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Wordwise Insight, Issue #032
August 14, 2007

WORDWISE INSIGHT is the free, informative monthly newsletter of


BIBLE INSIGHTS. Dullness of heart, and more

READER Q & A. What to do about discouragement, and more



A tragic but revealing incident is recorded in Leviticus Chapter 10. Nadab and Abihu were sons of Aaron with priestly duties to perform in the tabernacle, Israel’s centre of worship. One of these was to carry fire and incense into the holy place, and burn incense on the little golden altar there. But the Bible says they used “profane fire” to ignite the incense. “Profane”–the Hebrew word refers to that which is alien, and does not belong there.

We are not told, in the context, what the problem was. But we do know that the fire on the altar of sacrifice (the bronze altar in the outer courtyard) was ignited by God Himself (Lev. 15:24). And it was coals from this altar that were later carried into the tabernacle to ignite the incense (Lev. 16:12). But it would seem that the two men carelessly brought fire from some other source into the tabernacle.

The symbolism is significant. The rising smoke of the incense typified the prayers and praises of God’s people ascending to God. But their worship was not acceptable unless it was founded upon the shed blood of the sacrifice. Further, it was to be a worship empowered by the Spirit of God, not by the energy of the flesh.

God judged Nadab and Abihu for their folly, and they died (vs. 2). Then, immediately after, the Lord warned that those involved in ministry in the tabernacle should not imbibe intoxicating drinks (vs. 8-11). The reason? “That you may distinguish between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean” (vs. 10). The implication is strong that the lack of discretion shown by Nadab and Abihu was due to drunkenness. Alcohol clouds the judgment and weakens the individual’s powers of discernment. While those who are intoxicated may believe their abilities are enhanced thereby, the truth is they are less able than before to act in a way that pleases God.

Anything which dulls our insight and discernment at critical moments is dangerous, anything that clouds our judgment regarding the line of separation between the things of God and those of the world, the flesh and the devil. A number of things could be listed that present this danger, things the Christian should avoid or be extremely cautious of.

1) Drugs or alcohol (Lev. 10:9-10; Eph. 5:18)

2) Lack of needful rest (Ps. 127:2; Mk. 6:31)

3) Untimely leisure (II Sam. 11:1-4)

4) Wrong companions (Ps. 1:1; I Cor. 15:33; cf. Jude 1:20-23)

5) Wrong values and pursuits (Matt. 13:22; I Jn. 2:15-17)

6) Neglect of communion with God (Ps. 53:4; Dan. 9:13)

7) A failure to apply the truths we know (Heb. 5:11-14)

On the website there is an article about discipleship called The Learner-Servant Principles. Extensively referenced to Scripture, and with many diagrams, this material will give you a unique perspective on the subject. The seven basic principles are interconnected. They show the essence of discipleship as it is revealed in God’s Word, four key things God expects of us, and how sin contrasts with the four. As well, you will gain a helpful understanding of what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and walk in the Spirit. The framework described can also be used to analyze passage after passage in the Bible. Please study the material, put it to use, and pass it on!

TRUTH IN OUR TRIALS. Check out the extensive outline study on the subject of suffering at Truth About Suffering.


QUESTION: Kim asks, “What can you do about discouragement?”

ANSWER: Thanks for the good question. Discouragement is a fairly common malady. And, in spite of the resources God makes available to us, Christians can become discouraged too. So it is worthwhile taking thought regarding some of its causes and cures. My article this month is a little longer than usual, and maybe what I have to say is not new to you. But we need these reminders–I know I do!

If we are looking for a basic definition, it is found in the word itself–dis- couraged, indicating the opposite of, or the absence of courage. The one who feels this way is: less confident, less hopeful, persuaded not to act, or prevented from action by objections or obstacles. We could say a person who is discouraged is one or all of the following:

¤ Disheartened by obstacles, failure, or criticism

¤ Distressed and fearful, lacking courage and confidence

¤ Disillusioned, losing hope for the future

¤ Disinterested, apathetic, lacking initiative

¤ Doubtful about the value of certain actions

¤ Down on himself/herself, with a poor sense of worth

Is that where you find yourself just now? Take heart. There are some practical things you can do to cope with, and even conquer, discouragement. But before we look at them, we need to think about some of the common causes of this condition.

Time is a key element. If a friend promises to visit, and delays for a day, there may be disappointment, but not likely discouragement–unless the promise has been made and broken on a number of occasions, over time. Discouragement only grows as day after day passes and the hoped-for circumstances do not unfold. Delay and deferment of a promise or an expected benefit is at the root of these dejected and dispirited feelings. Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred [postponed, dragged out] makes the heart sick, but when desire comes it is a tree of life.” The time factor is expressed in the lament of Jeremiah: “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved!” (Jer. 9:12).

So, was the Lord Jesus ever discouraged? In response, we must remember that as the God-Man, fully God and fully man, He is unique. As the Son of God, He knows the hearts of all men and what to expect of them (Jn. 2:24-25). Further, as deity, His sovereign purpose will be accomplished in the end (Isa. 9:6-7; Acts 15:18). Discouragement is a word that does not fit Christ precisely.

Nevertheless He experienced a sorrow on earth (Isa. 53:3), very much akin to discouragement, when “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him” (Jn. 1:11). He grieved over the unbelief of the Jews, saying, “How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Matt. 23:37). Not only that, but those to whom He wanted to show mercy and compassion nailed Him to a cross!

The Bible says, “Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls” (Heb. 12:3). Realizing how much Jesus went through out of love for us helps to keep our own troubles in perspective. And we know that now, as our great High Priest in heaven, Christ is able to sympathize with us in our weaknesses, because on earth He was “in all points tempted as we are” (Heb. 4:14-15). Therefore we can come to Him for help in times of discouragement, just as at other times (vs. 16).

What are some of the experiences and conditions in our lives that precipitate discouragement? Here are a number of problems that are common.

1. Fatigue from overwork and/or stress, and a depletion of emotional energy (I Kgs. 19:2-8; cf. 18:17-40)

2. Facing seemingly endless difficulties, or feeling frustration over too much to do (Num. 21:4-5; Neh. 4:10-11)

3. Loneliness–seeming to be neglected, feeling alone in the struggle, with others not doing to do their share (Num 32:6-7; II Tim. 4:10, 16)

4. Harsh (or inconsistent) supervision or discipline (Col. 3:21). This applies not only to children in the home, but to difficult relationships adults may have with employers or others in authority.

5. Past failure (perhaps repeated failures) in particular endeavours

6. Inexperience and unrealistic idealism (often seen in young people)

7. Fear of criticism or of failure

8. Unrealistic expectations of ourselves

9. Former supports suddenly taken away (health, wealth, friends, position, etc.)

10. Illness or injury, and the added weakness it brings. (Certain drugs taken at such times can affect our moods as well.)

11. The attacks of the devil (I Pet. 5:8). “Satan” means adversary, and “devil” means accuser or slanderer. Called the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:9-10), he hurls at us fiery darts of accusation and blame, hoping to discourage us (Eph. 6:16).

12. Lack of faith in God. It might be rather glib, and even uncaring, to simply say the accused person would be fine if he or she had more faith. Situations can be more complex than that. Nevertheless, this can be a significant factor (Deut. 1:21, 28).

So much for some things that can nurture or contribute to discouragement. Now for some good news! There are remedies that can be applied. “Cure” may be too strong a word, as it suggests the malady will never return. But it is at least treatable when it does. Sometimes it is helpful to see a pastor or a doctor, but here are basic things we can do ourselves that can help.

1. Getting better organized. Whether it concerns our time, or our living space, disorganization and clutter can produce confusion and stress, and ultimately discourage us from fulfilling our duties or tackling the work at hand. Better organization may be the answer. A practical way to ward off discouragement is to create a realistic schedule of work to be done, and also to see that the area around us is as free of chaotic clutter as possible.

An important corollary of this is to live one day at a time (sometimes it's necessary to live one moment at a time). While it is worthwhile to make some plans for the future (cf. Lk. 14:28-30), none of us knows exactly what the future may bring (Jas. 4:13-15). Focusing on today and trusting God for the grace to deal with what comes our way today is an important aspect of organizing our lives. Being troubled by regret over the failures of yesterday, or fretting anxiously over the unknowns of tomorrow, invariably robs us of the energy to deal with the present. Focus on today.

2. Rest and recreation for body and mind. If health problems can be at the root of discouragement–and they can--we need to do our best to maintain good health. And if taxing fatigue can make us susceptible to such moods, we need to take time for refreshing breaks. One day, Jesus said to His disciples, “‘Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.’ For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat” (Mk. 6:31).

Most of us can endure crisis situations that require long hours and extra energy for a short time. But that should not be the regular or constant thing. We all need a break. Even a “minute vacation” during a busy day can sometimes recharge our batteries. Another thing that is beneficial is laughter. Take time to read a wholesomely humorous book, or watch a funny movie. The Bible says, “A merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones” (Prov. 17:22). DVD's are available of some of the old situation comedies--I Love Lucy, The Andy Griffith Show, and more. These are usually just wholesome fun, without the immoral overtones of so many of today's shows.

3. Seeking encouraging friends. The old song says the prairies are a place “where seldom is heard a discouraging word, / And the skies are not cloudy all day.” Whether or not that is the case, we need to make friends who will accept us as we are, gently pointing us to the Lord, and be a strength and encouragement to us and not bombard us with discouraging words. During the Boer War, a man was actually court-martialed for comments discouraging the soldiers defending a town. The tribunal judged it to be a crime to speak disheartening words at such a critical time.

When Israel camped on the borders of the Promised Land, they sent in spies to check out the territory. The twelve men returned with a mixed report. Two of them (Caleb and Joshua) encouraged the nation to trust in God, moving forward to conquer the land God was giving them. But the other ten saw only the obstacles and the dangers ahead. The Israelites listened to the majority. They said, “Where can we go up? Our brethren have discouraged our hearts, saying, ‘The people are greater and taller than we; the cities are great and fortified up to heaven” (Deut. 1:28).

Who needs “friends” with a message like that! The result of this faithless discouragement was that Israel spent another forty years in the wilderness. And none of the men except Caleb and Joshua ever saw the Promised Land. When we are going through difficulties, when we are facing challenges in our lives, we need those who will lift us up, and help us to find new hope. We need friends we can turn to for help and support.

4. Nurturing a positive attitude. Resisting discouragement is not always easy. In part, it involves a realistic appreciation for our limitations. We must seek to do what we can do, and not anguish over what we cannot. The more positive our attitude, the more we will be willing to try, and try again, even when we fail. Florence Shinn wrote, “Every great work, every big accomplishment, has been brought into manifestation through holding to the vision, and often just before the big achievement, comes apparent failure and discouragement” But we are not omnipotent, as God is. And we need to make a distinction between perfection and excellence. We can aim to do our best (excellence), but if we insist on perfection (which is only possible for God), we will be discouraged every time.

Sometimes it is helpful, when we feel discouragement threatening, to set aside what we are doing and take up a job we know, from past experience, that we are good at and comfortable with. When we do some small task that has been rewarding in the past, success will promote positive feelings that can make other challenges easier to face later on.

Another element in having a positive attitude is to discipline our minds to focus on the Lord, and not on our problems. Or to see our problems through God’s eyes, as we meditate on Him and His Word. The words of the prophet Habakkuk reflect this outlook. He says, “Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labour of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no fruit; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls [all things that could discourage one!]– Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation, The Lord God is my strength...” (Hab. 3:17-19).

5. Promoting a wholesome thought life. Related to the previous point, distressing or depressing reading can have its affect on our moods. So can the nightly News, which at times seems a constant litany of gloom. (We may have to weigh the value of being informed over against the detriment of that constant stream of negativity.) The Bible speaks to this very clearly: “Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy–meditate on these things” (Phil. 4:8). One thing that fits this description (besides the Bible itself, of course) is Christian biographies. We need to be exposed regularly to accounts of courage and determination that conquered obstacles through faith in God, and accomplished great things for Him.

Sometimes achievements come in spite of great handicaps. Many years ago, a young lawyer suffered from such deep depression that he would not even carry a pocket knife, fearful of using it to harm himself. He said, “I am now the most miserable man living. Whether I shall ever be better, I cannot tell. I awfully forebode I shall not.” But he was wrong about that. He not only learned to cope with his bouts of discouragement, he went on to become one of the most lauded presidents of the United States. His name is Abraham Lincoln.

6. Taking the long-range view. Discouragement tends to focus on the now. But there may be a great deal to be thankful for and be encouraged by in the longer range. Prophesying about the work of the coming Messiah, Isaiah said, “He will not fail nor be discouraged, till He has established justice in the earth” (Isa. 42:4). “Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2). The sufferings Christ underwent during His time on earth were great, but what encouraged Him was the end result up ahead. That is the principle behind Romans 8:28 too (and see II Cor. 5:1-5).

The Word of God exhorts, “Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Gal. 6:9). “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (I Cor. 15:58). That is the long range view!

7. Recognizing God’s power revealed in our weakness glorifies Him. At the heart of man’s first sin in the garden of Eden was a desire to be independent of God. “You will be like God” (Gen. 3:5) was the temptation with which Satan enticed our first parents. But we are not God. And we can only fulfil our potential as we walk in faith and obedience toward our Creator. The trials and difficulties that come our way are important reminders of this. Paul’s paradoxical statement, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (II Cor. 12:10), means that God’s power came to fullest flower in his weakness. For this he rejoiced, because the Lord’s work in and through him brought honour and glory not to Paul, but to God (II Cor. 12:9).

This basic principle is taught in other passages. The hunger experienced by the children of Israel in the wilderness had a purpose. It was to remind them of how weak and vulnerable they were without God. “So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna...that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut. 8:3). As John the Baptist put it, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn. 3:30). Trusting God in our weakness will become a witness to His greater glory.

8. A commitment to trust in the Lord. With the prophet we declare, “Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid” (Isa. 12:2). “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). The Lord Jesus reassured His disciples, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me” (Jn. 14:1). The Christian can declare with confidence that nothing “shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).

Our faith may be feeble at best, but as we commit ourselves to trusting God, the Spirit of God indwelling each believer will strengthen our souls to go on with more confidence. John Bunyan, the author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, wrote a hymn that says, “He who would valiant be / ‘Gainst all disaster; / Let him in constancy / Follow the Master. / There's no discouragement / Shall make him once relent; / His first avowed intent / To be a pilgrim.”

A practical aid to promoting faith in God is meditation on His promises. The Bible contains many of them–too many to list here. But as you come across them in your daily reading of God’s Word, write them out, perhaps on small cards that you can carry with you, or post in a conspicuous place at home. Read them over, meditate on them, and memorize them. They will feed your soul. (To get started, see: Ps. 42:11; 55:22; Isa. 41:10; Jer. 29:11; Matt. 10:29-31; Rom. 8:28; Gal. 6:9; Heb. 13:5-6)

9. A consistent prayer life. As the hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” reminds us, “Have we trials and temptations? / Is there trouble anywhere? / We should never be discouraged, / Take it to the Lord in prayer.” The Bible frequently calls upon the people of God to bring their problems and concerns to Him in prayer. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7). “Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord! (Ps. 27:14).

“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isa. 40:28-31). Prayer is where to start (Heb. 4:14-16). Pray, and keep on praying!

10. Realizing the limits of our responsibility. Finally, it is important to recognize that God has not called us to be "successful," but to be faithful. If we are discouraged about the “results” of our labours, it could be that we are taking on more responsibility that the Lord intends for us. Certainly the Bible makes it clear that in Christian ministry it is God Himself who produces results that will have eternal worth (I Cor. 3:6). As for us, “It is required in stewards that one be found faithful” (I Cor. 4:2). Let us keep on keeping on for the Lord, and leave the outcome to Him.

SEEKING A NEW PASTOR for your church? Check out the Pastoral Questionnaire.

BIBLE STUDY: Available now on the Wordwise website is a discussion Bible study on The Lord's Prayer. Why not check it out at The Lord's Prayer.



There are times in our lives when asking, “What if...?” is not such a good idea. If it becomes a chronic pattern, it can be a sign of worry and a lack of faith in God. Worriers try to imagine every possible contingency, every possible problem which might arise. But it is impossible to do that. We are not omniscient, as God is. Common sense and reasonable caution are appropriate. But Christians who find themselves obsessively dwelling on the “what if’s” of life need to return to Scriptures such as Philippians 4:6 and First Peter 5:7, resting once more in the loving care of our heavenly Father.

That being said, there are situations when asking “What if...?” can bring both encouragement and a healthy self-appraisal. One of these is addressed in a lovely hymn by Lelia Naylor Morris (1862-1929). The authors of our hymns come from many walks of life. For her part, in addition to being a homemaker, Mrs. Morris operated a ladies’ hat shop for a number of years. The Lord also used her to write poetry and compose gospel music. Her accomplishments are all the more remarkable considering that for most of her adult life Lelia Morris was totally blind.

One of her songs deals with the theme of the return of Christ, asking the question, "What If It Were Today?" It begins, "Jesus is coming to earth again, what if it were today? / Coming in power and love to reign, what if it were today? / Coming to claim His chosen Bride, all the redeemed and purified, / Over this whole earth scattered wide, what if it were today?" It is a possibility worth considering. The Apostle Paul commended the Thessalonian Christians for living expectantly. He says, "You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven" (I Thess. 1:9-10). He himself lived in hope of that event in his own lifetime, assuring his readers, "We who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them [the dead in Christ] meet the Lord in the air" (I Thess. 4:17).

Some do not have that expectation. Peter writes of skeptics who say, "Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation" (II Pet. 3:4). But the apostle assures them the seeming delay is a sign of the patience of God. He wants them to repent and be saved (II Pet. 3:8-10). In the end, His eternal plan will be fulfilled. So, what if this very day the last trumpet sounded and God's children were caught up into the presence of Christ? What then? "Behold, I make all things new," the Lord tells us (Rev. 21:5). Then all the burdens and heartaches of this sin-cursed earth will be forever behind us (Rev. 21:4). What a day that will be! As Mrs. Morris's hymn says, "Satan's dominion will soon be o'er...sorrow and sighing shall be no more--Oh, that it were today!"

But there is another side to it. The Bible says, "Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself" (I Jn. 3:3). And "Looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless" (II Pet. 3:14). Even as Christians, are we prepared to meet Him? Or would we be ashamed of how we have been living? Or embarrassed at the activities in which we are involved? How might our plans change, if we knew the Lord was coming back today? Lelia Morris's hymn asks, "Faithful and true would He find us here, / If He should come today?" As Jesus warns His followers, "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming" (Matt. 25:15). What if...? It pays to be ready!

THE BEST BIBLE STUDY TOOL EVER. At least, the best one I have ever discovered, is fully described on the website. Strictly speaking, this is not an idea for your church program but for you, personally. However, if you try it, you may want to share it with your Sunday School class or Bible study group. If a number of you begin using it and trading insights, you may be amazed at what will happen! See Best Bible Study Tool.

Is your church thinking of purchasing A NEW HYMN BOOK? Check out Choosing a Hymnal for Your Church on the website, for nearly three dozen excellent tips and ideas to help you make your choice.

Check out EXPLORING CHRISTIANITY, a Wordwise Bible study series to help seekers, or new Christians! A wonderful "review" for long-time believers as well! The free 10-part series is now available at Exploring Christianity.

If you have a question or an idea to share, please go to the Wordwise website and use the question form.
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