Well, the enemy’s second punch to thwart God’s program in our lives is the uppercut of discouragement. Follow along, as I read verses 7 through 12: “But when Sanballat” – so, the wall is half built –“Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the men of Ashdod heard that the repairs of Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very, very angry.
“They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. But we” – notice again – “prayed to our God and posted a guard at night to meet the threat. Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, ‘The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we can’t rebuild the wall.’ Also our enemies said, ‘Before they know it or before they see it, we will be right there among them and we will kill them and we will put an end to the work.’
“Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, ‘Wherever you turn, they will attack you.’” Do you see what’s going on here? I mean, it’s built halfway, and now there’s an offense, and now you have a group of people who – did you hear some of those phrases?
Now they’re looking at – instead of the wall half built, what is it? All they see is the rubble. There’s too much to do. It says they lost their strength. They’re tired. They’ve lost perspective. And now, they’re hearing these whispers. The rumors are, “Wherever you are, wherever you are, wherever you are, they’re going to come, and they’re going to get you.” And Jews – some of their Jewish brothers are coming and feeding them these lies, feeding them these lies.
Let me give you the four things that flow right out of this passage that will absolutely discourage you – the four causes of discouragement. Let me give you all four, and then develop them.
The first one is loss of strength: The strength of the laborers is giving out. And write down the key word fatigue. Sometimes we over spiritualize things. When you push it, when you work hard, when you’re up early, when you’re up late, when there’s stress, when there’s a lot of demand, and you’re going at it, and then you minister after that, and you get tired, you’re vulnerable. You’re vulnerable. So, the first thing that happens, when you get really tired and really wiped out and you’re vulnerable, you get discouraged.
The second is, notice, the loss of vision. Notice what they say: “There’s so much rubble . . .” They’re half done, but all they see is that there’s – all they can see is what’s left to do. And the key word is perspective.
Think of where they were just, probably, a week or two earlier. I mean, there was rubble everywhere! And they said, “Nehemiah! Let us arise and build! Our God will do this!” I mean, they were fired up! The people worked with all their heart.
They get half done; they’re fatigued. And doesn’t this happen to you? You lose perspective. Like, “You know something? Man, I was really – you know, we kind of were going to that marriage counseling thing, but we’ve been to three sessions.” Now, instead of, “We’ve made progress,” it’s, “Man, this is a long-term deal.”
Or you start setting some boundaries for some of your kids, and you know it’s going to be really hard, and you say, “Nope. You know, we’re going to do it this way.” And they push back, push back, push back, and you start to see some results, and you think, You know what? This is just too much. You know? Forget this.
Or you fly your flag at work, and, you know, you begin to share your faith a little bit, and let people know what’s happening, and, you know, there’s this inner sense, and you start getting up in the morning and you want to meet with God, and then, you know, this happens, and that happens, and you oversleep a couple times, and there’s extra big pressure at work, and you’re up half the night, then you’re really tired. And it’s like, “You know what, God? I just…” Right?
That happens to us. And you get discouraged. And then, these little voices say, “See? God’s not going to use you. I mean, not someone like you. That whole idea, that mission’s trip? That was stupid. You shouldn’t have gone. You shouldn’t have signed up. See if you can get out of it. By the way, all the money’s not in, right? That ought to tell you something. Maybe God doesn’t want you to go.” Yeah, maybe.” Or maybe God really has something great. But you get discouraged.
The next thing is, notice, a loss of confidence is a source of discouragement. Look at the phrase, there, in verse 10, “We cannot rebuild the wall.” They’re half done, but, “We can’t do it.” And the key word there is faith. Before, they believed, By the power of God, this is going to happen. And now, they’ve lost their confidence.
And then, finally, look at verse 12: The enemy will surprise attack you. Ten different times they have a loss of security. And fear. When you get tired, when you lose perspective, when your faith begins to waver, and then when you have fear, let me tell you something: You get discouraged.
And, by the way, it’s very interesting: I’m doing this little study for the fall, and one of the ideas I had was to – it’s not what I’m going to do – take all these different attributes of God, and see where they came out in the life of Christ. And then, I went through – one morning, I read Matthew and Mark, and just . . . I read it very quickly, but I read it, just to find out times when people were in stressful situations, and what did Jesus do.
And it’s interesting. He says, “Fear not,” “Fret not.” But the most common one I saw was, “Take courage.” You’re drowning: “Take courage.” Peter, looking at the waves – “Take courage. Take courage.”
See, courage. . . Courage is, even though there is fear, even though there is opposition – courage is the willingness to step out, trusting God, and to do what you know is right, even when everything around you or inside you is scaring you to death. What did He say to Joshua? “Be strong and courageous. Be strong and courageous. Do not tremble. Don’t be dismayed.” So, when you lose your courage . . .
And so, what is discouragement? “Dis –” is just removing the courage for you to hang in there. So, you want to give in, or you give up, or you start going through the motions.
I told you the story, in the beginning of this message, about going to seminary, my third year. Let me tell you exactly where I was: I was sitting in my seat; it was in theology class. The teacher was Dr. Charles Ryrie. And you should listen to him, because he wrote his own Bible: the Ryrie Study Bible. Brilliant, brilliant guy, and really enjoyed his class.
And where I went to school, they had these large lecture halls that went down like stair steps, with these long things. And so, there were probably a couple hundred guys in the class.
And have you ever been so tired, and so discouraged, that you go into, like, a stupor? You just… And, you know, I probably didn’t get my money’s worth. I couldn’t tell you a thing Dr. Ryrie said, because all I remember doing is sitting there, going, I can’t do this anymore.
I was fatigued, probably going on four, maybe five hours sleep, max – but four, a lot – for probably two and a half years. I had lost perspective, completely. My calling – Who cares about my calling, man? I’m just, life stinks.
I only had one year left, but it was like, I can’t do one more year. My faith is faltering, my confidence . . . And then, I was afraid. I just thought, You know what? I probably won’t be a good pastor anyway.
And I was in that stupor, and I was just sitting like this . . . And, apparently, the class had ended, and everyone was gone, because, as I sat there, I felt this tap on my shoulder. And I looked up, and it was Dr. Ryrie. And I looked around, and no one was in the room.
And God used him to save my life, and save my future. It was a very short conversation. In fact, it was a one-way conversation. “Chip?” “Yes, sir?” “Don’t make any big decisions in the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours. I don’t care what’s due. Go home, and get two or three good nights’ sleep, and two or three good meals. And don’t make any decisions.” “Yes, sir.” And I figured, He wrote the Bible; I ought to do what he said. And, you know, I had, of course, a big paper due, and I just . . . You know, “Okay.”
And I slept deeply for two or three nights, got two or three, four, really good meals. And it was an amazing thing! God reminded me that, “You’ve got three years under your belt! I called you to do this! Here are the plans that I have for you.”
And you know what? I re-upped. How about you? Which one of these things is causing you to get discouraged? For some of you, maybe you just need to stop, and turn off the Blackberry.
And you know what? I have learned – because I’m doing it this week – no one dies, that I am aware of, and the earth does not stop because I don’t check my email. I’m sure there are a handful of people a little mad at me – that’s okay – but I have that automatic sender that says something really nice. You know?
But, for some of you, what if you just said, “I need to rest up. I need a good meal. I need a couple good workouts. I need to not make any decisions. I’ve gotta get off this treadmill. I’ve gotta stop. I’ve gotta get perspective”?
Recently, I realized, with the pressure, and as I was praying, when I went away, sometimes I want to get too much done, too fast. And so, the very first day, I mean, I had so many thoughts, and so many thoughts, and it was, Oh, gotta get this fall done; gotta get this fall done. And so, in the afternoons, you know – I studied all morning, and then, in the afternoons, I’d try and take a walk with Theresa. In fact, we did it every day.
And so, the very first day, I remember walking and walking and walking, and we walked about twenty-five minutes, and we turned around and walked twenty-five minutes. And we got about, you know, to the forty-minute marker, and Theresa said something like, “Wow, aren’t these trees beautiful?” It was up there near Donner Lake, Tahoe area.
And I looked up, and I realized I had walked forty minutes. I had not noticed the trees. I had not noticed the mountains. I had not noticed my wife. I had not noticed – you know, we had a little chitchat.
I’m telling you, I went through about thirty-five different titles for the next series. I mean – ppprrrrrrrr!. My little brain was going, going, going, going. And I remember just stopping, and I said, “You know what? Ingram, just lighten up. What you need to do is stop.”
And I watched the trees. And, for the next twenty-four hours, I just spent time with God, and shut off all the media, and said, “You know what? I’m going to trust that, by the time I head down this hill, three or four days later, You will give me a crystal clear idea of what You want to say to Your people at Venture Church.”
And you know what? I took a nap that afternoon. I got a workout later that day. I ate good. I limited how much of that box I watched. And I just – it was amazing. It was amazing, the renewal that happened.
Nehemiah’s response teaches us how to come off the ropes, and rule the ring. Let’s look at verses 13 to 20, and just notice some very specific things he does.
He says, “Therefore,” okay? He’s discouraged. The people have lost it. They think, We’re done. It’s not going to happen. There are threats. And, you know, all the murmuring, now, Nehemiah is hearing: “We can’t keep building this, you know. Bob already left. He and his family, they took off.”
And, I mean, if you’ve ever been a leader, and things are falling apart, it’s not a good situation, especially if you’re, like, the head of the family – male or female – but you’re head of the family and… Or you’re the head of a ministry, or you’re the head of a project at work.
Notice what Nehemiah does: “Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall in the exposed places, posting them” – notice – “by families, with their swords, spears, and bows. After I looked things over” – notice, evaluation; notice, families are together – relationships – “I stood up and said to the nobles, to the officials, and to the rest of the people, ‘Don’t be afraid of them.’”
Stop being afraid! Why? “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” In other words, “What’s at stake? Let’s remember why we’re here, what we’re doing.”
“When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we returned to the wall, each to his own work. 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.”
This is real warfare. For many of us, this will translate into spiritual warfare. “The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and they held a weapon in the other hand, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. But the man who sounded the trumpet stayed with me.
“Then I said to the nobles, to the officials, and to the rest of the people, ‘The work is extensive and spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall. Whenever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there.”
So, he’s saying, “Look, you know, we’re stationed here. We’ve made preparation. We’re ready to fight. You’ve got people protecting you here. We’ve gone to the most strategic, vulnerable spots. But we don’t know where it’s going to happen. When you hear the trumpet, that’s where we’re going to gather.” Very strategic, very clear. He has a plan.
He goes on to say, “So we continued the work with half the men holding the spears till dawn, from the first of dawn till the stars came out at night.” Translation: There are times when you bust it, in your life, in your ministry, in your walk with God. And it starts at dawn, and it ends when the stars come out.
“At that time I also said to the people, ‘Have every man and his helper stay inside Jerusalem at night, so they can serve as guards by night and workmen by day.’” And then, notice this modeling: “Neither I nor my brothers nor the men nor the guards with me took off their clothes; each had his weapon, even when he went for water.”
Now, let me give you four very practical things to do when you’re discouraged, and, for some of you, this can’t come too late, because today was, like, a discouraging day. Or maybe it was a very depressing day. Or maybe you’re thinking about some stuff, and what I have shared tonight is, like, unbelievable. You’re saying to yourself, That’s exactly where I am.
1) Be proactive. Notice, Nehemiah did not wait around, wondering, I wonder if they’re going to come? I wonder when? And what’s going to happen? He was proactive. Do something practical, and positive.
Notice that he put people in the places where they were most vulnerable. Notice that he got a mindset of battle. It wasn’t just getting the work, or the task, done. He realized, There’s a battle going on.
There’s a battle going on for your soul. There’s a battle going on for your family. There’s a battle going on for your sexual purity. There’s a battle going on for the ministry that God – It’s a holy ambition, and Satan wants to cut you, early and hard. And so, you’ve gotta be proactive.
And so, for me, this can mean taking a walk, writing a letter to encourage someone, texting someone that I care about, that I’m thinking, I just haven’t thought about them in a while. In other words, do something positive.
I will go workout. I’ll listen to Christian music. I’ll call someone whom I know very well, and say, “Hey! This is Chip. I’m discouraged. Would you just listen?” And they do. But you’ve gotta do something positive.
Discouragement and depression are like a cloud. And when the cloud comes on, you know how you can kind of feel it coming, and you’re sinking, and you’re sinking? And there’s something deep and ugly in our souls, something almost like self-pity, and it’s coming down, and, It’s really hard, and, This is a terrible place to be and I really hate to be here but I am, I am. Will someone… You know?
When you get to about here, you need to – Man, I’m putting this off! I’m not going there. And it’s a choice! You don’t feel like not going there. It’s rousing, and asking the Spirit of God to give you courage.
Second, remember who’s on your team. He says, “Our God will fight for us!” You’re God’s child! You’re loved! You matter! He’s got a plan for you! He loves you! He’s got a ministry for you! Remember who’s on your team.
One of the things I did when I was up there was, I always sort of – you know, when I’m going to take the next step, I realize that I can look at the rubble. And so, I started my time – and I won’t read them all to you, but I listed the top ten things, in the last year, that God did. I wanted to look at the wall that’s been built.
And, you know, I made a little thing about God’s amazing things with our finances, and, amazingly, that God actually gave us a house to live in, and my wife loves it. The quality, humble, godly staff; relationships with my kids and grandkids; the R12 material in our first run, just… Ten things that I look back . . .
And I just wrote them out, and printed them neatly, so that I could restore my perspective, and, when I want to move forward, say, “Remember who is on my team.” Remembering God’s great faithfulness in the past will empower you to trust Him for still greater things in the future. Now, that’s what the Psalms are all about.
Third: Fight, fight, fight. Notice, he says, “See what’s at stake! Fight for your mothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, your homes, your brothers! Fight!” We’ve lost that.
If you haven’t noticed, there is no easy way to accomplish anything of any value. The reason so many of us get sucked in to the tube is because it’s something that we can do completely passively. That’s why kids who watch a lot of TV early, and play lots of video games, often have real problems thinking, and short attention spans, because they can’t wait on anything anymore.
You’ve gotta fight. Your will is like a muscle, and you ask God, “I don’t feel like doing this,” and, you know, “When I caved in to that . . .” You are either a slave of your body, or your body is a slave to you. That’s what the apostle Paul said: “I will make my body my slave.” Your body, your appetites need to do what you say, not you do what they say.
Otherwise, you’re a prisoner: I have to watch this. I have to drink this. I have to eat this. I have to be with her. I have to let people use me. I have to let people walk all over me. I have to . . . I have to . . . I have to… You’re not a victim. Fight! Fight! Fight! And you know the areas where God is speaking to you.
And then, finally, never fight alone. He put them in families. He put them together. He put them with someone behind them to protect them.
This whole thing, this last year – and, you know, we crescendoed at about three thousand people in small groups when we did R12. I mean, believe me that . . . We who are called by God to act as shepherds and leaders in the church, are not trying to figure out how to burn up your free time, okay? And we’re not trying to figure out how to do some great kind of ministry, in some way, that would be impressive to anyone else.
What we know, from Scripture and experience, is, the people who get connected – and I don’t mean just going to a small group. You can go to a small group, and keep it superficial until Jesus comes. The people who get connected in a small group, who learn to minister, who roll up their sleeves and do something for other people that’s bigger than themselves, together, who share hearts, who share God’s Word, who tell one another the truth, who hold each other accountable with a gentleness and a love – those are the people whose lives progressively, with all the ups and downs that you’re going to have, and I’m going to have, are transformed, and become like Jesus.
And, by the way, that’s the game plan, that you be conformed to the image of His Son. You have a heavenly Father who thinks so much of you. He thinks . . . I mean, because He’s infinite – if you think of all the sand there is in the sea, all the stars, the billions and billions – His thoughts toward you are that many. You! Not somebody else. You! Because you matter, because you’re loved. He died for you, He raised from the dead. He has a plan for you. And He invites you, “Come into Me. Walk with Me. Let’s do life together.”
But He’s going to show up, certainly, in the pages of Scripture, but the Spirit of God lives inside of me! And the Spirit of God lives inside of you. And when we sit around together, openly and honestly, and can put aside our pride and our ego, and allow the Christ in me, and the Christ in you to share with one another, we’re shaped, and loved.
The way He’s going to hug you – now, you might have a big, supernatural experience, and praise God. I’m for as many as I can get of those! But most of the hugs I’m going to get from God are going to have flesh on them. They’re going to be a regular person. And when God listens to me, it’s often going to be through the ears of a kind, compassionate person.
And so, what the enemy wants to do is get you off by yourself. And when you’re alone, you get discouraged. And when you get discouraged, you do stupid stuff, and you’re vulnerable.
And we all do. I mean, I’m not down on you. You know, this is the . . . What is it? The black pot talking to the multiple kettles, or . . . I’m not very good with those expressions. But do you hear my heart?
God has a holy ambition. What’s yours? What’s yours?
Our dream, because it’s God’s dream, is to mobilize one hundred percent of the people in this church to discover the God-shaped dream that He’s forming in your heart, and have you connected with other people, and doing something that you would say, three to five years from now, “I could never imagine that God could use an ordinary person like me to accomplish His love and grace, in extraordinary ways, with others.”