Welcome everyone to week two of our big fall series on the Soul.  We have jumped into an incredibly important conversation, on the most important part of our lives…the most important, but also the most ignored area of our lives.  We are talking about and focusing on the soul.  This is a big deal because we live in a world full of people who are struggling right now.  People are struggling emotionally, mentally, and relationally.  Our inner worlds seem to be broken and so many are walking in major inner turmoil.  We are seeing people fall into depression, and anxiety, with mental health cases rising by the day.  We are seeing people struggle to work through the realities of life, like adversity and challenges.  We are seeing people struggle to walk in relationships with others more and more, and we know part of God’s design is that we humans do life with other people.  People are really struggling right now.  In all of our struggles, we are seeing a growing awareness of mental health and self-care too.  It’s like we know there is a problem!  We are using terms and words today that didn’t exist 10 – 20 years ago.  We have new terms for mental, emotional, and social issues coming out by the day.  I mean, did we ever hear of a mental health day 10 – 15 years ago? You know what is interesting to me?  While we have this general heightened awareness of mental and emotional health issues…inner world issues, and while we clearly see and acknowledge that we have a problem as a people and that we need to take care of our inner worlds, it is only getting worse, not better.  We are living in the days of a mental health crisis that is only growing.  It is getting worse each day.  We are aware there is an issue.  We are more aware than ever before of how important our inner worlds are, and that we must care for them, but nothing we do seems to fix the problem.   In fact, the problem is only getting worse.  So, the question must be asked.  Are we missing something?  The answer is we are missing something, and that is the fact that we are profoundly spiritual beings.  What if our problems go deeper than a practical fix or remedy, and need to be dealt with on a profoundly spiritual level?  There is no irony in the fact that we are struggling internally more today than ever before, in a time when as a people in this world we are making the choice to distance ourselves from God.  We pull away from God.  We ignore the soul.  It’s not ironic that as we distance ourselves from God, we struggle…we must care for our souls.  Your soul is the source of our lives, and if we ignore it, it can also become the source of our pain.  So, this is an incredibly important conversation talking about this profoundly important and often ignored area of our lives.  This gives us a chance to talk about things that are way too popular in our world today, and we want you to see that so many of these painful realities and struggles come down to your soul and how it is being cared for…or not.

In the first half of this series, we are going to talk about subjects that so many of us are struggling with in our lives, things that we may have never realized are profoundly spiritual issues as our soul processes things in our lives…and we will talk about how to overcome these things on a profoundly spiritual level.  We will hit a lot of mental health concepts and that isn’t to undermine true mental health issues, or the concepts of medicine and the need for doctors so don’t hear that, but this is an important conversation that must be had for us humans, who have a soul.  So today we will talk about a major challenge to overcome in our lives that we all struggle with on one level or another, and that is discouragement.  Discouragement is how our soul processes the circumstances we find ourselves in, the adversity, challenges, and trials of our lives.  Then next week, we will talk about a major challenge so many of us face in this world today and that is depression, which is how our soul is processing regret.   We will talk about anxiety which is how our soul processes fear.  We will talk about the struggles we have in seeing our value and self-worth which is how your soul processes God’s love for us on a personal level.  We will talk about pursuing holiness and the challenges of sin and temptation and how the soul processes the tension between our appetites and desires and living for God.  Then we will spend the second half of the series talking about how we restore our souls through worship, and grasping that worship is so much more than just singing songs on a Sunday morning but caring for and restoring our souls.

This series is very personal to me because as calm and wonderful as I appear to you all, I wrestle with these things too.  For me, depression, discouragement, and loneliness have always been a struggle for me behind the scenes.  In fact, I spent a couple of my recent years really struggling with depression and discouragement.  Life is hard and it’s so painful at times and I was really struggling at times just to get out of bed and start my day.  You may not have known it, because I would smile and be kind when I saw you, but l was really having a hard time with my inner world.  It made it hard to be around people and even function through my day.  You may have thought I was a little withdrawn there or wondered why I wasn’t opening up to people and being as social as a good pastor should, but the reality was I was really hurting inside.  Devastated is probably a better term in many ways.  I felt stuck in many ways, so hurt in so many ways, and just confused in many other ways as I did my best to stand in my calling and live out scripture, just devastated by how people were responding, devastated by the spiritual condition around me, add life, four children all walking through painful and sometimes scary seasons of their own lives, and it all piled up, while pandemics and life pushed in and well, I will just say that I was really struggling.  I look back and am thankful that God has pulled me through that very dark and heavy time in my life, and I know I am better for those years of wrestling and battling through it all but it makes these subjects profoundly personal to me, and very important because we all have our struggles.  If you notice I said I’m thankful that God has pulled me through that dark and heavy time, because I was getting nowhere in my own strength and my own efforts.   Now I want to make sure I say this, I did the practical things too.  I worked on my heart and my mental health.  I was feeding my heart and soul with God’s word.  I even met with a counselor and did all the practical things and took the necessary steps I needed to take, but in the end, I needed God to do what only He could in my life.  You know Jesus says something that Ken pointed out to us last week that is so, so true!

Matthew 16:25 Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. 26 What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?  MSG

The most important thing to grasp and understand about your inner world is that you are a profoundly spiritual being.  Your soul must be cared for.  We live in a world that is built and designed to keep us unaware of and distracted from and to keep us from this truth.  This world is designed to pull us away from God, to not even recognize the importance of our souls, and it is doing a tremendous job of that…we must understand how profoundly spiritual we are and that in the end, we must care for our soul.  It can be the source of life or if ignored it can be the source of our pain.

We are living in difficult times, with people walking in intense internal pain and brokenness at a level that this world has never seen before…at a time when we are distancing ourselves further and further from God.  Our prayer is that as we walk through this series, we will see the direct correlation between pulling away from God and the issues and pain we are facing and trying to work through as people in our world today.   We are spiritual beings, who talk of the importance of caring for our inner worlds, calling it “self-care” while ignoring the soul.  The results are devastating and it is so hard to watch people walk through it when God wants to free us from all of it.

So last week Ken introduced the concept of the soul series to us.  You may remember the question he was asking if we would change or die.  Do you remember that?  So, what is the soul?  I like how Ken explained it last week. He said that when God created you in His image, God placed a soul inside of you.  Then God breathed life into your soul and brought you to life.  Your soul is the place that contains all of you.  It contains your unique God imprint.  It’s filled with your dreams, hopes, and desires that are unique to you.  So, you could say that your soul is what makes you who you are.  It is the eternal life center of you!

But let’s just say it, as people what do we tend to focus on?  Are we really worried about or focused on eternity someday or spiritual things?  The answer is no.  What we tend to focus on and worry about is today.  We aren’t worried about all of eternity or spiritual things, we worry about and focus on the things we see and feel physically and emotionally right now, not the things for a million years from now or the things we can’t see clearly or feel intensely in the moments of today.  We tend to be a bit more reactive than we are proactive on things, and that is a big part of the issue.  We chase things we see on the surface of our lives while our lives feel empty because we ignore what truly matters.  We chase things we people can physically see.  Things like success, material possessions, wealth, and all that stuff instead of caring for our souls…and we need to understand OUR SOULS ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF WHO WE ARE!  We live in a world distancing itself from God and spiritual health, a world intentionally designed to destroy our souls, and we wonder as we distance ourselves from God, why we are struggling so much without ever seeing it.  We need to understand that our soul is the most important thing, and it will be revived as we learn to live our lives with God!

So today we start a journey, a journey into the soul, and we start talking about the different things the soul processes and the challenges we face in them.  We will start with how our soul processes trials, challenges, adversity, and the difficult circumstances we often find ourselves in in our lives.  Today we discuss discouragement.

What is discouragement?  You may not be able to define it in a sentence but you have felt it haven’t you?  It’s so tough, and I want you to see that discouragement is never the first step in a tough situation but really it is the aftermath of the thing you are working through and the difficult or overwhelming circumstances you find yourself in because of something happening or not happening in your life.  You could think about it this way, you have a dream, and fall short of accomplishing it, and are now looking around and feeling disappointed, hurt, and have no idea what to do next.  You may have believed in what you were doing so much, and it didn’t happen, and discouragement can overwhelm us in that painful place.   Maybe you have just been crushing it in life and have been very busy accomplishing things and have accomplished a lot, but are really tired, and now find yourself with more on your plate than ever before…well, in the exhaustion and pressure-filled place, you can begin to feel discouraged.

We get examples of people struggling with discouragement in our Scriptures, and what is interesting to me is that in most cases, there is a pattern in these people’s lives that has them struggling with discouragement.  The pattern seems to be in what they are focused on.  These people are stuck in this painful place overwhelmed with discouragement, but all of them seem to be focused on their circumstances, and the things around them!  There is a pattern to this that I think we need to see.  I will give you an example from the Old Testament and then one from The New Testament before we move into the main story we will hang out in today.  First, we look at one of my favorite Psalms, it’s an Asaph Psalm and one that is great to hang out in when we are struggling with discouragement.  It’s Psalm 73 where Asaph is in a very difficult spot…

Psalm 73:1 Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. 2 But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. 3 For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 4 They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. 5 They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills. NIV

What is happening here?  Asaph is talking about a time when he was really struggling, and it was because he was looking around at others, seeing their circumstances, and comparing them to his own.  He was struggling, because he was living a good Godly life while others seemed to live however they wanted, and seem to have a better life than he has!  Asaph is incredibly discouraged here…he continues even wondering why he is trying to live a godly life while their circumstances are better than his.

Psalm 73:12 This is what the wicked are like — always carefree, they increase in wealth. 13 Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. 14 All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning. NIV

Don’t worry he finds his way through this discouraging time by the end of the Psalm by refocusing on God and recentering on Him and not focusing on his or other people’s circumstances around him.

Psalm 73:21 Then I realized that my heart was bitter, and I was all torn up inside. 22 I was so foolish and ignorant— I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you. 23 Yet I still belong to you; you hold my right hand…28 But as for me, how good it is to be near God! I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter, and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do. NLT

Do you see it?  Looking around with a focus on my circumstances leads to incredible discouragement in my life…let’s do one more this time from an incredible interaction between Jesus and a crippled man who is dealing with an incredible level of discouragement in his life because he has been laying from what he believes to be just feet from his healing for 38 years and just can’t get there and once again we will see this pattern…check this out, an incredible moment here at the pool of Bethesda which they believed had healing powers that this poor guy just couldn’t get into…that is when Jesus shows up…check this out.

John 5:2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie — the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.  5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” 7 “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” 8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”  9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. NIV

This poor guy is dealing with discouragement at a level we hopefully will never feel.  Imagine how difficult it must have felt to be so close to your healing, for 38 years…38 years just wanting to get to that water, and you just can’t get there and Jesus walks up and asks an incredible question.  “Do you want to get well?” What is the man’s reply?  While the answer should be very clear, “Yes, Jesus” what does the man do?  He tells Jesus all about his circumstances.  Do you see the pattern?

Discouragement is so real and so painful, and so often is laying heavy on us because we have lost our focus, we see and feel our circumstances and we struggle to see a way through because our focus is on the wrong thing.  When we are discouraged, we can slide into a trap of isolating ourselves and trying to find our own way out of our circumstances and it only adds to the vicious cycle of discouragement.  The way through is not in our own strength, and it is not to give in to the emotions and things discouragement is telling us to do.  I love the story of Elijah, and while most people know the story, I believe as God is restoring Elijah’s soul here we get the blueprint on how to overcome discouragement in our lives…so let’s look at one more story today and watch how God shows us how to overcome discouragement.   This may be my favorite story in Scripture, and yes I know I say that a lot, but I love this.

Our story starts right after Elijah has won an incredible victory.  When I say incredible, I mean he has literally just defeated the prophets of Bail in a duel over which God would be the God of Israel and He did so in front of the entire nation of Israel and He did so by praying that God would send fire from the sky, and God sent fire from the sky!  I mean you talk about triumph and faith, and success?  Elijah has literally just prayed that God would send fire from the sky and fire has literally fallen from the sky!  This is beyond incredible.  He has confidently stood up for God, and God has worked through Him in maybe the most unfathomable and miraculous way ever in the history of humanity!  But Jezebel gets word of what took place, she is furious and threatens to kill him, and when Elijah hears this news, what does this triumphant prophet of God do?  He runs for his life!

1 Kings 19:3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep. NIV

So, this is incredible, right?  I mean he has just won this incredible victory, he was so courageous, and gets one threat from Jezebel…AFTER CALLING FIRE DOWN FROM THE SKY…and instead of standing tall, what does he do?  He runs for his life!  But I want you to see a few things here…we have to remember and scripture reminds us in James that Elijah is a person, just like us.  He just hit the pinnacle of victories in his life but think of the emotions he must have felt standing up for God in front of the entire nation of Israel.  Think of the stress and the energy he just put into that incredible moment.  Now he is exhausted, and that is when the news hits that his life is in danger.  And in his state of emptiness and exhaustion, he does something we can be tempted to do when we feel stressed, and overwhelmed.  He makes the choice to run and isolates himself from people.  He is completely exhausted, now also alone, and just wants to die.  Wow!  Think about your own life for a moment.  When you are struggling, when you are tired you can be tempted to do what Elijah did can’t you?  Just want to pull away, escape, check out, and be alone.  It’s a mistake but discouragement will encourage us or tempt us to do this, to isolate just like Elijah did here.

So many of us find ourselves in this type of place, exhausted, on empty, just wanting to check out on life and be alone, and it’s in this moment that God begins to restore Elijah and I believe it’s showing us how to overcome discouragement in our lives today…and it starts with a few practical things that are profoundly spiritual.

1 Kings 19:5 All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. 7 The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” 8 So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. 9 There he went into a cave and spent the night. NIV

So, God begins to restore Elijah and it starts with two very loving and practical things.  Twice the angel tells him to get up and eat.  This may not sound very spiritual to you, but this is so important to not lose sight of the practical choices that have a profound impact on our health, and our lives.  Elijah, accomplish a few things here.  First, get up and take care of yourself.  So often as we walk in exhaustion and stress, and are weighed down by our issues, we ignore the simple things we need to do to help us along the way, We rest, we get up, we care for ourselves, and we nourish ourselves.  Now it’s time to meet with God.  It’s at this moment where we see our pattern again.  Listen to God’s question, and Elijah’s answer, it happens twice!

1 Kings 19:9-14 And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” 11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” NIV

So, God asks Elijah the same question twice.  What are you doing here Elijah?  And what does Elijah do?  Both times he blows off the question and does what we do when we are discouraged, he points to his circumstances!  What do you mean what am I doing here God?  I’ve worked so hard.  I’m completely exhausted.  People have rejected you, and now I’m all alone.  No one is on my side!  Do you see the pattern?  I’m all alone.  Look at my circumstances…but the thing we lose sight of as discouragement fills our lives is that our focus shouldn’t be on our circumstances, our focus must be on God.  God then loving tells Elijah to go back from where he came from…which would be the last place he wants to go…but shows him he isn’t alone, and provides people for him to minister with, pointing out the hundreds of prophets who are still alive and giving him Elisha to work with and walk with…it’s an incredible story of restoration and it shouldn’t be lost on us that through Elijah’s pain and intense issues we get a way to overcome discouragement in our lives too.

So how do we find our way through discouragement and despair?

First – Remember you’re human! 

Scripture tells us Elijah was a person just like us.  This means that in the incredible highs and lows of our lives, we can’t ignore the energy and effort we are putting into things, even when we are busy we must take care of ourselves, rest, and recovery are so important.

Second – Avoid the temptation to isolate!  

When we are tired and running thin, stressed out and struggling, the last thing we may want to do is be around other people, but remember you were not created to do life alone, and isolating is what your enemy wants because it makes you more vulnerable to Him.

Third – Do something!  

Even just making the choice to get up and eat.  Finding our way through discouragement may start by doing what the angel told Elijah to do. Get up and eat.  Just start by accomplishing those two small yet important steps and get some positives rolling in your life, care for yourself, even if you don’t feel like it. Taking little steps towards positives and health can be big steps out of discouragement.  Take care of yourself and get some calories back in your body.  Do something, as small as getting up, and eating…sometimes just doing something is a big deal!

Fourth – Focus on Your Focus!  

Discouragement is how your soul processes the circumstances around you.  We must be careful that our focus doesn’t leave God and drift into our circumstances!  It’s a pattern we see all through the Bible, we looked at three examples of this today.  When our focus leaves God and drifts onto the challenges, adversity, and pain of our lives we can succumb to discouragement in our lives.  When we focus on God, and we are pouring into our relationship with Him and what He is doing in our lives rather than what we are doing in our lives, we find our way through, because we know regardless of the circumstances, we aren’t alone and can trust in God’s provision, protection, and love for us.

Listen, we love you so much, and we want you to understand something about these challenges we all face in our inner worlds.  We are spiritual beings, with a soul.  Our soul is the source of our life, and if we ignore it, it can also become the source of our pain. So, I just have a few very simple questions for you as we close.

Do you take care of your soul?  What choices are you making that help you and are good for your soul?  Think about your life for a moment.  What do you choose to do practically that helps you find health and brings life to your soul?  Now, keep thinking with me.  What choices are you making that if you are honest, are not helping you and are not good for your soul?  Think about this.  What do you choose to do that isn’t helping your soul?  This is so important because, in the end, things will keep hitting your life.  Life will keep happening, and without caring for your soul and staying focused on your relationship with God, feeding your soul well, life only gets harder and more painful.

Think it through today.  We all face discouragement, and when it hits we can be tempted to check out, and in that painful reality we lose sight of the truth.  That God loves us…that God has us, and that God will never leave us or forsake us…we don’t check out as discouragement hits, we lean into our Heavenly Father and find restoration for our souls in Him.