All of us at some time or another get depressed and discouraged. Sometimes we just want to give up and quit. In the heat of a moment we’ll say, “That’s it, I’m quitting this job.” Or, “I’m going to leave this town and never look back.” Or even, “I’m done with the church – they’ll never miss me.”
How often have we felt that life was seemingly stacked against us? That the harder we try, the worse things get? That life is just one dreadful task after another? Perhaps it feels mundane and repetitive, like Chinese water torture, slowly but surely driving us insane. Maybe we have even felt like that about serving God: what’s the point?
I know we all have been subject to seasons like that for a couple of reasons. For one, I talk to many people who are struggling with those sorts of emotions. More to the point, I have struggled with some of them myself. But if and when we feel that way, we should remember that we are in good company. Some of God’s greatest servants have experienced discouragement.
Moses was handpicked by God, chosen to lead the children of Israel from Egypt. He was a man who definitely had the power of God in his life. But the Israelites were a handful, and sometimes it was more than he could bear. One one occasion, they were complaining about having to eat manna and demanding meant, when a fed-up Moses finally said to God, Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, “Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,” to the land that you swore to give their fathers? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, “Give us meat, that we may eat.” I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness. (Numbers 11: 12-15)
Joshua was God’s great military leader, selected as the successor to Moses to lead Israel into the Promised Land. But after the conquest of the city of Jericho, a man by the name of Achan kept something he shouldn’t have from the spoils, and Israel consequently suffered a terrible defeat at Ai. In response, Joshua, Would that we had been content to dwell beyond the Jordan! (Joshua 7:7). After a tremendous setback, he felt like quitting. Thankfully, he got over it.
Elijah was arguably the greatest prophet of the OT. He was willing to challenge idolatry of his day, promoted by the wicked King Ahab and his wife Jezebel. He called fire down from heaven and won a standoff with the prophets of Baal. Yet, after it was all over, we find him in 1 Kings 19 wishing that he was dead, requesting the Lord to take away his life.
When we think of Job we think of his endurance and his faith. He was a truly great man. We know the great beginning and great ending to his story. But in between, when he lost everything, he became angry with God. He was extremely depressed, perhaps even suicidal for a period of time. In Job 3 he even curses the day of his birth – in other words, Job wished he had never been born.
In 1868, a musician named Joseph Webster walked into the drugstore owned by his good friend, Fillmore Bennett, in Elkhorn, Wisconsin. Webster was prone to periods of melancholy where he focused on all the negative aspects of life, as Bennett well knew. On this day, he was particularly down. Bennett asked him what was the matter, and he responded, “It’s no matter, it will be all right by and by”. Immediately, an idea flashed through Bennett’s mind – he knew from past experience that the best way to deal with his friend’s blue periods was to give him something to work on. He sat down at his desk and the words to a hymn came to him almost instantly. When he finished writing, he handed the paper to Webster and told him he hoped the prescription worked. A tune suggested itself, and Webster jotted down some notes and then picked up his fiddle and played his melody over a time or two. He then said to Bennett and a couple of other friends present, “Let’s try this song and see how it sounds.” For over 150 years we have been singing a hymn written in less than 30 minutes in a drugstore in Elkhorn, Wisconsin.
There’s a land that is fairer than day.
And by faith we can see it afar;
For the Father waits over the way,
To prepare us a dwelling place there.
In the sweet by and by,
We shall meet on that beautiful shore.
Can you see Jesus’ words in John 14:1-3 in that song? Can you see the imagery of the end of Revelation? For God’s people, it will all be all right by and by.