Summary: How to deal with discouragement in the Christian life.

Text: Nehemiah 4:1-23

Title- Overcoming Discouragement

We all face periods of frustration and discouragement. But we can overcome discouragement through God’s grace!

I. The Source of discouragement

a. Ridicule- 1-3

b. Open opposition- 7-8, 11 (security)

c. Fatigue- 10

II. The Antidote to discouragement

a. Prayer- 4-5,9

b. Action- 6, 9, 13-14

c. Team work- 15-23

Let me read something to you…Excerpt from “Hand Me Another Brick” Pg 79

Sometimes in life things can go from bad to worse real quick.

Have you ever noticed how sometimes things start out as a challenge, and quickly become a big problem? Have you ever started a project that you thought would be a piece of cake, and it ended up taking you a lot longer and costing a lot more money than you thought? I have a knack for underestimating projects. It seems easy, but when I get into it, it gets tricky.

Anytime you work with plumbing, electrical systems, or anything on an old house, you are just about guaranteed to get more than you bargained for. Last summer I started the project of painting the exterior of my house. I’ve done a lot of painting in my time and didn’t think it would be too big of a chore to pound it out.

What I think I failed to realize is that back in the day painting and fixing things was my full time job, now I have another full time job…and three kids. So I now have a house that’s about 1/3 painted. I have to wait until spring before I can finish.

Who hasn’t found themselves mired halfway through a project and fighting frustration and discouragement? This isn’t just true for maintenance projects, it also happens in life. So many people go through that period of frustration and discontentment that they’ve even given it a name- mid-life crisis.

Bouts of discouragement and depression can be brought on by a lot of things. Some of the most common causes are things like economic trouble, stress at work, relationship problems, changes in the weather, a poor diet, illness, and the loss of a loved one.

How many of you have can relate to one or all of those things?

It’s no wonder depression is on the rise. We live in some discouraging times. Even as believers in God, we still face these same hardships and frustrations. We are no less vulnerable to these attacks. Just because we are Christians doesn’t mean that we won’t have to deal with discouragement. The difference is that we have some important and even essential tools for dealing with discouragement.

When trouble comes, how do we deal with it? When faced with significant hardship how do we respond? What are the tools that we use to keep going, even when we all we want to do is curl up in a ball and suck our thumb?

In Nehemiah chapter 4 we read about a case of discouragement that threatened to stop the work of rebuilding the wall. The people there had a lot to encourage them- a commission to rebuild the wall from the king, the leadership of the cupbearer to the king, a renewed excitement and enthusiasm. They were ready to get to work and got the job done.

But in chapter 4 a number of things led to frustration, discouragement, and delay. These are the same kinds of things that we as Christians will deal with in one form or another from time to time. The tools that they used to overcome their discouragement are the same one that we need to employ.

The first thing that they had to deal with is ridicule. Look at verses 1-3 with me…

Wow, these are some pretty strong words. Sanballat calls the Jews feeble. He asks, do they really think they can rebuild the whole wall themselves? It was a huge job. Like we saw last week, it took everyone banding together to get the job done. It was no small task.

And the Jews were feeble. There was just a remnant living there. They weren’t strong, or wealthy, or very well equipped to accomplish such a difficult job.

Next he says. Can they offer sacrifices? Do they think their God will help them? This isn’t just mocking the people, but mocking God. He mocked their ability to worship and offer sacrifices to God. Sanballat might have been right about the Jews being weak and feeble, but he grossly underestimated the ability of their God.

He says, can they finish in a day? In other words, don’t they know how hard the job is? They don’t understand just how much work needs to take place.

Can they revive those old, burned stones? Can they rebuild with rubble? Again, Sanballat was right. They materials that they had to work with weren’t the greatest. But there were still plenty of useable stones to get the job done. It wasn’t going to be easy, but it wasn’t impossible.

Tobiah joined in the mockery and said, what they are building is so weak that if a fox jumped on it, it would collapse. Ouch, that’s harsh. We don’t need an army to break down their wall, a small woodland creature could destroy it.

The purpose of this ridicule was to discourage and frustrate the people of God. They mocking took place in a public setting, in a way that soon got back to the Jews. The ridicule must have had some negative effect on the people. The reason was because it was partly true. It was a huge job and they were very limited in their resources.

How old where you when you realized that the saying- “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” wasn’t true?

Words can hurt deeply. Ridicule and anger pointed at a child will cause life long damage. Belittling and condescending words pointed at your spouse will erode layers of trust and respect that may never return. Tearing people down in order to build yourself up can cause far more damage and destruction than you ever imagined.

Some of you need to fix this. You need to change the way you speak to your children. Some of you need to drastically change the way you communicate with your wife, or husband. Some of you have such a sharp tongue and a quick wit that negativity comes out so fast and so sharp, that you have a hard time controlling it.

I’ve been very convicted about this just this last year. I have a friend who I’ve known for a long time, and we often tease each other. But I realized that my teasing had become mean. In an attempt to be funny I was just being cruel. I’ve since made it a point to uplift and encourage him, and to just refrain from the teasing altogether.

How many of you can still remember a negative comment thrown out by a boss, or a coworker? How many of us still remember the name of the kid who used to pick on you in elementary school? How many of us spend way to much time believing the negative things that people say instead of trusting the promises of God?

As Christians we might face a measure of ridicule. There will be people who don’t care anything for God and deeply resent our relationship with Him. You will face people in you own families who ridicule you for your belief in God. Don’t let that discourage you.

For the Jews, if all they had to deal with was a little ridicule that would have been fine. But the ridicule and mockery soon turned into open opposition to the project. Look at verses 7-8 with me…skip down and check out verse 11 also…

The biggest problem with open opposition was that it took away the peoples sense of security. They had been threatened with attack that could come at any time, even when they least expected it.

Nothing is more discouraging and disheartening than open opposition. The natural instinct that we all have is to protect ourselves and protect our families. This threat could have quickly put an end to the work. Who wants to work in an environment that’s constantly combative confrontational?

Now in our own lives we might not face the threat of death, but we will face open opposition from many different angles. As Christians there are people out there who are openly opposed to the church. People who have a lifestyle and worldview that is completely anti-Christian. People who demand tolerance out of one side of their mouth and then boycott an ice cream shop because its owner gave money to a cause they didn’t agree with. How illogical and hypocritical.

Christianity is under attack in this country. Let me suggest a little social experiment. The next time you are in a mixed group of people, start talking about Muslims and what they believe. Mention Allah- you’ll be considered tolerant. Mention Buddha and eastern philosophy- you’ll be considered enlightened. Then mention the name Jesus Christ- you’ll be met with awkward blank stares. People will probably think you are one of those Jesus freak types.

The name of Jesus causes a reaction. There is power in that name. For some it’s life, for those who are perishing it foolishness.

There are also situations in our life where we face a lot of hostility. The kind that maybe moves beyond mere discouraging words, to outright opposition. Sometimes people find themselves in a job where they are just beat down every day. Where they are ridden hard and put away wet every day of their lives. Where the daily work environment is hostile. Have any of you found yourselves there? It’s hard to know what to do. Do you quit? Do you just put up with it? Do you try to fight the power?

Every situation is different, but one thing that is for sure, you cannot allow a difficult work environment damage who you are. You can’t let it sour your relationship with your kids- don’t transfer your anger onto them. You can’t let it damage your relationship with your spouse, hopefully they are your greatest source of comfort. You can’t let it damage you relationship with God, cling to Him all the more during times of attack.

No doubt, open opposition would be a cause for discouragement, it certainly was for the Jews here. But maybe one of the greatest causes of discouragement for us is simply fatigue. Look at verse 10…

Ridicule is disheartening, but that wasn’t their biggest obstacle. Open opposition created fear, but even that wasn’t the biggest problem. In the end the biggest source of discouragement came from fatigue. It come more from within than from the outside.

I think this is so true. I’ve found that the main source of frustration and discouragement in my life comes from fatigue more than from attack. When we get stretched to the limits we are more likely to say things we don’t mean, make poor choices, make excuses for our destructive behaviors, and just not be able to do those things that we need to do.

Fatigue comes from a couple of different places. For most American families it comes from over commitment. It comes from families that are so involved in sports and church and school and clubs, and work, and other things that you never have a free minute to just chill out. We need to learn to prioritize better, and learn to say no to things sometimes.

We started my daughter Lilly in AWANA this year and quickly discovered that it was just to much for her and for us. She didn’t like it, we felt extra rushed on Wednesday’s, and we realized that we just couldn’t do it. Hopefully she will get a chance to get involved again next year. But it’s OK to have some limits to your activities.

The other big cause of fatigue has to do with your personality. I’ve discovered through my years of schooling that while I love big groups and I am generally outgoing, I am very introverted. That doesn’t mean that I act like a shy hermit, it means that I get worn out after social events and being around a lot of people. Last week, after the funeral, two church services, and a whole host of other events, I was totally spent. I needed that day off on Monday just to recharge the batteries.

For many, fatigue leads to discouragement, and that discouragement leads to depression. We start telling ourselves that we just can’t do it. We start feeling overwhelmed and make excuses for quitting. Sometimes disillusionment leads you to start looking for ways out of your job or your marriage or your life. Fatigue can really wear you down.

Again the trick is knowing your limits and boundaries. It’s also knowing where to turn when you are at the end of your rope.

The Jews where were rebuilding the wall were clearly bombarded with discouragement. They had problems. Discouragement is universal. It is something that all of us face from time to time. And the effects of discouragement can be great.

Discouragement leads to depression, despair, hopelessness, and fear. But perhaps the greatest side effect of discouragement is that it often leads to immobility. It causes us to give up. When that happens, we are in trouble. When we become idle, inactive, closed off, we have failed. The people rebuilding this wall had plenty of reasons to give up, but they didn’t they hung in there. The discovered the antidote to their discouragement and it carried them through the rough patches.

The antidote to their discouragement started with their connection to God. The first place they went was to God in prayer. Look at verses 4-5…and also verse 9…

They prayed. This is a pretty hard core prayer here. Nehemiah says, make us like rubber and them like glue, so that everything they say bounces off of us and sticks to them. This is what is known as an imprecatory prayer. Nehemiah prays that God would destroy the enemy and drag them into captivity.

Often when we are faced with ridicule and threats our natural reaction is to attack. To go on the defensive. We often snap back with a harsh word, or some other violent behavior. We don’t leave the fighting to God, we try and take care of it ourselves.

Nehemiah had the wisdom to ask God to fight their battles for them. That’s where we need to start too. Going to God first has a couple of benefits. First, God is far better equipped to take care of our enemies than we are. He is a God who loves justice and will not let wrong doing go unpunished.

Second, going to God has the effect of giving us time to think and cool down. I don’t know how many times I’ve written an E-mail, and then spent some time praying, and then just deleted the E-mail. It’s weird how certain words seem like a good idea in the heat of the moment, but when we stop to think we realize how foolish they really are.

More than anything, when we go to God when we are frustrated or discouraged it reaffirms out trust and confidence in Him. We are reminding ourselves that we want God to be in control of our lives. We don’t need to be in charge. That’s a tough place for some of us to get to, but it is incredibly freeing and encouraging. God will answer when we pray and ask Him for guidance and strength.

The second antidote to discouragement is action. Look at 6…9…13-14…

I love verse 9 here. What a great balance of trust in God and wise actions. We prayed to God and we posted a guard. We gave the problem up to God to help us, and we took the necessary precautions to protect ourselves.

When discouragement leads to inaction that often leads to feelings of failure and depression. But when we have the courage to work through the frustration, and come out successful on the other side of it, that leads to fulfillment and great joy. What an awesome feeling it is to struggle through a tough situation, only to come out successful in the end.

When we move forward in the right way, it can break that cloud of discouragement that settles in.

These people did things like put protection in place, maybe that’s something you need to do too. Guard you time and your words and your actions. Guard your family life. Protect those things that matter and draw closer to God.

They also had a great cheerleader in their court. Nehemiah reminded them that God was on their side. And what they were fighting for was their own families, and friends. Sometimes it helps to have a reminder of why we are fighting the good fight. If you ever need some encouragement or advice I will always be here to cheer you on. That is my Job, to be a cheerleader for you- but I’m not wearing the cheerleader outfit.

Finally, these guys overcame much of their discouragement through good old fashioned team work. Look at 15-23…They banded together. They posted guards, carried swords, took turns working, even made a signal to rally behind if they were attacked.

There is great confidence and encouragement in numbers. I think one of the greatest side benefits of being a regular member of a local church is that it gives you a team. It gives you people who are all going through the same challenges together. It gives us greater resources to deal with frustration.

What a blessing it is to have this church family! We make a great team.

When faced with frustration, don’t try to go it alone, tell someone. There are a lot of people right here who would be happy to help you carry the load. Sometimes we feel like we are alone though. We have a tough time asking for help. Maybe that’s a result of the rugged individual mentality that we have. We should be able to do it all single handedly.

But that is not how we were designed. We were designed for fellowship and for interdependence. It’s OK to ask for help.

Discouraging events are inevitable. We will face ridicule, and opposition and fatigue. We will get bummed out and run down from time to time. Discouragement happens, but as long as you are equipped with the right tools, discouragement won’t turn into failure.

Let me close with this excerpt from a biography written by Thomas Edison’s son…”Hand Me Another Brick” pg. 80-81

Don’t let adversity get you discouraged. Remember that God is in control, as long as you let Him do the driving, you will get through the storm safely.