The Discouragement Test

For the past several weeks, we’ve been looking at some of the ways that God tests our faith.  First, we looked at the wilderness test.  When things in life get difficult, do we worry, or do we trust God?  The second test — when God makes us wait and things don’t happen as quickly as we’d like for them to, are we able to wait patiently?  The third test – why do we do the things that we do for God?  And last week, we looked at the fourth test – how do we react when we fail, when we really mess up?

            This morning, we’re going to close out this series by looking at a fifth test that God gives us, what I’ve called the discouragement test.  What do we do when we get discouraged?  And this is a test that we all have to take because everyone deals with discouragement; no one is exempt from it.  No matter how godly you are, there are still going to be times when you get discouraged.    There were times when Moses was discouraged.  There were times when David was discouraged.  There were times when Elijah was discouraged.

            One thing about discouragement is that it is contagious.  Someone has described it as a virus.  If you’re around someone who is discouraged, that discouragement can spread.  I think of the twelve spies of Israel who came back after they checked out the land of Canaan, and ten of them said, “This is a mistake.  We can’t do it.  They too big, they’re too strong.”  And it didn’t take long for that discouragement to spread throughout all the people of Israel.  Now I realize we can’t isolate ourselves from people who are discouraged, but we can learn to protect ourselves.

            But, first of all, what do I mean by discouragement?  Discouragement is losing the desire and the motivation to continue doing something.  In regard to the Christian life, it means that someone has lost the desire and the motivation they had when they first gave their life over to God.  When someone comes up out of the waters of baptism, there’s an excitement, there’s a desire to do great things for God.  But, maybe as the years go by, they lose that enthusiasm and they’re just ready to quit.

            Discouragement has a way of sucking the life out of you.  It’s not just an emotion, it’s a way of thinking.  Let me tell you some of the things that happen to someone who’s discouraged.

  • Depression — You reach the point that you just don’t care anymore — about yourself, about others.  You don’t want to see anybody, you don’t want to talk to anybody.
  • Low energy — you stay tired all the time.  You don’t feel like doing anything.
  • Feelings of worthlessness — you don’t feel like you’re accomplishing anything.  You feel like a failure.
  • Feelings of hopelessness — You can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.  You get the overwhelming feeling, “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”  You feel powerless to control your circumstances or your mood.

            When I talk about discouragement from scripture, I usually like to go to the prophet Elijah.  Elijah was great man of God.  And what we remember most about him was his victory on top of Mt. Carmel.  It was Elijah versus 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Ashteroth.  They held a contest to see which God could consume their sacrifice with fire.  And, of course, Baal couldn’t do anything, but Yahweh had the power not only to consume Elijah’s sacrifice, but to consume it after twelve jars of water had been poured over it.  And when God got finished, there was nothing left but a scorched spot on the ground and the Israelites began to cry out, “Yahweh is God!”

            This was the highest point in Elijah’s life.  He was on top of the world.  But, shortly after that, things changed drastically.

            Here’s an interesting bit of trivia for you — the highest point in the continental United States is in California.  Mount Whitney is 14,494 feet above sea level.  The lowest point in the continental United States is also in California.  Death Valley reaches as low as 280 feet below sea level.  What is especially interesting is that Mount Whitney and Death Valley are only about 100 miles apart.  Even in nature, God often puts the highest and the lowest points close together.

            The same thing often happens in our spiritual lives and our emo­tions.  Maybe you’ve noticed that when you’re attending a lectureship or a workshop where thousands of Christians are gathered from all over the coun­try and the singing sounds incredible, you feel on top of the world.  But then you go home and it isn’t long before you start to feel depressed. 

            Perhaps it will help for you to know that you’re not the only one who goes through those highs and lows.  We all do.  Even somebody as great as Elijah experienced the same thing.  One day, he’s on top of the world with thou­sands of Israelites around him chanting, “Yahweh is God, Yahweh is God”.   And the next day he was depressed and discouraged.  He ran into the wilderness, sat under a tree and begged God to just take his life.

            But, this morning, I want to look not only at Elijah, but also at Nehemiah who was the leader who helped the Jews to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem after they returned from captivity.  It was God who put it into Nehemiah’s heart to take the long journey to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls.  When he got to Jerusalem, Nehemiah surveyed the city and the damage, and he put a plan of action into motion to rebuild the walls.  Nehemiah rallied the people together, shared God’s vision with them and soon the work was under way. 

            They got about half-way finished building the wall when discouragement set in.  And that’s the way that  it usually happens, doesn’t it?  We start a project with excitement and enthusiasm, and about half way through, we get discouraged.  We look at what we’re doing and it just seems like we’re not making much progress.  It seems like the more we work, the less we accomplish.  So, I think we can all relate to what happened to Nehemiah. 

            We’re going to be in Nehemiah chapter 4 this morning.  I want us to see in this story, first of all….

I.          What Causes Discouragement

A.        Fatigue

            In verse 10, “In Judah it was said, ‘The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing.’” (Nehemiah 4:10).  Or, as the New Living Translation puts it, “The workers are getting tired.”

            The number one cause of discouragement is fatigue.  These people were tired, they were worn out.  They had worked long and hard for months and months.  They were physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted.  And when you’re exhausted, it’s difficult to be on a spiritual or emotional high.

            Let me remind you when fatigue and discouragement usually set in.  Back in verse 6, “So we built the wall.  And all the wall was joined together to half its height.” (Nehemiah 4:6).  The wall was half-way built. 

            Fatigue and discouragement tend to come at the midpoint.  Everybody’s got lots of energy when you start doing something.  It’s a new project, a new problem, a new solution.  But after a while, the newness of the project wears off.  You get tired, you get weary, and discouragement sets in.

            When does the newness wear off the car?  When it’s about half paid for.  When do you get discouraged in remodeling a house?  Usually about half way through the remodeling process. When fatigue sets in, discouragement is likely to follow.

            We see the same thing with Elijah.    Emotionally, he was spent.  Physically, he was fatigued.  His experience on Mount Carmel had drained him.  Then he ran to the king’s palace.  And then a long-distance run to Beersheba and beyond.  And when you’re down physically, there’s a good chance you’ll be down spiritually as well.  When you are physically exhausted, discouragement is likely to set in.

            Football coach Vince Lombardi used to say, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”  Everyone has a limit.  You’ve got your limit, and I’ve got mine.  It’s important to recognize when you’re getting close to that breaking point.

            A second thing that causes discouragement is….

B.        Frustration

            Again, in verse 10, “In Judah it was said, ‘The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing.  There is too much rubble.  By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall.’” (Nehemiah 4:10)

            The workers became discouraged because they were so aggravated with the situation. I’m sure they were dealing with broken rocks, dirt, and dried-out mortar, and other debris that was underfoot. This junk was everywhere.  And it was frustrating.  They said, “There is too much rubble.”  When we look around and all we can see is the rubble and the debris and everything there is that’s left to do, we can get discouraged.

            Have you ever worked at a job where your work is never finished?  No matter how hard you work, there’s always more to get done.  There’s always more paperwork.  There’s always another sale to make.  There’s always more laundry to do and more dirty dishes to wash.  All of that is frustrating and it can cause us to get discouraged. 

            We see the same thing with Elijah.  When Elijah got so discouraged, God asked him what the problem was and he said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken your covenant, torn down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword.  I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.” (I Kings 19:10).

            Elijah said, “I thought I won a victory up there on Mount Carmel, but nothing’s really changed.  The people of Israel are going to go back to worshipping Baal and I’m the only one trying to do what’s right.  After all my efforts, I have nothing to show for it.  I might as well just give up.”  He felt like a failure.

            Going back to Nehemiah 4, the people said, “There is too much rubble.  By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall.” (Nehemiah 4:10).  We can’t do it.

            Back in verse 6, we saw that “the people had a mind to work.” (Nehemiah 4:6). Another way to say that is they had a heart to work.  You’ve heard the saying; “I just don’t have the heart for it anymore.”  Somewhere along the way, the Jews lost their heart to continue working because they were so frustrated.

            When we get frustrated, we become overwhelmed with the feeling that we’ll never be able accomplish what we set out to do.  Things are too difficult.  The obstacles are too overwhelming.  And so, we start to think, “I’ll never be able to finish what I started.”

            Frustration leads to discouragement.  Then, a third reason for discouragement is….

C.        Fear

            There are people around us who want to discourage us.  Verse 11, “Meanwhile, our enemies were saying, ‘Before they know what’s happening, we will swoop down on them and kill them and end their work.’” (Nehemiah 4:11, NLT)

            There were some enemies of the Jews who didn’t want that wall built.  They were doing everything they could to keep the wall from being built.  First, they ridiculed the Jews, then they criticized the Jews, and finally they threatened the Jews — “We’re going to kill you!”  No one likes to be ridiculed, criticized, and threatened.

            There was a constant threat of danger. As a result, the Jews felt fear which led to their discouragement.

            We see that the same thing happened with Elijah.  He wasn’t afraid of 850 false prophets, but when Queen Jezebel said that she was going to kill Elijah, he knew that she meant what he said and that’s why he ran away and got so discouraged. 

            On top of Mount Carmel, Elijah knew that God was with him.  His eyes were focused on God.  The prophets of Baal didn’t bother him.  It was Elijah and God.

            But, in his state of emotional exhaustion, he took his eyes off of God and he looked at Jezebel, he heard Jezebel, and where normally he would have stood his ground, he ran for cover, kept on running, and didnn’t stop until he ended up in a desert hundreds of miles away. 

            God had proven time and time again that he would take care of Elijah, but all Elijah could see right now was Jezebel and the threat she posed, so he was afraid

            We need to be careful who we listen to.   Not everyone who gives you advice is interested in your well-being and success.  The truth is there are some people who would love to see you fail and they would give anything for the opportunity to make you fail.  If you constantly live near negative people and you constantly listen to people who ridicule, criticize, and threaten, you’re going to get discouraged.

            Fear will discourage you.  And it doesn’t have to be a fear of people.  It can be a fear of embarrassment, fear of failure, fear that you have to be perfect, fear that you can’t handle the pressure.

            And here’s how you’ll know if you’re discouraged because of fear.  You’ll do the same thing that Elijah did.  You’ll have a strong desire to run away.  “I’ve got to get out of this place!  I’ve got to quit my job!”  You have this deep desire to escape to a safer place, to escape from the demands and the pressures of your responsibility.

            Fatigue, frustration, and fear are all things that can cause discouragement.  So, let’s look now at:

II.        The Cure for Discouragement

A.        Rest

            It makes sense that if fatigue is one of the things that brings on discouragement, then rest is one of the things that helps us to get rid of it.  Sometimes the best thing to do when you’re discouraged is to stop what you are doing for a while so that you can rest your body and your mind. And then, after a little bit of rest, you can come back to the task with a new attitude.

            That’s what God did with Elijah.  He gave him time to sleep, and then he gave him some food.  I Kings 19, verse 5, “Then as he lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel touched him, and said to him, ‘Arise and eat.’  Then he looked, and there by his head was a cake baked on coals, and a jar of water.  So he ate and drank, and lay down again.'” (I Kings 19:5-7).

            Even Jesus recognized the need to rest after a period of spiritual activity.  In Mark 6, “The apostles returned to Jesus from their ministry tour and told him all they had done and taught.  Then Jesus said, ‘Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.’ He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat.” (Mark 6:30-31, NLT).  In the life of every Christian, it’s important to make sure we get enough rest. 

            God said in Psalm 127, “It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved ones.” (Psalm 127:2, NLT).  Rest is so important that God put it in the Ten Commandments.  He said, “every seventh day you Jews need to rest.”  If you ignore getting the rest that you need, you’re going to get discouraged.

B.        Reevaluate and Reorganize

            We read in Nehemiah 4:13, “So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows.’

            When everybody got discouraged, Nehemiah reevaluated and reorganized how they were doing the work.  Basically, what Nehemiah was saying was this, “We need to get a better system in place.”

            One of the steps in conquering discouragement is to reevaluate and reorganize your life.  Discouragement doesn’t necessarily mean you are doing the wrong thing.  It may just be that you’re doing the right thing in the wrong way. Was it wrong for the people of God to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem? No, but they weren’t going about it in the most effective way and, as a result, they got discouraged. 

            The tendency when we get discouraged is to give up on our dream, give up on our plans.  When you get discouraged, don’t give up.  Instead, work on a new approach.  Reevaluate and reorganize.

            Maybe there’s a problem in your marriage.  The first solution is not to bail on your spouse. Change your approach.  Adopt a new attitude.  Get some help.

            If you’re having difficulty in your walk with God, don’t stop following Jesus.  Re-organize your schedule, make some adjustments so you can spend more time with God.  Connect with godly people.

            Whatever difficulty you’re facing, pray to God for wisdom and try a new approach.  Reevaluate and reorganize.

3.         Remember the Lord

            Verse 14, “Then as I looked over the situation, I called together the nobles and the rest of the people and said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid of the enemy!  Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious…” (Nehemiah 4:14)

            Nehemiah redirected their attention toward God.  Stop looking at the rubble and start looking at God.  Remember, we serve an awesome God.  Sometimes, if we’re not careful, we will forget the Lord in our times of discouragement.  

            Nehemiah knew, even in the face of opposition, that the success of building the wall was entirely dependent on God.  The people were actually telling the truth when they said back in verse

Verse 10, “By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall.’”  It’s true.  The people couldn’t rebuild the wall on their own.  They needed to remember God.

            I don’t know about you, but when things get tough, it’s easy for me to forget God. I need to be reminded that he’s always there for me.  How do we remember the Lord? By remembering three things about God.

  • Remember God’s goodness to you in the past.  Make a list of all the good things in your life, all of the things that have been positive.  Remember God’s goodness.  Make a list.  “Count your many blessings, name them one by one and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”  Remember God’s goodness to you in the past.
  • Remember God’s presence is with you now.  Jesus said “Lo, I am with you always.  I will never leave you or forsake you.”  You are never without Christ.  Open your eyes and see God’s closeness in the present.  There is no experience in life that you’ll go through that God doesn’t go through with you.  Recognize that you’re not in this alone.  God is with you right now. 
  • Remember God’s promise for the future.  God’s Word is full of promises. God says, “As your days are, so shall your strength be. … I will give you the power…. I will help you.”  Over and over, God gives these promises that he will give you the strength you need.  “I will help you.  I will strengthen you.  I will see you through this.”

            When we get discouraged we need to remember the Lord.  We see this with Elijah when he was discouraged.  God came to him in a small still voice to remind Elijah that he was there, even when things were quiet.

            So, when you’re down, turn your attention from your discouragement to the one who can do something about it.  God has been faithful to you in the past.  He is faithful to you today.  He has promised to be faithful to you in the future. Remember the Lord.  Remember his promises. Remember his goodness.  Remember his power.  Our God is great and awesome!  Remember Him. 

4.         Resist Discouragement

            In verse 14, “Don’t be afraid of the enemy! Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes!” (Nehemiah 4:14)

            Don’t give in to discouragement without a fight.  Don’t run away from what you’ve committed to do.  Resist the discouragement.  Remember why you’re in this.  Especially if this is something you’re in for your loved ones, your family and not just for yourself.

            As Christians, we are in a spiritual battle with negative forces working against us.  As I said last week, the devil is our accuser and he wants to defeat us by discouraging us.  That’s his number one attack because he knows that a discouraged Christian is not going to accomplish much.  Our enemy wants to neutralize our effectiveness.

            The Bible says in James 4:7-8, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.” We are at war with these negative forces.  You do not have to be discouraged. It is a choice. If you’re discouraged it is because you are choosing to be discouraged.  “I’m just going to give in.” “I’m going to have a little pity party.” “I’m going to be discouraged.”

            You don’t have to be discouraged!  You can decide in your mind and your heart that you will fight discouragement in your life with God’s presence and power.

5          Return to Work

            The Jews stopped long enough to rest, relax, reorganize, gain strength to resist and then went back to work. They were only half finished and there was still a lot of work that needed to be done.

            Incidentally, God did the same thing with Elijah.  After he let Elijah rest, after he made Elijah aware of his presence, God gave him a job to do.  In fact, he gave Elijah three jobs to do.  He was to anoint a new king of Israel, anoint a new king of Judah, and appoint Elisha to take his place. 

            May God help us all to realize in ou+r times of discouragement, depression, and frustration that God is still very much with us.  And as we listen to God, may we have the attitude, “Lord, whatever you want me to do, I’m ready to do it.”

            And so, this morning I wonder if there’s anybody here sitting under a tree like Elijah?  Maybe you come here this morning — Tired.  Stressed.  Burned out.  You’re exhausted, you’re frustrated, you’re afraid, and you’re ready to call it quits.  If you’re not there now, sooner or later you probably will be.  That’s just the way life is.

            May you find the encouragement this morning to hang in there, to finish what you started, by the grace of God, by the strength of God.


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