I want to start with two questions. And then, I have an answer to the second question. Question number one is, what is the most difficult, distressing, discouraging situation in your life right now?
What person, what circumstance makes you feel like, I want to give up. I want to give in. Forget it. You may have not said it to anyone, but… So, I want to get that in your mind. If there’s one thing that God could just wipe away, and make right, make different, make easy, solve for you, what would it be?
Question number two is, why must you keep pressing ahead? Why must you not give up, not give in, not opt out, not even quietly quit? Why is it so important to persevere?
And here’s the answer: Because the greatest things that will ever happen in your life will be birthed or forged in adversity. Now, think of that.
The greatest things that will ever happen on this journey on earth, although we hate adversity, we hate all that comes with it – but I’m telling you, the greatest achievements you’ll ever have, the greatest relationships you’ll ever develop, the greatest discoveries that you ever have, the greatest good, the greatest impact, the greatest times when you know God, the times when you’ll be more honest with yourself, the times of greatest growth… The greatest things that will ever happen in your life will be either birthed out of adversity, or they’ll be forged and shaped during the difficult time.
And when you get with people who have lived a little bit longer, and you just start pecking around about, “How in the world did you get here, and how did this happen, and what happened?” And they will talk about pain, and difficulty, and discouragement, and redirections, and things that God did.
So, it’s true. If you would just leaf through the Bible – you just start leafing through the Bible, you’d say, “Well that’s true of Joseph; it’s true of Esther.” The New Testament – I mean, how did the early Church start off? A lot of adversity.
And it’s even true in the general world. Most people, when they quit, quit just before something great was going to happen.
I wonder what the music world would be like if Elvis would have listened to the stage manager, when he had the opportunity, for the first time, to go public, and sing at the Grand Ole Opry? And the stage manager said, “Son, keep driving trucks. You’re never going to make it.” Hmm.
I wonder what would have happened to all the people that love those Western novels, when Louis L’Amour got several hundred rejections before anyone ever said, “We think you might be able to write a book”?
I wonder what would happen if Thomas Edison, on try number nine hundred and ninety-nine, would just say, “I’m done. You know what? This light bulb stuff, this whole electric stuff, it’ll never work.” He had over a thousand failures before he discovered how the light bulb would work.
And then, I think of where the basketball world would be, or Michael Jordan, if he would have said, “They cut me from my high school team. I guess I’m not very good at this.”
So, here’s what I want you to see. What are you just on the other side of? What are you going through right now, that God is saying, “Don’t bail out. Don’t opt out. Don’t quietly quit. You need to persevere. You need to let Me use this adversity, this difficulty, this pain.”
And we’re going to talk about why God does it, but then how to overcome the number one enemy. Because what happens is, you get discouraged, and I get discouraged, and we quit.
And sometimes we act like we’re doing it on the outside, but we quit on the inside. And so, the very thing that God wanted to do doesn’t happen. The marriage that could have been saved doesn’t get saved. The kid that could have got the encouragement doesn’t get it. The ministry that was just ready to break loose – “Well, forget it. It’s never going to work.”
The person who said, “This time I’m going to make it. I’m going to break this addiction,” and, aw, they get a setback – “Oh forget it. I’m discouraged.” They quit.
And the thing is, then the ripples… Your relationships. The ripples of all the people, and all the network of those who come behind you.
Last week we said, “Adversity is an uninvited, unwanted friend,” but notice, “in the hands of an all-knowing God.” And God has three purposes for adversity, at least three.
First, to wean us from our self-dependency and pride. To usher us, second, into a deeper intimacy with Jesus. And, third, to redirect our paths. It’s during hard times you realize, You know, that’s not the right person. That’s not the right decision. That’s not the right job. To redirect our paths for our greatest good, and His greatest glory.
If you were here last week, I tried to give a little overview of God’s positive purposes for adversity, and that we believe all these lies: “It’ll never work out. I’m a failure. You can’t make it. It’s not fair. God doesn’t love me.” Lots of lies.
And now, I want you to get your pen or pencil out, because I want you to fill these in, by way of review, and if you weren’t here this will get us started. Let me tell you why God brings adversity in your life.
Number one, you need to remember, it’s normal. We taught on it last week, so I won’t give you the passages, but you need to remember, difficult, painful, tribulation, trouble, bad circumstances, unfair treatment – it’s normal.
Number two, it’s expected. Peter would say to people persecuted, “Just expect it. It’s a fiery trial. God will use it for good. He’s going to use it to test you.”
Third, it’s purposeful. This doesn’t get wasted, unless you bail out. He is going to make you, and do things in you and through you – it could never happen apart from what you’re going through.
Number four, it’s powerful. Something happens inside of people. They get established. They get strong. There’s character. There’s confidence. There’s a skill set. There’s capacity of what happens when people go through hard things.
And, finally, it’s temporary. Right? It’s not going to last forever.
Now, if you weren’t here last week, this is one of those messages that rang with people. Here’s what you need to understand: If you don’t get thinking clearly about adversity, and what God says, man, I will tell you, you will spend your whole life trying to avoid it. You’ll try to manipulate; you’ll try to maneuver.
God has the adversity, or the difficulty, or the problem, or the circumstance in your life because He knows you perfectly, and He’s all wise, and He’s good, and He wants to use it in ways to grow you deep, to give you good, to strengthen your relationships, to draw you closer to him, And then, both use you in ways, in the future, to help other people you never could if you didn’t go through it.
Now, with that said, God has a promise for you. And it’s a promise we don’t like; it’s one of those promises. Here’s God’s will for you – are you ready? Sometimes you’re, “What’s God’s will? If I just knew God’s will... It’s so difficult. It’s hard. God, show me Your will.”
Here’s God’s will: You have need of endurance – hupomeno – so that once you’ve done the will of God – you don’t bail out, you don’t give in, it’s a great attitude, I’m trusting, it’s by faith, it’s hard, I don’t like it, I’m honest with God – but so that once you’ve done the will of God, you might receive that which was promised.
There’s a rich, rich reward, but the will of God for all of us going through adversity, whether it’s in your marriage, whether it’s in your singleness, whether it’s in your job, whether it’s your lack of job, whether it’s a personal issue, whether it’s a personality problem – the will of God is, “Don’t give up. Persevere. Trust Me.” And He promises, as you trust Him, He’ll do in you and through you His perfect plan and purpose.
And what we’re going to do is, we’re going to follow Nehemiah as he blazes the trail. And in chapter 4, he’s going to face discouragement.
If you don’t know the story of Nehemiah, pick it up in chapter 1, and what you find is a man who is the right hand man of the king. And his country was much like Romania. It was going down the tubes. There wasn’t leadership. People weren’t worshipping God. It’s a complete mess.
But he’s in a position of power, next to the king. He begins to pray. God puts a dream on his heart. He recruits a team. He takes a radical step of faith. He comes up with a plan, and the king says, “I’ll tell you what, here’s some money, here’s some timber, here are some people. You can go back to Jerusalem” – he was living in Persia at the time, the world rulers – “you can go back, and get that thing going.”
And so, the people are motivated. And the agenda was to rebuild this wall around Jerusalem, this huge wall. And as we pick up the story, they’re not quite half done.
Nehemiah chapter 4 – open your Bibles, if you will, and let’s pick it up together. First three verses, “When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry” – by the way, he will be one of the bad guys in the story – “and he was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and in the army of Samaria, he said, ‘What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore the wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble burned as they are?’
“Tobiah the Ammonite, who was by his side, said, ‘What they are building – if even a fox climbed on it, it would break down their wall of stones!’”
Here’s the point I want you to get: God-ordained steps of faith are almost always followed by significant opposition, and adversity. The hardest thing to get – because we just have this unconscious idea that, If I do what God wants me to do… “We went to marriage counseling.” “I’m starting to read my Bible.” “I set some boundaries for one of my kids.” “I went to an AA meeting, or a Celebrate Recovery. I’m taking these steps! I’m…”
And then, instead of things getting better, they get worse! It gets harder; it’s more difficult, and you go, “God, what’s the deal? You prompted me; You brought people into my life. I’m trying to do what You said.”
Get this clear: When you take steps to follow God, it will almost always get far worse before it gets better. Because you’re going to make a difference. You’re going to make a difference in you; you’re going to make a difference in your family. You’ll make a difference in your relationships. You’ll make a difference in the world, and every time you do, man, there’s going to be opposition.
Notice the opposition here – attack number one: words that cause us to question our worth, our work, and our probability of success. The words were criticism, right? Ridicule.
Look at the text; it’s really interesting. Notice, “What are these feeble Jews doing?” What’s he saying? “You’re inadequate. You’re not strong enough; you’re not smart enough. You don’t have the capability. Why are you trying to do this? You don’t measure up; you don’t have it.”
How many of you have that ringing in your mind? “You’ll never amount to anything! You’ll never make it here! This isn’t going to work.” It’s the attack on your worth. And so, the criticism.
And it’s not only the attack on who they are, but notice, he goes on to say, “Will they, will they, will they, can they?” It’s only three verses. And so, what are they doing? They’re saying, “They can’t do it,” but then they attack their work. You know, “If a fox would get on what they’ve built, it would just fall down.” “Who you are doesn’t measure up. What you’re doing is not worth anything.”
And so, what’s the thing? The probability of success – if I’m sitting and listening to this, I’m thinking, You know, when Nehemiah said this, it sounded like such a good idea, and I was, ‘Yeah, yeah, rah, rah, let’s go for it.’ You know what? These guys are right. Who are we to do this? This isn’t going to work. Look how high this thing is. Look how big.
Any of you feel like that tonight? “We’ve been to three counseling sessions, and we argue more now than we did before.” “I put in four hundred and thirty-three resumes. I still don’t have a job. Forget it!” “I did what they said. I called every time I was ready to take a drag on something, and… Then, nobody noticed, and, boy, last night I just got off the wagon. I guess I’ll always be stuck.” It’s how it works.”
And sometimes, those voices of criticism – sometimes they come from out there, but a lot of times they come right in here. You’re just driving in your car. You ever heard this? “You’re never going to amount to anything.” “You don’t think you can really quit.” “You know, your son is never going to change. Give it up!” “Hey, you know what? This job is a dead end. Why do you keep…?”
And you can get up, and perfunctorily go through the motions, but your heart can get turned off and you’re no longer trusting God; you’re not longer walking with God. You’re no longer believing the promise that God can see you through this.
So, that’s the first attack. Notice Nehemiah’s response, in verses 4 through 6, “Hear us, O our God, for we are despised! Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from Your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders.” Literally, they’ve demoralized them.
So, what’s he do? First thing he does, he prays. And notice – part of us, we’ve got some really bad orientations toward – You hear the word prayer. I think some of us think prayer is, “Now I lay me down to sleep…” You know?
These aren’t “Now I lay me down to sleep” prayers. Do you feel the emotion in this one? Do you feel the passion? Do you feel the fight? “Oh God! What is going on here?” So often we feel ashamed to do that, or afraid to do that, or like God can’t handle it, or, “I shouldn’t talk to Him that way.”
Nehemiah is saying, “I’m on a mission from You. I’ve got something You’ve called me to do. And then, I’m getting ripped up. And I’m starting to have these feelings, and these thoughts, and these people around me thinking we’re inadequate, and we can’t make it, and what we’re going isn’t worth anything, and – I can hear them!”
And Nehemiah is thinking, I hear the buzz. As I’m getting my stuff over here, I hear them saying, “Hey, Bobby?” “What?” “You think he’s going to make –” “Nah, I don’t think we’re going to do it.” “I don’t think it’s going to work. I think Nehemiah is crazy, to tell you the truth. And did you hear that other stuff?” And so, he says, “God, I want You to intervene.”
You praying any of those kind of prayers? You stepping up and saying, “The God of the universe, who called me to do this – it is His will for this marriage to work.” “It is His will for this child to turn around.” “It is His will to be a light at that company.” It is His will for you to make a difference. It’s His will for you to be pure and free.
And so, you pray. But you pray boldly, and you pray with power, and you pray with passion, not some little, “Oh, God, will You help me? I don’t really think it’s going to work, but it sure would be nice if it would,” prayers.
And then, notice – you know what? He doesn’t just pray. He keeps pressing ahead. He just keeps pressing ahead. Look at verse 6, “So we rebuilt the wall until all of it reached half its height” – why? – “for the people worked with all their heart.”
Well, what’s he saying? “It was really hard. They were demoralized. We asked God for help, and while we’re asking Him for help, we didn’t sit around and have a pity party. We got after it. We just kept pressing ahead.” And God worked. In fact, He worked in a very, very powerful way.
The first attacks are with words, and they attack our worth, and our work, and our faith of believing what’s going to happen. The second most formidable attack, when you’re a Christ follower, and you are fulfilling what God wants you to do, is discouragement.
You’re going to face a lot of things in your life, but of all the things I’ve seen, I think the most devastating thing – I’ve seen really strong, really bright, really gifted people get so discouraged that they just quit doing what, obviously, God wants to bless, and already has.
And sometimes it doesn’t happen when things are going bad. I’ve had some of my most discouraging times where it’s almost unexplainable. I can say, “This is going well. This is going well. This is going well. God is blessing this, bless this.” And then, I’ll have these overwhelming feelings, You’re the worst person that I know, Chip. You’re a terrible pastor. You’re a bad dad. You’re a lousy husband. You said this, and so-and-so thought that, and this email said that.
And I’ll just have this quiet, little moment, while all this gets up into my head, and I’ll just have this thought of, You know what? Maybe I ought to do something else for a living. You ever have that? I just don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t think it’s going to work.
How do you respond to that? Everybody has that. And everybody has it in almost any area, on any given time.
And we’re going to learn that there are four causes of discouragement that – let’s look at the text together. Look at verses 7 through 12: “But when Sanballat, Tobiah, and the Arabs, the Ammonites and the men of Ashdod heard that the repairs to the Jerusalem walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry.”
So, attack number one comes: a little criticism, a little ridicule. They pray; they press ahead. Well, now they’re making progress again. Well, the enemy sees they’re making progress, and so, okay, now they’re ticked off. Here we go. “They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to stir up trouble against us.”
Now, notice the repetition here. This is almost a reflex with this man. “But we prayed to our God, and we posted a guard day and night to meet the threat.” Prayer, action; prayer, action.
Now, listen very carefully, “Meanwhile, the people in Judah…” In other words, if you would go to the local coffee shop in Judah – we’re in Jerusalem. Judah is a surrounding area. If you go to the local coffee shop, and you hear the storekeepers, and people are talking, this is the buzz. This is what people are talking about.
Notice what he says, “The people in Judah said, ‘The strength of the laborers is giving out,’” second, “‘there is so much rubble, and we cannot rebuild the wall.” Then, it goes on, “Also, our enemies...” So, this is what the Jews are saying, around Judah.
It doesn’t look like it’s going real well. “Also, our enemies have said, ‘Before they know it or see us, we’ll be right there and we’ll be among them and we’ll kill them, and it’ll put an end to the work.’ Then the Jews who lived near them –” I mean, this is – let’s get everybody in on the gang. “The Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, ‘Wherever you turn, they will attack us.’” And then, in verse 13, he responds.
If we wanted to break those apart, you see four causes of discouragement. The first is a loss of strength. And just right next to that, the problem is fatigue. What’s it say? It says, “The strength of the laborers is giving out.” You are vulnerable to get very discouraged And sometimes the problem is, you’re just fatigued. It’s too much.
You’re up early, you’re up late, you’re doing a lot. And you might even be doing a lot of the right thing. But you go, and you go, and you go, and you go, and when you get tired, and when you get fatigued, and you get emotionally vulnerable, then you are prime for discouragement.
That’s why it’s very counter-intuitive to stop and take breaks. It’s very counter-intuitive to take care of yourself. It’s very counter-intuitive to stop and do some things that are renewing, and fun, when there’s a lot to do. But as someone said, this journey is a marathon. It’s not a sprint.