Defeating Discouragement

By Dr. Jack Graham

In Judah it was said, “The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall.” And our enemies said, “They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work.” At that time the Jews who lived near them came from all directions and said to us ten times, “You must return to us.” So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.”—Nehemiah 4:10–14

It has been said that discouragement is the chief occupational hazard of being a Christian. Discouragement is a powerful tool the Enemy, Satan, loves to use against us.

Have you ever been discouraged? Discouragement can range from having the “blues” all the way to severe, clinical depression; and it can attack us even when we are walking with God.

Somehow we may think that discouragement hits us only when we don’t have our lives together, but some of the greatest saints of all time have been discouraged. Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Jonah, David, Simon Peter, and others experienced periods of discouragement.

What happened to the people of Israel in their time of discouragement can happen to any of us. The walls were halfway up. They were nearing the finish line. And yet they had to overcome obstacles and get beyond defeat, disappointment and discouragement.

By the power of Jesus Christ, we can defeat discouragement. But in order to experience victory, we must understand what causes discouragement. There are five reasons for discouragement in the second half of Nehemiah chapter 4—fatigue, frustration, faultfinders, failure and fear.

Fatigue

Verse 10: “In Judah it was said, ‘The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing.’”The people had been working on this wall and now they were dead tired, worn out. Physical depletion and fatigue were setting in. Certainly this is a cause for disappointment and discouragement today. Perhaps you have been pushing yourself to the limits. The hours have been mounting up and you are physically tired. The pressure and stress of your job or the responsibilities of life are getting you down. Many of you have the responsibility of not only carrying a job, but caring for your children and your home; and you are absolutely ready to collapse.

When we are tired and our nerves are jangled, when we are distressed and not getting the proper amount of rest, we are prime candidates for discouragement and depression. We become weary in the battle.

Frustration

In the second half of verse 10, the people have another problem: “There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall.” The people were frustrated. All the rubbish was around them— the trash, the clutter, the debris. They had lost sight of their goal, and they had lost confidence in themselves. Their vision was gone.

Feelings of frustration can quickly lead to discouragement. In this case, the problem was that the attack came from the inside. Notice it was the tribe of Judah (v. 10) that complained. It was the strongest of the tribes of Israel! At first, these accusations came against them from Tobiah, Sanballat, and Geshem—from the outside. Now they came from within.

Isn’t it strange that we often handle the enemies from outside better than the enemies from within? Sometimes we count on people, trust in them, and look to them for leadership and guidance, and then suddenly they complain, “This is too much. We can’t do it. We can’t go on.” The frustrating part for Nehemiah was that the people of Judah were halfway through the project—a point that is critical in any endeavor or situation in your life.

Perhaps you are in the middle of something now—the middle of a career, the middle of a marriage, the middle of an ongoing struggle— and you find yourself thinking, this is too difficult. There are too many problems, too much baggage and too many obstacles.

It is easy to become disheartened when you lose sight of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. But when you get up in the morning and realize that you’re on a mission, you’re doing God’s work, then you will have the motivation to continue. You will want to live an abundant life for Christ by serving Him with a God-given vision, doing what He has put in your heart to do.

Faultfinders

Now the people of Jerusalem’s own discouraging words threaten to bring the project to a screeching halt. Because of Judah’s words, they begin to look around and become overwhelmed.

The faultfinding, like their frustration, centered around rubble. So what exactly was this rubble? It was rocks, wood, cement, garbage, and debris—the remains of the gates and walls that once surrounded their great city. While they wanted to start fresh and build something new, the rubble was a constant reminder of past failures and defeat.

Many people today are also living in rubble. Their lives are littered with shame and they are living in ruptured relationships and fractured families. Our world is also filled with rubble. Everywhere we turn, the media reminds us of terrible things happening around us. If we absorb this negativity, our minds become numb and our efforts in leadership can be neutralized. But there is an important lesson we can learn from faultfinders: If we allow ourselves to become caught up in the rubble of the past—or the present—we will never move forward.

The critical words of faultfinders and cynics can be dreadfully defeating. Even at this moment someone may be saying things that are damaging and hurtful to you, and it is “eating you alive.” If you listen to faultfinders and their negative voices, it will keep discouragement in your life.

Failure

By ourselves, we will not be able to rebuild the wall (v. 10). It is amazing how frustration and faultfinding can make us believe that failure is imminent. After a great start on the wall, the people were almost ready to give up. They cried, “We can’t do it! Look at all this mess!” They lost their confidence and felt inadequate.

Maybe you are looking at your own life and trying to build it for good and for God. But you are thinking, My health is failing. What am I going to do? Or, My marriage has failed. How can I move on from this?Some of you are at midlife; the wall is half-built. But you are not where you imagined you would be, and you are discouraged. Perhaps your financial situation has collapsed. Maybe your children have let you down; there is nothing more damaging to the heart of a parent than for a child to reject the values you have tried to instill in them. Some of you are struggling emotionally—feeling as though you can’t reach a point of stability in life. Or you feel as if you have failed God, and you feel so bad about it. You look inward and sigh, Look at all of this mess. Look at all of this trash.

So many people render themselves ineffective for Christ simply because of mistakes or failures in their past. They don’t go on and achieve what God has called them to do because they are plagued with guilt. 2 Corinthians 4:1 reminds us to hold on to hope, “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.”

Fear

Verse 11 says, “And our enemies said, ‘They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work.’”Well, that will grab your attention, won’t it? Fear. The fear of death. The fear of failure. The fear of rejection. Do you know why the people of Judah were living in such torment and fear? The answer is in verse 12, “At that time the Jews who lived near them came from all directions and said to us ten times, ‘You must return to us.’”Their fellow Jews gave a fearful report.

If we listen to the fearful voices of the world, we will be afraid constantly.

Today, many believers are living in fear. They are stuck and can’t move forward because of fear. This is not of God! The Spirit of the Lord has given us a spirit of “power, and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). We should not fear, but if we listen to the world and get too close to the Enemy, confusion and cowardice will set in. Of course, the problem with discouragement and depression is that they are so contagious and infectious. Nehemiah rushed to take immediate action before fear spread like a cancer throughout the entire camp of Israel. The building project could have been defeated without his quick, decisive leadership. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

The Cure for Discouragement

In response to the people’s fatigue, frustration, faultfinders, failure and fear, Nehemiah provides the cure for discouragement. If you are feeling down, worn out, and discouraged today, listen carefully. If you are so discouraged that you are ready to give up, God has a message for you. Nehemiah tells us precisely what to do about our discouragement in verses 13–15.

1. Remember the Lord.

First, we must remember the Lord. Nehemiah gathered the people together and challenged them, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome”(v. 14). What was he communicating? He was calling a timeout. He called the people off of the wall and out of the work. He rallied them together, and said, “Wait a minute. We need to huddle up.” How many football games have you seen lost at the last minute because the coach didn’t properly use his time outs? Nehemiah realized it was time to huddle. When he called the people together, they were tired and losing focus. “Look,” he announced, “Remember the Lord. Put your perspective back in focus. Remember a great and awesome God. Look at Him. Listen to Him.”

There have been times in my life when I have been down and discouraged, when God Almighty has absolutely carried me through. He will carry you, too, and give you supernatural strength, even in the middle of dark days and nights. At other times, He will give you blessings that will help you, such as His Word or prayer, because He cares. The Bible makes it manifestly clear that Jesus has borne our grief and carried our sorrows. I would suggest reading Isaiah 53 as a reminder of this at least once a week. The Savior knows how you feel and when you hurt. He will share that sorrow and hurt with you.

Clearly there are times when we must withdraw from our work to pray, read Scripture, and rest. Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”(Matthew 11:28). There was a time when David, the psalmist-king of Israel, was weary and worn, ready to quit. Yet, the Bible says that David encouraged himself in the Lord (1 Samuel 30:6). When you are discouraged, find your encouragement in the Lord. David later exulted in the Psalm 16:8, “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.”

Dave Drevecky, a splendid Christian and former pitcher for the San Francisco Giants, who lost his pitching arm to cancer wrote, “Nobody ever promised that life would be fair. Everybody is going to have adversity. The only way to handle it is to take our eyes off our circumstances and put them on the Lord.” Remember the Lord.

2. Get together with family and friends.

Secondly, when you are discouraged, get together with family and friends. If you do not have family nearby, then turn to your church family. Nehemiah 4:13 reads, “So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows.” You can see here how he closed in the ranks, how he drew people together. He put families with families and friends with friends. When you are discouraged, find people who care for you to stand with you and encourage you. That is why we must have leaders such as Nehemiah to inspire us, motivate us, and challenge us to stay in the battle.

We need friends who are energizers, enablers and encouragers. Whether you have “the blahs” or are seriously depressed, you need to rally with God’s people. Get with a Christian friend, a brother or sister in Christ who loves you and cares about you. Open up and share your heart, and pray together. In the fellowship of believers are people of faith who have the answers and who know how to pray and love unconditionally. We need the Lord, but we also need one another.

Sometimes we just need someone with skin, flesh and blood to come and offer a warmhearted hug to lift our spirits. Here’s my favorite definition of friendship: “A friend is someone who comes in when all the world goes out.” Everyone needs grace, mercy, love, kindness and encouragement. Not only do we need friends like that, we need to be a friend like that.

3. Look to the future.

Third, when discouraging times come, look to the future. Nehemiah did this in verse 15, “When our enemies heard that it was known to us and that God had frustrated their plan, we all returned to the wall, each to his work.” Have you ever noticed that most of the 1,001 things we worry about, God ends up bringing to resolution? Then we wonder, why did I ever worry about that? In Nehemiah’s case, God handled the situation, and every person returned to work.

If you are discouraged today, God may be preparing to do a great work in your future. This may simply be a down time to prepare you for an up time. Valleys lead to the mountaintops. Defeats are but harbingers of victories to come. Out of the weakness of our life we can find strength to grow.

Some of the greatest poetry, music and testimonies for Christ have emerged from crisis and periods of disillusionment and discouragement. If you are discouraged, prepare for the future. Don’t quit, because the blessing may be waiting around the corner.

4. Be productive.

Finally, to defeat discouragement, be productive. “We all returned to the wall, each to his work”(v. 15). Discouragement is addictive. If we become discouraged, it is a downward spiral, and we turn increasingly inward and negative. We can become overly introverted, thinking only of ourselves.

The cure is to look outside of ourselves. If you are hurting, help someone else. Be productive. That is why Nehemiah urged the Jews to fight for their friends and family. People are counting on you. You may not think so, but people need you. They are relying on you to stay faithful and strong. Don’t quit. Get back into the battle. That is why your faith in Christ is so vital. It is a can-do faith. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). Christ not only transforms our spirit, but He transforms our way of thinking and looking at life.

While there will be times when we are discouraged and down, God’s Word promises us that we can defeat discouragement through the victory that is ours in Jesus Christ. The opposite of fear and discouragement is faith.

Dr. Jack Graham serves as Pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church, one of the largest and most dynamic churches in the country.