LEADERSHIP SERIES: Talk 4 John the Baptist

Overcoming Self Doubt and Discouragement”
Luke 7: 18-23
Stage One: Success (Wow—everything works)   

What are the three hungers we have for success?

Stage Two:  Doubt (Something is wrong!  It isn’t working)    
John’s question reveals the source of his doubting faith.

Stage Three:  Reality
Three ways to tap into the power of God to overcome doubt and discouragement.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your passion and what are your gifts?
  2. How have you had the opportunity to “make a difference” by integrating your passion and gifts?
  3. Recall some times of “doubt” and “questioning” that you have experienced (or are experiencing).
  4. John’s time of doubt came when he was in jail.  What are the external circumstances that caused your doubt?
  5. What can you do at this time to either face your doubts, or help someone else face their doubts?   

“Tapping into the Power of God to Overcome
Self Doubt and Discouragement”

The disciples of John the Baptist told John about everything Jesus was doing. So John called for two of his disciples,  and he sent them to the Lord to ask him, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?”

John’s two disciples found Jesus and said to him, “John the Baptist sent us to ask, ‘Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?'”

At that very time, he cured many people of their various diseases, and he cast out evil spirits and restored sight to the blind.

Then he told John’s disciples, “Go back to John and tell him what you have seen and heard – the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.

And tell him, ‘God blesses those who are not offended by me.’


We have just sung, “It is Well With My Soul.”  I have a love/hate relationship with that song.  There are times when I love it and I sing it at the top of my lungs.  And there are other times when it is not well with my soul.  I come to church with a heavy heart and look at people singing at the top of their lungs that it is well and I don’t feel well at all.  John the Baptist would not be singing, “It is Well” while he was in this prison.  He was questioning and in a time of real discouragement.

We are in our fourth message in a series on “Leadership in Turbulent Times.” The first week we looked at Solomon and how he turned times of prosperity into turbulent times.  He left the Kingdom set up for failure.  The lesson was that during times of prosperity our leaders often set us up for failure.

Our second study was David and how he had no fear.  He faced the paralyzing time of fear for all of Israel as they were being intimidated by Israel.  Saul was clueless and David rose to the occasion as he brought the giant to his knees.

Last week we looked at the five daughters of Zolephad and how they faced the turbulence of “sacred cows.”  Moses listened carefully to their concerns and lead the people of Israel to change the status quo.

Today we look at one of my favorite leaders in Scripture.  I like to call John the Baptizer a humble mover and shaker.  He was a gifted speaker and thousands of people came to listen to him preach.  Like all of our leaders, he was a visionary. But there is a problem with dreamers.  What if the dream doesn’t come true?  What if the end product is different than what you envisioned?  Susie often teases me saying that I not only build castles in the sky, but I move in before they are even finished.  That is the problem with a dreamer.

In today’s lesson we see the three stages of John the Baptizer’s career.  He was so successful—far more successful than most leaders.  Oh, that I could be as successful as John the Baptizer during the successful phase of his career.  But all of a sudden his success is the cause of his jail time.  In phase two, he ends up in jail.  So he sends his disciples to Jesus to ask him if Christ is really the Messiah.  In phase three, Jesus sends back a message to John and gives him three insights on how to have a reality check when we are discouraged. And sometimes when I look at the world, I cry out “Lord, I’m really struggling!  The world is besieged by all kinds of evil that is overwhelming us.  We are struggling with the problems of the child kidnapping, terrorism, crack babies, rising crime, overcrowded prisons, a breakdown of the family unit, and sexual immorality.  Lord, In light of all these horrible problems, why don’t you raise up leaders who can do something about it?”

The lesson today:  How to tap into the power and plan of God when we are discouraged and facing self-doubt.

Stage One:  Success (Wow—Everything Works)

What are the three hungers we have for success?  Everyone has three hungers for success.  When these three hungers are in sync, we feel successful—we feel that we are having an impact, we feel that life is great.  John experienced the fulfillment of these three hungers.

  1. The First Hunger is Passion. 

Passion is the motivation you have that when you get out of bed in the morning, you are ready to tackle the world.  You have a cause, a reason for living.  Even Victor Frankl found that passion to get out of bed in the morning when he was in prison in Nazi Germany when he wrote in “Man’s Search for Meaning” that he who has found a why can face any what.  If you can find the purpose, you can live.  In the prison he found the passion to live.

I believe that the true mark of genius is not to create a sense of awe in others, but to be awed.  Children have a sense of awe-— sense of wonder.  As they get older, many lose that sense of wonder and grow cynical, closed minded, disinterested and most tragic—bored.  When I was 21 years old I was living alone on the Monterey Peninsula.  Walking down Alvardo street in Monterey I noticed a sign about a barbershop quartet workshop in the window of an insurance office.  Impulsively I popped into the office and asked a question about the workshop, not knowing what I was about to be introduced to.

An insurance agent leaped from his desk and asked, “Are you a barber shopper?”  I responded that I had sung in a choir in college and did a little bit of a capela vocal work, but had never really done any barber shopping.  The next thing I knew, I was being dragged a few doors down to meet another barber shopper.  The animated duo began to tell me about the benefits of barber-shopping and said that they would pick me up at my apartment that night to take me to the workshop.

When they picked me up, three men, dressed in nickers (this was 1962) and saddle oxfords (picture the way Payne Stuart use to dress when he played golf) added me to their quartet while we sang the whole 30 minutes it took us to drive to Salinas.  When I arrived at Salinas High School gym, over 250 men were seated on the gym floor by sections.  I joined my section and we spent several hours laughing, singing and learning about barber shopping from a national representative of the Society of the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Singing in America.  I didn’t even know such an organization existed.

At the close of the session, our leader for the evening gave a very motivating speech about the quality of life that comes with barber shopping.  He ended his presentation by telling us that some day we would be walking down the street and we would see someone walking with a lilt to their step, a gleam in their eye and a song on their lips and we would know—here comes a barber shopper.  All of the 250 men cheered.  I felt as if I had met that person that very day.

I went back to my apartment overwhelmed by the enthusiasm, energy and passion these men had for barber shopping.  At times I thought that they were crazy.  But other times I saw a group of people who were passionate about the fellowship, the fun and the blend of caplet voices and how they could be a part of that.  I wanted to bottle that energy and passion.

I fell on my knees by my bed that night and prayed, “Lord give me a passion for you like that which I saw tonight for barber-shopping.”  I remember that night as though it happened yesterday.  During the last 38 years I have often felt that passion—and other times I have not had that passion.  It is so exciting when you are passionate about your love for God.

John the Baptist’s passion was his calling. What was the ministry of John the Baptist? According to Luke 1 and 3, John was born of Zacharias and Elizabeth to eventually fulfill the 800-year-old prophecy of Isaiah, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight, so that ‘All flesh shall see the salvation of God’; (40:3-5), and the 400-year-old prophecy of Malachi, “Behold, I am going to send My messenger and he will clear the way before Me” (3:1), a reference to the forerunner of the long-awaited Jewish Messiah.   From the time he was a small boy his parents would recall to him the miracle of his birth—that he was born when Zacharias and Elizabeth were old. Zacharias became dumb and could not speak until John was born and the first words out of his mouth were, “John” as everyone was discussing what to name this boy.  Zacharias said, “John.”  I am sure that John heard this story at every birthday party.  He was the miracle baby and as he grew he was instructed in the Scriptures of this very Godly family.

  1. The Second Hunger in Life is the use of your gifts and talents.

 Each of us has talents and gifts.  Each of you sitting here this morning have some talents that God has given to you.  As you develop these talents and gifts, it is exciting to see them used in significant ways.  That is a hunger we all have.  Frustration is when you feel that you cannot use these talents.  John must have been an incredible speaker.  Thousands came up to him and listened.  They loved his speaking and preaching.

Often after I have spoken for a convention or business meeting, people come up to me afterwards and ask me, “How do you get into the speaking business?  I would like to speak as a career.”  I always ask them, “What is your passion?  What is the message that you have that you are just dying to talk about.”  They look at me funny and say, “Oh, I just like to speak.”  Then I think, “I don’t think I would like to hear you speak if you aren’t passionate about anything.”

When I have lost my passion for God and begin to become passionate about my speaking, or leading, or teaching gifts, I have my priorities backwards.  Gifts are the method of expressing our passion—they are not our passion.  Passion is your cause—it is what you believe in.  It is what you feel deep inside.

Mike McKay mentioned this morning that he just got back from three month’s sabbatical.  As he was talking I thought of how I wish that when I was in ministry I would have taken a sabbatical.  I never took a break for 13 years and it was so easy to get caught up in the passion for the success of the ministry.  Mike talked of how he came back with a new passion for God and when we don’t take time in our ministry to be refreshed, we become passionate about our gifts, not the source of our gifts—God.

He had no doubt of his calling, his mission, his cause.  He had a reason to live.  How wonderful it is when you have such a calling.  He was a prophet.  He was telling God’s truth.

  1.  The Third Hunger in Life is the Hunger to Make a Difference. 


A lot of what we do in our life is not significant.  We just do the job because it has to be done.  Susie and I have spent the last five weeks on the road, four of them with you in Los Gatos.  When you are not home for five weekends something happens known as weeds. Our weeds have begun to overgrow our back yard.  So yesterday we took the time to try and get caught up.  When we were done I didn’t feel as if I had done anything significant.  I felt that I had just done a job that needed to be done.  Much of life is like that.

However, there are times in our life when we are able to use our gifts and abilities to express our passion and we feel as though we have made a difference.  We have touched someone.  We have lead them to Christ, or comforted them, or counseled them and that is exciting.  That is the third hunger—Significance.  And when the first two hungers come together, we feel significant.  When you are passionate about God and you can express that hunger with your gifts and abilities, you begin to feel that you are making a difference.

John certainly felt this. And John’s ministry was having a fantastic impact. The forerunner of Jesus came with a message of hope and salvation for those who would receive it, but a message of judgment for those who rejected it. That was John’s ministry and his message.  He must have felt significant as he was at a unique period in time to announce the coming of the Messiah.  What could be more significant than that.

But then trouble—stage two.

Stage Two:  Doubt


With all of John’s calling and his affirmation of his ministry, why would he doubt?  There are two key words in the New Living Translation of Matthew 11: 2-3.  “When John was in prison(first key word), he sent his disciples to Jesus asking, ‘Are you the Messiah (second key word) or should we be looking for someone else?”

First Key Word—Prison.  What happened?

When former president Bill Clinton was running against George Bush Sr. in 1992, his campaign message was, “It’s time for them to go.”  The Democrats shouted that phrase at their convention saying that they had had enough of the Republicans.  Eight years later, when George W. Bush was running against Vice President Al Gore, the Republicans shouted at their 2000 convention, “It’s time for them to go.”  They were tired of eight years of democratic rule.

John’s message could have been summed up with that sound bite:  “It’s time for them to go.”  He was preaching against the evil in the world.  He was preaching against the religious systems of the Pharisees and Sadducees and he basically was saying that the Messiah was here and he was going to come and wipe them all out with a strong sword and set up His kingdom.  John was pumped.  The people were pumped.  Thousands were coming out to hear him talk about a new Kingdom—the Kingdom of God as set up by his cousin—Jesus Christ, whom he had baptized.

And then he ends up in prison—which makes sense.  You preach against the Roman government and where else do you think you will end up?   Herod Antipas was fascinated by John’s preaching and he would love to hear him talk.  One time Herod and his wife, Herodias were in the audience.   In the middle of his message, he pointed his finger to Herod and said, “You have no right to your brother’s wife” (Mark 6:18). God is going to judge you for your sin.  Herod Antipas had gotten rid of his own wife to marry his brother’s wife, Herodias.   Everybody knew it, but only John would point the finger at him.   Before John could finish the next sentence, iron chains were thrown about his wrists and guards began dragging him from the court to throw him into the black dungeon below.   For months, John was kept in the dark dungeon of the Machaerus. This prison was attached to one of Herod’s palaces, located some five miles east of the Dead Sea and some 15 miles south of its northern tip, what is today modern Jordan.

The trouble with success is that it raises unfilled expectations.  John the Baptist hadexperienced such phenomenal success—he baptized God—what more can you ask for than that.  How do you follow up baptizing God.  He had thousands coming into the desert to hear him speak and they were baptized.

John was left with a perplexing question. He had been in prison for several months and had heard all about the miracles of Jesus, and especially about the raising from the dead of the widow’s son (in the previous verses of Luke 7). So, based on these reports, and on his own miserable condition, he sent out word by his disciples to ask Jesus a most important question: “Are you the One who is coming, or do we look for someone else?”

His problem was one of unfilled expectations. It was not a problem of questioning the Messiahship of Jesus, but of timing. Why was he perplexed and impatient? John’s understanding of the Messianic plan of redemption was based on the prophecies of Isaiah. 61-63. Jesus’ first coming involved the preaching of the gospel, and his offer of physical, emotional and spiritual healing (John 3:16-18). His second coming would involve a ministry of judgment and wrath, first against the evil within the nation of Israel, and then against the nations, especially, in John’s mind, the hated Roman Empire who were oppressing the Jews. Further, John was probably thinking, “And while we are at it, what about getting me out of this terrible prison?”

John’s problem had to do with the sequence of events. He did not understand the difference between the first coming, a time when Messiah would offer salvation to Jews and the Gentiles, and the second coming, which would deal with the judgment of the nations who had rejected Jesus as Messiah. In his book, “According to Luke,” David Gooding wrote, “John is not the only one to have felt the problem. To this very day there are many who feel that they cannot believe in Jesus if He is interested merely in the saving of individuals and not in putting right the great political, economic and social evils of the world.”

Stage Three:  Reality Check

As we look at the answer from Jesus, I see three ways to have a reality check.


First:  Refocus on your expectations.

I believe that one of the most common causes of discouragement is unfilled expectations. We expect God to act in a certain way and when he doesn’t, then we are disillusioned and begin to doubt the power of God.  Interpreting the scriptures is one of the most difficult things to do.  Here we have a very righteous, Biblical person, raised in a Godly home, that has misunderstood the Scriptures.  So Jesus gives him a quick lesson.  He takes him through the same Scriptures that John had been teaching and interprets them very quickly.

I have these prophecies on a slide on the screen.  If this were a Bible class I would ask all of you to look carefully at the words of Jesus and look for the common message.  What is Jesus saying.

Go and report to John what you have seen and heard:

  • The blind receive sight (Isa. 61:1),
  • The lame walk (Isa. 35:6),
  • The lepers are cleansed
  • The deaf hear (Isa. 35:5),
  • The dead are raised up,
  • The poor have the gospel preached to them” (Isa. 35:5-6).

There is no message about Jesus removing the Roman and religious leaders.  There is no message of Jesus coming as a mighty king to set up a physical kingdom. There was no message of judgment and wrath when he comes again as Lord of lords and King of kings.  What is he saying?  He is touching lives.  He is healing.  He is preaching to the poor.

In his answers, however, Jesus did not promise John that he would be released from prison, or that he would at this time defeat Israel’s enemies. Rather, he was saying that this final act was our Lord’s greatest work because all the rest were temporary relief when compared with eternal realities. The Lord was not saying that He would fail to fulfill all prophecy about his Messiahship; the truth was arranged in a set of built-in priorities. But again, it is a question of sequence: (1) the miracles, (2) the message of salvation in the first coming to earth as the Son of Man, and (3) then through his church.

But this was not John’s expectation.  How many times do we have expectations that God doesn’t have?  We expect healing and dreams and powerful acts by God when God may choose a different way and when that happens we become discouraged.

Secondly: Jesus tells John to refocus on the right person. 

Jesus concludes his message to John with these words, “Blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me.”  You stumble over something when you are looking in the wrong direction. If Jesus were a rock in the middle of a path and you were looking at the clouds you would stumble over him. If you were looking at the rock, however, you would not.   My problem is often that my expectation was wrong.  We were looking in the wrong direction, stumbling over one another, in effect, trying to make this contact.  “Blessed is the one who doesn’t stumble over me,” Jesus says, “Blessed is the one who sees me the way I really am.  Blessed is the one who expects Christianity to be the way God expects it to be, because if your expectations are correct you will not stumble.”

Thirdly: Refocus Your Attitude.

This is a hard message to take.  You have had great expectations and frankly, John is about to die.  Herod’s wife is plotting his death as Jesus is sending the message.

Story of Douglas from “Disappointment with God” by Phil Yancy.

Discussion Questions:

n      Identify your passion, your gifts and the opportunity you have had to integrate these to make a difference.

n      Recall some times of “doubt” and “questioning” that you have experienced (or are experiencing)?

n      John’s time of doubt came when he was in jail.  What are the external circumstances that caused your doubt?

n      Of the three steps that we learned on handling doubt, which is the most difficult for you?

n      What can you do at this time to either face your doubts, or help someone else face their doubts?

Read more about Tom McKee on his web page:


Jonathan McKee

Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Guy's Guide to FOUR BATTLES Every Young Man Must Face; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers on Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.

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