I don’t know if it is just me, but lately, I have encountered many people feeling discouraged and overwhelmed. It seems like patience wears thin, and our ability to talk to one another is at an all-time low.
As leaders in our homes, workplaces and churches, how can we help discouraged people? What combination of words and action can alleviate the stress and discouragement felt by those around us? Are there models and resources proven to be effective in providing guidance? I’m sure that if we were to list the books and tools on how to deal with discouragement, that list would be a very long one.
Discouragement is part of the human condition, and as such, it is, unfortunately, a common occurrence in our everyday life.
What does the Bible say about discouragement? Indeed it must contain nuggets of wisdom on how to process discouragement. What passages help encourage those feeling overwhelmed? Here again, that would be a very long list.
For me, the Bible passage that hits all the right notes is the story of Nehemiah and the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls. For context, this story begins with the siege and capture of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in the year 597BC. Later in 587, the Babylonians destroyed the fortified walls of Jerusalem. The book of Nehemiah relays that after the Israelites returned to Jerusalem, they were unable to rebuild their walls that offered protection against attack.
After much prayer and preparation, Nehemiah encourages the city’s inhabitants to join together and rebuild the wall. The response is positive and energizing. “At last the wall was completed to half its height around the entire city, for the people had worked with enthusiasm.” (Nehemiah 4:6). Quite the accomplishment, considering the city remained unprotected by walls for several generations.
The excitement is short-lived, however. In Nehemiah 4:10, we see that the same group of enthusiastic people is now overwhelmed and discouraged. Then the people of Judah began to complain, “The workers are getting tired, and there is so much rubble to be moved. We will never be able to build the wall by ourselves.” Meanwhile, our enemies were saying, “Before they know what’s happening, we will swoop down on them and kill them and end their work.
What happened between verses 4 and 10 to cause such a significant change of attitude? How would a leader respond to mitigate this deep discouragement?
Nehemiah’s response is an example to all leaders in similar situations today, both in words and action. Let’s explore some of the ways Nehemiah engages the problem of discouragement.
He investigated and acknowledged the situation.
Nehemiah listened to people, confirming this concern needed addressing. Nehemiah 4: 10-12: The Jews who lived near the enemy came and told us again and again, “They will come from all directions and attack us!”
He provided safety for those feeling exposed and vulnerable.
Nehemiah identifies the most vulnerable places and provides tangible security. Nehemiah 4:13: “…So I placed armed guards behind the lowest parts of the wall in the exposed areas. I stationed the people to stand guard by families, armed with swords, spears, and bows.”
He lifted their eyes to a source of encouragement greater than their fears.
While people focus on the present danger and the “mountain of rubble,” Nehemiah invites them to consider something bigger and more powerful. Nehemiah 4:14: “Don’t be afraid of the enemy! Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious….”
He gives them a cause that is personal and easily understood.
Nehemiah identifies the personal and individual importance of the collective work. Nehemiah 4:14: ”… fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes!”
He gives a long-term solution.
Nehemiah built a system that addressed more than just the immediate needs. It is a state of mind. Nehemiah 4:16: But from then on, only half my men worked while the other half stood guard with spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. The leaders stationed themselves behind the people of Judah who were building the wall. The laborers carried on their work with one hand supporting their load and one hand holding a weapon. All the builders had a sword belted to their side.
He installed a security system.
Nehemiah created a system by which people would become aware of danger and the need for immediate action. Nehemiah 4:16-19: The trumpeter stayed with me to sound the alarm. Then I explained to the nobles and officials and all the people, “The work is very spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall. When you hear the blast of the trumpet, rush to wherever it is sounding. Then our God will fight for us!”
He led by example.
Nehemiah didn’t simply impose conditions on others; he exemplified the culture he spoke of. Nehemiah 10:23: During this time, none of us—not I, nor my relatives, nor my servants, nor the guards who were with me—ever took off our clothes. We carried our weapons with us at all times, even when we went for water.
The seven actions taken by Nehemiah still apply today. We can learn valuable lessons when we get past the language of weaponry and engage issues from the principles Nehemiah provides.
The Israelites rebuilt Jerusalem’s new wall in just 52 days! An extraordinary accomplishment considering the obstacles faced.
Which of these principles and actions can you employ in your leadership to help people navigate discouragement?
All scripture references are NLT.