#4 “Book of Nehemiah” Series
TEXT: Nehemiah 4:1-23
INTRO: Satan has two very effective weapons against Christians, they are fear and discouragement ... both of these wear down the saints and destroy the foundations of faith. The biggest battles you will face as a Christian are not the trials themselves ... but the discouragement and fear that trials can create in your heart. A bunch of worn down saints are little threat to Satan and yield little fruit for God!
Here are some of the things that can wear down the saints:
a. A sense of insignificance, you're nobody; or very unimportant.
b. Apparent unfruitfulness ... with the emphasis on the word "apparent."
c. Sustained temptations often wear down the saints of God.
d. Human weakness is a major factor also; everyone has a tiring or breaking point.
e. Strife and discord in relationships can wear down saints.
f. Suffocating pressures of personal needs breeds discouragement and then fear ... this leads then to a lack of faith.
g. Constant good deeds and staying on top can even wear down the saints! This is what happens sometimes with faithful ministers who suddenly crash.
So, how do you fight discouragement ... Nehemiah in this passage reveal some important steps that must be taken to fight against discouragement.
A starting point is focus, keeping our eyes on God and not on us or our circumstances.
ILLUS: Gladys Aylward, missionary to China more than fifty years ago, was forced to flee when the Japanese invaded Yangcheng. But she could not leave her work behind. With only one assistant, she led more than a hundred orphans over the mountains toward Free China.
In their book The Hidden Price of
Greatness, Ray Besson and Ranelda Mack Hunsicker tell what happened: "During Gladys's harrowing journey out
of war-torn Yangcheng ... she grappled with despair as never before. After
passing a sleepless night, she faced the morning with no hope of reaching
safety. A 13-year-old girl in the group reminded her of their much-loved story
of Moses and the Israelites crossing the
"'But I am not Moses,' Gladys cried in desperation. 'Of course you aren't,' the girl said, 'but Jehovah is still God!'" When Gladys and the orphans made it through, they proved once again that no matter how inadequate we feel, God is still God, and we can trust in him. -- Jonathan G. Yandell. Garden Grove, California. Leadership, Vol. 16, no. 1.
EVERY SAINT OF GOD WILL FACE DISCOURAGEMENT MORE THAN ONCE IN THEIR LIFETIME ... SO LET’S LEARN SOME STEPS FROM NEHEMIAH!
PROP. SENT: God's Word will teach us that we are not helpless in discouragement, there are some steps we can take that will help us fight against discouragement and the negative traits that discouragement ultimately brings into our hearts.
I. SARCASM 4:1-6
A. Tactics! 4:1-3
1. Discouragement starts with jealous but vocal opposition!
a. Sanballat feels threatened and jealous, and becomes quite angry.
b. His reaction to the Jew’s and Nehemiah’s plans was to ridicule them!
c. Ridicule is often an effective method of creating discouragement!
d. This is a tactic of Satan's you will face frequently, sometimes this even comes from your own brothers and sisters in Christ -- or worse yet ... FROM YOUSELF!
e. If you ridicule yourself don't be surprised if you get discouraged!
2. Notice however that Sanballat doesn't ridicule alone ... he does this with an entourage of other threatened and negative people!
a. Critics and jealous people tend to hang together! This gives them a greater sense of right and power when they are negative.
b. His associates were present
and so was the army of
(1. This creates real intimidation, another great tool of discouragement Satan uses!
(2. Intimidation runs in packs ... this is what gives it its power!
c. Notice the use of their intimidating language, "THESE FEEBLE JEWS."
3. Discouragement, then intimidation, now backed by heavy sarcasm, and finally ... EXAGGERATION – all effective weapons for creating discouragement.
a. "Will they restore their wall?" -- point was: "DO THESE FEW FEEBLE BELIEVERS THINK THEY CAN ACCOMPLISH SUCH A HUGE OVERWHELMING PROJECT!"
b. "Will they offer sacrifices" -- point being: "ARE THESE FANATICS GOING TO PRAY THIS WALL UP?"
c. "Will they finish in a day?" -- translation: "DO THEY REALLY KNOW HOW BIG A PROJECT THIS JOB REALLY IS?"
d. "Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble -- burned as they are?" -- The point being: Exaggerating the extent of the damage done to the blocks from the gates that had burned! The truth was that most of the blocks were undamaged from the fire and more than enough were still good to rebuild with!
e. Tobiah jumps in on the exaggeration wagon and states, "What they are building, if even a fox climbed up on it, the fox would break down the rickety walls of stones!" ... translation: "You guys couldn't build a strong enough wall even if you succeed in putting all those stones on top of one another … all the work will have been for nothing!"
f. Their hope of course was to simply get them so discouraged that they would do nothing, something discouraged people often do, nothing!
ILLUS: One day in July, a farmer sat in front of his shack, smoking his corncob pipe. Along came a stranger who asked, "How's your cotton coming?"
"Ain't got none," was the answer. "Didn't plant none. 'Fraid of the boll weevil."
"Well, how's your corn?" "Didn't plant none. 'Fraid o' drouth."
"How about your potatoes?" "Ain't got none. Scairt o' tater bugs."
The stranger finally asked, "Well, what did you plant?"
"Nothin'," answered the farmer. "I just played it safe." -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 204.
B. Truth 4:4-5
1. The onslaughts of all this discouragement makes an impact ... it creates a reaction alright, notice Nehemiah's 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.”
a. HONEST HOLY ANGER!
b. This prayer is similar to many of the imprecatory psalms that David and others wrote in moments of honest anger against their enemies!
c. But there are some good points to how Nehemiah chooses to respond that we can learn from in this prayer:
2. FIRST: He prays instead of trying to argue with his enemies! It is rather useless to argue against discouragers! It is better to run to encouragement ... GOD!
3. SECOND: He is honest in the prayer about how they all are feeling ... DESPISED!
4. THIRD: (this is the imprecatory part) He prays for God to really do them in!
a. Before getting too upset about this, Nehemiah is simply venting toward God rather than outwardly toward his enemies, thus keeping himself under control, the whole point of an imprecatory prayer.
b. This may seem rather bad at first glance ... but it also reflects an important attitude in Nehemiah that helps to deflect discouragement: “GOD YOU ARE IN CONTROL AND ULTIMATELY ALL ENEMIES OF GOD WILL GET THEIRS!”
c. The point is to get perspective and not to create a pattern.
(1. As to following this pattern of prayer, it isn't designed as great theology to teach you to pray for God to really do horrible things to your enemies!
(2. As to realizing the perspective of God in prayer that ultimately God does make fair the judgment of evil persons ... this is ok.
d. Nehemiah's prayer assumes that if they don't change he hopes for justice!
5. At least his prayer is honest ... and the anger is NOT directed at the enemy in an open way ... he confines his anger to an appropriate place ... PRAYER!
ILLUS: The remarkable thing about fearing God is that when you fear God, you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God, you fear everything else. -- Oswald Chambers (1874-1917) - Edythe Draper, Draper's Book of Quotations for the Christian World (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1992). Entry 3994.
C. Trust! 4:6
1. With his anger properly directed and his perspective properly focused he now can deal simply with the discouragement which has been lifted through these healthy outlets.
2. Notice the simplicity of the statement in verse 6: “So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height,”
a. This is important for fighting discouragement: Instead of building sections all the way up while others hadn't got theirs hardly going ... he works on all the parts to come together into a full complete circle, even if only half way up!
b. This would bring a sense of completion and help for the people to realize that it can be done!
c. He took a very practical and balanced approach to try and build confidence against the discouragement!
d. THIS CAN BE IMPORTANT IN FIGHTING DISCOURAGEMENT, reach some realistic goals ... be balanced in the work if your fighting discouragement; better to reach a lower goal and keep going by accomplishing part of the task than get overwhelmed and quit before doing anything!
3. In essence Nehemiah ignored the discouragers ... but also carefully planned some realistic goals to help the people see real accomplishments ... and thus be encouraged!
ILLUS: Alexander the Great was regent of Macedonia at the age of 16, a victorious general at 18, king at 20-and then he died a drunkard before he was 33, having conquered the then-known world. His father was Philip of Macedon, also a military genius, who invented the famous "Greek phalanx."
While Alexander was still in his early teens, Philonicus the Thessalonian offered to sell Alexander's father, Philip, his horse, Bucephalus, a trained, but vicious horse. Philip took his son along to see the horse go through his paces, but the stallion proved so unmanageable that none of the men could even mount him. Alexander noticed that he seemed to be afraid of his own shadow, so he quieted the horse by turning his head toward the sun! Then Alexander mounted the horse, and let him run freely for a while. Soon, by keeping him headed toward the sun, he got him under control.
Millions today are "afraid of their own shadow," the "shadow" of their evil deeds, the haunting "shadow" of their own guilty conscience and the "shadow" of hundreds of fears and failures. But let some faithful Christian point them to Christ, and their shadows immediately fall behind them, for Christ is "the Light of the world" (John 8:12), and all who follow HIM "shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." The closer one walks to Him the more light he has; and the farther one gets from Christ, the deeper are the shadows. And he who is so foolish as to walk away from Christ, in unbelief, walks ever deeper into the shadows that will eventually plunge him into the eternal darkness. – Source Unknown
4. The point: ENCOURAGEMENT REQUIRES SOME SERIOUS PRACTICAL STEPS to ward off DISCOURAGEMENT! Don't just sit around after praying and wait for God to zap you with ENCOURAGEMENT!
II. SURPRISE! 4:7-14
A. Terrorize! 4:7-8
1. When the enemy realized they had failed at discouraging the saints of God through ridicule and sarcasm they try another tactic … FEAR!
a. More negative people are added to the already negative crowd ... and they plot together a terrorism strategy... surprise attacks!
b. If Satan's work of ridicule and mocking doesn't stop us he will steep to another tactic, that of fear!
2. Fear is usually quite effective against most saints:
a. They fear they are not capable.
b. They fear they can't make the time.
c. They fear they will fail at the task.
d. They fear the quality of the job they might do.
e. They fear the opinion of others.
f. They fear work that will be involved is greater than they are ready to handle.
g. They fear failure.
h. They fear their weaknesses.
i. Sometimes they fear success ... AND the responsibility this will add to their life!
3. Once a good dose of fear sets in, little worry of ministry results!
ILLUS: There are 365 "fear nots" in the Bible -- one for each day. Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the mastery of it. -- Croft M. Pentz, The Complete Book of Zingers (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1990).
B. Two-Fold 4:9
1. Nehemiah’s response to this new threat of fear was two-pronged:
a. First go to God! He starts with praying to God!
b. Second, he takes practical steps to deal with the real fears!
2. The genuine threat here was that a surprise attack would occur and demoralize the people from further work … so guards were posted at the most likely places of attack!
3. I can't emphasize enough how important BOTH STEPS ARE here!
a. Go to God...
b. Do what you can do also!
4. Some Christians are good at going to God ... but don't take any practical steps to negate the real fear ... God will do what we can't do, but will expect us to do what we CAN do!
ILLUS: After their long and weary exile in Babylon the people of Israel were set free to return to their own land. Spurred on by Nehemiah, they began to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. This aroused the hostility of the pagans around them, who threatened to undo their work. The people of Israel took two essential steps: they prayed to God, and they posted a guard day and night. Even as they prayed for God's protection and help, they did what they could. They knew that prayer is not a way to avoid responsibility; it is not a shortcut to success without effort. -- Ron Klug, Bible Readings on Prayer. Christianity Today, Vol. 30, no. 6.
5. This showed the people a healthy balance in dealing with FEARS, going to God first, then using your head to do what you can do to minimize the fears!
a. Some people only do the first and never the second, and they remain in fear!
b. Some people only do the second and not the first, and they never have the peace of God that He will be handling the parts that they can't deal with!
c. The balance is found in BOTH!
C. Tired! 4:10
1. The enemy was making an impact however, the people were getting tired!
a. Perhaps at this point they were worn out by the project alone, and now they had to play army as well!
b. They were feeling like this project was turning into more work than they originally thought ... they hadn't planned for playing the roles of guards as well as building!
c. Tiredness comes for the unexpected!
2. Tiredness drains the resolve to work, which only gives slows-down to our work and so gives proof to the belief that this is too much for me! ... Thus it becomes a vicious cycle that feeds itself!
ILLUS: Martin Luther once was so depressed over a prolonged period that one day his wife came downstairs wearing all black.
Martin Luther said, "Who died?"
She said, "God has."
He said, "God hasn't died."
And she said, "Well, live like it and act like it." -- Robert Russell, "Releasing Resentment," Preaching Today, Tape No. 136.
D. Trembling! 4:11-12
1. The tiredness allowed fear to take hold ... evidenced here by their repeating the plans of the so-called surprise attack!
2. The result of this fear: TREMBLING!
3. It is also interesting how the fear resulted in their own practice now of exaggeration!
a. Notice their response about the "SURPRISE ATTACK" plans!
b. Verse 12: Their own brethren told them 10 TIMES OVER: "Wherever you turn, they will attack us!"
(1. Repeat the worse scenario enough times and you'll come to believe that it will happen!
(2. Aren't we funny ... we would rather tell ourselves the worse will happen than to contemplate the possibility that with God's help the best will happen!
ILLUS: Charlie Brown: "I have a new philosophy. I'm only going to dread one day at a time." -- Charles Schulz -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 407.
E. Therapy! 4:13-14
1. At this point Nehemiah quickly steps in lest the whole project collapses!
a. It is interesting that at this point he doesn't start yelling at the people or calling them lazy or criticizing them, or complain about them ... this would have only driven the discouragement deeper!
b. Understanding that even the best can be discouraged he comes up with a plan that is both practical and involves everyone ... and deals with the worse case possibility!
c. It also communicates confidence: WE CAN DO IT ... TOGETHER WITH GOD'S HELP!
2. The therapy was quite practical:
a. “REMEBER THE LORD!” (and His character: He is great and awesome!)
b. “fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.”
c. How are your kids going to be impacted if you give in to fear and discouragement, stop thinking just about how tired you are and look at the long range picture!
3. This therapy included 2 things: GOD'S CHARACTER & POWERFUL MOTIVATION! If they couldn't be motivated for themselves he appeals for the impact of the home now and for the future!
4. This therapy will normally work!
ILLUS: See the possibilities. Here's a fellow who sold insurance, and he went after a particularly difficult customer, a man that no one had been able to sell. Eventually he sold him a fifty-thousand-dollar policy. Back in 1883 when this occurred, that was a very large policy. He took out his pen and handed it to the man to sign the contract. When the man tried to write, the pen wouldn't write. He tried several times without success and finally handed the pen back with the contract and said, "I'd better think this over a little while longer." The man lost the sale.
He went home disappointed and discouraged because he had lost the sale, and he determined right then and there that he would never lose another sale because of a fountain pen that didn't work. So he sat down and invented his own fountain pen. His name was Louis Waterman, and the Waterman Fountain Pen became the premier writing instrument of America for the next fifty years. Out of discouragement, great possibility. -- Bruce Thielemann, "Dealing with Discouragement," Preaching Today, Tape No. 48.
III. STRATEGY -23
A. Thorough! 4:15-18
1. Notice the strategy used by Nehemiah ... he leaks to the enemy the message of how God helped them to know about the surprise attack thereby taking away from the enemy their sense of power over them ... and he gives the credit to God!
2. Now Nehemiah is demoralizing the enemy ... the enemy must have wondered how the plans had been leaked to the Jews ... in other words, someone or several of their own people had warned the Jews about the surprise attack, they had traitors in the camp of the enemy!
3. This turn of events gave the Jews new courage ... and new motivation!
4. BUT ... just in case, Nehemiah thoroughly plans for the attack!
a. He establishes a just order and fairness among all the people.
b. He equips them for battle just in case! (EPHESIANS 6 corresponding idea in verse 16.)
c. The work had run into several snags that originally weren't known but that is always the case when you do something for God, you can't be shaken by the unexpected, just deal with it as it comes!
ILLUS: Here's a man sitting on his porch in Kentucky. He's only recently retired from the post office, and he's sitting there when his first Social Security check is delivered. He's very, very discouraged. He thinks to himself, "Is this what life is going to be from now on--sitting on the porch waiting for my check to arrive?"
He decided he wouldn't settle for that, and so he made a list of all of the things he had going for him all the blessings and the capacities, the unique things that were in him. The list was long because he listed everything he could think of and in the list was the fact that he was the only person on earth who knew his mother's recipe for fried chicken. It used eleven different herbs and spices.
So he went to a nearby restaurant
and asked if he could cook the chicken, and they said yes. It soon became the
most popular item on the menu. So he opened his own restaurant, and then others,
and a string of restaurants. Eventually Harland Sanders sold the
He finally retired a second time (all this happened, you remember, after he had retired from the postal service), and he continued in the service of the company as a public relations representative for a quarter of a million dollars a year till his death. Now here was a man who did not allow himself to be defeated by discouragement. He took a look at it recognized it was there, but then went on to look at what he had with which to deal with it and used that. -- Bruce Thielemann, "Dealing with Discouragement," Preaching Today, Tape No. 48.
5. Fortunately Nehemiah didn't lose heart with all the unplanned interruptions. He could have said, "Look God, when I agreed to do this I didn't think it also included etc. etc. etc."
a. He dealt with each problem that arose AS it arose and kept the vision in sight!
b. He also affirmed his faith in God as a priority with each obstacle that arose!
c. He came up with unique solutions that were fair and practical!
B. Teamwork! 4:19-20
1. It is highly significant that Nehemiah TRUSTED in God first but also called the people to work and fight as a team!
a. Teamwork can lesson the impact of fear and discouragement because of the whole not impacted equally at the same point of weakness.
b. The nobles or the common man were treated equally... all were to consider the rest as their equal and come and fight if they needed help!
c. They would need each other ... not just Nehemiah, but each other!
d. Nehemiah couldn't possibly alone meet all their needs, but as a whole they could minister to each other collectively to all their individual needs!
ILLUS: The Franciscans were the first ones to systematically grow grapes in California. They grew the Muscat grapes to make Muscatel wine. One year they had a terrible drought, and the grapes withered on the vine. They thought they were going to lose them all, but they took those grapes down into the towns and sold them as what they called "Peruvian delicacies." That was the beginning of the Sun Maid Raisin Company. -- Bruce Thielemann, "Dealing with Discouragement," Preaching Today, Tape No. 48.
2. Nehemiah had built a SPIRITUAL WALL around the Jews long
before they finished the physical wall around
3. Only teamwork would result in the wall being complete ... and in such a short time period!
C. Tenacious! 4:21-23
1. The final stage of beating discouragement is unveiled … TANACITY!
2. This is the ability TO NOT QUIT!
a. This is where so many Christians lose the victory over fear, discouragement, and ridicule!
b. We are too easily hurt ... and too easily quit!
c. We are soft and selfish ... and too often are unwilling to work as part of the team!
d. The failure to work together, to speak out can be costly!
ILLUS: Some years ago Premier Khrushchev was speaking before the Supreme Soviet and was severely critical of the late Premier Stalin. While he was speaking someone from the audience sent up a note: "What were you doing when Stalin committed all these atrocities?"
Khrushchev shouted, "Who sent up that note?" Not a person stirred.
"I'll give him one minute to stand up!" The seconds ticked off. Still no one moved.
"All right, I'll tell you what I was doing. I was doing exactly what the writer of this note was doing--exactly nothing! I was afraid to be counted!" -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 128.
3. It was fear that caused Peter to curse Jesus before the cross.
4. It was discouragement that caused the disciples to hide out at home day after day!
5. It was ridicule and being in the wrong crowd that got Pilate to condemn Jesus.
6. It was isolation that caused Elijah to complain to God that he was tired and afraid after such a great victory over the prophets of Baal.
7. It was anger that caused Jonah to have one whale of a trial ... and a bitter spirit that robbed him of the joy of one of the greatest spiritual revivals in history!
8. King Saul got tired of doing what was right and became a bitter quitter.
9. I won't lie to you ... you have to have a TENACITY in your walk with God or you just won't get far or accomplish much for God!
a. If they had quit the wall would not have been finished, they would have been finished!
b. Their tenacity with faith and courage won the day however!
CONCLUSION: Anything done for God will face conflicts! And many conflicts can be demoralizing – or they can be a time of dynamic growth. Fighting discouragement successfully is a two-fold process:
(1. Trust in God's power!
(2. Total genuine participation on your part!
Survival of this process gives revival to the participant AND VICTORY OVER DISCOURAGEMENT AND FEARS!