Nehemiah came to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls, walls that had been broken down for centuries. He inspired the people, they began to build, but opposition, the massiveness of the task and internal conflicts threatened to stop the project.
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.”
You probably started the year full of hope. A new year, a new dream of what could be.you set out with expectancy and hope, trusting the Lord, believing that this was the year of breakthrough. You kept going for a while, suffered a few disappointments, but soldiered on in your business, in your family or in your ministry.
But then came the middle of the year… things got tough, disappointments abound, the hopes of the start of the year grew dim. Discouragement is a constant spectre lurking near the edge of your mind, especially if you want to serve God and make a difference.
Life is filled with problems, challenges, and disappointments. The school fundraiser didn’t go as well as we had hoped. The team finished the season last despite our best coaching efforts. The event you organised did not receive glowing reviews despite all your hard work and late nights of preparation. The report from the doctor was worse than we expected. The bills pile up higher than we’d hoped. Family issues you thought had been dealt with are raised again.
Things happen that mess up our best-laid plans. Often, we find ourselves let down and discouraged. Sometimes, it’s so bad that we just want to give up. Discouragement sets in and says, “Why bother? Nobody cares anyhow.” Despite the circumstances, discouragement doesn’t have to overwhelm us. We can learn from it, benefit from it, and we can overcome it.
Discouragement ought to be our first indication that it is time to pray. We often become discouraged because we get too busy and neglect prayer. Many believers are discouraged by life’s problems and then lack the confidence that they can deal effectively with life’s toughest challenges. We need to call on God to help us understand His guidance in the midst of our circumstances and disappointments.
THAT IS DISAPPOINTING
Disappointment is inevitable… discouragement is optional. I started this year with high hopes, many of which have not been reached. We all do. And when we start to feel like that, discouragement is a downhill spiral that can take over our lives!
Life is full of disappointments, and as these build and start to pile up, they seem to accumulate and weight down upon us, even to the point of overwhelming us, and that is discouragement. Discouragement makes you tired, it saps your strength and eventually it breaks your heart!
And this is commonplace, in life and in the Bible. Most Bible heroes went through times of doubt and discouragement, men like David and Gideon, Joshua and Moses, Paul and Peter and John. Yet in the midst of great persecution Paul can write this…
2 Corinthians 4:8-9
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;
How can he do that? I’m sure he fought discouragement, but it never overwhelmed him and it never crushed him. He was able to take disappointment and change the first letter to H… His Appointment!
While discouragement can cause depression and the inability to act, it can also motivate a person, giving renewed determination. Like Nehemiah, we can let discouragement cause us to find a way to solve the problem. We can pray, plan, and then move ahead, knowing that God goes with us.
CAUSES OF DISCOURAGEMENT
The dictionary defines discouragement as “to deprive of courage, hope, or
confidence; dishearten; dispirit.”
I define it as feeling overwhelmed by by feelings of inadequacy. Notice that feelings appears twice, because if you step back and look at it, discouragement is not fact, not substance, it is all feeling!
There are three underlying causes for discouragement: (1) lack of confidence in God; (2) lack of confidence in ourselves; or (3) lack of direction for the future.
These are all made to seem worse by external factors. Circumstances, other people’s words and opinions, timing, defeat and ridicule all make discouragement seem worse, but the true cause is internal… it is within you and I, and it is part of human nature.
For example, I might sing somewhere, and hundreds even thousands are blessed, and many people send words of encouragement. Then one person criticises. Which do you think I think about the most? You do something in church and everyone likes it, but one person criticises. Who do you remember? Why is it always your wife?
As these pressures build up, I find I rehearse the negative things over and over in my mind, until I approach overwhelm. And it is this feeling of overwhelm that fuels discouragement.
God knows and understands. He understood the task Joshua faced to enter the Promised Land, and how discouraged he could become. Moses was gone, he was leading alone and asked to do what his mentor couldn’t do. In Joshua 1, God shows us that courage is the opposite of discourage, and He calls on Joshua to be “strong and courageous”, then God gives him this key…
This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.
Discouragement is the overwhelm you feel, the down you feel, the inadequacy you feel when things do not work out. Interestingly, I frequently get very discouraged after a triumph. The feeling of flatness after the high of something great is also discouragement. That’s why God directed Joshua to His Word. Staying close to God is the key!
HOW TO OVERCOME THE OVERWHELM OF DISCOURAGEMENT
Discouragement is a feeling. It can cripple you, it can make your life miserable, it can drive people away from you, but it is just a feeling. So how can you overcome discouragement and face life’s difficulties and challenges with the opposite spirit… encouragement?
1. KNOW GOD CARES ABOUT YOU
The first step is to understand what God thinks of you. If you see God as harsh and judgemental, no wonder you get discouraged! Step 1 is understanding what God really thinks about you.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings,
The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession,
1 Peter 2:9
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
To start overcoming discouragement, start by seeing Yourself as God sees you. You’re precious, you’re special, you’re chosen, you’re indwelled by His Spirit. You’re not a mistake, you’re not a failure and you’re not an embarrassment.
I read the testimony of a girl named Jenny, born with Down’s Syndrome. Discouraged and hurt by what kids said at school, feeling like a mistake, her mum challenged her like this… I’ll give you $5,000 if you can find anywhere in the Bible where God tells you you’re a mistake. She never got the money, but she concluded, “God doesn’t make mistakes, and that’s the truth, no matter what we sometimes think.” Smart girl!
2. RIDE OUT THE STORM
Many people never realise their full potential because they become discouraged by the battles they face, and they give up too soon. We must never quit.
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
Picture this… Age 22, Failed in business, 23, Ran for Legislature—defeated, 24, Again failed in business, Age 25, Elected to Legislature, 26 sweetheart died, age 27 Had a nervous breakdown, age 29 Defeated for Speaker, 31 Defeated for Elector, 34 Defeated for Congress, 37 Elected to Congress, 39 again Defeated for Congress, then at age 46, Defeated for Senate, ran for Vice President at 47, Defeated, ran for senate age 49, and again defeated, but at age 51, Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States!
Don’t give up, ride out the storm, and make no big decisions in the worst of it!
3. REALISE GOD USES ORDINARY PEOPLE
We don’t have to be spiritual giants to experience God’s grace in our lives. He chooses ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things for Him.
1 Corinthians 1:26-27
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;
God doesn’t need you to be pretty, talented, gifted or anything else, He just needs you to be available and willing. He delights to do the extraordinary with the ordinary!
4. DON’T BE DEFEATED BY THE NEGATIVES
I bet you anything that, if you listen, you’re surrounded by voices saying you can’t, or it will never work. That’s what the world dishes up every time. Listening to these voices discourages you. It’s time to take your eyes off the negatives and place them firmly on something or someone positive.
no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their vindication from me, declares the Lord.”
And trust me, opinions are like noses… everyone has one, and most of them smell bad!
5. REMEMBER THAT YOU ARE SPECIAL
We mentioned this before, you are not an accident, you are created in God’s image to love Him and serve Him. You are special, you are precious.
Because you are precious in my eyes, and honoured, and I love you,
I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life.
If you are discouraged, you need to stop and get your head around the fact that you are valuable to God. He chooses you, and he is a loving Father longing to wrap His arms around you and love all over you. Listen, it’s not what you do for Him that makes Him love you, it’s just that you are you, and He loves you no matter what, and no matter what you’ve done!
God uniquely created us and designed us to serve Him. No one else can do what we can do for Him. You are uniquely gifted to minister to people no one else will ever meet or touch. You must not give up just because there are challenges and obstacles. Don’t get discouraged, get encouraged!
6. WATCH YOUR BEHAVIOUR
I said before, what we focus on determines what we become, so not only must we focus on Christ, but we must also focus on our behaviour.
1 Peter 2:12
Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honourable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
If you are feeling discouraged, you need to pay close attention to your behaviour.
We need to do what is right, no matter how we feel. We should make sure our behaviour determines our feelings rather than allowing our feelings to determine our behaviour. People will say, “I’m just being myself,” but hey, why not be your best self?
Maybe you’re feeling so down and discouraged and miserable that you think you cannot change your behaviour. You might be grumpy and snappy, yelling at the kids and snapping at those you love. Well, if the pastor or a police officer knocks on the door, I bet you’re going to change your behaviour just like that. Don’t say you can’t change, because when you need to you can!
Watching our behaviour and being our best self not only changes your discouraging feeling, but it can set you free to be creative, confident, and committed.
These days people leave church of the slightest reason. A decision didn’t go your way, you heard something you didn’t like, you did something and it wasn’t well received. Watch your behaviour! If you keep serving, keep faithful and keep focussed on Christ, you will be raised up in due time.
7. MIND YOUR LANGUAGE
I’m not talking about swearing, because most of you don’t, I’m talking about how you speak about yourself. If you constantly speak words over your life they become self fulfilling prophecy…
For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he:
Me Jesus put it this way...
The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
What you say constantly reveals what is going on in your heart. If you constantly tell yourself you can’t do it, it’s too hard or you’re not worth it, then your actions follow suit most often!
Fiona pulled me up just recently. I constantly say I’m tired, several times a night, and she pointed it out. If I don’t think about it or say it as much, guess what? I don’t feel as tired.
Watch what you say, to yourself and others, because it directly affects what you do.
8. BE PERSISTENT, BUT GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO FAIL
Luke 18 tells the story of the persistent widow, who badgered a judge to give her protection until he said…
because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’”
Korean Grandma Sa-soon went for her licence for the first time at age 60, and failed the written portion, consisting of 40 multiple choice questions 949 times; the concept of many of the questions were confusing to her, being an elderly woman living in a remote village. Finally, on the 950th attempt she got a passing grade of 60 and moved on to the actual driver's test which she only failed 4 times before getting passing marks. She became a national hero in South Korea, and Kia gave her a car for free!
Persistence is essential, because discouragement makes you want to give up. You also need to give yourself permission to fail, because we all fail at some point. Failure is not permanent, it’s a learning process. We try, we fail, we figure out where we went wrong and correct it.
9. FOCUS ON CHRIST
What you focus on has a huge bearing on what you become. The voices of the world are shouting at you all the time. But when you focus on Jesus, the discouragement in your heart will be replaced with peace…
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.
No life is meaningless if Christ is at the center of it. Want perfect peace in your life? Then set your mind on the Lord. When you look at Him, the negatives disappear. Turn your eyes upon Jesus and the negatives will grow strangely dim.
What we focus on is what we become. It’s reflected in our speech and our actions.
The answer to discouragement is getting our focus off ourselves and our limited resources and off our current situation with all of its disappointments, and off the negatives things people are saying about us, instead making a conscious effort at focusing on the unlimited power of an omnipotent God.
He can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Even in the face of life’s greatest challenges, His grace is sufficient. When we give our discouragement to God, He can encourage and draw us ever closer to Him.
I know the year is getting on, and I know many of us are tired and flat. The things we hoped for haven’t happened, the things we feared may have happened.
Listen… today is the day we commit to taking us eyes off our circumstances, off our tiredness, off the discouragements and disappointments and off what people say, and we place our eyes firmly on Jesus Christ!
FILL ‘ER UP!
And how do we actually focus on Christ? Well, it involves some commitment and effort. Don’t sit back and think your life will be on fire for Christ by you sitting and wasting time working or watching movies!
We are like a car… when you’re discouraged, your tank is empty. You only see the circumstances and hear all the negative words. You get discouraged, but there is nothing in the tank to focus upon. You need to be filled up, but what do you fill your mind with?
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
If you are discouraged right now, you need to start filling your mind and your heart with the things of God. Get off the TV, get off Facebook and get onto the daily Bible readings. They are short, they are action packed and they will build into your life and fill you up.
And connect with positive people. Connect with people whose tanks are full, or at least more full than yours. And you find them in church. Listen, it’s time for you to skip the kids football or Sunday morning shopping and get to church! I am watching people grind down and get discouraged, but instead of plugging in to our church family, they’re isolating themselves. Whatever you face today, however discouraged, focus on Christ, fill your mind with the Word of God and get into church, and I promise you new day will dawn, and year heart will be filled with hope!
If you are feeling discouraged today, you need to get filled up, and right now!
Today is the day you hand your burden of discouragement to Jesus and let Him carry it for you, because He says…
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Today many of you are struggling with discouragement. Please don’t go it alone, and don’t carry the burden a moment longer! Come to Jesus this morning, come and let His Spirit refill your tank, to empower you to overcome discouragement. When we respond to God in faith we delight Him, and He pours out His blessing and His guidance upon your life.
You can sit in your chair and say, I’m discouraged but I don’t want to go forward. If you get up and respond to the Lord today, God delights in that act of faith. It takes faith to come forward, but I have prayed that for those who respond, God’s Holy Spirit will supernaturally fill them up.
Coming to the front today is not an admission of guilt, or sin or of failure. It’s an admission of weariness and discouragement, it’s an admission that your spiritual tank is empty and it’s an open invitation for the Holy Spirit to fill you up. It is you saying you’re open to give it all to God and let Him have His way.