but with much different results. Those two were Joshua and Caleb. When they went with the twelve spies to search out the Promised Land, they were the only two who came back with words of encouragement. Following the victory against king Arad, they faced the same post-victory hardships that everyone else faced, but without complaint. Why? Because they were not just after relief. Relief can come and go. What they recognized was that real joy and real peace is not based on experience; it’s not based on religion; it’s based on a relationship with God.