The Causes and Cures of Discouragement, Part 2

Nehemiah 4:10-14

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.”

12 Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.”

13 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. 14 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 families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.”

Dear Friends in Christ,

Sometime ago there was an interesting but rather disturbing article that appeared in the Lutheran Witness that I’m sure caught the attention of a lot of people in our Synod.  It was entitled “Clergy in Crisis.”  It began with these words:  “By 2020, unless the situation changes dramatically, between 30 and 40 percent of LCMS congregations will be without a pastor.”  The article then goes on to explain the basis for such a shocking prediction.  And one of the primary areas that it focuses upon is the discouragement that is so prevalent among today’s pastors.  It sites one survey that was conducted in which clergymen were asked, “What is it like to be a pastor these days?”  About 30% expressed great joy in their ministries.  And just for the record, I want you to know that I would count myself in that group, a lot of which I attribute to this wonderful congregation that I have been so privileged to serve for the past nearly 22 years.  But then another 30% of those pastors expressed mixed feelings about their ministries, while 20% said they were moderately stressed and approaching burnout and another 20% gave indications of high distress, severe depression and total burnout.  Statements like these were common among those pastors:  “I can’t do this anymore,” “I feel isolated and abandoned,”  “The joy is gone and I can’t take all the garbage anymore.”

Why do you suppose so many pastors are discouraged these days?  I believe it has a lot to do with the reasons we looked at in our sermon last Sunday when we focused upon some of the common causes of discouragement.  Remember what they were?  Fatigue, frustration, failure, and fear.  And it’s not just pastors that are plagued by those things today.  I would venture to guess that all of us here this morning have been there at some time or another.  In fact, some of us may even be there right now.  And while it’s nice to know some of the common causes of discouragement, wouldn’t it be even nicer to know the best cures for discouragement?  Well, that’s what we want to spend our time looking at this morning, using this 4th chapter of Nehemiah primarily as our guide.

I say “primarily” because our 1st cure for discouragement is actually found elsewhere in the Bible.  And what exactly is that cure?  Well, if the 1st cause of discouragement is fatigue, then doesn’t it stand to reason that the 1st cure for discouragement would be rest?  Rest for the body.

Unfortunately, this is where a lot of us have problems because we’re not very good at resting anymore in our hectic and high-strung day and age.  We don’t know how to relax.  We’ve grown so accustomed to always being busy, to always being active, to always being on the go that some of us feel tremendous waves of guilt sweep over us if we just take a break.  But I would suggest to you this morning, my friends, that sometimes one of the most godly, Christ-like things we can do is to rest, to take a nap, or to at least take a break.

Now where do I come off saying something like that?  Well, I get it out of the Gospels where we find Jesus on a number of occasions pulling himself away from the multitudes who were clamoring for his attention just so that he could get away by himself and rest.  For example, in Luke 5:15-16 we read:  “Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”  You understand what that is saying, my friends?  Sometimes even Jesus, the always perfect, all-powerful Son of God and Son of Man, found himself so physically exhausted by the demands of the day that he needed time to rest and recoup.  Now let me ask you something.  If Jesus felt a need to do that from time to time, what makes you think you can go full speed ahead day in and day out, week in and week out, without taking much of a break, if any at all?

But I want you to notice something else that Jesus did when he withdrew to those lonely places.  He didn’t just relax.  What else did he do according to that Luke 5 passage?  He prayed.  He found rest not just in taking a nap or engaging in some kind of recreational activity to get his mind off all the stress in his life.  He also followed the words of his ancestor David who wrote in Psalm 62:5:  “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone.”  In that same chapter David describes God as “my fortress,” “my mighty rock,” “my refuge.”  So Jesus not only rested his body, he also rested his spirit by engaging in regular communication with his Father.  And I would suggest to you this morning that if we would do the same, if we would make it a priority each day to speak to our Father through prayer and let him speak to us through his Word, our times of discouragement would greatly diminish and we would be greatly encouraged by the things he has to say to us.

Well, that takes us to the 2nd cure for discouragement that comes out in vv. 12-13 of our text where it says:  “Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, ‘Wherever you turn, they will attack us.’ 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.”  Last week we said that one of the causes of discouragement was fear.  This was certainly the case for the Jews who were rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem.  Every day they were living and working under the constant threat of attack from the enemy.  So what does Nehemiah do to counteract that fear?  He reorganizes them.  So the 2nd cure for discouragement is REORGANIZE YOUR LIFE.

Sometimes the best thing we can do when we find ourselves discouraged is to step back and re-evaluate our lives.  And part of that re-evaluation needs to be done in the light of the individual gifts and talents that God has given to us.  You see, one problem that a lot of people have today is that they don’t know how to say no.  Consequently, whenever they are asked to do something in the church or at their job or with the PTA they just automatically say yes without even considering whether or not they are capable of handling that responsibility.  And then as they find themselves struggling to meet the new demands that have been placed upon them they start to get discouraged.  They might become irritable toward family members or co-workers.  The joy they once felt in serving quickly departs.  They feel trapped.  And yet the last thing they would ever dream of doing is giving up the responsibility that they accepted because what would people think.

Have you ever been guilty of that, my friends?  If so, I want to throw out something to you right now that I hope will bring you a tremendous sense of relief.  Sometimes one of the most godly things we can do is to say no.  If you don’t feel that you are gifted or qualified for a particular task you’ve been asked to do, or if you know that taking on a certain responsibility is going to stretch you and stress you to the max, don’t do it.  Just say no.  And don’t feel guilty about it.  Now I’m not advocating laziness here.  I’m just saying look for other ways to serve where you can use the gifts and abilities God has given you and reorganize your life accordingly.  If you do that, I can pretty well guarantee that your level of stress and discouragement will decrease considerably.

Then the 3rd cure for discouragement comes out in v. 14 of our text where Nehemiah says to the people: “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome.”  So cure #3:  REMEMBER.  Remember the Lord.  Remember who he is and all that he has done for you.

Let me suggest to you 3 things in particular to remember about God when you are battling discouragement.  Remember, 1st of all, his past goodness.  Remember the tough times that you’ve faced before and how God carried you through them.  Remember the many blessings he has bestowed upon you throughout the years. Remember most importantly the cross where he took care of your greatest problem in life, your sins, and blazed the trail that would one day lead you to everlasting life with him.  Then secondly, remember his present closeness.  Has not God promised you that he will never leave you nor forsake you?  Didn’t Jesus promise right before he ascended into heaven, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age”Then lastly, remember his power for the future.  One of my all-time favorite hymns reminds us of this so well when it says:  “Because he lives, I can face tomorrow; because he lives, all fear is gone; because I know he holds the future.  And life is worth the living just because he lives.”

All of which takes us to the final cure for discouragement that we find in v. 14 of our text where Nehemiah says to 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.”   The word I’m looking for here is RESIST.  Resist discouragement.  Don’t let it get a foothold in your heart or in your mind.  Now I know that’s a lot easier said than done and some of you are probably thinking:  “That sounds great, but how do I do that?”  Well, did you know that we actually have the capacity to choose whether we’re going to be victims of discouragement or victors over discouragement?  On my bulletin board in my office I keep a constant reminder of this in a quote that comes from Bible scholar and teacher Chuck Swindoll.  I have passed it on to many people throughout the years.  It goes like this:

   “The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.  It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do.  It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill.  The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day of our lives regarding the attitude we embrace for the day.  We cannot change our past.  We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way.  We cannot change the inevitable.  The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have.  And that is our attitude…I’m convinced that life is 10% what happens to me, and 90% how I react to it.  And so it is with you.  We are in charge of our attitudes.”

While I was working on this sermon I came across an excellent example of someone who lived out that quote in his life and especially under some very adverse circumstances.  His name?  Viktor Frankl.  He was a prisoner of war during World War II.  The enemy stripped him of everything he owned, including even his wedding ring.  Yet years later he wrote these words:  “What they could not take from me was my capacity to decide to be happy.”

Now I don’t mean to minimize any of the problems that many of you may be going through right now.  Some of you, I know, are financially strapped.  Some of you are struggling with serious health issues.  Some of you are so dissatisfied with your job that you dread going into work every day.  Some of you have children who have strayed from the Christian pathway that you tried so hard to instill in them when they were younger.  Some of you are grieving the loss of a loved one.  I know one family that’s even grieving the loss of their dog, Harley, whom they had to have put to sleep recently. These are challenges that may have you feeling very distressed, distraught, and discouraged.  All I’m saying is that with God’s help and only God’s help, we can resist those feelings.  We can suppress them.  And we can become victors over our circumstances rather than victims of them.

So fatigue, frustration, failure, and fear – 4 very common causes of discouragement in our society today.  But thankfully there are 4 excellent cures for those modern-day joy snatchers.  And those cures are rest for the body, reorganizing our lives, remembering the past goodness of God, his present closeness, and his power for the future, and lastly, making the conscious decision that with God’s help you are going to resist all feelings of discouragement, knowing that the final victory over all the discouragements of this life will one day be ours, thanks to all that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has done for us.