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.
And I will tell you, of all of these, that’s the one where I blow it the most. I try to do too much. I get really tired. I get overextended. And it’s just predictable: Discouragement comes.
And so, I have to – are you ready for this? Is this, like, bizarre? I have to structure in and plan fun in my life. Is that sick? I mean, “Okay, I’m going to discipline myself. I’m really going to have fun today.” I’m serious! Because part of it is my workaholic tendencies. Part of it is, I know deep down, where I’ve come from, that there’s this identity issue of my work, and my performance has something to do with whether I’m okay.
And even when I’m doing things for the right reason that is always an Achilles’ heel. And so, I’ve learned, for me, boy, it’s really, really important to take a full day off.
The second is loss of vision. Notice their focus. Notice, they said, “Look at all this rubble.” You know that old thing about the, “Is the glass half full or half empty?” Now, wait a second. Let’s see, the wall is halfway built! And now, they’re looking at – “Man, look at all this junk. Man, look at all this junk.” No, no, no, no, no. Look at how much progress you’ve made!
But ask yourself – See, the issue here is your focus. Are you focused on what is wrong, or are you focused on what’s right?
Third is a loss of confidence. The issue here is faith. Notice what they say here, “We cannot rebuild the wall.” Now, when there was nothing done, they said, “Let us arise and build! We can do it!” They had faith! “God’s in it; the king’s in it. The materials are here! Wow!” Now that they’re half done, “Oh, we can’t do this.”
Some of you have made tremendous progress in areas, and you’re just thinking, Oh, I can’t do this. I can’t do this. Stop, and look in the rearview mirror. And part of looking in the rearview mirror – I’ll show you a little tool I have.
I started keeping journals in college, because I am so prone to see what needs to get done, and all the time – You know what? When you live off a to-do list, man, you get twenty things done, and you wake up the next day, and there are twenty-four. I’m telling you, that’s discouraging.
So, I just learned to – I started writing things down, and I would write down what God has done. And when I start to get discouraged, I look back, and I begin to say, “Well, that got done. That got done. God did that. God did that. That was a prayer for a year. That did, that did.”
And when you look back, then you get confidence, because the God who was faithful yesterday, and last month… And you start reliving and telling stories. I mean, all of a sudden, I realize, God’s big! But where is your focus? Where is your faith?
And then, fourth is a loss of security. You notice that you’ve got the Jews, you’ve got the enemies, and the key issue here is fear. “You never know when it’s going to happen, but the word is, when you’re not looking, when you least expect it, they’re going to come and they’re going to kill all of you!” And all the people are going… Right?
The economy is going to go down again. You’ll never find another job. Your wife is going to leave you because you can’t provide. Your kids are going to hate you, and think you’re a nobody. This will never – right? Fear. Fear. Fear. What if…? What about…? What if…? What about…? If so, what…?
And fear is always projecting into the future, and hypothetical grace does not exist. God is not in tomorrow. Every need – I’ve had times in my life where we’ve had absolutely no money, and all we had was a roof, and some food to eat for a couple days. And I had to go back to, “What did God promise?” A roof, protection, and food for the day. Biblically, if you have food for tomorrow, you’re rich.
And all of a sudden, our “today” gets completely ruined because, “My 401(k) wasn’t what it was supposed to. And I had this plan, and I was going to retire this year, and I can’t retire this year. And I might have to work, and have, like, six, or eight, or ten more years of productivity, and life, and joy. And I certainly don’t want to do that, because I’ve been brainwashed to think that when you get sixty something I deserve a break today, just like the McDonald’s kids. And so, I want to have a break today, and I don’t want to keep working, and I might have to work longer and… I had all that money saved up. It was just on paper; it was just on numbers. And when the numbers came in, it made me very happy, and when they went down, it made me very, very sad. And of course, my security is in Jesus, and not in money – of course not, except for when all the money goes, well, Jesus doesn’t seem very big and…”
Right? Loss of strength, loss of vision, loss of confidence, loss of security – okay, Nehemiah, help us. Blaze the trail, brother, because we need help. “Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families” – so, okay, where are we vulnerable? Get people there; get them with people that they are really going to give their lives for – “with swords and spears and bows.”
Evaluation: “After I looked things over, I stood up and I said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, ‘Don’t be afraid of them’” – why? – “remember the Lord, who is great and awesome.” Where is your focus? Where is your faith?
Let’s see, now, He spoke, and the entire universe came into existence, but He couldn’t protect you, right? He spoke, and the world came into existence, but He can’t meet the need that you’re wrestling with. No. He’s awesome.
And then, action: “Fight for your brothers and your sons, your daughters, and your wives and your homes.” There’s a lot at stake, no time for a pity party. Step up! I mean, this is the greatest coach in the world, spiritually, calling the team together and saying, “Okay, action plan: Here’s where we’re vulnerable. Here, here, here, and here. You guys get there. Let’s get in teams. Let’s get in families.”
“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 his own work.” Did you notice this guy just won’t quit? He just keeps pressing ahead. He just won’t quit. He won’t get distracted. He won’t get detracted. And so, now they’re back on the wall.
“From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, and shields, and bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind the people of Judah who were building the wall. Those who carried the materials did the work with one hand and held a weapon with the other, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. But the man who sounded the trumpet stayed by me.
“Then I said to the nobles and the officials and the rest of the people, ‘The work is extensive and it’s spread out, we’re widely separated from one another along the wall. Whenever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us here. Our God will fight for us!’”
Do you hear? He’s got a strategy. He’s got a plan: “We’re spread out. We may be vulnerable. The guy with the trumpet is with me. When you hear it, we’re going to gather together. We’re not going down, people. God is bigger than this. We’re going to fight.”
“So we continued the work” – verse 21 – “with half the men holding the spears, from the first light of dawn till the stars came out. At that time also I said to the people, ‘Have every man and his helper stay inside Jerusalem.’” Notice, the paradigm changes. He has a different plan.
The last plan was okay but the situation is different. Sometimes adversity causes us to think, Oh, we were doing this. Now there is a problem. Maybe we need to do it different.
So he says, “Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. Everyone who is working – nobody goes home anymore. We’re going to have a slumber party inside Jerusalem. Everybody gets to come.” “Every man and his helper stay inside Jerusalem at night, so they can serve us as guards by night and workmen by day.”
And then, here’s the deal, especially if you’re in any kind of influential position. If you’re a single parent, your kids look to you. If you’re the man of the house, people look to you. If you’re involved in ministry, people look to you. Listen to what Nehemiah does: “Neither I nor my brothers nor my men nor the guards with me took off their clothes; each had his weapon, even when he went for water.”
You hear what he’s saying? “It’s going to be tough; it’s going to be difficult. We’re going to step up. God is big. We’re going to make it.”
And, by the way, there are seasons when you get up at the crack of dawn, and you go to bed when it’s dark. You can’t live that way all the time, but under pressure, under stress, you say, “We’re all in, and whatever it takes, we’re going to do it.”
So much so, he models, “We didn’t even take our clothes off. At the end of the day, my sword is here. I put a little wash on my face, get a little food. And we’re not going to stop until we get this thing done.”
Fifty-two days, an engineering miracle. I had a friend who was in charge of all the engineers of this large company, from one side of the Mississippi to the other half of America, and he told me he studied this extensively. And he was very – you know, people that are real detail oriented, and figured out how big the wall was, and what kinds of things they had to do. And he says, “Absolute miracle. Absolute miracle, what occurred.”
Four resources that I’ve pulled out of this text that have been helpful to me. One, be proactive. You might jot next to that: “Get moving.” All right? “Get moving.” James 2:17 says, “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” They pray; they act. They pray; they act.
The second is, remember who is for you. Get perspective. Just remember who God really is. Mary, a little teenage girl, said – what? When the angel is speaking to her? “With God, nothing is impossible” – Luke 1:37.
Let that sink in, okay? Don’t just write – Oh, yeah, got to get that down in my notes. Get it in your heart! With God, nothing is impossible that you’re facing right now. Do you believe it, or not? Are you coming to Him, saying, “God, this is impossible! Will You intervene? I’ll do whatever. Will You intervene?” He’ll show up.
One, be proactive. Remember who God is. Then, fight. And then, the next two words are hard. Fight, fight. This is, when you face discouragement, we cave. We start feeling like, I’m a victim, I’m a victim, why, why, poor, poor, me, me. And it’s death.
It’s like the grey mist of discouragement comes in, and you start asking those questions, and it just turns dark, and black. And you gotta fight.
Paul said, “I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Now there is stored up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only me, but all those who have longed for His appearing.”
The reason he fought was perspective. “I’m hanging tough. I’m hanging in. I’m not going to opt out. I know that, you know what? There is a reward for me. Jesus is going to be enough.”
And I bet if we interviewed the apostle Paul, in prison, half that time, “How is this going to work out, Paul?” I think he’d say, “I don’t have a clue.” I think if you said, “Paul, do you ever get discouraged?” he’d look at you like, “Duh. Are you kidding me?” “Well, so, are you going to give up?” “Duh, no way.”
There was something – a fiber, and part of the capacity of the apostle Paul was forged and formed and birthed because of what he went through. And you are now the proud possessor of thirteen books, because his adversity kept him in prison most of the time. And his life… Here’s a guy who writes about joy, to a Philippian church, while he’s in chains.
Finally, never fight alone. Get connected. Get connected. Hebrews 3:13, “Encourage one another day after day as long as it’s still called Today, lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
If you just want two words to get you focused – Okay, discouragement is coming on. Number one: Get moving. Number two: Get perspective. Number three: Get mad.
Fight, fight, fight. You’ve got to get mad, because if you don’t get mad, you’ll feel sorry for yourself. I’m not going to let this happen. I’m not going to let this attitude happen. I’m not going to let this loss of a job make me feel like I’m not a man, not a woman. I’m not going to allow this person who said those things determine my future. I’m not going – just because they said I can’t get in that school… There are a lot of schools.
I’ll tell you what, fight! And part of you needs to get mad and say, “This is who I am. God, are You for me? Give me strength; give me direction.”
And then, the last one is, you get connected. Before I go over there, I just want to read this quote, because this quote, for me, is just… “In a mysterious way, our troubles allow us to discover and develop reservoirs of strength and perseverance that most of us don’t realize we have. When we lean on the Lord, He actually uses our struggles to expand our ability to deal with them. It’s a process that leads us to greater hope and deeper faith.”
Now, these four things – and this may not work for you, and if it doesn’t, that’s fine. But I was actually – earlier today, I was thinking, We’re going to talk about discouragement. And these people – man, they’re just like me. They’re going to struggle. So, here’s my anti-discouragement table. In terms of being proactive, as soon as I feel discouragement coming on, here are a few things, practical.
One, write a note to someone. Something I often do, immediately: get a workout. Those endorphins actually work. Do you feel like working out? Of course not. You don’t feel – Go get a workout. Help someone. I’ve been so discouraged, at times, I’ve actually gone to a hospital where I didn’t know anyone, and started walking room to room: “Is anybody discouraged or hurting here today? I’m a pastor. I will pray with you. I’m doing this –” I don’t tell them for me, but sometimes some good things happen.
So, you have to act. Take a walk. Make a phone call. Sing. But you have to do something to move you in the right direction.
Something, sometimes, too – are you ready? Have some fun. It doesn’t feel very spiritual. When you’re discouraged, have some fun. Whatever is fun for you… limited, moral, right, good things that are fun. You got it?
But do something, because a lot of times you’re right on that edge. Another thing I do is I’ll put on worship music, and I’ll just stick my headphones on, and find someplace – And I don’t feel like singing, but I just sing.
The second thing there is, “Remember who God is.” Three sources for me – this is a small stack. Those are journals. I probably have fifty or eighty of them, I don’t know. But what I’ll do is, I need to remember who God is. Psalm 103 says, “Do not forget the works of the Lord.” When you remember His works, it will cause you to remember His worth. Remembering His works, and what He did, will lead you to who He is.
And so, sometimes I’ll pick them up, and I’ll just start reading them. And I’ll think, Oh, wow, that’s right! I forgot my son was in ICU back then, and, Boy, we were really having big struggles in our marriage back then. And I’ll just start reading them.
Another thing I do is, I’ll pick up a classic book: J.I. Packer, Knowing God. And you can almost open it anywhere. Or, in my briefcase, I always keep A.W. Tozer, and I just start reading about the goodness of God, or the sovereignty of God, or the omniscience of God. What I know is, I gotta remember who God is.
Or I’ll take my little thing – Ken Boa has a little thing called Handbook to Prayer. And in it, he just prays Scripture prayer back to God. And I often start with, “God, I don’t really feel like doing this,” and I do it out loud. And I begin to pray these prayers, out loud, back to God. And what I find is the discouragement begins to dissipate because, one, I’m getting perspective; two, I’m getting renewed, instead of being fatigued.
And then, fight, fight, fight. On this one, all I can say is, I just often have to call someone that I know and say, “I’m really struggling right now. I need someone to fight with me. And here’s what it is, and here’s why I think.”
And that’s where you have to get connected. You just gotta find someone, somewhere, who you can be honest with, share with, they accept you as you are. Because the enemy wants to keep your discouragement, or what you’re discouraged about, or this secret that you have, as this thing, and bombard you forever and ever and ever, and make you feel like, You don’t measure up You’ll never change. Nothing is ever going to happen.
Just before the greatest accomplishments occur, we usually have obstacles and discouragement that rush into our experience.