David Jeremiah - Slaying the Giant of Discouragement
Jack Canfield was driving home from work one day, and he stopped to watch a local Little League game. As he sat down behind first baseline on the bench, he asked one of the boys what the score was. And the boy said, "We're behind 14 to nothing". He had a big smile on his face. "Really," said Canfield, he said, "I have to say you don't look very discouraged". He said, "Discouraged, why should we be discouraged? We haven't been up yet". According to the dictionary, the word "discouragement" means to deprive of courage, to deter, to dishearten, to hinder.
Actually, the word "discouragement" only appears once in the New Testament, but there are some other words which are translated in some of the more modern translations by the word "discourage". The word that most often gets translated that is a word of discouragement is the word "faint," and it's surprising how many times that appears in the letters that Paul wrote to his friends. For instance, in his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul said that it's possible to be discouraged in the ministry. He said in 2 Corinthians 4:1, "Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart".
There's the little word for discourage to lose heart or to faint. Later on in the same chapter, he reminds us that we must not get discouraged about the perishing of the outward man. He talks about the fact that it's possible for us to look at our bodies as they begin to deteriorate and get discouraged. How many of you know what that's all about? You look in the mirror in the morning and you say, "Oh, no, do I have to go out in the world like this"? And here's what it says in the book of 2 Corinthians, "Therefore, do not lose heart, do not get discouraged. Though your outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day".
Now, that's a good thought, isn't it? When you have a tendency to be discouraged because of the deterioration of the outward man, focus on the growth of the inward man. In the Ephesian letter, Paul reminds us that we can get discouraged by the things that happen to those that we love. How many of you have ever had someone that you're so close to and they're going through some difficult things and the very problems they experience cause discouragement for you? Paul mentions this in Ephesians chapter 3, he says, "Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory". In other words, "Don't get discouraged about what I'm discouraged about".
Here's one that we can all identify with. The Lord Jesus said this in Luke 18:1, he said, "Men ought always to pray and not to get discouraged, not to faint". How many of you know that sometimes when you're trying to carry on a relationship with the Lord, and you're really committed to prayer, if you're not careful, things can happen that discourage you? Prayer is probably at the very center of spiritual warfare for most of us, and it's easy to be discouraged. And the Lord Jesus says, "When you pray, don't get discouraged 'cause it's easy you to get discouraged when you pray".
So today, as we learn about discouragement, I want you to remember again that this is not a term that's foreign to the Bible. It's a term that you find in the Scripture. Sometime if you feel discouraged, you may think, "Well, I'm not very spiritual". Well, I don't know about that. I just know that discouragement is an issue that's addressed in the Scripture. And once again, I want us to turn to the Old Testament for our story to illustrate the principles of discouragement and how we deal with it. This particular situation, we're going to look at the book of Nehemiah, and we're going to focus in particularly on the fourth chapter.
Let me set the stage for this story and get you up to speed as quickly as possible. This was a very unique period in Jewish history. Almost 70 years before the Babylonians had invaded Jerusalem, and they had not only destroyed the city, they destroyed the temple. And they had carried away captives to Babylon and those captives had, for seven decades, been away from their homeland. During the end of the period of captivity, the Persians were in control and Cyrus the Persian gave these Jewish exiles permission to go back to their homeland, and to reconstitute it and begin to build it again.
First of all, under Zerubbabel, there were some who went back to begin the building of the temple. And then later on, there were two prominent men whose names are found in the Old Testament who went back to Jerusalem. One of them was a priest by the name of Ezra, and the other was an administrator by the name of Nehemiah. In fact, in the early days of the collection of the Old Testament Scriptures, Ezra and Nehemiah were just one book. It wasn't until later that they were separated out into two different books. Ezra was the priest who came back to renew the hearts of the people, and Nehemiah came back to restore the walls of the city so that they could live in safety with their neighbors.
As we come to the fourth chapter of Nehemiah, this administrative leader has galvanized the troops in Israel, and they have begun this immense building program to rebuild the walls around the whole city of Jerusalem. In fact, this project is now halfway done. You can well imagine that when the walls started to go up around Jerusalem, the neighbors of the Israelites weren't very excited. They rather liked having Jerusalem lying in rubbles with the stones burnt in the ground. Here came this nation that had all of the folklore in their minds about the power of God, and they were coming right back into their midst building up the walls of their city.
So, from every side of this project, there was all kinds of resistance and discouragement. There was Sanballat, and Tobiah, and the Ammonites, and all of the people who decided, "You're not gonna build these walls, not while we're here". They did everything they could to shut down this project through discouragement, and subterfuge, and manipulation. But by the power of Almighty God, Nehemiah had led them now, the walls are halfway up. And when we get to the fourth chapter of the book of Nehemiah, we're halfway through the project.
Now already you know, when you're halfway through, that's when you're in jeopardy. That's when you're in the most serious trouble. How many of you know halfway is not a good place? A little bit before halfway and a little bit after halfway, but halfway's not a good place. The Bible tells us that these walls were about halfway built. And so, things began to happen. The people began to get discouraged and Nehemiah had to deal with the problem of discouragement in his day. In fact, it's interesting to me that the same principles of discouragement that are observable in Nehemiah chapter 4 are the principles we deal with in our day and age as well. I have experienced these and I'm sure by the time we're finished, you will all say, "Yes, I've been there too. I've done that too".
The first thing we notice as we have our Bibles open to the fourth chapter of Nehemiah is that there was a problem of fatigue. It says in the tenth verse of the fourth chapter at the beginning of the verse, "Then Judah said, 'The strength of the laborers is failing.'" They had been working at this for many days. In fact, the building of the walls took a total of 52 days, if they're halfway through, they had been working steadily now for a month trying to restore the walls of the city of Jerusalem, and the people are tired.
Somebody said that fatigue makes cowards of us all, and I can identify with that. How many times have you discovered how much more vulnerable you are to discouragement when you are really, really tired? You have worked late, you have been working on the weekends or other things have happened in your family or in your neighborhood. And you have just been under the gun for such a long period of time. And all of a sudden, you discover that in moments like that you are really susceptible to the enemy's attack. That's what was going on in Jerusalem. Through fatigue, they had become discouraged. I've had to learn, as I've gotten older, that I can't push myself nearly as hard as I used to. Can I get a witness? Amen.
And whenever I try, I realize that it's not paying any dividends. We have to learn how to pace, and I'm not certainly want to give anybody a lecture on that because I'm your classic type-A person and I've been that way and probably not gonna change. But I have learned that I am not productive when I go too long, too hard, and it's time to take two or three days and back away. And I try to build that into my schedule now so that I don't subject myself to the discouragement that can come in times of fatigue. If you keep reading in the story, you'll discover the second reason for discouragement and that's frustration.
Something was happening here that was causing great frustration among the people of God. They were working diligently, but they were fighting a war that wasn't very exciting. It says one of the things that caused them to be tired was that there was so much rubbish that they were not able to build a wall. Now, the reason for this was when the walls were burned down and torn down, all of the stones, we're told as we read history, were burned and they were ground, and they were just big piles of rubbish everywhere. Before they could build the new walls, they had to clear out the rubbish of the old walls, find the foundations and the wall of the city. And, you know, it's kind of fun building new walls, but it's not fun cleaning up old ones, is it? It's fun seeing the house go up, but it's not fun going in and tearing out around the old foundation if you're tearing down an old house to build a new one.
And so, what happened was this, every day they would work hard. And they would come back the next day, and it seemed like nothing was there to show for their work. All they had done is gotten some more rubbish out of the way. And every time they'd try to build, there was this massive task of cleaning out the rubbish, and they got frustrated. There's a lot of talk these days about burnout. I don't know if you read the journals or hear about it, and I have people ask about burnout. Somebody said there's three ways to live, you can live out, you can wear out, or you can burn out. I'm hoping to live out, and I'm sure most of you agree that's the best way to go. But burnout is often misunderstood.
I see some people talk about burnout sometimes and it makes me smile. Burnout's not working too hard. I know people that work hard, and they're energetic, and they never burn out because there's always a focus in their life, and they're moving forward, and the goals are attainable. But burnout is working too hard at something you can't do, something that maybe can't be done. It's pulling the whole weight up the hill by yourself and realizing that when you get to the top, you're gonna get almost there and then you're gonna fall back down again, have to start all over again.
Burnout is a very difficult thing. And the people in Nehemiah's day were suffering from the burnout of rubbish removal, always having to do this and not ever being able to see. And they couldn't see anything that was going on in the rest of the project. So, sometimes discouragement comes out of the frustrations that we face in life. And then if you keep reading and you read this verse again, you'll discover that they, they were also convinced that they were gonna fail. Sometimes discouragement comes as a result of failure, or at least the sense in our minds that we're gonna fail. It says right here in this verse, "We are not able to build the wall".
And you can see them in their little chats from day to day as they were trying to move the rubbish, and they'd put up two or three blocks. And finally, they just looked at each other and said, "We've been doing this for a month, and look at what we've got. We're not even halfway done. This isn't gonna happen. We don't have the energy". And you can just hear the negative talk coming back from the people. They decided that it wasn't possible.
All of us in our lives, if we live long enough, will experience some failure. Failure is part of being a human being, we all fail. What we do with it's the difference and sometimes if we're not careful during times when things aren't going the way we would like them to go, the enemy sneaks in with his little innuendos and before we know it, we're beginning to believe the lie sometimes out of fatigue, and sometimes out of frustration, sometimes out of failure.
There's one last one, maybe the most powerful one of all, and that is fear. It says in verse 11 of Nehemiah chapter 4, that while they were trying to build this project, the adversaries came and they said, "They will neither know nor see anything till we come into their midst and kill them and cause the work to cease". In the next verse it says, "They told us ten times". So, get what's going on, this little guerrilla warfare that's happening in all the piles of rubbish around the wall. The enemies from the north, and the south, and the east, and the west, were filtering in among the builders and saying, "You just wait. When you're not thinking, when you're not watching, when you don't know we're coming, we're gonna slip in amongst you and we're gonna kill you. And one by one, we're gonna pick you off until there will be no builders left, and then we won't have to worry about this new city in our midst".
How many of you know criticism can be very discouraging? You know, every once in a while, I get a critical letter. No actually, I get a lot of them. And they're mostly not from here but, you know, from the radio and the other things we do. You can't speak as much as I speak and not have people not like what you say sometimes. And, you know, it seems to me like the enemy always knows exactly when to send that letter. Have you ever noticed that?
When you're already kind of struggling to keep things going and moving forward, and you just about got yourself re-righted and then this letter comes along. And when you get done reading that, you just look at it and you feel in your heart, "If that's true, why don't I just go turn in my Bible? You know, it's time to quit". Sometimes, if we're not careful, we can let criticism discourage us. Maybe you work someplace where somebody's on your case all the time. You know what? You can take that for a little while but over a long period of time, if you don't stay focused on the things of God, it can just wear away your resolve.
I read about a friend of mine, R.C. Sproul, who said that once in a while, he gets some critical letters. He said, "I live a public life, a public ministry. I write books, and I get letters all the time, and they just rake me up one side and down the other. And I think people sit up nights thinking up ways to devastate me," he wrote. "So, I talked to another friend of mine who's in public ministry about it and I asked him, 'Do you ever get any hate mail?' And he said, 'I get it all the time.' Well, how in the world do you handle it? I asked. His friend said, 'I write these people back and I say, "Dear Mr. So and so, I want to warn you about something dreadful. Some lunatic is sending me outrageous letters and signing your name to them"'".
Isn't that a great thought? I want to remember that one. Sometimes it's important to recognize that discouragement can come out of the fear that people put into our lives. Well, those are four reasons why people get discouraged and if you've been discouraged recently, if you go underneath the discouragement, you'll find one or two of those things that work. So, what do we do about it? How do we deal with discouragement? Once again, the Word of God has got such a wonderful way of helping us sort this through. And I want to just take it in the priority system that's here in the Old Testament Scriptures. The first thing you do, which is normally the last thing we do, the first thing you do is cry out to God.
How many of you know that most of the time if we're not careful, we wait and do that last? We have this little phrase that goes like this, "Well, I guess we're down to this. All we can do now is pray". My goodness, why didn't you start there? Notice what happened when the attacks begin to intensify upon Nehemiah's workforce. It says in verse 4 and again in verse 9 these words, Nehemiah prayed out loud, he said, "Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn their reproach on their heads and give them as a plunder to the land of captivity". And it says in verse 9, "Nevertheless, we made our prayer to God".
I want to tell you something, the first place to look when you get discouraged is up. I find that when I can take time and I'm going through a time of discouragement, to sit down with my computer and my journal and say, "Lord, I just need to tell you there's some things that are going on in my life right now that I don't understand. And they're just hard. And I just try to set them down in writing and clearly, tell the Lord what's on my heart. Something happens in your spirit when you begin to do that. First of all, you get it all out in the light.
Sometimes when you write it out and read it back, it wasn't quite the way you thought it was before you crystallized it in writing. But more than anything else, you began to cry out to the Lord as Nehemiah did. That's the beginning place. If you don't think that's the right thing to do, then I challenge you to read the Psalms because the Psalms are filled with the journal entries of David, who in the midst of difficulty and discouragement, cried out to Almighty God. After you cry out to God, the next thing you need to do is to continue the work that God has given you to do.
What is it that we are prone to do when we get discouraged? What do you want to do when you get discouraged? If you're in the midst of a project or something's going on in your life, and you get discouraged, what do you want to do, class? Quit, quit, or "I'm out of here. I'm going up to my cabin in the woods, and I'm not coming down for a couple years". You know, that's the way some people think. And we stop doing the one thing that has the greatest possibility to help us get through the process. Satan knows that if he can demoralize us and neutralize us through discouragement, he can stop the work that God is doing through us.
And what is interesting to me is that when Nehemiah was discouraged, when the discouraging word came, the Scripture tells us that he continued to do what he was already doing. Yes, he had to deal with the problem, but he didn't stop building the wall. It says in verse 6, "So we built the wall, and the entire wall was joined together up to half its height, for the people had a mind to work". On a later occasion, Sanballat and Geshem tried to get Nehemiah to leave the work that he was doing on the wall and come down and have a conference with him. And I always have loved this response.
Nehemiah said in chapter 6 and verse 3, "So I sent message to them saying, 'I am doing a great work so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?'" What was he saying? He was saying, "I'm gonna keep on doing the work that God has called me to do. And sometimes you have to put both feet on the floor with some authority and say, "I don't feel like doing this, but I'm going to do this because this is what God has called me to do".
By the way, I've been learning as I'm getting older that there's this strange thing that life does to us. It goes like this, the time you feel like doing it the least is the time you need to do it the most like exercise, right? If we let our feelings rule, we will soon be dissipated, but we can walk through our feelings and work through our feelings. When we feel like bailing, we need to keep on building. And when we feel like walking, we need to keep on working. And God can help us as we work through our discouragement.
Notice the third thing, it concentrated on the big picture. You see, what was going on in Nehemiah's time was that these people were working on little sections of the wall. There were spaces between each of them to the point where they didn't have a lot of communication with each other, and all they could see was the little pile of rubbish they were dealing with, the little bit of wall they were building. It was hard to get any perspective. Sometimes when all you can see is what's going on in your life, you look around and you think the whole world is just like what you're dealing with. As far as they knew, there was nothing going on on the other side, nothing down the way a little bit. They just kind of lost perspective. And Nehemiah did something very, very important.
In verses 13 and 14 we read it, "Therefore I position men behind the lower parts of the wall at the openings, and I set the people according to their families with their swords, their spears, and their bows. And I looked and arose and said to the nobles, and to the leaders, and to the rest of the people, Remember the Lord great and awesome. Fight for your daughters, your wives, and your houses".
How many of you know that fear and discouragement are experienced by us each one one at a time? And I can imagine the Jews as they were spread out around the wall. They couldn't see what was being done, and they needed somebody to rally them together so they could see the big picture and not get lost in their little vision of one part of the wall they were working on. So, Nehemiah organized the people and he gave them a sense of community, and he developed them so that though they were spread out from one another, they knew that they were not alone.
Discouragement so often comes when we lose sight of God's purposes and we get out of perspective. One of my favorite all-time people is Erma Bombeck. I miss her voice. I wish she were still around. During her 30-year career, she wrote a daily humor column, published 15 books, was recognized as one of the 25 most influential women in America, appeared on the "Good Morning America" program, and was on the front cover of "Time" magazine. She also was given many honors and had over 15 doctors degrees conferred upon her. But during that same time, most people don't know this, Erma Bombeck also experienced incredible troubles. She had breast cancer, she had a mastectomy, she had kidney failure, and she always somehow was able to work through those difficulties and have this perspective of the whole picture.
She wrote about it one time. She said, "I speak at college commencement, and I tell everyone I'm up there and they're down there, not because of my success, but because of my failure. Then I proceed to spin out all of them, a comedy record album that sold two copies in Beirut, a sitcom that lasted about as long as a doughnut lasts at our house, a Broadway play that never saw Broadway, book signings where I attracted two people, one who wanted directions to the restroom and the other who wanted to buy the desk". She said, "What you have to tell yourself is this, I'm not a failure. I failed at doing something, but there's a big difference. Personnel and career wise, it's been a corduroy road. I've buried babies, lost parents, had cancer, worried over kids, but the trick is to put it all together in perspective and that's what I do for a living," she said.
She did it very well. That's why we all liked her. She made us laugh at ourselves and think about life in perspective, not the isolated little challenges that we face. I have a friend whose name is Leith Anderson. He's a wonderfully gifted man who is somewhat of a futurist and has written some helpful books to all of us as pastors so that we can learn how to deal with life as it's coming at us so quickly. He says, "In the heat of a tough leadership battle, it's easy to lose hope and become pessimistic and convince ourselves of defeat". But he said, "As Christians, we have to open our eyes to see the view from where Jesus sits. When I am discouraged and my hope runs thin, I remember that I'm part of something much bigger than I am, much more important than the local church, and the gates of hell will not overcome that says the Word of God. Seeing the worldwide Kingdom of God, not just my little corner of it, is enormously encouraging to me. It builds my faith and strengthens my hope".
And then for the next several pages in his book, he just details one thing after the other that talk about all the good things that are happening because of the Church of Jesus Christ. He goes through all the countries of the world where massive evangelism is taking place. In another place in his book, he talks about what's happening with our young people. And he makes a comparison, that for every 100 worshipers in a Protestant church in America on the typical weekend who are between the ages of 70 and 79, for every 100 between the ages of 70 to 79, there are 160 to 200 between the ages of 20 to 29. And every once in a while you hear that the young people are staying away from our churches in droves. No, they're not. No, they're not. But you have to step back, don't you? You have to step back and take a look so you don't get caught up in the things that can sometimes drain away the energy of your life and discourage you. It's a matter of seeing the big picture.
Then I want to remind you that in the midst of discouragement, you'll need to learn how to claim the encouraging promises of Almighty God. Go to the Word, go to the Word of God. The one thing that you're prone to do when you get discouraged is to say, "You know, I don't feel like reading the Bible today. I'm so down". I tell people you need to learn the principle of force feeding. Get the book out, open it up, stick your feet on the floor, put your body in a chair, put the book on the desk and start reading it out loud. And sometimes I come to the Lord at the beginning of my period of fellowship with him, and I don't know if you've ever done this, I say, "Lord, Lord God, I need something from you today. I'm going through a rough place here. God, I don't want to just read these words. I want you to speak to me through your Word and I'm asking you meet me in your Word today, Lord".
Sometimes I've said, "I'm not gonna quit reading till I hear from you". And God will come, and he'll talk to you, and he'll help you through his precious Word to get over the bumps of discouragement in your life. This is an encouraging book, my friends. This is a book that will fuel the fire of your recovery and your return to the main road. There are verses like Psalm 46:1 to 3, I love this passage. "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and the mountains be carried into the sea, though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with its swelling".
There are actually two passages in the New Testament where the word "discourage" is found and it reminds us that it's possible for us to get discouraged doing good things. Have you read these words from 2 Thessalonians 3:13? It says, "But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good," and the words grow weary mean to get discouraged. Did you know you can get discouraged doing good? Friends, you can be out making calls on people in the hospital. You can be teaching Sunday school, giving your heart to it all. And in the midst of it all, you can get discouraged. Did you know that?
And the Word of God says, "Don't get discouraged doing good". And the book of Galatians says the very same thing. "Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we don't get discouraged". Let the Word of God speak to your heart. Claim the promises of God's Word, that's how you get through discouragement. And then last but not least, carry somebody else's burden. If you read verses 16 through 23 in the fourth chapter of Nehemiah, you're gonna find something interesting there. You're going to find over and over people helping each other, some people carrying, some people guarding, some people building, all of them wearing a sword. At the end of the passage, it says they stayed up all night. They didn't even go back to their homes. They stayed and says, "We didn't even change clothes, except for washing".
What were they doing? They were protecting one another and helping one another, and coming together in community to make this happen. They were carrying one another's burdens. How many of you know what happens when you get discouraged? You get so inward, you get your own little pity party, and you think the whole world is against you. And you really get down, and you forget of all the other things out there that you have something to offer to people. I found this, well, I haven't even thought about it on occasion when I've been discouraged and I had on my on my agenda that I needed to call somebody on the phone who was sick, or go to the hospital and see somebody who was in difficult straits.
And I've been discouraged and I've said, "Lord, I don't have anything to give these people. How am I gonna". And in the process of going to carry somebody else's burden, I felt that my burden was lightened. You ever had that happen? You see, God hasn't meant us to carry all of our own burdens. He's meant for us to carry the burdens of one another and to encourage one another. When we get discouraged, here's my best counsel, find somebody who needs your encouragement and go encourage them. If you want encouragement, go sow some and it'll come back to you. And in the process of encouraging and carrying the burden, you will feel the burden begin to lift off of you.
Discouragement is a real challenge and in our day and age, as we face the challenges of our very complicated culture, we need to understand how from the Word of God to deal with discouragement when it comes. It's easy for the enemy to use discouragement, to get a foot into our life, open the door and then all kinds of things can come in when we're discouraged.
John Trent, the partner of Gary Smalley in the marriage seminars over the years, John Trent tells about a woman who came up to him after he had been teaching at a conference in which he had been speaking about the importance of affirming one another and encouraging one another. And she told John about something that her son did with her granddaughter that illustrated what he had been talking about during the last hour in his conference. She said, "My son has two daughters, and one is five and one is in the terrible twos".
And when a grandmother says this child is in the terrible twos, believe me, this child is in the terrible twos. She said, "For several years, my son has taken his oldest girl for a date, but he had never taken the two-year-old until recently. On his first date with the younger one, he took her out to breakfast to a local fast food restaurant. And they'd just gotten their pancakes and my son decided it was a good time to tell this child how much he loved her, and how much he appreciated her. So, he leaned over the table and he said, 'Jenny, I want you to know how much I love you, and how special you are to mom and to me. We prayed for you for years and now that you're here and growing up to be such a wonderful girl, we couldn't be more proud of you.'"
Once he had said all of this, he stopped talking and reached over for his fork to begin eating. But he never got the fork to his mouth. His daughter reached out her little hand and laid it on her father's hand and his eyes went to hers and in a soft pleading voice she said, "Longer, daddy, longer". He put his fork down and proceeded to tell her some more reasons why he loved her and appreciated her, and then he reached for his fork. And the second time, and a third, and fourth, he heard the words, "Longer, daddy, longer". The father never did get much to eat, but his daughter got the emotional nourishment that she needed. In fact, a few days later, she came up to her mom spontaneously and she said, "Mom, I'm really a special daughter, daddy told me so".
How many of you know that when you're discouraged, you need a word of affirmation more than you need your next meal? And you know how you're supposed to get that? From each other, from each other. Did you know that every one of us need every other one of us? There's something you can do that can help me, something I can do that can help you. As we reach out to one another and carry each other's burdens, we lift this burden of discouragement so that we can go through life with joy. I never ever heard of anybody say, "I was encouraged too much". But there are a lot of people who live in encouragement deprivation, and you and I can be the answer.