How Can I Handle Discouragement? (Nehemiah 4)

How can I Handle Discouragement? (Nehemiah 4) from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

10/10/10. Today is going to be one of the busiest days of the year for Registry Offices. Couples are joining hands today in the hope that this auspicious day will bring them happiness. Some register offices, like Chichester, are opening for the first time on a Sunday due to the demand. Manchester Register Office is opening today for only the third time on a Sunday since it was established in 1837. Today is also Micah Challenge Sunday when we join hands in prayer with 100 million Christians around the world. We are joining hands to express our solidarity with the poor. We are joining hands to call for justice, ten years after nations around the world committed themselves to halve global poverty by 2015.

The apostle Paul writes in Galatians, “All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” (Galatians 2:10). As Christians we want to declare God’s heart for the poor. We want to remind our political leaders that halving poverty is worth every effort. That is why we are asking you to leave your hand print before you leave today. Make a personal promise before God to do something to end world poverty. Then we will send this scroll with our handprints to our MP. So many proverbs refer to the hand.

A bird in the hand…. Lend a hand… Many hands make…. Hands that do dishes….

You know what the world’s most deadly but preventable disease is? No, its not cancer, polio or even AIDS. There is something even more debilitating. Its discouragement. Its easy to become discouraged when you consider the enormity of halving global poverty by 2015. Or reversing climate change, or even building a Church in Virginia Water. Three things make discouragement a deadly disease:

It’s universal. One in four of us will suffer from depression this year. But everyone of us gets discouraged sooner or later. I know I do. I am sure you do. We all do. Its universal.

It’s recurring
. You get multiple opportunities to become  discouraged every day. It’s universal. It’s recurring. Thirdly,

It’s contagious.
In fact it is highly contagious. My discouragement will infect you and vice versa. It rubs off. But there is good news. Discouragement is curable.

The next instalment in the story of Nehemiah illustrates the causes and cures for discouragement. We are going to see that together, when we join hands, when we work together, when we watch one another’s back, when we encourage one another we can banish discouragement. We can make a difference.

I invite you to turn to Nehemiah 4 with me. Nehemiah was a leader of the Jewish people. They had returned to Israel from exile in Babylon. They needed to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem to be secure from their enemies. When they first started on the wall, they had fervour, excitement, and zeal.

But after working for a while they got discouraged. Notice the change of heart from verse 6 to 12.

6So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart…. 12 Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.” (Nehemiah 4:6,12)

Maybe you can identify with them. Maybe you are discouraged right now. This story shows why people become discouraged and how we can overcome our discouragement. Nehemiah shows us what to do when we feel like giving up.

Four Causes of Discouragement

1. Fatigue: Tire Yourself Out

The first step to discouragement is to work every hour God gives and tire yourself out. The people in Judah said, “The strength of the labourers is giving out.” (Nehemiah 4:10).
They had worked a long time. They were physically exhausted and emotionally drained. They didn’t even change their clothes (Nehemiah 4:23). When do fatigue often come? Look at verse 6: “So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height.” (Nehemiah 4:6).

When are you apt to get discouraged? When you’re halfway through a project. Have you ever painted a room? You get excited choosing the colours. You get the room ready with enthusiasm. You start painting with energy. You stop for coffee a third of the way through, and then as you pick up the brush again, and your arms start to ache.

You notice the drops of paint on the floor and on your clothes and you reckon you are not even half way. The light begins to fade and you begin to feel weary. You look around at how much you still have to do and remember that even when you have finished, you still have to clear up. And discouragement sets in.

What is the antidote? Bed. A good night’s sleep. Fatigue is the number one cause of discouragement. That is why we leave so many things half finished, incomplete and undone. Fatigue: The first step to discouragement is to tire yourself out. The second step is:

2. Frustration: Accumulate Some Rubbish

Accumulate plenty of rubbish that will get in your way. Notice in verse 10, the people said, “There is so much rubble that we cannot build the wall.” (Nehemiah 4:10) They were not only fatigued, they were now frustrated. They were trying to build a new wall, but all around them were the old broken rocks, the debris and mortar. The rubble caused discouragement. They lost sight of their goal because they were distracted by the rubble. Whenever we focus on the rubble instead of our objective, we will get discouraged.

For years I wouldn’t let anyone in my study because it had grown out of control.  I was so preoccupied with teaching, pastoring and writing, I was too busy to file my folders, prune my papers or sort my books. I kept putting off the day. I got more and more frustrated until there was no natural light. Just a narrow path from the door to my computer. In the Summer, as an incentive to replacing my computer, I decided to remove everything from my study and start again. It is now tidy and organised.
Because I cleared out the rubbish.

What is it that is distracting you from your priorities? Discouragement comes easiest when you are fatigued – First tire yourself out. Then add a little frustration – accumulate some rubbish.

3. Failure: Listen to Demotivators

A third reason people get discouraged is because they listen to demotivators. In verse 10 it says, the people said, “We cannot rebuild the wall.” Think about that. Who said “We cannot rebuild the wall?” Someone had to have set them off first. Someone with the gift of demotivation. Its unlikely they spontaneously cried out in harmony “We cannot rebuild the wall”. Someone must have stood up and used the royal “We…” and others accepted the prognosis and began to say the same thing – they felt they had failed and pretty soon it became true. Because they couldn’t finish their task as quickly as they had originally planned, they lost heart and their confidence drained away. It only takes one gifted demotivator to destroy the morale of a team. Get a bunch of them together and cynicism and despair are inevitable. You know they even have a website dedicated to their ministry. It is called and I warmly recommend it.

The fact is – it wasn’t true. They could rebuild the wall. It wasn’t a question of ability but about motivation. How do you handle failure in your life? Do you say, “Woe is me. I can’t get this job done”? Do you start complaining?  “It’s impossible. I was a fool to even try. It’s stupid.” Or do you blame other people? “Everyone else let me down. They didn’t do their part of the job.”

The difference between winners and losers is that winners see failure as a temporary inconvenience. Failure doesn’t have to be terminal. It can be a learning opportunity. So the way to discouragement? Get fatigued – tire yourself out. Add some frustration: Accumulate some rubbish. See yourself as a failure: Listen to demotivators.

4. Fear: Become Paralysed by Your Critics

“Our enemies said, ‘Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.’” (Nehemiah 4:11).

Notice who said this. Their enemies? No. They did! Nehemiah’s people said “Our enemies said…”  A wall around the city represented safety and defence, so their enemies did not want the wall to be finished. They first criticized, then ridiculed, then threatened the Jews: “We’re going to kill you if you keep on building the wall.” Notice who it was that got discouraged. It was “the Jews who lived near” the enemy (Nehemiah 4:12).

Then they discouraged others by saying, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.” This is called the “Chicken Little Syndrome”. When you hang around a negative person long enough, you know what happens?  You get infected. You pick up their negativism. If you hear someone repeatedly say, “It can’t be done,” “you’ll fail” “you are wasting your time”, pretty soon you will believe them. How can you tell whether your discouragement is caused by fear –fear of embarrassment, fear of criticism, or fear of failure?  You get that deep, intense desire to flee, to run.

That’s because the natural reaction to fear is escape. Now do you see how lethal discouragement can be? Do you see the downward spiral that can begin with fatigue, lead to frustration, is fuelled by demotivation, and ends in paralysis from fear? The story of Nehemiah highlights the classic symptoms of discouragement.

1. Fatigue: Tire yourself out.
2. Frustration: Accumulate some rubbish.
3. Failure: Listen to demotivators.
4. Fear: Become paralysed by your critics.

The Antidote to Discouragement

So what is the antidote to discouragement? What did Nehemiah do? As a wise leader, Nehemiah assessed the situation and took action to correct the causes of their discouragement. We can do the same. When you feel discouraged to the point of giving up, you can do three things to remedy the situation: remember, reorganize and resist.

1. Remember: They Turned to their Lord

Nehemiah said, “After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials, and the rest of the people, `Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome.'” (Nehemiah 4:14)

What does it mean to “remember the Lord”? It means to remember his character. Remember his faithfulness. Remember his promises. Remember he has adopted you into his family. Remember he is with you.

Then, recommit yourself to him and to his family. What is God doing in your life right now? Whether you feel him or not, he is with you. He promised: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5). He will give you strength for your needs. “I can do everything through Christ, because he strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

When you get discouraged, get your mind off your circumstances and on to the Lord. Remember, your thoughts determine your feelings. If you feel discouraged it may be because you’re thinking discouraging thoughts. If you want to feel encouraged instead, focus on the encouragement God provides in Scripture. Choose some uplifting Bible verses to memorize: “Nothing can separate me from the love of God.” (Romans 8:39) “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31) “Everything is possible for him who believes.” (Mark 9:23). The antidote to discouragement? Remember: They turned to the Lord.

2. Reorganize: They Prioritised their Work

Nehemiah said, “Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears, and bows.” (Nehemiah 4:13)

Nehemiah made some strategic decisions. He prioritized those parts of the walls where they were most vulnerable. Where the wall was lowest and the people most exposed. Nehemiah encouraged them to be strategic in allocating their resources. They strengthened the defences where most needed. He prioritised. He also organised the workers by families. He got them building the walls near their homes. And they worked in teams, some labouring, some defending. There was ownership, collaboration, partnership. As a result they were encouraged to complete the task. When you get discouraged, what do you do? What should you do? Prayer intelligently, think strategically, avoid critics and find like-minded believers.

Ask yourself, ‘what are my priorities’? And ‘Who can I partner with’? And if necessary, review your schedule, reorganize your time, balance your diary between work, rest and play. And above all, never lose sight of your goals. What was Nehemiah’s objective? Build the wall. Nehemiah did this by creating teams and sharing roles. Why did he do this? Because he knew that the discouraged needed support and they could give it to one another if they focussed on their objective and not listened to the voice of their enemy.

We too need a hand to lift us up too when we’re down. That is why we encourage church members to serve on one or more of our teams. Its more fun to work together. The antidote to discouragement?

1. Remember: They turned to their Lord.
2. Reorganise: They prioritised their work.

3. Resist: They Defended their Families

“Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your people, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” (Nehemiah 4:14)

Nehemiah encouraged them to help one another. He did so in several strategic ways.

From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armour. The officers posted themselves behind all the people … who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, (Nehemiah 4:16-17)

Half the people were assigned to watch the backs of their compatriots while they worked. Half rested while the other half worked. And the leaders posted themselves behind the people building the wall. The leaders led by example. They defended the workers watching their backs in case of trouble. To increase their solidarity with one another Nehemiah added.

Then I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “The work is extensive and spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall.  20 Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us!” (Nehemiah 4:19-20)

The people knew that if an attack came, the trumpet would sound and bring help to defend them and their loved ones.  Nehemiah organized them into teams based around families who took turns at working and protecting one another.

“When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to our own work.” (Nehemiah 4:15).

The very people who had earlier cried “we cannot rebuild the wall” completed the work in 52 days. How? Because they remembered the Lord. Because they prioritized their work. Because they defended their families. Despite further setbacks and yet even more opposition Nehemiah concludes:

“So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.” (Nehemiah 6:15-16)

In 52 days they protected their families and defeated their enemies. The devil is called “the accuser of our brothers and sisters” (Revelation 12:10). He uses the same tactics today. Discouragement is one of his favourite tools. He knows that when we’re down, our effectiveness is neutralized, and were tempted to moan. Too often Christians suffer from ‘friendly fire’ – we accuse one another and do the devil’s work for him.

The Apostle James says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7). Resist him and his discouraging thoughts. Protect your family from his harmful influences. Guard your church from his evil schemes. How?

1. Remember to turn to the Lord daily.
2. Reorganise your life and prioritise your work.
3. Resist the one who wants to discourage you.

Protect your family and guard your church. Discouragement is a choice. Courageous people don’t give up, even in the face of fatigue, frustration, fear, or failure. Their strength is found in Christ alone. Their courage comes from serving with his people. Their fulfilment comes from doing God’s will.  And you can too if we put our hand to it. Lets pray.

This sermon draws with thanks on a chapter in Rick Warren’s book “God’s Answers to Life’s Difficult Questions” (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2006)