Nehemiah: Becoming a Godly Leader: How Godly Leaders Battle Discouragement (Neh 4)

October 22, 2015

 

How Godly Leaders Battle Discouragement

 

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!” Hear us, O our 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. So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart…

Nehemiah 4

 

 

How do godly leaders battle discouragement? Jesus was weary unto death (Matt 26:38). Elijah prayed that he would die (1 Kings 19:4). Even Moses asked that God would take him (Num 11:15).

 

It is impossible to live life and not encounter discouragements. Chapter 4 could be called the discouragement chapter. Nehemiah encounters many discouragements while leading the rebuilding project of the Jerusalem wall.

 

In fact, after the wall was half way done, all the discouragements and attacks got worse (v. 6-8). Sanballat and Tobiah corralled an army to attack the Jews while they were working, but by God’s grace, Nehemiah inspired the Israelites to defend themselves and to continue working on the wall. In this chapter, we will see thirteen principles about how a godly leader battles discouragement.

 

Big Question: What discouragements did Nehemiah experience in chapter 4? Also, what can we learn about battling discouragement from his responses?

 

Godly Leaders Battle Discouragement by Knowing Their Enemy and His Tactics

 

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!”

Nehemiah 4:1-3

 

What is the first thing we notice about the enemy’s attacks in this chapter? We see that Sanballat became “angry” and greatly “incensed” when he heard about the rebuilding project (v.1). While the Jews were dormant, content to have their walls broken down and open for attack, Sanballat was not agitated. However, when they started rebuilding the walls, the attacks began. It started with criticism, and later Sanballat and the Samaritans tried to start a war to make Israel stop building.

 

Yes, we can be sure that it is no different with our spiritual lives. We also have an enemy of our souls, who becomes very angry when we are doing the will of God, and he will stop at nothing to make us quit. Paul said this in 2 Corinthians 2:11: “in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.” Certainly, we must know our enemy’s tactics as well. As long as we are content to be on the sidelines, content to sit in the pews, the enemy is often content to leave us alone.

 

I have talked to many Christians who said that when they started to read their Bible more, it was then that everything started going wrong in their lives, which actually made them not want to read their Bible. In fact, I heard the story of one seminary student who was studying to be a missionary, and while in school, his children started to have demonic nightmares. After these dreams persisted for a while, he set an appointment with the dean of the school. During the meeting, he shared that he knew this was an attack of Satan, and he realized that it would probably get worse when he went on the mission field. The dean replied, “Yes, you are possibly right.” Then the student proceeded to tell the dean that he had decided to drop out of school because he wanted to protect his family.

 

Yes, Nehemiah and the Israelites could have quit when their enemy became angry, and the coming attacks probably would have stopped. However, quitting wouldn’t have made them safer. It is the person who is unfaithful who is in the most danger. Satan’s desire is to steal, kill, and destroy (cf. John 10:10). The safest place is always in the will of God.

 

Similarly, we should expect attacks to increase while faithfully doing God’s will. Did we not see this in the life of Christ? While he was preparing for ministry in the wilderness, Satan came and tempted him to make him stop. After beginning his ministry, he received constant attacks from the Pharisees who he called children of their father, the devil (John 8:41). Eventually, the Pharisees, with the help of the Sadducees, murdered Christ. Christ’s attacks increased as he progressed in his ministry.

 

We should not be unaware of Satan’s tactics as well. When he hears that you are rebuilding the image of God in your life and others, there will be attacks. As we seek to serve the Lord and do his will, they will increase. We should not be surprised when this happens because our serving makes the enemy angry.

 

Application Question: In what ways have you seen or experienced the increase of spiritual attacks while doing the will of God?

 

Godly Leaders Battle Discouragement by Bringing It to the Lord in Prayer

 

Hear us, O our 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.

Nehemiah 4:4-5

 

In Nehemiah 4:2-3, we saw that not only did Sanballat criticize the Jews but so did Tobiah. Tobiah mocked their effort and said that even if “a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!” They mocked and ridiculed the Jews.

 

How does Nehemiah respond in verse 4? He didn’t stop building the wall, nor did he wallow in the criticism. It is very easy to let criticism affect us in such a way that we get discouraged, stop, or slowdown in completing the work that God has called us to. However, Nehemiah did not do any of that, he responded by bringing the criticism to God in prayer. Look at what he said:

 

Hear us, O our 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.

Nehemiah 4:4-5

 

Application Question: Why is it important to bring criticism and discouragements to God first in prayer?

 

1. It is important so that we can discern if the criticism is of God or not.

 

Sometimes, criticism may actually reflect the opinion of God even if given in the wrong manner. We, in fact, may need to reevaluate. Other times, we may need to disregard the criticism. Therefore, before we react, we should pray about it and submit it to God, so we can better discern.

 

2. It is important because it will help deliver us from the common response of returning the criticism or getting angry.

 

Fights can only happen if two sides are involved. Many times, we’ll receive a harsh comment and instead of bringing it to God, we’ll bring it right back to the person who gave it. And the next thing you know, we are in a fight. Prayer brings God into our perspective and helps keep us from responding negatively.

 

In fact, Nehemiah didn’t initially respond to Sanballat at all; he just asked God to fight their battles for them. Listen to what Paul says in Romans 12:19: “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”

 

Nehemiah prayed that God would defend Israel and do what is just. But, there is more that we can learn from this prayer.

 

Application Question: What are some negative ways that people often respond to criticism? How do you normally respond to it?

 

Godly Leaders Battle Discouragement through Corporate Prayer

 

Hear us, O our 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.

Nehemiah 4:4-5

 

It is clear from the fact that Nehemiah uses the pronouns “we” and “us” in verse 4, that when he heard the criticism, he probably gathered the leaders of Israel and began to pray corporately. When Christ was weary unto death, he called his disciples to pray (Matt 26:38). Similarly, when the apostles were commanded by the leaders of Israel to no longer speak in the name of Christ, they called a prayer meeting. Acts 4:23-24 describes this:

 

On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.

 

Many times instead of finding people to pray with, we just find people to complain to and instead of removing the discouragement, it actually increases it. The friends we talk to often encourage the negativity, instead of encouraging corporate prayer and faith.

 

Who do you go to for prayer when you are discouraged?

 

Application Question: Who do you share your discouragements with? How often do you use corporate prayer as a remedy for discouragement? How effective is it?

 

Godly Leaders Battle Discouragement by Praying the Will of God

 

Hear us, O our 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.

Nehemiah 4:4-5

 

Certainly, we must notice how Nehemiah prayed. He prayed essentially that God would fight against the Samaritans; he prayed a curse. This is very different from what Christ taught in Matthew 5:44. We are called to love our enemies, to bless, and to not curse them. This doesn’t sound like a blessing prayer to me. How should we reconcile this with Christ’s teachings? Was Nehemiah wrong in praying this prayer?

 

Interpretation Question: How should we explain the fact that Nehemiah prayed a curse upon the Samaritans? How should we reconcile this with the teachings of the New Testament?

 

I don’t think Nehemiah was wrong because he was praying in conjunction with the Scripture revealed to Israel. In Deuteronomy, God made a covenant with Israel that they were to follow him, and as they followed him, God would give them the land of Canaan and defeat their enemies. Consider Deuteronomy 28:7: “The LORD will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven.”

 

When the Israelites were disobedient, they would be defeated by their enemies, and when they were obedient, God would fight for them.

 

This is exactly what happened with Joshua when he led Israel to conquer the Canaanites. The Jews, at this time, were under the Mosaic Covenant, and therefore, Nehemiah was praying in accordance with that covenant.

 

With that said, we are no longer under the Old Covenant, but the New Covenant in Christ. Moses is not our mediator; Christ is (cf. Rom 7:4, 1 Cor 9:20-21) and he taught us to pray blessing over our enemies and not curses (Matt 5:44). We should pray for their salvation, for them to be led into repentance and righteousness. However, there is a place for trusting a holy and just God to do what is right in his time. Vengeance is the Lord’s, and he will repay (Romans 12:19).

 

I have met Christians who actually pray curses over those who oppose them, which only adds to their discouragement and frustration and never allows them to have peace. Christ prayed “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34). Christ knew that they were ignorant and blinded by the enemy (2 Cor 4:4), and therefore, he prayed for their forgiveness.

 

One of the things we can take from Nehemiah’s prayer is that he prayed according to the will of God as revealed in Scripture. We should do the same in order to overcome discouragement. This will give us peace and remove discouragement.

 

Jesus when confronting the cross and persecution prayed, “Lord not my will but your will be done” (Lk 22:42), and while on the cross, he prayed for the forgiveness of his persecutors. Similarly, Paul taught that we should pray for the salvation of everyone including unjust leaders (cf. 1 Tim 2:1-4). Certainly, we should pray for the salvation of those who persecute us or that they may know Christ more. We should pray in accordance with God’s will as revealed in Scripture, even as Nehemiah did, in order to battle discouragement. 

 

Application Question: Why is it important to pray for our enemies? How does it affect us?

 

Godly Leaders Battle Discouragement by Continuing to Work with All Their Heart

 

So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.

Nehemiah 4:6

 

We must notice the other way that Nehemiah and the Israelites responded to the criticism. First, he prayed to God, but secondly, he and the Israelites continued to work with “all their heart.” This is a very important way for believers to respond as well.

 

Satan often uses criticism, problems, or difficulties to discourage believers and to make them quit. However, instead of quitting, the Israelites responded by “working with all their heart.” They were fully devoted to doing God’s will and worked with all their energy to complete the wall. In fact, in the face of criticism, they worked until it was half way done (v. 6).

 

Consider what Paul told Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:12-15. Timothy may have been in similar circumstances. The implication from the context is that he was receiving criticism because of his youth. He was young for Greek standards, and this may have made it harder for him to minister to those who were older. Paul said this:

 

Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.

1 Timothy 4:12-15

 

Even in the face of criticism, Paul told Timothy to be an “example,” to “devote” himself, to be “diligent,” and to give himself “wholly” to the work of God, so that his progress would be made known to all. Timothy was essentially called to work with all his heart, even in the face of criticism. In the same way, the Israelites worked heartily until it was half way done. We must do the same. Instead of quitting or slowing down in God’s work, which is the enemy’s desire, we must work with all our hearts in order to glorify God.

 

Application Question: In what ways does the enemy try to make you stop or slow down in doing God’s work by bringing discouragement? How can we practice being more devoted to the ministry God has given us even when facing discouragement?

 

  • Remember that we are ultimately seeking to please God (cf. Col 3:23).

  • Remember the grace of God that is available to us (cf. 2 Cor 12:9).

  • Remember the people we are serving (cf. Phil 2:3-4).

 

Godly Leaders Battle Discouragement by Being on Guard against Attack

 

But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the men of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem's walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.

Nehemiah 4:7-9

 

We see here that, because the completion of the wall was advancing, the enemies of the Jews decided to take the next step and bring an army against them. How did the Jews respond?

 

The Jews prayed again, but they also posted guards to watch for any attacks. Nehemiah heard the rumor and responded by protecting the Israelites and their work through posting guards day and night.

 

Similarly, as believers in a spiritual battle, we also must be on guard and protect ourselves from constant attacks. In the Old Testament, Israel battled against the Hittites, the Philistines, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Samaritans, etc. However, our battle is not against flesh and blood, but it is a spiritual battle against powers, principalities, and rulers of the darkness (cf. Eph 6:10-12). How do we guard ourselves?

 

We do this primarily by guarding our hearts and minds since we know that our enemy is always attacking as well. Listen to what Solomon said: “Above all else, Guard your heart for out of it flows the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23).

 

Solomon said that our heart, which is our mind, will, and emotions, affects everything. It affects our worship, our service, our relationships, our leisure, etc. Therefore, it is the place that the enemy focuses his attacks, and therefore, it must be guarded, especially against discouragement.

 

Application Question: How should we practice guarding our hearts so we do not succumb to discouragement and attacks from the devil? What types of attacks on our heart should we be aware of?

 

1. We must guard our hearts against anxiety or fear.

 

Proverbs 12:25 says, “Anxiety in the heart of man brings depression.” Our enemy is constantly trying to bring worries about the future, worries about relationships, worries about deadlines, etc., because he realizes where there is anxiety, soon comes depression. When depression comes, the work stops, or it is not done well. Scripture also says that worry chokes the Word of God and makes it unfruitful (cf. Matt 13:22). Anxiety or fear will keep us from being fruitful in our understanding of the Lord and ministry to him.

 

Similarly, in Proverbs 29:25, Solomon said, “the fear of man is a snare” or it can be translated “a trap.” Many people are ensnared by what people say or think about them; their family’s opinion or the opinion of friends or employers ensnare them and discourage them from moving forward in God’s plan. Nehemiah discerned that the initial criticism was not of God, and we must do that as well. Many Christians are ensnared by the fear of man.

 

2. We must guard our hearts against sexual temptation.

 

Paul said, “Flee sexual immorality” (1 Cor 6:18). It is interesting that in 1 Peter 5:9, we are called to resist the devil, but when it comes to lust, Paul said, “Run away.” It is a very potent attack that Satan uses to ensnare Christians and keep them from progressing spiritually. Sexual immorality is extremely dangerous. It destroys people’s minds, bodies, and relationships. It traps Christians and keeps them from progressing in the Lord. Scripture says that it is the “pure in heart that will see God” and the pure in heart alone (Matt 5:8). It is for this reason that it is a common snare of the devil. We must at all cost guard against sexual immorality.

 

3. We must guard our hearts against idolatry.

 

We were made to worship, and therefore, idolatry is a common sin of our hearts. Some have called the human heart an “idol factory.” If we don’t worship God, we will worship something else. First Corinthians 10:14 says, “Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.”

 

Satan will try to bring an idol to take our focus off God and his work. It can be a relationship; it can be a job; it can be a hobby; it can be school; it can be entertainment; etc. He will even use good things like family or ministry to come between us and our worship of God.

 

Listen again to what Solomon said: “Above all else, guard your heart for out of it flows the issues of life” (Prov 4:23).

 

This must be our priority if we are going to battle discouragement. We must guard our hearts so that we can complete whatever God has called us to do. We certainly see this with Nehemiah and the Israelites as they later had a weapon in one hand and a brick in the other while building (v. 17). We must build and guard at the same time because Satan is always trying to stop the work. Defense is one of the best protections from discouragement.

 

Application Question: In what ways is God calling you to guard your heart from Satan’s attacks? In what ways does he commonly attack your heart and bring discouragement?

 

Godly Leaders Battle Discouragement by Being Balanced with Faith and Works

 

But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the men of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem's walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.

Nehemiah 4:7-9

 

Application Question: Are there any other practical truths we can learn from Nehemiah’s praying and then posting a guard to protect his people (v. 9)?

 

I think this reminds us of our responsibility to be balanced. Sometimes, people only pray in a difficult situation but never do their part to remedy it themselves. Sometimes, they will even claim to be walking in faith by doing this. However, faith always has corresponding works (cf. James 2:17). If we are praying for a spouse, we must put ourselves in a position to meet a potential spouse. If we are praying for future steps, we must be active in looking at doors. Certainly, there are times of waiting on the Lord, but many times, even then, God has called us to be active in our waiting.

 

Nehemiah trusted God to protect them, but he also knew they had to do their part. This will help remove many discouragements as we both trust God and, at the same time, do our part. Put it in God’s hands through prayer, but actively work to solve the problem. Listen to what Paul said:

 

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

Philippians 2:12-13

 

Paul said to work out our salvation, our process of becoming like Jesus, because God is working in us to will and do of his good purpose.

 

Our responsibility and God’s sovereignty is a mystery that somehow works together in perfect harmony; however, we have a tendency to tip to one side or another. One person works but doesn’t rely on God. Another relies on God but doesn’t work. I think we see a proper balance with Nehemiah; he called the people to pray, but he also called them to guard themselves. They trusted God but at the same time did their part.

 

It has been said, “Pray as though it all depends on God but work as though it all depends on you.” There is a lot of truth in this. We must seek proper balance.

 

Keeping a proper balance will help us battle discouragement. How is God calling you to trust him and, at the same time, do your part? This could apply to situations such as finding a spouse, getting a job, reconciling some conflict, or discerning what’s next in the future. We must trust God and actively do our part. This will help keep us from discouragement.

 

Application Question: In what ways have you seen people who say they are walking by “faith” but are not willing to do their part? How do we keep a balance between faith and works?

 

Godly Leaders Battle Discouragement by Being Aware of Weeds amongst the Wheat

 

Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.” Also our enemies said, “Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and 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 us.”

Nehemiah 4:10-12

 

In verses 10-12, we see several different discouragements that happen back to back. The tribe of Judah came to Nehemiah with a discouragement saying that the laborers were giving out and there was too much rubble. This would have been especially discouraging since the tribe of Judah was the noble tribe from which David came and the prophesied messiah would eventually come.

 

One of the things we know about the tribe of Judah, as seen later in the book, is that they were compromised. They were working with Tobiah, the enemy. Nehemiah 6:17-19 says this:

 

Also, in those days the nobles of Judah were sending many letters to Tobiah, and replies from Tobiah kept coming to them. For many in Judah were under oath to him, since he was son-in-law to Shecaniah son of Arah, and his son Jehohanan had married the daughter of Meshullam son of Berekiah. Moreover, they kept reporting to me his good deeds and then telling him what I said. And Tobiah sent letters to intimidate me.

 

We see that the wealthy in Judah had actually partnered with Tobiah. They were loyal to him through marriage. We will also see in chapter 13:15-17 that the nobles in Judah were more worried about making money than doing the will of God. They will eventually start desecrating the Sabbath in order to make a profit.

 

Application Question: How can we apply Judah’s compromise with the enemy to the church and to our lives?

 

Similarly, one of the greatest tactics of the enemy is attacking from within the body of Christ instead of from without. Attacks from the enemy often come through those who claim to follow the same Lord. The enemy will even raise up leaders from within the church to hinder the work of God.

 

The man or woman of God must be aware of this or he or she will become very discouraged while doing God’s work. It could be a pastor, a Sunday school teacher, a friend, or a family member who unknowingly is not speaking the will of God. It is for this reason that the man or woman of God must clearly discern the voice of God among the many voices.

 

How do we see this in Scripture?

 

We see this reality in the Parable of the Weeds (Matt 13:37-40) where Jesus described how Satan has planted weeds amongst the wheat. The false will always be among the true. Jesus taught his disciples this so that they would be prepared and kept from discouragement, and we must understand this as well. Listen to Christ’s interpretation of this parable in Matthew 13:37-40:

 

He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age.

Matthew 13:37-40

 

In the context of teaching about the kingdom of heaven, Christ thought it would be very important for the disciples to be aware of this. Christians often think the church should be “heaven on earth,” but no, the current state of the kingdom of God is “weeds” amongst the “wheat.” This is true because we have an enemy who is trying to stop the harvest.

 

No doubt, this knowledge would be important for Nehemiah to understand as well, especially as the leaders of Judah kept giving him discouraging messages. We must know the enemy’s tactic of placing weeds amongst the wheat. It will help keep us from being surprised and subsequently defeated.

 

Application Question: Why is it important to understand the state of the kingdom as weeds and wheat in order to protect us from discouragement? How have you experienced this or seen others become discouraged in the church because of it?

 

Godly Leaders Battle Discouragement by Understanding the Tactic of the Evil Day

 

Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.” Also our enemies said, “Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and 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 us.”

Nehemiah 4:10-12

 

Observation Question: What were the different discouragements against Nehemiah and the Jews in Nehemiah 4:1-12, and especially verses 10-12?

 

When we look at all the different discouragements from v. 1-12, we will see that the enemy was attacking the Jews with a great assault. First, we saw the criticism from the Samaritans (v. 1-3), then we saw them gathering for war (v. 8). Now, we see the nobles of Judah probably intentionally trying to discourage Israel, the Samaritans’ threats, and also the discouragement of the Jews who lived near them (v. 10-12).

 

Is there anything we can learn from this barrage of discouragements in verses 10-12?

 

Yes, I believe so. Our enemy commonly brings an “all-out assault” with the intention of discouraging and making believers give up. I think Paul refers to this when talking about spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6. Look at what he says: “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13).

 

Paul says that we need to be ready because at times the enemy will bring a “day of evil,” a season of evil. There will be seasons when the enemy brings an “all-out” attack on us. It may show up in problems at work or school, family issues, a sickness, or all of the above. In these seasons, it is very easy to have the same feelings shared by the Jews as they were anxious and ready to give up. Ten times they cried out to Nehemiah, “They will attack us.” The enemy’s tactic made them anxious.

 

These are common words and feelings in the “day of evil.” We, no doubt, see this tactic and response with Job. In the season that God allowed the enemy to attack him, he lost his children, his wealth, his health, and even his friends turned against him. All he had left was a critical wife. This was an all-out assault and even Job cried out, “I curse the day I was born” (Job 3:1). He didn’t want to live anymore.

 

Have you ever gotten to the point where you just wanted to give up, you just wanted to throw in the towel? Moses felt that way and so did Elijah. This is a common response to the day of evil, and Nehemiah 4 is a good picture of this.

 

This is an important tactic to understand; otherwise, you will be more inclined towards frustration and giving up. You could become angry with God and with others if you do not understand the nature of Satan’s tactics. He brings the day of evil for the purpose of discouraging you and making you quit.

 

It is good to remember that God only calls for us “to stand” in the day of evil. Ephesians 6:13 says, “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

 

Essentially, God says, “Stand! Don’t quit and don’t give up! Persevere!” It is in this season that the words of James should be a great comfort to us, “But let patience [perseverance] have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (1:4, KJV). In this season God will build us up and mature us through perseverance. As with Job, sometimes God’s primary purpose in the season is for us to faithfully persevere while trusting in him. Romans 5:3-4 says this: “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

 

In battling discouragement, I think it is important to recognize the season of all-out assault, the day of evil. We are in a literal war, and we must be aware of this tactic of the enemy meant to discourage us and make us quit. Like Nehemiah, we must stand our ground and trust God in the day of evil (cf. Neh 4:14).

 

Application Question: Have you ever experienced this type of spiritual warfare where attack after attack tried to discourage you? How did you respond?

 

Godly Leaders Battle Discouragement by Focusing on the Lord

 

After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don't be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.

Nehemiah 4:14

 

Observation Question: How did Nehemiah encourage the people in the face of war, threats from the enemy, and the worries of his people (v. 10-11)?

 

Nehemiah responded to all-out assault by helping Israel refocus on God. He stood up and called them to “Remember the Lord.” Remember the promises in his Word; remember his great and awesome exploits in the past.

 

If we are going to stand in the day of evil, we also must renew our focus on God. Is this not what David did when fighting Goliath? Listen to what he said:

 

David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I'll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel.

1 Samuel 17:45-46

 

When the armies of Israel were cringing at the site of this giant, David saw God and said, “This day the Lord will hand you over to me.” David focused on God and, therefore, was not discouraged like the rest of Israel.

 

Don’t we also see this with Israel entering the land of Canaan? Eight of the ten spies only saw the giants in the land and, therefore, discouraged Israel from entering. However, Joshua and Caleb said this: “It is a great land and the Lord will hand it over to us” (Numbers 14:7-8, paraphrase). The fundamental difference between the two spies and the eight is their view point. The two saw God, and the rest saw only the giants.

 

In Nehemiah’s scenario, the tribe of Judah was discouraged and felt it was impossible to finish because they only saw the rubble (v. 10). It was too much of a task. The Jews only saw the army. Ten times they said, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.” However, Nehemiah saw God. “Remember the Lord,” he said. One cannot but think of the story of Peter’s wife being crucified as we consider Nehemiah’s response to the army. When Peter’s wife was going to be crucified, tradition says that Peter cried out to his wife, “Remember the Lord.” He called her to focus on Christ in the midst of their trial.

 

The author of Hebrews taught the same thing as he spoke to the Jewish Christians who were being persecuted for their faith (cf. Heb 10:32-33). In chapter 12, he encouraged them to fix their eyes on Jesus. Look at what he said:

 

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:2-3

 

The author of Hebrews told them to consider Christ so that they would not grow weary and lose heart. Like Nehemiah, Peter and his wife, and the Hebrew Christians, we must focus on God in the face of discouragements.

 

What are you focusing on in the midst of your trials? If you find yourself angry, frustrated, and worried then you are probably focusing on the size of the task and the detractors instead of focusing on God. Isaiah 26:3 said, “You keep him at perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you” (ESV).

 

Nehemiah called the Israelites to “Remember the Lord.” We must do the same thing for ourselves, and we must also remind those who we are leading to do the same. As leaders, we must call them to regain their focus on God through his Word, prayer, and fellowship with the saints, so that they may stand and not faint.

 

Application Question: How can we refocus on God in the midst of difficulties?

 

1. We must have godly accountability who constantly calls us to refocus.

 

We each need a Nehemiah, somebody who continually calls us to refocus on God. This could come by being in a Bible-preaching church where the messages constantly challenge us to get right with God. Sometimes it comes through personal relationships with mature Christians who are willing to invest in our lives. We need accountability to help us refocus.

 

2. We must have consistent spiritual disciplines.

 

Being in the Word of God, prayer, worship, and fellowship will always refocus us on God. Those who are undisciplined will find the giants in their lives too big, and this will discourage them and make them want to give up.

 

Application Question: How do you refocus on God in the midst of your trials? Who is your Nehemiah?

 

Godly Leaders Battle Discouragements by Taking Times of Rest and Retreat

 

Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows…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.

Nehemiah 4:13, 15

 

After hearing about the Samaritan plot, it is clear from verse 15 that some of the Jews stopped working for a short time in order to focus on the oncoming attack. We may have seasons like that in serving the Lord where we need to solely “focus” on our spiritual battle as well. There is a Greek proverb that says, “You will break the bow if you keep it always bent.”

 

In the same way, many of us stay “bent” all the time, which eventually wears us out and causes us to succumb to discouragement. We are always serving, always building, and always studying, but at times, we need to rest so that we can later build more effectively. For some, this may come through a time of fasting, further training in ministry, extended time studying the Bible and in prayer, or simply just resting and spending time with family so they can one day go back and build more effectively.

 

Many essentially lead themselves into discouragement because they don’t practice proper rest and retreat. It is good to remember that when Elijah was depressed and ready to die in 1 Kings 19, God brought him food and allowed him to rest. The Lord led him to a cave where he spoke to him in a small voice, and then the Lord gave him Elisha to wash his feet—to help with the burden. Elijah needed a time of physical restoration and spiritual restoration. In what ways is God calling you to find rest and retreat so you can later build more effectively?

 

“You will break the bow if you keep it always bent.”

 

Application Question: In what ways have you found yourself prone to depression and discouragement for lack of proper eating, sleeping, and rest? In what ways do you find rest and retreat in order to protect yourself from discouragement?

 

Godly Leaders Battle Discouragement by Developing Supportive Relationships

 

Then I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “The work is extensive and spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall. Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us!”

Nehemiah 4:19-20

 

In verses 19 and 20, we see that everybody was spread out while working, making them more vulnerable to attack. However, Nehemiah realized that if they were attacked, they would need each other’s support. Therefore, in the event of an attack, the trumpet would be blown, and everybody would gather to the area of the battle to fight together.

 

It should be the same way in our lives. We were never meant to carry the burden of ministry, fighting in spiritual warfare, or serving our families and the Lord alone. When there is an attack, we need to sound the alarm and seek help.

 

Application Question: How should we practice this principle of developing supportive relationships in our lives, in order to battle discouragement?

 

1. We must be willing to be vulnerable with others.

 

One of the problems with many in the church is that they keep everything hidden. If families have financial problems, they tell their children, “Shhh… Let’s keep this to ourselves.” If the husband and wife are struggling in their relationship, they come to church and put on a smile like there is nothing wrong. People would rather act as if everything is okay instead of sounding the alarm and getting help. By allowing pride to keep them from being vulnerable, they ultimately allow the enemy to attack them and wound them severely, if not destroy them.

 

If we are going to develop supportive relationships in order to fight discouragement, we must be willing to share our problems with others. We must learn to be vulnerable. James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”

 

2. We must be willing to support others.

 

Many Christians are just concerned about themselves. In the event of an attack on Israel, those who were doing their job and not under attack would flee their seemingly secure positions to help others. They carried the burdens of others. Many Christians are too consumed with their own work to carry the burdens of others. However, this is exactly what Scripture calls us to do. Galatians 6:2 says, “Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

 

Carry one another’s burden and so fulfill the law of Christ means to pick up somebody else’s pain. It means to touch their dirty feet as Christ did (John 13). We all must be willing to do this if we are going to have supportive relationships where we not only receive but also help others when they are in trouble.

 

Are you willing to support others when they succumb to depression, lust, sickness or family discord?

 

David had Jonathan when he was down. God brought Elisha to Elijah when he struggled with depression in 1 Kings 19. Christ had the three apostles: James, John, and Peter, and then the nine. Who do you have? Who do you support and who supports you?

 

Application Question: Who do you support and who supports you when down or under attack?

 

Godly Leaders Battle Discouragement by Sacrificially Serving Others

 

So we continued the work with half the men holding spears, from the first light of dawn till the stars came 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 us as guards by night and workmen by day.” Neither I nor my brothers nor my men nor the guards with me took off our clothes; each had his weapon, even when he went for water.

Nehemiah 4:21-23

 

We must also notice that Nehemiah confronted the potential attack by making every man guard the base at night and work during the day. These men served the community by working “double duty.” Listen again to what he said:

 

At that time I also said to the people, “Have every man and his helper stay inside Jerusalem at night, so they can serve us as guards by night and workmen by day.” Neither I nor my brothers nor my men nor the guards with me took off our clothes; each had his weapon, even when he went for water.

Nehemiah 4:22-23

 

He confronted the potential attack by finding a few good men, including himself, to serve the community as guards. They worked so hard that they never even took off their clothes (v. 23). These men refreshed and served the community.

        

I think there is a lesson in this about battling discouragement. We should often battle discouragement by serving others.

 

Those who are depressed often become the most selfish people in the world. There is a tendency to isolate oneself and separate from others. However, Nehemiah and these men became selfless; they served the community as guards. They served so diligently they never even got to change their clothes. They sacrificed to serve others.

 

In the same way, serving others is one of the best ways to battle discouragement. Listen to what Solomon said: “those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed” (Proverbs 11:25).

 

Jesus said something similar in John 13:17 to the disciples about washing one another’s feet. He said, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

 

This seems a little strange. You would think he would say “washing others feet” blesses the people receiving it, but no, he said that the givers would be blessed.

 

Yes, in the same way, there is tremendous value in battling discouragement through serving others. The men of Israel were ready to give up; there was too much rubble, too much work. They were frightened because they could be attacked at any moment, and they battled this by zealously serving the others in the community. Yes, they blessed others but the greatest blessing went to the people serving. Those who refresh others will be refreshed.

Who are you serving zealously? What community has God called you to serve so zealously and sacrificially that you lose sleep and some comforts in order to bless them? Yes, this does not only bless them, but it will bless you.

 

Listen to the blessings that God declares will go to those who serve others sacrificially in Isaiah 58:6-12:

 

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

 

Isaiah says that those who loose the chains of injustice, untie the cords of the yoke, set the oppressed free, share their food with others, provide the poor with shelter, and care for their own family will have tremendous blessings (v. 6-7). Their light will break forth, which no doubt refers to righteousness. They will be healed (v. 8). Doors will open for them as their righteousness goes before them (v. 8). God will protect them as their “rear guard.” God will answer their prayers (v. 9). God will guide them and satisfy their needs even in desperate situations (v.11). They will be refreshed like a well-watered garden, and they will be given the opportunity to help more people (v. 12).

 

The blessings that come to those who serve are tremendous, and it is one of the ways we should battle discouragement. Yes, there is a tendency to pull away and isolate ourselves, but that goes against biblical and practical wisdom. Divine refreshment comes to those who sacrificially serve others. Yes, there is a need for balance in having times of service and times of rest. But when our service necessitates great labor, we can trust God will provide and give more grace (James 4:6).

 

Application Question: In what ways have you experienced blessing, refreshment, strength, etc., while serving others? How can we tell when it is time for us to rest or when we should extend ourselves in service to others?

 

Conclusion

 

How do godly leaders battle discouragement?

 

  1. Godly leaders battle discouragement by knowing their enemy and his tactics.

  2. Godly leaders battle discouragement by bringing it first to the Lord in prayer.

  3. Godly leaders battle discouragement by corporate prayer.

  4. Godly leaders battle discouragement by praying the Lord’s will, as revealed in Scripture.

  5. Godly leaders battle discouragement by continuing to serve with all their hearts.

  6. Godly leaders battle discouragement by guarding their hearts from the enemy.

  7. Godly leaders battle discouragement by being balanced with faith and works.

  8. Godly leaders battle discouragement by being aware that there are weeds amongst the wheat.

  9. Godly leaders battle discouragement by understanding the tactic of the evil day.

  10. Godly leaders battle discouragement by focusing on the Lord.

  11. Godly leaders battle discouragement by at times taking rest and retreat.

  12. Godly leaders battle discouragement by finding supportive relationships.

  13. Godly leaders battle discouragement by sacrificially serving others.

 

Authors Note:

 

Nehemiah: Becoming a Godly Leader is available as a pre-order. If interested, click here. Please pray for God to use this book to raise up leaders for His Kingdom.

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