The Causes and Cures of Discouragement, Part 1

Nehemiah 4:1-3, 10-11

Opposition to the Rebuilding

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—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!”

10 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.”

11 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.”

Dear Friends in Christ,

Have you ever heard the story of Chippie the parakeet? Probably not, so allow me to share it with you as told by a fellow named Gary Carr.  He says, “Chippie never saw it coming.  One second he was peacefully perched in his cage, sending a song into the air; the next second he was sucked in, washed up, and blown over.  His problem began when his owner decided to clean his cage with a vacuum.  She had stuck the nozzle in to suck up the seeds and feathers at the bottom of the cage when the nearby telephone rang. Instinctively she turned to pick it up.  She had barely said hello when–ssswwwwwpppppp!  Chippie got sucked in.  She gasped, let the phone drop, and switched off the vacuum.  With her heart in her mouth, she unzipped the bag. There was Chippie–alive but stunned–covered with heavy gray dust.  She grabbed him and rushed to the bathtub, turned on the faucet full blast, and held Chippie under a torrent of ice-cold water, power-washing him clean.  Then it dawned on her that Chippie was soaking wet and shivering. So she did what any compassionate pet owner would do: she snatched up the hair dryer and blasted him with hot air.  Did Chippie survive?  Yes, but he doesn’t sing much anymore.  He just sits and stares a lot. It’s not hard to see why.  Sucked in, washed up, and blown over!  It’s enough to steal the song from any stout heart.”

Do you ever feel like that, my friends – sucked in, washed up, and blown over?  If you do, you can take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone.  Instead, you’re just one of millions of Americans who is plagued by the modern-day joy-snatcher known as discouragement.  And if you don’t believe that discouragement is a problem in our country today, I’ve got a little experiment I want you to conduct this week.  Just try listening very carefully to what people around you are saying – in your home, in the workplace, at the grocery store or Wal-Mart, on the news.  You’ll hear them grumbling about the weather.  You’ll hear them grousing about their own kids or kids in general.  You’ll hear them complaining about their job, their boss, the traffic, the stress in their lives, the politicians we have running this country.  No doubt about it.  Discouragement has reached epidemic proportions in America today.

So this morning I want to talk to you about the causes of discouragement, using the 4thchapter of Nehemiah as our guide.  And then next week we’re going to take a look at the cures of discouragement, again, using this same chapter of Nehemiah as our primary source of information.  And keep in mind what I said in my sermon 2 weeks ago.  I am doing this to give you a practical demonstration of how we can read the Bible and take what seems to be a story or passage that is totally unrelated to us and yet find great meaning and application in it to our lives today.

Now 2 weeks ago we talked about how important it is to understand the original intent or context of a particular book of the Bible that we’re reading, so let me give you a little bit of background on the book of Nehemiah.  Nehemiah was a Jew living at the time when the Jewish people found themselves in captivity in the land of Babylon.  The Babylonians had conquered them in 586 B.C. but some time after that the Persians had defeated the Babylonians.  So the Persians were the ones in power at the time of our text.  And Nehemiah had so distinguished himself among them that he had been appointed as the cupbearer to the king of Persia.  It wasn’t the most enviable of positions, however, because it meant that his job was to taste the king’s wine before the king did so that in case anyone was trying to poison the king, Nehemiah would bear evidence of that.  Kind of like in our day and age when a secret service agent throws himself in front of the President and takes a bullet that was intended for him.

Well, over the course of time God raised up a Persian king named Cyrus who allowed many of the Jews to return to their homeland and work at rebuilding the city of Jerusalem.  The part of the city that they were having the greatest problems with, however, was the wall surrounding Jerusalem.  That wall represented their primary means of defense.  And a city without a wall back then was not only seen as a disgrace, but it was also easy prey for any enemy that might want to attack it.

Well, Nehemiah hears about the problems they’re having and wants to help.  So he goes to his boss, the king of Persia, and asks for permission to go back to Jerusalem and supervise the rebuilding of the walls.  Permission is granted and as so often happens with any major project or undertaking of this magnitude, Nehemiah encounters several levels of discouragement among the people.

The 1st cause of discouragement can be found in v. 10 where it says:  “Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, ‘The strength of the laborers is giving out.’”  So cause #1:  FATIGUE.  Their strength was giving out.  And isn’t that the problem that so many of us have when we find ourselves discouraged?  We’re just plum tired.  Somebody once said, “If you burn the candle at both ends, you’re not as bright as you think you are.”  And yet a lot of us are guilty of doing just that, aren’t we?  We are masters at having too many irons in the fire.  We try to cram so much into our crazy, busy, and hectic schedules and then wonder why we’re so exhausted all the time.

Some of you have heard me refer to this as the plate-spinning syndrome.  Have you ever seen one of these guys at a circus or a variety show on television spin plates on these long sticks.  He’ll get maybe 8 or 10 of them all spinning at the same time, but then what happens?  This one over here begins to wobble so he has to get that one going again.  And while he’s doing that a couple of others begin to lose their momentum so he has to tend to them.  Then pretty soon he just can’t keep up with them all and before you know it, they start crashing to the ground.

That is unfortunately an all too realistic picture of the way most people live their lives these days.  Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, refers to it in one of his books as “the tyranny of the urgent.”  I love that phrase because what is a tyrant?  It’s a dictator, right?  It’s one who rules with an iron fist.  And that’s the way many of our schedules are.  They rule us with an iron fist.  They are ruthless and relentless in the demands and pressure they place on us.  Dobson even goes so far as to say that he sees this overcommitment as the greatest threat to the stability of families today.

So fatigue – it’s a common problem in our society and a common cause of discouragement.  Add to that cause #2 which is FRUSTRATION.  This also comes out in v. 10 of our text where it says, “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.’”  That’s a great phrase, isn’t it – “so much rubble.”  You ever feel like your life is full of rubble?  How about you working moms?  You get up early in the morning to get yourself looking good and presentable for the day.  Then you have to get your kids up, feed them breakfast, get them dressed, and then to the daycare or school.  After work you pick them up and take them home.  You walk in the house and there are the dishes in the sink from breakfast needing to be done.  You open your refrigerator and try to figure out something easy yet nutritious to fix for supper.  You go into your bedroom to change your clothes and see that neither you nor your hubby got the bed made that morning.  You step into the bathroom and see towels on the floor from morning showers and dried toothpaste caked on the sink.  When you head back into the kitchen you see that your little toddler has emptied his entire toy box all over the floor.  There is rubble, rubble everywhere and you know that there’s not going to be any rest for your weary body until your head hits the pillow later on because there will be dishes to do after supper, homework to do with your kids, bedtime stories to read, and who knows what else.  And when the alarm wakens you the next morning, you know that you have another rubble-filled day that lies ahead of you.  And that can be very frustrating.

Then a third cause of discouragement also shows up in v. 10 where the people say, “…there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.”  FATIGUE, FRUSTRATION, and nowFAILURE.  Their fatigue and frustration had increased to the point that they couldn’t see any way that they would ever be able to complete this project.

Have you ever felt like that?  How about those of you who are parents?  You ever look at your kids and wonder how in the world you’re going to make it through those turbulent teenage years?  Even Dr. Dobson whom I referred to earlier understands what a challenge that can be.  He once gave the following tongue-in-cheek advice to parents of teenagers.  He said, “When a child turns 13, put him in a barrel with a lid on it and a hole in the side and feed him through the hole.  When he turns 16, plug up the hole.”  Now you teenagers probably didn’t find that very amusing, but wait till you become a parent of a teenager and you’ll see it from an entirely different perspective.

Or how about as a Christian, do you ever look at the world around you and see all that needs to be done – the lost led to Christ, the hungry fed, the shut-ins visited, the battles fought against the forces of evil that are so prevalent on television and in the movie theaters and on the internet – do you ever look at all that and think, “There is so much to do.  And who am I?  I can’t even begin to make even a tiny dent in all that needs to be done.”  Such thoughts of hopelessness and failure can very quickly and very easily lead to discouragement.

Then, lastly, the 4th cause of discouragement can be found in v. 11 of our text where the people say:  “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.’”   Cause #4:  FEAR.  Now the Jews in our text were afraid of being killed.  You and I may not have that kind of fear, but we have other fears, don’t we?  Like how about the fear of criticism?  You come up with what you think is a great idea at your job or maybe even the church, but you keep quiet about it for fear that someone won’t see it as you do.  Or how about the fear of rejection?  You’ve been burned more than once in a relationship so you’re not about to try again.  Or what about the fear of witnessing to another person about Christ?  What if they get mad at me?  What if they think I’m weird?  What if they make fun of me?

Discouragement – it’s a common problem, even among God’s most faithful people.  It can be caused by fatigue, frustration, failure, or fear, or a combination of all of them.  And like I said earlier, next week when we get together we’re going to examine the cures for discouragement that also come out in Nehemiah 4.  But before we close, I don’t want to leave you on a discouraging note.  Instead, if you’ve been a victim of discouragement in the past or just lately, I want to point you to One who knows what that feels like, and that would be Jesus.  You mean Jesus experienced fatigue?  Of course he did.  Why do you think he was sound asleep in the boat when the disciples encountered that storm at sea?  He was tired!  He was exhausted.  And Jesus experienced frustration?  You bet he did.  Just observe him in his frustrating encounters with the legalistic Pharisees of his day or his dull-minded disciples.  And Jesus experienced failure?  Well, yes, in a sense he did.  Just read John 6 where he feeds the 5000 and then gives them his Bread of Life discourse which the crowd had trouble understanding.  In fact so much so that all of them left him.  They walked out on him.  So in one day, Jesus lost more than 5000 converts.  And then fear?  Jesus even experienced that?  I believe he did.  Just look at him in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before he is to die, flat on his face, clawing the ground, sweating blood, and begging his disciples to stay awake and pray with him.

So Jesus knows what it’s like to experience discouragement.  He can relate to you better than anybody else during your times of discouragement.  But the best news is, he can lead you out of those times as well.  He can deliver you from them.  So stay close to him.  Stay focused on him and especially the cross where he took care of your greatest and most discouraging problem in life, and that is what to do about your sin.  And by all means, come back next Sunday so you can hear the 4 cures of discouragement that I think you’re really going to like.