There are times when all of us are tempted to become discouraged in doing the Lord’s work. Times when you want to smile but you just have to sigh, as the poet said. Times when things just seem to be pressing in on you.
But in those moments, Scripture offers us comfort: we discover in its pages men and women of God through the ages who were discouraged too; those who ventured to serve God and confronted the same problems that continually beset us. Nehemiah was one of those people. He was unmistakably called by God to help rebuild Jerusalem. Yet he found himself faced with discouragement of every kind imaginable.
In the beginning, it seemed everything was going well. Artaxerxes, King of Persia, was more than happy to equip him for his journey and send him to Jerusalem. Then he prayerfully surveyed the ruins and soon had around him a great number of people, ready to shoulder the burden of rebuilding. But as so often happens, immediately following a time of blessing, the enemy counterattacks. There was opposition led by a couple of men named Sanballat and Tobiah, who ridiculed their efforts: What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore it for themselves? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish up in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that?” Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “Yes, what they are building—if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall!” (Neh 4:2-3). But God’s people had a mind to work, a heart to pray and an eye to watch. So for the time being, the enemy was held at bay.
But then we find something even more serious. In every advance by God’s people, we find two kinds of foes arise: external and internal. The latter is far more dangerous, and it soon reared its head. 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.” (Neh 4:10) Here we are right in the middle of the whole project, and someone comes in with a report that it can’t be done. We’re tired. We’re worn out. The job is too big for us.
Don’t you know that was a great comfort to Nehemiah! Can you imagine the sense of despair that overwhelmed him? It would have been so easy to give up; to just go back to Persia and be a cupbearer again. But we find no indication Nehemiah ever even contemplated it. He was a man on a mission for God. He trusted confidently in the Lord. He knew that even if he had to stand alone, retreat and surrender were not an option.
Do you ever get discouraged? Of course you do. It is one of the Enemy’s most potent tools. Discouragement is a disease, and it is universal. It is recurring, it is contagious—but thankfully, it is curable.
Why Do We Get Discouraged?
Sometimes we get discouraged for the same reason these people did: we are worn out. The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. They were tired, their strength was failing, they were weary of their load. Their discouragement was a function of fatigue. That happens to us too! And often, as in this case, it occurs just when the job is about half done: the excitement of the new venture has worn off and the reality of all the hard work yet to be done sets in.
Discouragement also comes when we feel weighted down. There is too much rubble. To rebuild the walls, they had to use the ruins of the old walls. But they had to dig through the rubble to get those stones. They had to remove the rubbish to rebuild. We deal with that same thing in a sense when we face a situation that seems too big to handle: the problem is not fatigue, it’s frustration.
They were also worked up. The next verse states Our enemies were saying, “Before those Jews know what has happened, we will sneak up and kill them and put an end to their work. (Neh 4:11 CEV). There was actual physical danger. So they were emotionally disturbed; they were afraid. When fatigue, frustration, and fear get together, you get discouraged.
What is the Cure?
There is a physical cure: renew your strength. A few verses later, the text says So we labored at the work (Neh 4:21). Sometimes you just have to keep on working, no matter what. Keep plugging along at it. Then the passages continues: So we labored at the work, and half of them held the spears from the break of dawn until the stars came out. I also said to the people at that time, “Let every man and his servant pass the night within Jerusalem, that they may be a guard for us by night and may labor by day.” That is, go lie down and get some rest. If you are discouraged, your problem may be that simple. When you get worn out physically, and fatigue comes, you can get discouraged. God is concerned about the physical as well as the spiritual; we need to care for ourselves.
Not only is there a physical cure, there is a spiritual one: we need to revive our spirit. Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome (Neh 4:14). That is one of the great little unknown verses in the Bible. I think of another passages with a similar message, David encouraged himself in the Lord. (1 Samuel 30:6). When you get discouraged, encourage yourself in the Lord. Think of all God has done for you. Count your blessings and see how faithful God has been. And remember that he promised he will always be faithful in the future.
You might be dealing with discouragement as you read this. You might be tired, frustrated, afraid. You might have failed. Fundamentally, the problem is you are trying to do it alone. You might be tired, you might be frustrated. Instead, let’s look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Heb 11:2). Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome.