How To Handle Discouragement (A Lesson from Nehemiah)

Written by: Inés Franklin
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Have you ever started on a big project and were unable to finish it because you got discouraged? Projects like running a race, remodeling a room in your home or writing a book are often plagued with challenges. Maybe you are an artist or an entrepreneur. I find that any time I get stalled on a big project, discouragement is always my greatest obstacle.  This is especially true when the project is something I feel the Lord has called me to do.

I’ve been reading the story of Nehemiah in the Old Testament, and noticed that he dealt with a lot of discouragement as he worked to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem. His story teaches us some great strategies for how to work through discouragement.

Nehemiah was a Hebrew man working as the cupbearer for King Artaxerxes. Such a position was both an honor and a danger. A cupbearer’s job was to serve and taste the wine before the king drank it, just in case it was poisoned. Nehemiah held the position for a long time, which meant that he was very good at protecting not only the king, but also himself. One day, a group of Jewish men came to visit Nehemiah and told him about the “great trouble and disgrace” the people of Israel were suffering.

Because the wall of Jerusalem was broken down and its gates had been burned, the Jews were constantly under attack and harassment from other nations. Nehemiah’s heart broke with compassion. He prayed for four months seeking God for wisdom and it became clear to him that God was calling him to rebuild the city walls. Thankfully, the king showed him favor and gave him permission and supplies to travel to Jerusalem and start this great construction project.

It did not take long before Nehemiah experienced opposition and discouragement.

When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, ‘What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?’ Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, ‘What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!’ Nehemiah 4:1-3

The Ammonites tried to discourage, to exhaust, and get Nehemiah and the Jews to stop the work. That’s the aim of the enemy, to destroy, to discourage, to stop the work God calls us to do. Nehemiah was aware of these enemies, but what we’re going to see now is what Nehemiah did with that reality.

Did he obsess over it? Did he stop the work? Did he get discouraged? No! I see a different behavior from Nehemiah and it teaches me what to do when I am discouraged.

First I noticed that Nehemiah constantly went to prayer.

This is Nehemiah’s response.

Hear us, 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. So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart… Nehemiah 4:4-6

We see throughout the whole story of Nehemiah that prayer was an essential tool or strategy he used to deal with the Enemy. So should we. Prayer is for the good times, the bad times, the boring times, and the in-between times. Prayer is for every moment of our day. Remember what Paul wrote: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” Ephesians 6:18

Nehemiah prayed and it helped him continue to work despite the attempts to discourage him.

Second, Nehemiah remembers and helps others remember as well.

Memories have a way of shifting our minds. They bring the past together with the present and maybe even with the future. Nehemiah tells his people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” Nehemiah 4:14

Remember the Lord who is great and awesome. Remembering that God is faithful changes everything. Every time I am discouraged or get fearful, I can remember all the times God has been good to me in the past. God does not change and his love for me is everlasting. Don’t tell God about your discouragement, tell your discouragement about your “great and awesome” God!

Third, Nehemiah trusts God, even as they continue to work hard on this project.

Then I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, ‘The work is extensive and spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall. Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us!’ So we continued the work with half the men holding spears, from the first light of dawn till the stars came out. Nehemiah 4:16-21

I love the picture of every person doing their job. Some people are guards. Some people are carrying materials. Some people are at work. No matter what our part on the project is, every part matters, because it matters to God. Nehemiah trusted God with the outcome. God is the mighty warrior. He is the one who ultimately will see the project come through. Nehemiah reminds us we should not operate out of our own power but out of God’s power.

When you finish the work God has called you to do and overcome discouragement, God is glorified. The world sees who God is.

Nehemiah’s strategy was effective. Despite the constant attacks and attempts of discouragement, Nehemiah and the Jews completed the wall in record time.

“So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.” Nehemiah 6:15-16

Time and time again we see in the Old Testament God saying, “Then they will know that I am the Lord.” When we face discouragement as Nehemiah did, with prayer, memory and trust, we are able to complete the project and show the world the nature of our mighty God.

All of this reminds me of Paul’s words to the church in Corinth. May they be an encouragement to you as well.

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:57-58


Think of the circumstance that discourages you today. How can you copy Nehemiah’s strategies to overcome discouragement and reflect God’s glory to the world?