Are you discouraged? Our youngest child lay on the floor of our kitchen after the first day of online classes and moaned, "I knew it wouldn't be the same as going to school with my friends but I hoped it would be a little fun." Our eighteen year old son, like many others across the country, did his final semester of high school on line because of COVID—19 with no prom and no in-person graduation. Our 22 year old son came home from Westmont College in California to do the final semester of his senior year at home. No normal graduation for him either. There are so many faces of discouragement. Maybe it's the wife barely hanging on in her marriage. The business owner dealing with the ramifications of an almost non-existent tourist season. Life can be heavy. I laughed out loud the other day when I saw a picture on Facebook of a row of porta potties on fire and the caption said "if 2020 was a scented candle." So, how do we deal with discouragement?
I think of Nehemiah who God called to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem; he's a remarkable example of how to deal with discouragement. He faced exhaustion, criticism and threats of violence as he completed his task in an amazing 52 days. I am sure he had moments of great discouragement but he moved forward and finished the job God gave him. Here are some keys from Nehemiah on overcoming discouragement.
ACKNOWLEDGE THE PAIN
The Bible tells us when Nehemiah, who was still living in exile as a captive person (but one in an important position), heard that the walls of Jerusalem had not been rebuilt, he "sat down, and wept and mourned for many days" (Nehemiah 1:4). It's ok to acknowledge that your marriage is not what you hoped and longed for. It's acceptable to express the pain of watching your thriving business wither during COVID. Read the Psalms, as David expresses the fullness of his feelings, even the dark ones. Don't stay there; but it's good place to start.
Nehemiah was a man of prayer. He bathed this problem and project in prayer. Nehemiah was not interested in seeing what he and the people could do, he was interested in what God could do through them. I love a line from a prayer at the beginning of Nehemiah's book. He is praying and describes God as "You who keep your covenant and mercy with those who love you" (Nehemiah 1:5b). In his prayer time Nehemiah is remembering God's covenant (promises). This is a grateful prayer in the midst of difficulty, Nehemiah is remembering how God has come through for Israel so many times through their history. When I am discouraged, I revisit the many times God has come through for me over the years. My darkest moments have often ended with the greatest deliverance.
ADJUST YOUR APPROACH
Part way through the project there were threats from enemies. Some of the Jewish people came to Nehemiah frightened saying, "they will be upon us" (Nehemiah 4:12) So Nehemiah made some adjustments; He positioned the men behind the lower parts of the wall and the openings according to their families with their weapons (Nehemiah 4:13). Several years ago one of our children was having some troubling medical symptoms that indicated something was wrong. So we went to a medical doctor. The doctor ran tests and told us our son had Crohn’s disease. Her exact words were 'it's a slam dunk, clearly it's Crohn’s disease." This is a serious disease and the doctor explained the full ramifications which could include surgically removing part of his intestine. We were discouraged but we adjusted our approach; we went to a naturopath doctor to see if another angle might give us other options. Dr. May ran an allergy test and determined our son had a severe allergy to eggs. Our son stopped eating eggs and life returned to normal. Sometimes a small adjustment can make a big difference.
BLOCK OUT THE DISCOURAGING VOICES
Throughout Nehemiah's mission three leaders opposed him. When the project was almost completed Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem repeatedly sent messages that Nehemiah needed to come meet with them. They intended to harm him and kill the project. Each time Nehemiah refused. When you are trying to move forward in life there will always be critics and opposition. As we advance God's kingdom opposition is to be expected. Pleasing everyone is impossible; don't even try. Carefully decide who gets to speak into your life and ignore the rest.
EXERCISE A FIGHTING PERSEVERANCE
Fifty-two days doesn't seem like a long time but combined with hard physical labor, physical threats and the relentless undermining that Nehemiah endured, he serves as a stellar example of one who overcame discouragement. Because of the challenges of 2020, most of us find ourselves in a discouraging season. But we must move forward. We must not quit. These challenges will pass. Don't give up or give in. God is for you.
Pastor Derek Dickinson
Journey Christian Church