Christian encouragement from the Bible for difficult times is needed. This is part two of Pastor Scott’s discussion on why we might be weary and what we can do about it. Ecclesiastes 12:12 says, “My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” The Christian life is one of balance, and the news is one example of needed balance. We should be informed. We should know what’s going on and strive to have accurate information. We should study. But as verse 12 says much study is a weariness of the flesh and makes difficult times even worse. There’s a downside to too much news without the needed Christian encouragement. We need to be careful how much we’re consuming.
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Table of Contents
- Sample Lessons for Christian Encouragement from the Bible for Difficult Times
- Family Worship Guide for Christian Encouragement from the Bible for Difficult Times
- Sermon Notes for Christian Encouragement from the Bible for Difficult Times
- Lesson 1: God’s Word is like a (part 1) goad that directs.
- Lesson 1: God’s Word is like a (part 2) stake that protects.
- Lesson 2: man’s words can be (part 1) untrustworthy.
- Lesson 2: man’s words can be (part 2) overwhelming.
- Lesson 2: man’s words can be (part 3) wearying.
- Lesson 3: we are the falling man.
Sample Lessons for Christian Encouragement from the Bible for Difficult Times
Note: Lesson 1 and Parts I and II of Lesson 2 are from Part I.
- Lesson 1: God’s Word is like a:
- (Part I) Goad that directs (Ecc 12:11a; Psa 23:1, 80:1; John 10:11; Heb 13:20; 1 Pet 2:25, 5:4; Matt 12:42).
- (Part II) Stake that protects (Ecc 12:11b; Psa 119:89; Isa 40:8; 1 Pet 1:24; Matt 24:35).
- Lesson 2: Man’s words can be:
- (Part I) Untrustworthy (Ecc 12:12a).
- (Part II) Overwhelming (Ecc 12:12b).
- (Part III) _________________ (Lam 2:18, 3:49-50; John 16:33).
- Lesson 3: We are the ______________ ______ (2 Thes 1:8-9; John 10:28).
Family Worship Guide for Christian Encouragement from the Bible for Difficult Times
- Day 1: Ecclesiastes 12:9-12 and discuss: How is God’s Word like an ox goad? How is it like a stake? What verses can you think of that support this? How are man’s words untrustworthy and overwhelming? Where did Solomon say the words of the wise come from? Why is it important to know where wisdom comes from?
- Day 2: Read Lamentations 2:18, 3:49-50 and John 16:33 and discuss: Why was Jeremiah’s ministry so difficult, i.e. what did he experience and see? How are we affected by pictures, videos, and news? Why does the news follow, “If it bleeds it leads”? How and why is news wearying? What can you do to avoid being wearied by the news? Since Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation,” what does this mean for us regarding the news now and in the future?
- Day 3: Read 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 and John 10:28 and discuss: How are we like the falling man? How are we not like the falling man, or in other words, how can we avoid the despair he must’ve experienced even though we’re “falling” too? What awaits those who don’t know God? What does Jesus offer and how is it received? How can these truths give us hope despite the despair the world throws at us?
Sermon Notes for Christian Encouragement from the Bible for Difficult Times
A few weeks ago, I preached Part I, planned to preach Part II the following Sunday, but felt obligated to preach the sermons explaining what we were doing as a church.
With those sermons over I can preach Part II.
Since it’s been a few weeks I’d like to briefly review. I left the lessons from Part I in your worship guides.
Look at verse 9…
Ecclesiastes 12:9 Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. 10 The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth.
The Preacher is Solomon and we have many of his proverbs in the Book of Proverbs.
Ecclesiastes 12:11 The words of the wise (referring to Scripture) are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd.
Verses 9 and 10 discuss Solomon – the Preacher – who sounds really good:
- He’s wise: he taught the people knowledge and created proverbs
- He sought to find words of delight and he wrote words of truth.
So you’d expect him to say the words of the wise came from him, but he said they’re given by one Shepherd.
Who’s this Shepherd?
- In the OT the shepherd is identified as God: Psa 23:1 The Lord is my Shepherd.
- In the NT the Shepherd comes into focus and we see it’s Jesus: John 10:11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
The greatest wisdom comes from Jesus, b/c despite how wise Solomon was in Matt 12:42 [Jesus said], “The queen of the South…came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here,” referring to Himself.
If you briefly look back at verse 11 the Shepherd’s wise words – or the Word of God – are fittingly compared w/ two shepherds’ tools: goads and nails firmly fixed…and this brings us to Lesson 1…
Lesson 1: God’s Word is like a (part 1) goad that directs.
Goads were long sticks w/ points on the end:
- Shepherds used them to poke animals and move them in the right direction…just like God’s Word pokes us and moves us in the right direction.
- Goads stung…just like God’s Word can sometimes sting
Second, in verse 11 the wise words are compared w/ nails firmly fixed…and this brings us to the next part of Lesson 1…
Lesson 1: God’s Word is like a (part 2) stake that protects.
The nails firmly fixed are stakes shepherds used to secure animals who might wander off into dangerous territory
- You can guess that animals wouldn’t like this, but it protected them…just like we might not like everything God’s Word says, but it protects us from wandering into dangerous territory
- The nails would keep the animals in place – fixed – and that’s what God’s Word does for us…it keeps us fixed.
Notice it says the nails are firmly fixed, which communicates that they’re unmovable, or unchangeable…just like God’s Word.
Psalm 119:89 Forever, O Lord, your word is FIRMLY FIXED in the heavens.
But unlike God’s Word, look what Solomon says about man’s words…
Ecclesiastes 12:12a My son, beware of anything beyond these.
When Solomon says these he’s referring to the words of the wise in verse 11 which is God’s Word.
So it’s as though Solomon says beware of anything beyond [God’s Word].
What is beyond [God’s Word]?
So the question is…
Why would Solomon tell us to beware of anything beyond God’s Word?
Because man’s words can be untrustworthy…and this brings us to Lesson 2…
Lesson 2: man’s words can be (part 1) untrustworthy.
Two of the most important factors for determining the value of information are:
- Accuracy: if it’s inaccurate, how valuable is it?
- Second, if it’s unchanging: if you can’t trust information tomorrow, next week, or next month, how valuable is it?
The reason I mention this is much of the information we receive from man is untrustworthy b/c it’s inaccurate and changing.
The next part of Lesson 2…
Lesson 2: man’s words can be (part 2) overwhelming.
Look at the second half of verse 12…
Ecclesiastes 12:12b Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
Solomon’s point is there was a lot of information in his day and it was overwhelming.
If Solomon could say this – when there was no printing press, Internet, television, radio, and only a fraction of the books we have – what would he say if he lived in our day?
And the new part for this morning…
Lesson 2: man’s words can be (part 3) wearying.
We’re going to be talking specifically about the news and why it can be wearying.
This is the part of the lesson we’ve been building up to, b/c this is what made me want to look at these verses in the first place…the news can be very wearying.
Let me give you an account from Scripture that illustrates what Solomon is saying in Ecclesiastes…
Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet b/c he watched Babylonians come and:
- Attack Jerusalem
- Destroy the temple
- Drag the Jews into Babylon
This would’ve been enough to cause anyone to weep.
He wrote about what he saw in the Book of Lamentations…and listen to what he said…
Lamentations 2:18 Their heart cried to the Lord. O wall of the daughter of Zion, let tears stream down like a torrent day and night! Give yourself no rest, YOUR EYES NO RESPITE!
He said the people would give themselves no rest b/c of all the horrors they saw.
Listen to these verses…
Lamentations 3:49 “MY EYES WILL FLOW WITHOUT CEASING, WITHOUT RESPITE, 50 until the Lord from heaven looks down and sees; 51 MY EYES CAUSE ME GRIEF at the fate of all the daughters of my city.
Jeremiah said his eyes were causing him pain – or grief – b/c of all the suffering he witnessed.
He was in a unique position…
Most people throughout the OT heard about the suffering others experienced. But Jeremiah witnessed it firsthand…and it really, really, affected him…it affected him mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and even physically.
For most of human history people simply heard or read what happened:
- There was a herald – or crier – who stood in the middle of the town square yelling the news. This was the closest to a local news station.
- People also heard stories from friends
- They might see paintings or drawings
Even when things sounded really, really bad there was always this encouraging thought that they couldn’t be as bad as they seemed. Things were being exaggerated for dramatic effect.
Now fast-forward 2,600 years…
In the 1820s photographs were developed. Suddenly, news could be accompanied by photos. Now instead of only hearing what happened, you could see what happened.
The saying is, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”
Whatever we see is going to be considerably more impactful than something we read or hear about.
This is why Jeremiah was so devastated in his day. He didn’t hear about what happened. He saw what happened.
Now fast-forward 120 years…
In the 1940s videos became prominent.
If a picture is worth 1,000 words, how many words is a video worth?
Now people weren’t just hearing, reading, or seeing pictures of the news. They were watching videos of events.
Image how much that affected people?
And here’s the problem…
The common saying in news is this…
“If it bleeds, it leads.”
This is why so much of the news is crime, violence, and political division.
The news wouldn’t be that bad if it showed some number of:
- Positive stories
- Encouraging events
- Uplifting accounts
But news agencies – more than anything else – are businesses, which means they want to make money…which means they’re going to report the news that gets the most views…which means they’re going to show bad news b/c it’s more popular than good news.
And here’s what you need to know…
All of this negative news has negative affects on us.
A study published in the British Journal of Psychology, found that the negative effects of watching bad news occurred after only 14 minutes.Johnston, W.M. and Davey, G.C.L. (1997), The psychological impact of negative TV news bulletins: The catastrophizing of personal worries. British Journal of Psychology, 88: 85-91.
This means you could be feeling fine, but you watch bad news, and within minutes your mood is ruined and you’re suffering the consequences.
Let me give you some examples that most of you will be familiar with…
Think of the Boston Marathon bombing.
During the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013, two bombs detonated near the finish line of the race, killing 3 people and injuring several hundred others. Since this was a popular event, there were lots of videos available, whether from the agencies covering the event, or people simply recording w/ their phones.
Listen to this…
There was a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that found that people who watched hours per day of news covering the bombing had WORSE ACUTE STRESS SYMPTOMS than people who were present at, or near, the bombing site.
Think about September 11th…but I’d like to try a different approach…
Imagine someone told you, “Terrorists hijacked planes and flew them into the Twin Towers and the towers collapsed.” You would say, “This is horrible.”
Now imagine someone showed you a picture of the towers collapsing you’d probably be shocked and put your hand over your mouth.
Now imagine you watched videos of:
- The planes crashing into the buildings
- The buildings collapsing
- All the people on the ground running and screaming for their lives
- All the fear and terror
How much worse would this be than hearing it described or seeing a picture?
This is why – if you’re like me and most people – you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing – not when you heard about the attacks or saw pictures of them, but watched videos of the horror…and you can probably remember the strong response they evoked.
I was living in Woodland, CA – yes I’ve lived in two different Woodlands in my life – and I was working nights at a distribution center for Target. So I wasn’t awake when the attacks took place in the morning. My mom called me and said, “You’ve got to turn on the news.”
I turned it on and I still remember the vivid videos.
And I watched them over…and over…and over.
I switched to another channel, and another channel, and another channel, and another channel, and they were all showing the same thing…b/c if it bleeds it leads.
Listen to this…
There were studies done following the September 11th attack:
…revealing that watching repeated news coverage of the event triggered post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in viewers.The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease: March 2004 – Volume 192 – Issue 3 – p 217-226
Why is the news so devastating?
We put ourselves in the places of the people:
- We imagine ourselves standing at the end of the Boston Marathon when the bombs went off
- We imagine ourselves trapped in the Twin Towers w/ flames climbing up and no way to escape
It is impossible to stay detached:
- Our hearts start racing
- Our blood pressure rises
- We’re filled w/ anxiety
This past week some police officers murdered a man named George Floyd.
I started to watch the video, but I had to stop b/c it was too much for me.
I imagined what it was like for him to be handcuffed, pinned to the ground, unable to breathe…feeling his life escaping his body.
Now the news of his death is followed up by all the videos of:
- The rioting
- The violence
- The flames from burning buildings
Katie was checking in on a woman in the church. She said, “How are you doing?”
The woman said – and Katie got permission for me to share this…
“I’m okay. I was crying this morning about George Floyd…and I watched a thing about Jeffery Epstein. Feeling like the world is a very dark and depressing place.”
This is what the news can create.
And there’s something that makes this even worse…
Since news agencies want the most dramatic stories they’re tempted to make things look worse than they are.
They’ll engage in what I call honest dishonesty…honest dishonesty.
Honest dishonesty is when people present facts – they’re honest – but they present them in such a way – often by leaving out important details – that lead people to inaccurate conclusions…which is dishonest.
Here’s something that happened recently…
On March 25th – which could be considered very close to the middle of the greatest fear associated w/ the Coronavirus – CBS News aired footage of a hospital in New York. The hospital looked crowded, overwhelmed, devastated, desperate. It was the kind of video that made you think if hospitals look like this across the country, the Coronavirus is going to bring about the end of the world.
Later it was revealed that it was footage of an Italian hospital. Since Italy was the most devastated country by the disease, they couldn’t have chosen a worse hospital to show everyone.
In the middle of a crisis when people are already in a panic and the media needs to give accurate information, they show something sensational and deceiving.
Here’s what’s interesting…
You would think that because news makes people feel bad that they would want to avoid watching it, but the opposite is true. It can become addictive.
People will watch hours of it…even though it’s negatively affecting them.
Dr. Carole Lieberman is a psychiatrist who focuses on the media’s role in mental health disorders. She’s been studying the current crisis and she coined the term “coronavirus stress syndrome” to describe the anxiety and panic caused by the constant media coverage of the virus. She said…
“The more stressed a person is, the more their immune system is weakened, so this makes them more vulnerable to catching the Coronavirus. Therefore, watching round-the-clock news about the Coronavirus actually makes people more vulnerable to it.”
Let me get you to think about something…
When cartoons are on television, what do they advertise during the commercials? Snacks and toys…b/c that’s what appeals to the viewers: kids.
When football is on television, what do they advertise during the commercials? Alcohol and trucks…b/c that’s what appeals to the viewers.
When I was growing up, I remember every Sunday morning they would advertise all the starving children in third world countries. They knew if there’s one time people will be most inclined to give, it’s Sunday morning.
Now here’s the question…
When the news is on television, what do they advertise during the commercials?
Typically, it’s products for conditions that the news tends to produce.
Next time you’re watching the news, notice how many commercials there are for:
- Anti-anxiety medication
- Cholesterol-lowering drugs
- Weight-loss solutions
These are all ailments worsened by elevated levels of anxiety and stress…which is what the news produces.
Let me tell you why this sermon is so important, and why it’s going to apply long after the Coronavirus and accompanying quarantine is in our rearview mirror…
John 16:33 Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation.”
We live in a fallen world so there will always be something.
There will be more:
- As of right now I can add riot and looting to the list.
And as long as we have these events, there will be plenty of news covering them.
So let me give you three encouragements…
First, don’t watch the news late in the evening.
- You don’t want to take that anxiety to bed with you
- Read the Bible
- Listen to sermons or Christian music
- Spend time talking with your family
Second, avoid too much news.
Notice I didn’t say avoid the news.
You’ve heard me say many times that the Christian life is one of balance, and this is another example.
- We should be informed. We should know what’s going on and strive to have accurate information. We should study.
- But as verse 12 says much study is a weariness of the flesh.
So there’s a downside to too much news.
- We need to be careful how much we’re consuming:
- Sometimes we need to practice social distancing w/ the news
There’s a lot changing week-by-week and sometimes day-by-day…but not hour-by-hour. I’m not going to legalistically tell you how much to watch, but I will say you don’t need hours per day to understand what’s going on.
My third and final encouragement…
Spend more time in God’s Word than you spend on the news.
The reason is that…
Whatever we feed ourselves influences us.
We have the opportunity to:
- Feed ourselves man’s words, which are:
- And wearying
- Or feed ourselves God’s Word, which is like a:
- Goad that directs us
- A stake that protects us
As I was reflecting on the news and why it can be so wearying, it occurred to me that it’s b/c of the absence of hope.
The stories wouldn’t be that bad if there could be some hope…but there never is.
I want to give you some…but first I have to give you the bad news.
Take your minds back to the Twin Towers for a moment…
There were people trapped above the fire. They couldn’t go down. Many of them made the last choice of their lives. They jumped.
From the top floors it was about 10 seconds for people to free fall.
There’s one horrific image that – maybe more than any others – is etched in people’s minds, and it’s simply known as “The Falling Man.”
A nameless man in a white shirt and black trousers who jumped. He’s frozen in that ten second period for millions of people to see him on the way down.
He was unable to save himself when he was trapped in the tower, and he was even more unable to save himself after he jumped.
He was in a free fall, completely powerless to do anything about his situation.
And this brings us to Lesson 3…
Lesson 3: we are the falling man.
We don’t know The Falling Man’s name, which allows him to be a terrible, fitting picture of all of us.
Brothers and sisters:
- From the moment we’re born we’re in free fall.
- We’re hurtling toward our deaths and we’re completely powerless to save ourselves
- We can’t do anything improve our situations.
- Measured against eternity our lives are ten seconds.
And speaking of news, this isn’t even the worst news…
The worst news is this…
We deserve hell.
The falling man was hurdling toward the ground, but we’re hurdling toward a much worse fate and that’s eternal suffering and separation from God…
2 Thessalonians 1:8 Those who do not know God and…do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.
But here’s the good news…
Christ will save us. He’ll reach out and grab us on our way down…
John 10:28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.
We can receive eternal life.
This good news – or gospel – allows our despair to be replaced w/ hope.
- This is news worth reading about in the Bible and meditating on.
- This is the kind of news that can fill our hearts with joy and peace instead of fear and anxiety.
Set your hearts and minds on this news.
If you are the falling man who has not reached out for the hand of Christ to save you, today can be the day of salvation. TODAY can be the day you stop falling toward eternal punishment and instead fall into the safe and secure hands of Christ.