Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the prince of preachers, was said to have severe struggles with depression and discouragement. It made him feel guilty that he who preached the Gospel of hope to others quite often felt overwhelmed with doubts and hopelessness. He expressed himself in this way, “I would not wish upon my worst enemy the depths of despair and discouragement I often feel for weeks at a time.” I don’t believe there's anyone in this world who can claim, “Never in my life have I felt discouraged.” We just have to page through the Word of God to learn of those who felt like giving up hope – Elijah and St. Paul were perhaps the most prominent. There's the reality we read about in 2 Corinthians 4 so many people experience today. Their lives feel like broken jars - struck down and perplexed. Let's turn to our reading from Nehemiah 4. As the people of God were rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, the men of Judah became very discouraged. Listen to what they had to say in verse 10 when they looked around and saw their reality, “The strength of the labourers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.” “I can’t do it!” has been in the hearts of thousands and thousands of people from the beginning of time. I think we all can say, “I've been there. I know how discouragement can drag me down.”
From Nehemiah 4 we first of all learn about 1 Reasons For Discouragement. The wall builders were initially excited. They began the work with great anticipation and joy. It says of them in verse 6 that the “people worked with all their heart.” Things were going well, the people were excited, and the wall was going up. Then something happened. - They Believed Negative Messages from their enemies. Listen again to what we read in verses 1 and 2, “When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, "What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their 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 at his side, said, "What they are building – if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!" Negative messages took the heart out of the work of God’s people. They decided that the insults Sanballat and Tobiah hurled at them were true. They thought that they weren’t fit for the work and the quality of their work wasn’t going to last. Have you had people – not just who you deemed as enemies, but family and friends telling you to give up on something? “You’re wasting your time. It’s not going to happen for you. The sooner you quit the better.” Such messages can be devastating in the life of any person. A man was accepted into Law School in his mid-fifties and one of the professors asked him, “Why did you wait so long to come to Law School.” The man replied, “I listened to the wrong messages. A friend persuaded me to open my own business, but for 25 years it was just a waste of time.” Do you know my friends; it’s not just with physical things that negative messages affect people. No, there are those who want to drag us spiritually down. Are you familiar with the names Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar? They were the ‘friends’ of Job who wanted to convince him that there was no benefit in following God anymore. I’m convinced that some of us here this morning had those who wanted to drag us spiritually down.
The next reason for discouragement from Nehemiah’s situation was - Fatigue. We read in verse 10, “The strength of the labourers is giving out…” To put it simple – the workers were tired; they didn’t have much left in the tank. The phrase “giving out” carries with it the idea of “staggering or stumbling.” When you are physically drained, it is very easy to become discouraged at the slightest problem. It’s interesting to notice in this passage when the workers became fatigued and dejected. Verse 6 says that the wall was built to half its height.
Many times when we start a new project the first half goes quickly because we’re excited about reaching the goal. But soon excitement turns into routine and it’s easy to become fatigued. My friends, the majority of people in our world suffer from physical and spiritual fatigue. It’s almost like they are programmed like robots to function from day to day – they get up in the morning and go to work and back home and the next day the routine repeats itself. Jesus knew everything about fatigue – He and His disciples experienced also fatigue. That's why He made the invitation in Matthew 11: 28, “Come to me, all you who are burdened and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”
From Nehemiah 4 we see 2 How To Respond To Discouragement. The first thing is - Turn To God For Help. We read in verses 4 and 5, “Hear us, O 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.” This was quite a prayer Nehemiah offered before God. He didn’t ask of God to change his enemies. Rather he asked God to bring judgment over them; to deal with them! Perhaps it’s not a prayer we will pray in our time, but what we can learn from Nehemiah was that he went to God. He didn’t first consult with his men and then decided that perhaps they should pray about their situation.
My friends, we have a Father in heaven Who understands what we face even before we go to Him. We have to take to heart what St. Paul urged the Philippians to do – “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Philippians 4: 6. A young man became addicted to gambling and owed opponents large sums of money. Because he couldn’t pay them, they sent gangsters to beat him up. When laying in his hospital bed his father after listening to his story cried out, “Don’t you know that you have a father you could turn to for help?” I think our Heavenly Father often wants to ask us the same question, “Why don’t you turn to me for help?”
Then we learn from Nehemiah - Reorganize Your Life. In verse 13 Nehemiah said, “Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest point of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows.” Nehemiah had already organized the people in chapter 3 and they had finished half of their task. Now, however, a new situation had come about that required a change in organization. If the enemies were going to attack they would most likely do so at the weakest places. So Nehemiah put guards at all the vulnerable points. This served two purposes – it discouraged the enemy and it encouraged the people because it dealt with their fear.
The life of a Christian is always to look at needed changes. We can’t stay the same people – no, more often than what we think we have to be transformed by God. We have to look at our spiritual homes and throw out what we don’t need. We need to change what is not working in our lives. In what ways are you and I going to reorganize our lives? In what ways are we going to transform this church to go forward into God’s future? Are we encouraged for what lies ahead of us? Let’s put discouragement behind us as much as it's humanly possible. And then let’s keep a prayer in our hearts, ”Guide us Heavenly Father. Go before us.” hearts,
Rev. Willem H. van de Wall