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The Reality of Discouragement



  1. a loss of confidence or enthusiasm; dispiritedness.
  2. an attempt to prevent something by showing disapproval or creating difficulties; deterrent.

How many of you are familiar with this word? I’m pretty sure we all are. And not just linguistically. We are intimately familiar with this word in our lives.

Discouragement is a reality that we all face. When our plans don’t turn out how we hope – or when unexpected problems arise – or when others do or say things that steal our joy and cause us to question why we’re even doing this – discouragement can set in.

We get discouraged at our workplace or when that pile of laundry or dishes never goes away. As kids, we get discouraged at school when we struggle with academics or when our friends are being jerks. We get discouraged as parents when our kids just don’t get it and they keep making poor choices. We get discouraged when we struggle with health or emotional problems or when our relationships are strained. We get discouraged when we pay our bills or when the car won’t start or whatever it is!

I think most of us face discouragement nearly every day of our lives.

So what do we do when that happens? How do we deal with discouragement? It’s easy to throw up our hands and say “I give up! I’m not doing this anymore.” Or maybe we get angry – at people or circumstances – ourselves – or even at God. Somebody’s got to take the blame – right?

How do we deal with discouragement?

Well, if anyone knew about discouragement, it was Nehemiah.

As you know, we’ve been going through the story of Nehemiah for the past month or so. At this point in our story, although the Israelites had been living in exile for some 150 years, now some of them had returned to Israel and under the direction of Nehemiah, they had begun to rebuild the city of Jerusalem. Specifically, they wanted to rebuild it’s walls and it’s gates for reasons both practical and spiritual.

Practically speaking, they wanted walls around their city so they could live in Jerusalem and actually feel secure. A city without walls back then was completely vulnerable to attack and raiding parties could easily swoop in and steal, kill, and destroy. Even though they had been freed from exile in Babylon – without walls, it was like they were still in captivity – they were completely at the mercy of the people living around them. So walls would give them a much greater sense of security and freedom and independence.

The walls were also spiritually significant. At this time, Jerusalem was still in ruins after the Babylonians destroyed it 150 years earlier – and those ruins reminded the people of how they had abandoned God. But now that they had returned to God, and God had restored the people to their land – they also wanted to restore Jerusalem as God’s holy city.

Jerusalem, of course, was the place that God had chosen as the location for his temple back in the time of King David – it was symbolic of God’s presence among them. And by now, they had already rebuilt the temple – so the next step was to rebuild the city itself – showing the world once again that they were God’s people and that God was their God.

But as we’ve mentioned in previous weeks – this was no easy task. Not only was the project overwhelming – with about 4km of massive walls to repair, but also, the people in the surrounding areas where not happy that the Israelites were rebuilding the city.

We meet three of these guys two weeks ago – Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem – and these three guys kinda liked things the way they were – with Jerusalem being at their mercy. If Jerusalem’s walls were rebuilt, the Israelites wouldn’t be so easy to threaten and push around. They feared that a strong Jerusalem would weaken their own position.

It’s kinda like when the Israelites first moved to Egypt. You’ll remember that Jospeh invited his family to move to Egypt to escape the famine – and at the time, the Egyptians had no problem with that. Joseph was a hero to them and so they were glad to have his family live among them. But over the years as the Israelites multiplied, the Egyptians began to see them as a potential threat and so to keep them at bay, they forced them into slavery.

It’s almost the same kinda of idea here. The surrounding people wanted to keep the Israelites under their thumb – they wanted to keep them from becoming a threat and so they did not want to see the walls of Jerusalem rebuilt or they would lose that control over them. And so we’re going to see today and in the weeks ahead, that they were going to try every trick in the book to try to get Nehemiah to stop rebuilding the wall.

We pick it up today at Nehemiah chapter 4 – verse 1.

Sanballat was very angry when he learned that we were rebuilding the wall. He flew into a rage and mocked the Jews, 2 saying in front of his friends and the Samarian army officers, “What does this bunch of poor, feeble Jews think they’re doing? Do they think they can build the wall in a single day by just offering a few sacrifices? Do they actually think they can make something of stones from a rubbish heap—and charred ones at that?”

3 Tobiah the Ammonite, who was standing beside him, remarked, “That stone wall would collapse if even a fox walked along the top of it!”

Nehemiah 4:1-3

It’s pretty clear that their first tactic to stop the work on the wall of Jerusalem was to discourage the workers. Their actions pretty much fits our previous definition of ‘discouragement’ to a T. They wanted to cause a loss of confidence or enthusiasm. They wanted to prevent something by showing disapproval. They wanted to be a deterrent.

And so we see them mocking the Jews – casting doubt on their abilities to rebuild this wall – belittling their efforts. It’s certainly not nice, but it’s an effective tactic. Discouragement is a killer. You probably know this from experience.

One negative word, one critical comment, one moment of mockery – even if it’s unintentional – can shut someone down immediately. Our words can be so powerful. That’s why James says in James 3:7.

7 People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, 8 but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. James 3:7-8

That is so true. We have to continually guard our mouths. It’s so easy to let those subtle comments slide out – especially to the people we know best. Its so easy to catch ourselves belittling our spouse for decisions they’ve made or being hyper-critical of our kids when they don’t quite live up to our expectations – that is so destructive to them and to our relationship with them.

The Bible describes Satan as our accuser – and it describes Jesus as our defender. We need to be like Jesus to our spouse and to our kids. We need to be their defenders – their #1 fans. Our words should be words that build up and encourage – not words that tear down and discourage. They’ll get enough of that in life. They don’t need another accuser. They need you to stand by them and to encourage them – to build them up and cheer them on. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:29…

“Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” Ephesians 4:29

“So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

A major part of the the Christian life is simply to encourage one another. Because life is hard. And we do have an accuser who will constantly point out our faults and our flaws and our weaknesses and our inabilities. He will remind us of our sin daily. But we need to remember, by the grace of God, we have a defender, Jesus – who has already taken care of every sin & every mistake we’ve ever made – He’s paid for them by dying on the cross – and it’s like our record has been wiped clean. In fact, our record has been replaced by Jesus’ record. All of his righteousness has been credited to our account.

So don’t let the accuser discourage you. And be careful not to discourage one another. Encourage one another and build each other up. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

Well, that was most certainly not the intent of Tobiah, Sanballat, and Geshem. Their open mockery of the Jews was clearly intended to discourage the people and cause them to give up on their work of rebuilding the wall.

So how did Nehemiah respond? Did he do what we’re often tempted to do when we get discouraged? Did he throw in towel and head back to the comforts of Susa? Did he have a melt-down and scream and rant and rave? Nope. Verse 4.

“Then I prayed,…” Nehemiah 4:4

Once again, as we’ve seen many times already in the life of Nehemiah, Nehemiah’s first response is to pray. And isn’t that the best response? Isn’t that what we should always do when we’re faced with discouragement? Take it to God!

Prayer is a great response to discouragement for at least two reasons.

#1. God is absolutely able to change hearts and to change our situations.

We’ve seen this already in Nehemiah’s story as God changed the heart of King Artaxerxes to allow Nehemiah to return and to rebuild Jerusalem. It wouldn’t be hard for God to also change the hearts of Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem.

Now of course, God didn’t do that this time – and many times in our lives, God doesn’t step in and miraculously change our situations either. Sometimes he does – but certainly not always. But that leads us to our second reason for prayer – and that is:

#2. Prayer reminds us of God’s sovereignty and his love for us.

When we pray, we recognize that God is the Almighty One – that’s why we’re praying to him! When we went through the doctrine of God in our Sunday School class a couple weeks ago, we were reminded that God is all-power, all-knowing, ever-present, and all-loving. He could change our situation if He wanted to, so if he doesn’t want to, it’s because he has a better plan in mind. God always acts out of his wisdom and his love for us.

So when we pray as Jesus taught us to pray (saying “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven), really, we are submitting to God’s sovereignty because we know he love us. We are inviting his will to be done because we know His will is best. And so prayer is a great reminder to us that God is sovereign and that he will deal with our situation as he sees fit according to his infinite wisdom and his infinite love for us.

And so that’s Nehemiah does. He prays to God, with some fairly specific requests, but out of the knowledge that God will act according to his wisdom and love.

But look at how Nehemiah prays:

4 Then I prayed, “Hear us, our God, for we are being mocked. May their scoffing fall back on their own heads, and may they themselves become captives in a foreign land! 5 Do not ignore their guilt. Do not blot out their sins, for they have provoked you to anger here in front of the builders.” Nehemiah 4:4-5

Now at first glance, this might seem like a fairly vindictive prayer – like Nehemiah wants revenge for how they are mocking him and the builders. But I don’t think that’s actually the case. Notice in the last line how he says “Do not blot out their sin, for they have provoked YOU to anger here in front of the builders.” Nehemiah is upset about how they have provoked God to anger. He’s upset that they are working against God and trying to thwart God’s purposes.

So this isn’t a prayer for personal revenge – it’s plea for God to act justly. It’s a request that God’s purposes would indeed prevail and that the enemies of God would be rightly judged. It really is a different wording of “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

And so with that prayer, Nehemiah passes the baton to God. He’s entrusted the situation to God and he knows that God will take care of it however He sees fit. He doesn’t even have to worry about it anymore. He just continues building the wall. Verse 6 tells us:

6 At last the wall was completed to half its height around the entire city, for the people had worked with enthusiasm. Nehemiah 4:6

It seems Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem’s efforts to discourage the Israelites was not working. The people continued working with enthusiasm – knowing that God was for them and that his purposes would not be thwarted.

So of course, Sanballat and his buddies ramped it up. verse 7

But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs, Ammonites, and Ashdodites heard that the work was going ahead and that the gaps in the wall of Jerusalem were being repaired, they were furious. 8 They all made plans to come and fight against Jerusalem and throw us into confusion. Nehemiah 4:7-8

Now it’s important to note that they couldn’t just mobilize their armies and come and attack Jerusalem. Remember, both they and Nehemiah were under the rule of King Artaxerxes. And if Nehemiah had permission to rebuild Jerusalem, they would be rebelling against the king to attack Jerusalem – which I’m sure would end very badly for them.

So instead of an all out attack, they resorted to what might amount to terrorist attacks today. Small bands of raiders could sneak in and attack certain points of the wall – killing a few builders here and there. Of course, if Artaxerxes got word, they could claim it was just renegade militants they they didn’t have control over.

This too, would be very effective in hindering the work. Fear of an attack would likely be just as crippling as any actual attack. And if we jump ahead a few verses, we see the fear tactic coming into play.

Meanwhile, our enemies were saying, “Before they know what’s happening, we will swoop down on them and kill them and end their work.”

12 The Jews who lived near the enemy came and told us again and again, “They will come from all directions and attack us!” Nehemiah 4:11-12

So you can see this sense of fear that’s growing.  And with that fear, we begin to see discouragement starting to set in. Verse 10 says:

10 Then the people of Judah began to complain, “The workers are getting tired, and there is so much rubble to be moved. We will never be able to build the wall by ourselves.”

Nehemiah 4:10

It looks like the enemies’ tactics of fear and discouragement is being to work. Complaining has begun and that’s probably even more deadly to the worker’s enthusiasm than the mockery from the outside.

One thing I learned from leading games at camp or kids club is how contagious complaining is. If one person – especially if it’s one of the leaders – complains about the ref or about how something is unfair or how boring the game is – immediately, many others will join in the chorus and pretty soon, no one is having fun. But on the flip side of that, if all the leaders stand by the ref’s calls – and play the game with enthusiasm no matter how it turns out – everyone has fun and they think it’s the best game ever.

And that plays out into life as well. You’ve probably noticed this: If you hang out with complainers – life is always going to be miserable. But if you hang out with people full of enthusiasm and joy – life can be pretty awesome. And I think, as representatives of Christ, we need to be those people full of enthusiasm and joy. Paul tells us in Philippians 2:14…

14 Do everything without complaining and arguing, 15 so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people. Philippians 2:14-15

I like that phrase “shining like bright lights” – that’s what joyful, enthusiastic people are like. People who don’t complain and argue about everything are a joy to be around. They stand out and they’re attractive – and as Christians in our community – that’s what we want to be like.

So if you want a simple application from this little rabbit trail today – try for the next week to do everything without complaining or arguing. It may be a significant challenge for some of us – but if you do it, I know God will be honored, and I think you’ll like the results too.

If you’re a kid – you’re parents will be blown away! I know parents aren’t supposed to have favourites, but a week without complaining or aurguing – that’s gonna tip the scale in your favour!

If you’re married, you’re spouse will fall in love with you all over again! I guarantee it. And if you’re single – well, you may not be for long! (I’m not really sure how this turned into dating advice, but I think you’d be wise to take it.)

Anyway, to get back to Nehemiah. The people are getting discouraged. They’re starting to complain. The work is hard and the job is huge. Their enemies have been mocking them – and threatening them. They’re constantly afraid of these terrorist-like attacks.

But in the midst of all that, look at Nehemiah’s response. verse 9

9 But we prayed to our God and guarded the city day and night to protect ourselves.

Nehemiah 4:9

There it is again. Nehemiah’s first response as always was to pray. And this time, we see how he coupled his prayers with action. They guarded the city day and night to protect themselves.

I think I’ve quoted from Mark Batterson before, but I like how he views prayer. He says:

“Pray like it depends on God. Work like it depends on you.” ~ Mark Batterson

Too often we do one or the other – but not both. Either we throw up our hands an leave it all to God – or we leave God right out of the picture and we take it all on ourselves. We need to do both of those things. We need to pray hard and often – committing our situations fully to Him. Then, we need to work hard and do everything we can with the wisdom God’s given us – and then we leave the results up to God.

And that’s what Nehemiah did. Not only was his first response to pray and entrust the situation to God. But he also followed that up by doing everything he could to protect the people. verse 13

So I placed armed guards behind the lowest parts of the wall in the exposed areas. I stationed the people to stand guard by families, armed with swords, spears, and bows.

14 Then as I looked over the situation, I called together the nobles and the rest of the people and said to them, “Don’t be afraid of the enemy! Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes!”

Nehemiah 4:13-14

And I think that verse 14 here is the key to this whole chapter. This is how to deal with discouragement. This is how to face any obstacles in our lives. There’s three parts.

#1. Don’t be afraid of the enemy.

#2. Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious.

#3. Do what needs to be done. Carry out the task that God has given you.

Nehemiah was reminding the people once again – that this was God’s project. God – who is great and glorious – had commissioned them to do this. This was for His honour and glory. And if God, the Creator of the Universe – wanted them to rebuild that wall around Jerusalem – then they certainly did not need to be afraid of the enemy. God could handle them. All they needed to do was to carry out the task that God had given them. And so that’s exactly what they did. And look at the result. verse 15 and we’ll read down to the end of the chapter.

15 When our enemies heard that we knew of their plans and that God had frustrated them, we all returned to our work on the wall. 16 But from then on, only half my men worked while the other half stood guard with spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. The leaders stationed themselves behind the people of Judah17 who were building the wall. The laborers carried on their work with one hand supporting their load and one hand holding a weapon. 18 All the builders had a sword belted to their side. The trumpeter stayed with me to sound the alarm.

19 Then I explained to the nobles and officials and all the people, “The work is very spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall. 20 When you hear the blast of the trumpet, rush to wherever it is sounding. Then our God will fight for us!”

21 We worked early and late, from sunrise to sunset. And half the men were always on guard. 22 I also told everyone living outside the walls to stay in Jerusalem. That way they and their servants could help with guard duty at night and work during the day. 23 During this time, none of us—not I, nor my relatives, nor my servants, nor the guards who were with me—ever took off our clothes. We carried our weapons with us at all times, even when we went for water. Nehemiah 4:15-23

I love how practical and hard-working Nehemiah is – all at the same time being completely dependant on God. “They prayed like it depended on God. They worked like it depended on them.”

It talks about how they armed themselves, they continued the work, they had plans in place for defence – But they counted on the fact that God would fight for them. They did what needed to be done – they faithfully carried out the task that God had given them – and then they left the results up to God.

What a great example for us!

We began this morning with the question: How do we deal with discouragement? Well, I think Nehemiah gives us a pretty good strategy.

#1. Don’t be afraid of the enemy.

#2. Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious.

#3. Do what needs to be done. Faithfully carry out the task that God has given you.

I don’t know what discouragement you might be facing this morning – but I do know it’s source. The source of all discouragement is our accuser – Satan. He may use circumstances – He may use other people – but ultimately, discouragement comes from him. Whatever discouragement you may be facing today or later this week – know that it’s source always from our enemy, Satan.

The Bible describes him as the Father of lies and as a roaring lion – looking for people to devour.

But we do not need to be afraid of the enemy. We do not need to listen to his accusations against us. Because Christ has already defeated him. Colossians 2:13 says…

 God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. 14 He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. 15 In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities [That’s talking about Satan and his demons]. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.

Colossians 2:13-15

We need not fear the enemy. Satan has been disarmed. We need not fear his accusations. Christ has already canceled the charges. Instead, we need only to remember the Lord – who is great and glorious. Romans 8:31 says…

31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.

35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

Romans 8:31-37

If we have placed our trust in Jesus Christ, then no matter what discouraging things we face in life, we can have the confidence to know that have overwhelming victory through Christ who loves us.

Now that doesn’t mean that we will succeed in everything we do. We will still have failures and setbacks. We will still have hard and painful things come into our lives – But in those things, and through those things, God will continue to work out his good plan for us. We may not succeed in everything we do – but God will succeed in everything that He does – even if it takes using our failures to do it!

So when our plans don’t turn out how we hope – or when unexpected problems arise – or when others do or say things that steal our joy and cause us to question why we’re even doing this, remember:

#1. Don’t be afraid of the enemy – who is the source of all discouragement.

#2. Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious. (and who loves you like crazy)

#3. Then, do what needs to be done. Faithfully carry out the task that God has given you.

Leaving the results to God.

And like Nehemiah, your circumstances may not change. You may still have a huge wall to fix. You may still have people mocking you or threatening you or even out-right attacking you.

But when you understand the source of that discouragement – that it’s an attempt by our accuser to keep us from faithfully doing what God has called us to do – when we understand that, and when we remember that our God, who loves us like crazy, is great and glorious and sovereign over all, when we remember that – then we can continue to faithfully do whatever it is that God’s called us to do.

#1. Don’t be afraid of the enemy

#2. Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious.

#3. Then, do what needs to be done. Faithfully carry out the task that God has given you.

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