Don’t let yourself be discouraged. Here are the principles, drawn from the Bible, that will show you how to never give up.
By Rick Warren
With all the bleak news coming out these days, we’re all vulnerable to catching the highly contagious disease of discouragement. It’s easy to catch and easy to pass on. But the good news is that discouragement is also easily curable if we follow God’s prescription.
The Bible tells the story of Nehemiah, a Jewish leader who was assigned the enormous task of rebuilding the broken-down city wall around Jerusalem. After years of war, neglect, and decay, there wasn’t much wall left. At first, mobilizing the citizens for this urban renewal project was easy. Everyone was excited and worked hard. But soon the job bogged down, and everyone wanted to give up. Nehemiah was faced with the likely failure of an unfinished project.
Fortunately, Nehemiah was a brilliant leader who understood the four common causes of discouragement, and the appropriate cures. The book of Nehemiah, chapter 4, is a timely passage for us today.
The most common cause of discouragement is fatigue. Halfway through the project we learn, “Then the people of Judah began to complain, ‘The workers are getting tired’” (Nehemiah 4:10 NLT). The people became demoralized because they were overworked and exhausted. It wasn’t a spiritual problem; they were just worn out.
When people tell me they are discouraged, the first thing I ask them is,
“How much sleep are you getting every night?”
Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is just go to bed and sleep. The first antidote to discouragement is to rest your body! It is amazing how much better your situation looks after a good night’s sleep.
In Nehemiah’s wall-rebuilding project, the second reason the people got disheartened was frustration. The people said, “There is so much rubble to be moved!” (Nehemiah 4:10 NLT).
What is rubble?
Rubble is all the debris—broken rocks, dried-out mortar, and miscellaneous trash—that inevitably accumulates in any construction project.
As they worked, the rubbish piled up higher, so much that it hindered, then stopped the actual work on the wall, and the people lost sight of their goal. You can’t eliminate rubble in life, but you can recognize it and remove it periodically, just like carpenters sweep the floor each night even though the project isn’t completed.
What is the rubbish or “rubble” in your life?
It’s the trivial things that pile up that waste your time, consume your energy, and distract your focus from what matters most. Rubble can be bad habits, time-wasters, interruptions, and even some distracting relationships.
If frustration is causing you to feel like giving up, the antidote is to pause, take a time out, and remove the rubble! Do a personal spring-cleaning of your schedule, your expenses, and your commitments. Eliminate the clutter. Keep what matters most. Simplify your life! A recession is the best time to do that. Besides, no one can do everything and please everyone.
The third reason we sometimes feel like giving up is when we’re overwhelmed by all we have to do, and think that we’re bound to fail at it. The third complaint of Nehemiah’s work crew was that they simply could not get it done! “We will never be able to build the wall by ourselves.” It is impossible. The job is too big. The sense of failure filled their minds. Because the task was taking longer than imagined at first, their confidence faded: We were foolish to even try, they thought.
I hear this cause of discouragement in the voices of people who’ve lost their jobs, are upside down on their mortgage, or feel hopeless about ever getting out of debt.
How you handle your failures in life reveals your character, and how much you trust God. Do you have a pity party? Do you blame others? Do you put yourself down? None of those responses will end your demoralization. Instead of giving up on your goal, what you need to do is to approach it in a new, fresh, different way. You may be doing the right thing—but in the wrong way! Ecclesiastes 8:6 says, “There is a right time and a right way to do everything, but we know so little” (GNT).
Instead of giving in, Nehemiah simply reorganized the project, creating teams to work together. Half of the team would work on the wall while the other half stood guard against terrorists who didn’t want the wall built: “So I posted people behind the lowest places along the wall—the open places—and I put families together with their swords, spears, and bows” (Nehemiah 4:13 NCV).
This is the third antidote to discouragement: Reorganize your life. If you feel like you are failing in marriage, business, health, finances, or anything else, it is time to try a new approach with God. Don’t give up! Get some godly advice for a different strategy from someone at church.
By the way, notice that when the people got discouraged, Nehemiah formed them into small groups for support, protection, and accountability. If you’re not in a small group, I’m not surprised if you’re discouraged. God never intended for you to face your problems by yourself. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says “Two people are better than one because …if one falls down, the other can help him up. But it is bad for the person who is alone and falls, because no one is there to help”(NCV).
The fourth common reason for giving up is fear. If you allow worry, anxiety, and fear to live in your heart, discouragement will be guaranteed. In Nehemiah’s case, the people were afraid of neighboring enemies who were committed to preventing the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem. First, these enemies criticized the wall builders, then they ridiculed them, and finally they threatened them with harm and death. The builders were told repeatedly, “While you are working, before you realize it, we will swoop down on you and kill you and end your work!” That would probably discourage you from working too!
It is interesting that the builders who lived closest to the enemy were the ones who got discouraged first and wanted to give up. If you spend a lot of time hanging out with naysayers, you will pick up their fears.
Nehemiah’s response to the fears of his workers was this: “Then as I looked over the situation, I called together the nobles and the rest of people and said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid of the enemy! Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious’ ” (Nehemiah 4:14 NLT). This is a fourth antidote when you feel like giving up: Remember the Lord!
What does it mean to remember the Lord?
It means to re-focus on God and reconnect to his power for your life. To do this, you need to remember three things about God. First, remember God’s goodness to you in the past. Think about all the times he has taken care of you. That will lift your spirit. Second, remember God’s closeness to you right now. Whether you feel his presence or not, he is here and near. Third, remember God’s promise to help you in the future. Get your mind off your problems and onto the Lord.
The Dutch author Corrie ten Boom once said,
“If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. But if you look at Christ, you’ll be at rest!” It all depends on what you are looking at.
God’s antidotes to discouragement caused by fatigue, frustration, failure, and fear will work for you just as they did for Nehemiah thousands of years ago: Rest your body! Remove the rubble! Reorganize your life! Remember the Lord! And there’s one final principle in this story.
The final advice Nehemiah gave was for the Israelites to fight it! “Fight for your friends, fight for your families, and fight for your homes!” You need to do the same. Resist the discouragement! Don’t give in or give up without a fight! Every day, you face a spiritual battle whether you realize it or not. Unseen forces of evil, negativity, and discouragement are opposing you daily, seeking to neutralize your impact for good. The Bible tells us that Satan’s job is to “accuse believers” and one of his great tools is discouragement.
But you do not have to listen to him. Discouragement is a choice, and no one is forcing you to give in to it. So resist it! Refuse to quit! Hang on and trust God in the middle of this recession, or anything else that is discouraging you. Visit the rest of our web site and you’ll find all kinds of resources to encourage you, including how to start a small group for support.
In closing, let me leave you with these words: It is always too soon to quit. Great people are just ordinary people with an extraordinary amount of persistence. Hang in there! I’m praying for everyone who reads this.
So don’t get tired of doing what is good. Don’t get discouraged and give up, for we will reap a harvest of blessing at the appropriate time (Galatians 6:9).