One bewildering feature of church life is that of the person who starts out well, full of zeal and enthusiasm and then appears to cool off and completely lose their way. The happy, exciting days of their first encounter with Jesus are a distant memory. Reminiscences of the baptism service when all their friends came along to cheer them on and celebrate with them their new found faith are but sad reminders of happier days.
What happened? The answer to that question is usually lost in a fog of emotion, misunderstanding and dashed expectation. God gets blamed. People get blamed – especially other Christians.
Such soul-wrenching discouragement is not an unusual experience for disciples. Jesus’ disciples faced the same kind of challenges. When you read about the progress of the disciples, you find that they had moments when discouragement and even fear threatened to unship them.
One instance is recorded in Luke 12.32-34:
32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
At the close of Luke 11, Jesus has a bruising encounter with the Pharisees. For His disciples, the vehemence of the encounter must have been a shock. They had begun to follow Jesus, believing that, in some way, He fulfilled the promises that God had made about a Messiah. To find that their rabbi was hated by the religious establishment of the day – to the point that they wanted Him dead – must have raised a whole load of questions.
Jesus addresses their state of mind in the verses quoted above. The way in which He addresses them is perhaps a little surprising. It’s not surprising that He should address their fear and turn them toward the Father – your Father. Even though they might be in spiritual shock, God is not only still their God, He is still their Father. And however weak and discouraged they might feel He has given them the kingdom..
Jesus’ next move is perhaps not what you would predict. He doesn’t just try to dissuade them from pulling back, He urges them to dig deeper.
It’s as though Jesus says to His disciples “Go for broke!” It’s not only a challenge not to go back, but to close off any routes that might enable them to make a backward journey.
Most of us would agree that when we are trying to help someone who is discouraged or disillusioned taking them back to God’s promises and reminding them that they are still God’s child makes good pastoral sense. What might not be so obvious is to combine encouragement with a challenge to dig deeper.
The time of disappointment and disillusionment is a time to press harder into Jesus and His kingdom as well as a time to remind yourself of God and His promises.
So if your going through the kind of valley the disiples were facing in Luke 12, dig deep! And if you know people that are in the same kind of place as the disciples, to your gentle encouragement about their relationship with God, add some strong encouragement to keep pressing on. Times of disillusionment and disappointment are times to dig deep.