First Response: Cry out to God. “Hear, O our God, for we are despised; turn their reproach on their own heads, and give them as plunder to a land of captivity! Do not cover their iniquity, and do not let their sin be blotted out from before You; for they have provoked You to anger before the builders … Nevertheless we made our prayer to our God …” (Nehemiah 4:4–5, 9).
I’m going to make a radical suggestion to you. Next time you encounter some major setback in your life, reverse your usual procedure—that is, cry out to God first instead of last. Most of us wait until we’ve exhausted all other alternatives before appealing to God as a last resort. I don’t know about you, but I grit my teeth when I hear someone say, “We’ve tried everything; now all we can do is pray.”
Don’t wait until last to look up. When discouragement comes, start at the top! Go to the Lord and ask Him to help you sort through all the issues. May I tell you what works for me in times of discouragement? I sit down with my computer and my journal and I begin to talk to God. I say, “Lord, I need to talk with You right now. Some things are going on in my life that I can’t understand, and I’m having a hard time with it. I need to tell You about it.”
For me, it helps to begin setting the issues down in writing as I verbalize my feelings to God. As I do this, something begins to change in my spirit.
First of all, I bring everything out of that dark “anxiety closet” into the light. Writing it down and reading it out loud brings clarity. I discover that things weren’t quite the way I thought when they were smoldering within me. I’ve imposed order on them, examined them in the light.
Second, I’ve done as Nehemiah did—I’ve cried out to God. This is the most important thing. Sometimes we just need to let go, be a child, and cry out to Daddy. That brings the innocence and dependence that are the beginning of wisdom. It cuts through our discouragement. If you don’t think this is a very spiritual approach, read through the psalms. When David was beset by worries (and he was beset by a multitude of them), he did exactly what I’ve prescribed above. He wrote them down and cried them out. He was brutally honest about his discouragement, and you can be, too.
Second Response: Continue the Work God Has Given You to Do. “So we built the wall, and the entire wall was joined together up to half its height, for the people had a mind to work” (Nehemiah 4:6).
Why is it that our immediate reaction to adversity is to quit? Like the angry little boy on the playground, we take our ball and go home. People leave churches; they quit jobs; they walk away from marriages—all because they’ve encountered the predictable season of discouragement. And of course, that’s the worst thing we can do. We always come to regret our emotional walkouts. Satan knows that if he can play on our emotions and get us to quit, he can keep the problem from being resolved. He can keep God’s work from moving forward. But take a look at Nehemiah. He felt all the discouragement of his people, but he never set down the trowel, never missed a beat in laying the next brick. He knew he had to keep on keeping on. Yes, there were problems to deal with—but he wasn’t going to set aside the mandate God had given him. “The people had a mind to work,” the Scriptures tell us. Nehemiah helped them see that productive labor is just what the doctor ordered sometimes. It’s healthy and therapeutic to work off our frustration.
Needless to say, it’s also a great way to bring a little discouragement to the enemy. Later on, Sanballat and Geshem tried one more stunt to make Nehemiah slow down on his work. They invited him to a conference. Anyone in the business world will tell you that conferences and committees are great ways to slow down productivity! And I’ve always loved Nehemiah’s comeback. “So I sent messengers to them, saying, ‘I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?’ ” (Nehemiah 6:3).
Modern translation: “Please accept my regrets, but God’s agenda outweighs yours right now.” The main thing is to keep the main thing as the main thing. We need to have a firm grasp on what God called us to do, put on the blinders, and keep plugging away. As we’ve seen, clear goals are the best preventive maintenance for burnout.
No matter how devastated you may feel, no matter how down in the dumps your spirit may be, keep up the good work. Experience leads me to believe that the times we least feel like working are the times we most certainly should. Emotions are treacherous advisers. We need to be disciplined and stay on task. Nehemiah knew his people didn’t need to bail; they needed to build. They didn’t need to walk; they needed to work. And our discouragement will have a way of sorting itself out.
Third Response: Concentrate on the Big Picture.
Therefore I positioned men behind the lower parts of the wall, at the openings; and I set the people according to their families, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. And I looked, and arose and said to the nobles, to the leaders, and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses.” (Nehemiah 4:13–14)
Nehemiah’s men were fanned out across the perimeter, working on little sections of the wall—and that was part of the problem. They were so separated that they couldn’t communicate and encourage each other. They could only see their own little hole in the wall, their own little pile of rubbish. It was very difficult to maintain any perspective.
We, too, tend to reduce the world to the cubicles we work in. “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world,” said John le Carré. Your cubicle may not have a window, but you can always keep one wide open in your spirit. Open it to God. Open it to others. Hold on to the Big Picture. Nehemiah’s workers were down and out. The muddy bricks and old debris made a discouraging picture, but only a few steps back and a little imagination upward revealed a portrait of the New Jerusalem. You may see nothing but drudgery in your life; you need to see what He is doing in you, with you, and for you. You need to hold on to that hope. It will help you prevail in the darkest of times.
David Jeremiah, Slaying the Giants in Your Life (Nashville, TN: W Pub., 2001), 27–30.
This article excerpted from Slaying the Giants in Your Life.
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