The Christian life is an overcoming life. Even though we will definitely have problems and personal struggles in this life, we will be able to overcome because of Jesus. Because of Jesus Christ in our lives, we have victory over the world, including sinful habits, bitterness, loneliness, guilt, fear, and discouragement, or the spiritual discouragement that is wrought by the world around us. In John 16:33, our Lord speaks to us today as He says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” We have each heard these words at some point in our Christian walk. Some of us have heard these words several times in our lives but still struggle with the idea of overcoming the world around us. So this morning, instead of just hearing these words again, we are going to dig into the what it means to experience these words in our lives. How do we overcome spiritual discouragement as children of God? What are the critical elements to moving past those things in our lives that too often hold us from the joy of our Lord? As we journey through the book of Nehemiah what we see is a people of God who have experienced a broken spirit. They have been conquered time after time by this nation and that nation. They have tried time after time to restore what was once a great nation, what was once a great city, what was once a great people. Yet time after time, after seeing defeat and brokenness the people of God had come to the end to the end of their rope. Yet, in all of this our Lord places a man, not a priest, not a prophet but a young man to lead the people of God back to who they were intended to be. So over the last month we saw as the people having seen the spiritual excitement and possibility in the life of Nehemiah, join him to see what God could once more restore in their midst. Today we enter into chapter 4 of Nehemiah after having seen gate after gate restored in the city and the hearts of Jerusalem. The people are excited, they are rising to the occasion that is set before them and today we see how to conquer a broken or discouraged spirit in Jesus Christ.
Scripture – Nehemiah 4
Work Is Ridiculed
4 Now it came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews. 2 He spoke in the presence of his brothers and the wealthy men of Samaria and said, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Are they going to restore it for themselves? Can they offer sacrifices? Can they finish in a day? Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones?” 3 Now Tobiah the Ammonite was near him and he said, “Even what they are building—if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down!” 4 Hear, O our God, how we are despised! Return their reproach on their own heads and give them up for plunder in a land of captivity. 5 Do not forgive their iniquity and let not their sin be blotted out before You, for they have demoralized the builders. 6 So we built the wall and the whole wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work. 7 Now when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repair of the walls of Jerusalem went on, and that the breaches began to be closed, they were very angry. 8 All of them conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause a disturbance in it.
9 But we prayed to our God, and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night. 10 Thus in Judah it was said, “The strength of the burden bearers is failing, Yet there is much rubbish; And we ourselves are unable to rebuild the wall.” 11 Our enemies said, “They will not know or see until we come among them, kill them and put a stop to the work.” 12 When the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times, “They will come up against us from every place where you may turn,” 13 then I stationed men in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, the exposed places, and I stationed the people in families with their swords, spears and bows. 14 When I saw their fear, I rose and spoke to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people: “Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses.”
15 When our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had frustrated their plan, then all of us returned to the wall, each one to his work. 16 From that day on, half of my servants carried on the work while half of them held the spears, the shields, the bows and the breastplates; and the captains were behind the whole house of Judah. 17 Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon. 18 As for the builders, each wore his sword girded at his side as he built, while the trumpeter stood near me. 19 I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “The work is great and extensive, and we are separated on the wall far from one another. 20 At whatever place you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.” 21 So we carried on the work with half of them holding spears from dawn until the stars appeared. 22 At that time I also said to the people, “Let each man with his servant spend the night within Jerusalem so that they may be a guard for us by night and a laborer by day.” 23 So neither I, my brothers, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us removed our clothes, each took his weapon even to the water.
Engaging the Word
Here in this passage of scripture we see as the people are uplifted in this moment as the walls and gates are being repaired. As we have discussed in the past, all the people of Jerusalem had come together to restore/rebuild what was torn down by the world around them. Yet in this moment of triumph for the people of Israel there was obviously a spirit that was lurking in their midst desiring to tear down the work that God was doing in their lives. The devils desires to tear down anything good that God is doing in our midst. If God is doing work, the devil is not far away wanting to tear down that which is being restored in the hearts of the people. Behind triumph lies discouragement, whether it is today or tomorrow, in this world exists a spirit to tear down all that God desires to do in our lives. So this morning, as we stand or sit here, many of us can understand where the people of God are in this moment as they enter through a time of spiritual discouragement in their lives.
So before we begin here today discussing how we can overcome spiritual discouragement in our lives, first we need to understand what spiritual discouragement is and how it affects us as Christ like disciples. Spiritual discouragement brings about a lack of Godly courage or confidence. It can cause spiritual paralysis in the life of believer and in the smallest amount it can cause spiritual fear in each of us. It’s easy to become discouraged when we are disappointed or tired and during these times, each of us can feel at times that we cannot or do not want to go on. During these times, spiritual discouragement, each of us can go through these moments for several reasons but three of the most common reasons for experiencing spiritual discouragement in our lives are;
- Emotional challenges such as feelings of loneliness and abandonment, lack of self-confidence, fear of persecution, and personal loss and grief. Although we are loved by our Lord and Savior and although we know our God is almighty and author of creation, we too often forget. We forget that we loved by our Lord and Savior more than any of us to experience any love on this earth, including those great love stories that we live and hear. We forget that our Lord is almighty God and can do all and saves all, our self-confidence and fear of that which lies before us is merely a figment of our imagination.
- Physical challenges such as illness, lack of sleep, and depression. Physical challenges in this life can definitely provide spiritual discouragement in our lives. Whether it is a physical ailment in our lives or a mental struggle in our lives, these too often can draw away from that which our Lord desires to do in and through our lives. Unfortunately we too often allow the world and Satan to determine what we can and cannot do in the life our Lord has given us.
- Spiritual challenge by the world around us to that which we believe or the result of unrepented sin and an unbelieving heart. This element too often unfortunately prevents too many of us from experiencing the promise that God has for each of us as believers. Whether it is believing that we tell the mountain in our live to go throw itself into the lake of forgetfulness. Or to believe that God will provide even though we cannot see how he will. These too often are our limiting factors that the world reminds us of as we walk in our journey of faith.
This third element is what we are going to focus on today, but in all of these cases that we have just mentioned the measures to which we are called to overcome these spiritual discouragements that exist within our lives. Each of us are called to these truths that are illustrates in chapter 4 of Nehemiah.
Focus on the Prize
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:16, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Whether it is physical ailments that prevent us from experiencing what God wants to give us or spiritual discouragement by the world around us, each of these spiritual discouragements seek to draw us away from the prize that lies before us, Jesus Christ. Our Lord desires to give each of us eternal promise both in this world today and in the new earth of tomorrow and unfortunately too often we get caught up by the world around us. In a cartoon movie that my family and I watched a few years ago, called “Up”, there was a dog that helped the old man and young boy who were trying to achieve a dream that had been given to them. In this movie, the dog illustrated this tendency to have twitch where he would get side tracked by squirrels. Throughout this movie the dog would be doing whatever (saving the day, etc.) only to cry out squirrel in the midst of that what was set before him. The spiritual reason that too many of struggle with these spiritual challenges in our lives, is that we too often get caught up chasing the squirrels of this world and not fixing our eyes upon that which is unseen but offers so much promise. Today if we desire to overcome the spiritual challenge in our lives, we have to stop focusing upon the squirrels of this world and start focusing on the prize that lies before us in Jesus Christ (his omnipotence, his grace, his love, his forgiveness) and the eternal promise He give each of us today as his children.
That day as the people of God were faced by the spiritual discouragement of the world around them and the physical challenge that lay before them, our Lord through Nehemiah offered them hope. In verse 14, our Nehemiah tells the people of Israel to not be afraid, remember the Lord who is great and awesome. This morning, if you are in a spiritual discouraging moment in your life; remember the Lord who is great and awesome and do not be afraid. God has great promise for you today. God has great promise for you tomorrow and for all eternity if you will just focus upon his face and not upon the squirrels of this world.
In James 5:16 it tells us to, “confess our sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” Throughout scripture our Lord tells us over and over again to pray. It is one of the elements of our spiritual journey that our Lord specifically illustrates for each of us. Yet unfortunately, too often we forget on of the key foundational pillars to overcoming spiritual challenge in our lives.
I have spoken to you in the past about Pilgrim’s Progress, a book that has spoken in the lives of many people through history. This Pilgrim’s Progress tells the story of a man named Christian who is on his way to the Celestial City. In their travels, Christian and his companion are captured by a giant named Despair and locked away in a castle called “Doubting Castle.” The giant starves his prisoners and beats them every day, trying to make Christian and Hopeful commit suicide. Finally, Christian and Hopeful pray and because of their prayer Christian remembers that he has a key tucked in his clothes. The key is called Promise. Christian and his companion use the key to unlock their chains and escape the giant and his castle.
The author John Bunyan shows how Christians can be captured and imprisoned by discouragement and doubt, but that they can overcome discouragement by remembering who God is and what He has promised if they just pray. Too often we feel that prayer is critical coming from the pastor, however the James 5:16, does not speak a pastor it speaks about you and me. Prayer is not something that has to sound pretty. It is not bettered by the number of words that you and I say or the way we say it, it is experience when our heart is opened to the presence of God in our lives to give him what is his and to listen to what he desires to say in our hearts. Sometimes my closest of times with my Savior is when I have no words to say. As Paul tells us in Romans 8:26, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”
This morning, as you and I have faced spiritual discouragement in our lives do we find ourselves focused upon the face of eternity, Jesus Christ and do we find ourselves face down uttering groans of the Holy Spirit speaking to and through our hearts as children of God? As we saw here in Nehemiah chapter 4, one of the first steps the people take to addressing the spiritual discouragement in their lives is prayer as illustrated in verse 9. Today is the prayer room of our lives a room that well-fortified and used or is it a room that we only visit on an as needed basis?
Stationed Spiritual Substance
The last critical element to addressing spiritual discouragement in our lives as believers is stationing spiritual substance in our lives. Stationed spiritual substance is a desire to experience spiritual growth in our lives through the encouraging and challenging words of fellow disciples in Christ. In each of our lives, most of us desire to be loved and encouraged and few of us enjoy spiritual and emotion challenge. In fact if there is someone in our lives that disagrees substantially with what we say and believe (political or sociological) we have a tendency to avoid those individuals in our lives. That is why we have the great political and sociological divide that we have today in our society and why we struggle to even listen to those that we disagree with. Yet our Lord calls each of us to enter a life of discipleship. 2 Corinthians 13:5 tells us to “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” The examination of our lives is best experienced when we are encouraged and spiritually challenged by those who love and desire to see us flourish in Christ.