March 12, 2022
Keep On Keeping On (Nehemiah) Courage To Keep Going
Pastor Philip De Courcy
Nehemiah 4: 1-23

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"In the new series, Profiles in Courage, Pastor Philip explores the lives of biblical figures who exemplify God-given courage. From Genesis to Revelation, these profiles of courage will inspire us to take a stand for righteousness and unwavering faith.
Courage is not limited to a select few; it is a quality all believers must cultivate. It involves putting ourselves at risk, sacrificing comfort, and persevering in the face of opposition. It demands a firm commitment to truth and an unwavering determination to do what others cannot or will not do."

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I invite you to take your Bible and turn to Nehemiah 4:1–23. We’re in a series called Profiles in Courage, and we’re coming this morning to look at Nehemiah. Here in chapter 4, he’s facing discouragement. So, we want to think through the issue of courage in the face of discouragement, or the courage to not quit, or the courage to keep going in the face of discouragement. So, just keep your Bible open.
It’s a large chapter, and we’ll not take time this morning to read it all. But Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites, according to verse 7, have a desire to disrupt the work, the work of rebuilding the city of Jerusalem and the walls that are ruined.
We read, starting in verse 8:
And all of them conspired together to come and attack Jerusalem and create confusion. Nevertheless we made our prayer to our God, and because of them we set a watch against them day and night.
Then Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is failing, and there is so much rubbish that we are not able to build the wall.”
And our adversaries said, “They will neither know nor see anything, till we come into their midst and kill them and cause the work to cease.”
So it was, when the Jews who dwelt near them came, and they told us ten times, “From whatever place you turn, they will be upon us.”
Therefore, I position 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.”
Theodore Roosevelt, one of our presidents, was a force of nature, a formidable figure. If you read his life, as I have on several occasions, he was full of vigor and vim. The output on his life would make most of us feel weak and ineffective. Our head would spin when we see what he did with his life.
He was driven. He was determined. And that all showed up on October 14, 1912. He was being driven to a political rally in Milwaukee, and as he exited his vehicle and was about to enter the auditorium, a man confronted him and shot him in the chest. The man was apprehended. Theodore Roosevelt’s wound was attended to, and it was the desire of those around him to immediately take him to the hospital. But he refused. He said, I want to be taken inside the auditorium, and I want to address the crowd. He gets in, he asks the crowd to be quiet, and he apologizes that his speech is going to be shorter than he had anticipated due to the fact that he had been shot. He then proceeded to pull out his speech, which was stained with blood, and went on to give a 90-minute speech. Amazing, isn’t it?
He died in 1919, and his youngest son cabled his brothers, who were fighting in the European theater, and the cable said this: “The lion is dead.” The lion is dead. Bold as a lion. That’s what Theodore Roosevelt was. And, by the way, it’s what you and I ought to be as men of God. When’s the last time you looked at Proverbs 28:1? I’ll read it to you: “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.” As men of God, we ought to be bold as lions.
We ought to act like men, according to 1 Corinthians 16:13, which basically means to be strong, to be stalwart, unafraid, proactive, and courageous. Courage ought to mark the men of God, and that courage ought to encompass our body, our mind, our hearts, and our souls. That courage ought to be displayed in feats of physical strength (that’s courageous) but also moral conviction, emotional stability, and spiritual vitality. Our lives ought to be lived as heroic deed. God calls us as men to not turn back in the face of opposition; to be able to say “no” when everyone is saying “yes”; to have convictions that define us and drive us to fear God more than men. We ought to be men marked by discipline and self-denial. We ought to be men who put women and children first; who defend the weak; who stand by the gates of liberty; who seek Christ and see Him as their hero and champion; who love their wives, children, friends and Savior out of covenant, not out of convenience. We ought to be men who are profiles in courage.
In fact, it struck me recently over in Revelation 21:8, as God has judged the world and those who rejected Him are rejected by Him and they’re cast into the lake of fire, the second death. Here’s what we read in verse 8 of Revelation 21: “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderer, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake.” Did you see who headed all those categories? The cowardly, those who had no guts to confess Christ before man, those who were unwilling to take arrows for the sake of righteousness. We ought not to be cowardly but courageous. The Lord Jesus deserves such courage. The church throughout history has displayed such courage. And the present days we are in demand such courage. And that’s why we’re in a series called Profiles in Courage.
We’re looking at biblical examples that might be an example to us regarding courage. We looked at Elijah and the courage to take sides—to side with God, to side with righteousness, to side with what’s right. We looked at Joshua, the courage to step up. He was challenged by God to take the place of Moses—to step up, move on, take leadership, do the next thing bravely. And now, we come to look at Nehemiah, who is a profile in courage with regards to facing and facing down discouragement.
This is a message I’ve called “Keep On Keeping On.” The courage to keep on keeping on in the face of discouragement. The context is around about 445 BC. The temple has been rebuilt. Ezra has been party to that. Now the city needs to be rebuilt and the walls restored, and that is a task that’s been given to Nehemiah. He was given permission by his Persian overlords to return to Jerusalem, and we are in the middle of the project here in chapter 4.But, enthusiasm is waning, and discouragement is setting in. The wall is being built halfway up, but the people are discouraged, dispirited, anxious, and there’s growing doubts as to whether the job can be completed.
And, guys, you and I need to remind ourselves that the devil’s favorite weapon against the work of the gospel and the people of God has always been the weapon of discouragement. The word “discourage” means “deprived of courage,” by the way. Discouragement is the opposite of courage. It means you’ve lost your courage. You’re now wrestling with doubt, and you wonder as to whether what you’ve set out to be or set out to do can ever be pulled off. It’s one of the occupational hazards of life and ministry. So, let’s jump right in to chapter 4 of Nehemiah. There’s three things I want us to see, if you’re taking notes. I want you to see their enemies. We’re going to see their exasperation, and we’re going to see their encouragement.
Their enemies first. Nehemiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the wider community of faith in Judea were living in the presence of their enemies. That’s a lot of God’s people. I hope you’ve already nailed that one down, as you walk the path of discipleship. You are in enemy territory. The wind is against you. Jesus talked about sending His lambs out among the wolves. If you study chapter 4, you’ve got Sanballat, Tobiah, the Ammonites, Geshem, and the Ashdodites. Sanballat and the Samaritans were to their north, Tobiah and the Ammonites to their east, Geshem and the Arabs to the south, and the Ashdodites to the west. They were surrounded. Past is prologue—no difference for Israel today. And from the commencement of this project, bad actors and evil men had been seeking to hobble and halt the work.
In fact, go back to chapter 2 and verse 10, where we have Nehemiah sent to Jerusalem in Judah. King Artaxerxes has given him a leave of absence, and we read in chapter 2, verse 10, “When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard of it, they were deeply disturbed that a man had come to seek the well-being of the children of Israel.” You get a similar thought in verses 19 and 20, where they laugh at Nehemiah and despise him: “‘What is this thing you are doing? Will you rebel against the king?’ So I [Nehemiah] answered them . . . ‘The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no heritage or right or memorial in Jerusalem.’” And it continues up to this moment. From the moment that Nehemiah got there, he was surrounded by enemies who sought to oppose him.
In our chapter, I’m not going to take time to go over these verses in any deep manner, but we have their burning anger in verses 1 and 7. You’ll notice that they are very indignant, and they were furious. We read in verse 7, they were “very angry.” In verses 2 and 3 and 12, there’s mockery and negativism. They kind of mock what’s being done. Verse 2: “‘What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they fortify themselves? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they complete it in a day? Will they revive the stones?’” You know what? Even if a fox goes up on it, it’ll fall down (v. 3). Mockery, negativism, burning anger, fearmongering, and threats. Verse 8: the word is out that they’re going to attack Jerusalem and create confusion. Verse 11: they will come in the midst of us and kill us and cause the work to cease. Point is this, enough said, Nehemiah and the citizens of Jerusalem and the people of Judea were working in a hot zone. They were working in a war zone.
But, at this point, to borrow the words of the apostle Paul, there were fears within and there was fighting without. But there’s a principle I want you to get as a disciple of Jesus Christ, as a man of God, and it comes out here in this thought of their enemies. And it’s this: that where you have building, you’ll have battling, and you will need both a trowel and a sword in the Lord’s work. Mark this down. The devil never surrenders a soul or a place up without a mighty fight. You can be sure about this, and whenever you set out and whenever you step out to do a work for God—to increase your sanctification, to disciple the nations, to establish a God-honoring local church, to raise godly seed . . . Whenever you step out to do God’s work, you can be sure, at some point, you will step on the devil’s toes. And he won’t like it.
One example is 1 Thessalonians 2:18. Paul has established the church at Thessalonica. He’s desiring to return to them, and he says, “But Satan hindered us.” Satan has hindered me. That’s an interesting Greek word, and it carries the idea of a road that was dug up. The point is this: when God puts together a construction crew, the devil puts together a demolition squad. If you’re battling this morning—if your family life is tough, if your walk with God is a fight, if you’re feeling the world and the devil breathing on your neck—suck it up, embrace it, understand that’s it. Nothing new. You are a lamb amidst wolves. You’re behind enemy lines. You’re battling and building. You’ve got the trowel; you’ve got the sword. Where there are friends, there will be enemies. Where there is building, there will be battling. Where there is progress, there is movement. And where there is movement for God, there is friction.
Wasn’t it D. L. Moody who said, “The devil never kicks a dead horse”? When God is glorified, when Jesus is magnified, and when the people of God are unified, the devil will get busy. You and I just need to be aware of that. In fact, I’m a big Spurgeon fan, as you know, and among the many things that Spurgeon did, between building a Bible college and orphanages, he created a magazine. Does anybody know the name of the magazine? The Sword and the Trowel. Where do you think he got it? Nehemiah 4. Because, in chapter 4, we talked about the fact that they’re building the walls and they have spears and swords in their hand. A trowel in one hand, building, and a sword in the other hand, battling. Because, you won’t build anything for God without a battle. There are no quick schemes in the Christian life.
Spurgeon said this about the magazine when he launched it: “We shall supply interesting reading upon general topics, but our chief aim will be to arouse believers to action, and to suggest to them plans by which the kingdom of Jesus may be extended. To widen the bounds of Zion and gather together the outcasts of Israel is our heart’s desire. We would sound the trumpet, and lead our comrades to the fight. We would ply the Trowel with untiring hand for the building up of Jerusalem’s dilapidated walls, and wield the Sword with vigour and valour against the enemies of the truth.”
That’s their enemies. What about their exasperation? Well, earlier they had a mind to work. When Nehemiah gets there, in chapter 2, he tells them of the story that brought him there, of just how God gave green lights. An impossible thing has happened. He even has not only the authority of the Persians but supplies that they have supplied to the rebuilding of the city. And we read in verse 8 of chapter 2, the hand of God has been good upon me. Also, the king’s words that he had spoken to me. So, they said, let’s rise up and build and set our hands to this good work. Enthusiasm, excitement.
In fact, in chapter 4, where we are, we read in verse 6, “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.” Now, up until this point, the work was marked by excitement and expectation, and they were halfway there. But excitement and expectation now give way to exhaustion and exasperation. Look at verse 10: “Then Judah said, ‘The strength of the laborers is failing, and there is so much rubbish that we are not able to build the wall.’”
Let’s rise up and build. We’re not able. What’s happened? Well, there are several factors, and these are very instructive. This applies to your Christian life, to your business life, to family life. When things get tough, when the spirit of discouragement sets in and you feel like tucking tail and running, there are usually several factors at work. Maybe you can identify with some of these this morning.
Here’s the first factor: fatigue. Their exasperation was being driven, number one, by fatigue. That’s verse 10: “Then Judah said, ‘The strength of the laborers is failing.’” There was a physical component attached to their discouragement. The word “failing” here in the Hebrew means “to stumble” or “to totter.” Basically, they were beginning to buckle under the work and its load. They were working around the clock, to be fair to them, for about a month, and none of the work was easy.
When you go back to chapter 2 and verse 14—when Nehemiah does his little reconnaissance mission before he tells the people—remember he had to get off his donkey because it couldn’t get up around the walls, because the boulders and the bricks were so big. You read about that in chapter 2, verse 14: “Then I went on to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but there was no room for the animal under me to pass.” Look at verse 19 of chapter 4: “Then I said to the nobles, the rulers, and the rest of the people, ‘The work is great.’” So, I want to be fair to these folks. The task was enormous. It was extensive, and they were “separated far from one another on the wall” (v. 19). When you look at verses 21 and 22, you can see that they had been working around the clock: “So we labored in the work, and half of the men held the spears from daybreak until the stars appeared. At the same time I also said to the people, ‘Let each man and his servant stay at night in Jerusalem, that they may be our guard by night and a working party by day.”
Exhaustion can be an ally to the enemy. Wasn’t it Vince Lombardi who said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all”? That’s true, and I think that principle’s at work here. When you and I ignore our humanity, when you and I exceed our biblical boundaries in terms of work, rest, and play, we become tense. We become irritable, and we become susceptible to gloominess. Physical exhaustion alters emotional state, which weakens spiritual capacity. And I think we forget that, as servants of Christ, as we seek to be supermen in the kingdom. But, as Jesus reminded His own disciples, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matt. 26:24). Exhaustion can play into our discouragement.
And, if I’ve got my text right here, in 2 Corinthians 7:5, Paul talks about a distressing time, and we read about that: “For indeed, when we came to Macedonia, our bodies had no rest.” Our bodies had no rest. Paul was stretched physically and emotionally. “We were troubled on every side. Outside were conflicts, inside were fears. Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast” (2 Cor. 7:5–6). And he’s admitting here that he was downcast, discouraged. And one of the factors in his downcast disposition was his body had no rest. It’s a spiritual thing to sleep. It’s a wise thing to rest. In fact, God, in all of His glory and wisdom, put that into the cycle of the week. Six days shall you labor, and on the seventh, rest.
I remember talking to Kristyn Getty and Keith Getty about just the issue of rest and relaxation. Kristyn was a young mother, and some people need a little bit more sleep than others, and she felt a little bit guilty about that. One day in conversation with D. A. Carson, one of the most brilliant theologians in the United States, he suddenly said to her, “Kristyn, you need to take as much sleep as is necessary for you, being spiritual.” It was a recognition. As Vance Havner says, if we don’t come apart and rest, we just come apart. And where did he get that idea? The words of Jesus to His own disciples in Mark 6:30–32, where Jesus said to His disciples, “Guys, let’s pull over to the side of the road and park it. There’s too much going on. We don’t even have time to eat.” Jesus is acknowledging you can’t break the boundaries that God has set for who we are in our humanity. Each one of us and each body is governed by a mathematical formula involving time, pressure, and exertion. And you can’t ignore that equation.
So, there’s fatigue at work here. Number two, there’s frustration at work here. Let’s go back to Nehemiah 4:10: “The strength of the laborers is failing.” That’s fatigue. “And there is so much rubbish that we are not able to build the wall.” That’s frustration. They were up to their waist in rubble. They were up to their necks in work. And the result is they were frustrated. They were on edge. They were irritable. They were now getting gloomy. Not only were their resources physically depleted, but as they looked around them, there was still so much to do having done so much. And just psychologically, it got to them. Visions of glory began to give way to stubborn reality and the enormity of the task. They were facing the inglorious work of rubble removing and the daily grind.
So much of life is daily grind. If you’re not up for humdrum, you’re not up for life. And that’s true in the Lord’s work. I like the honesty of a minister in the Church of England who wrote to his bishop, John Robinson, Bishop of Woolwich, and he said this about his work, I think in an inner city: “I am not reaping a harvest; I scarcely claim to be sowing the seed; I am hardly ploughing the soil; but I am gathering out the stones.” William Temple, another great English pastor, said, “Of all the work that produces results, nine-tenths must be drudgery. There is no work, from the highest to the lowest, which can be done well by the man who is unwilling to make that sacrifice.” Work, your work, at work: nine-tenths drudgery. Sometimes marriage: great percentage drudgery. Parenting: drudgery. But the accumulation of that faithfulness results in results.
But, when you’re in the middle of it, and you’re covered in dust, and your mouth is dry, and your heart is wilting, that’s tough. Frustration can set in, and then you’ve got the half-time syndrome. We see in verse 6 that the wall was built halfway. Now, that’s good and bad, right? Depends on which way you look. If you look back, it’s good. We’ve got half the job done. If you look forward, it’s not so good. Oh, we have another half of the work to do. It’s halfway through your car payments that the shine goes off the new car, right? Well, let’s be honest. It’s halfway up the hill that your seven-year-old wants to turn back. It’s in the middle years of life, halfway, that you start to lose focus. That’s why King David messed things up at 50. That’s why C. S. Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters, said, “The long, dull, monotonous years of middle-aged prosperity or middle-aged adversity are excellent campaigning weather for the devil.” That’s the halfway syndrome, and it can lead to discouragement. But you’ve got to push past that, and we’re going to see how to do that.
We need to remember what Meadowlark Lemon of the old Harlem Globetrotters said. They were great, weren’t they? He said this: the most useless statistic in sports is the half time score. That’s true. That’s a great little statement. And Nehemiah is going to help them see that.
There’s a little footnote to this fatigue, frustration, and I’m really addressing elders, pastors, those in full-time work in terms of just direct application and impact on gospel enterprise. We need to remember this because pastors tend to be idealists. They aim high. I’m going to win the world for Jesus. I’m going to change this inner city for the gospel. They aim high, but they don’t always reach their goals. Add to the fact that they live and labor near critics corner, and it’s not hard to see how they get discouraged. The answer is not to lower one’s standards but to embrace some biblical realism.
Remember that the Lord’s work will have an element of frustration, monotony, and drudgery to it. Before you even get to sow the seed, before the seed gets sown and begins to bear fruit, there is a lot of stones just to get up and out of the way so that you can plow the field. That’s why old Spurgeon said, “Every pastor needs a blind eye and a deaf ear” just to keep working.
Number three, feebleness. Here’s an interesting insight. The snowball of gathering emotions continues to grow larger. They’re fatigued, they’re frustrated, and now they’re feeble-minded. Look at verse 10 again: “The strength of the laborers is failing.” That’s fatigue. “There is so much rubbish”— that’s frustration—“that we are not able to build the wall.” That’s feebleness.
They’re tired physically, but they’re now collapsing mentally. They started out in chapter 2 hearing about God’s good hand. Let’s rise up and build; set our hands to this good work. Now that is giving way to faintheartedness. They don’t believe that they have the strength to get across the finish line. They now have the jitters. We see in chapter 4 that they post guards around the city walls. But they weren’t guarding their mind, and now doubts were beginning to set in. There was a mental collapse fed by doubt. I think this is, to some degree, the bigger issue. Because, as soon as Nehemiah kind of sorts out their fears by posting guards, putting them in families along the wall, and the enemies get frustrated, notice in verse 15: “And it happened, when our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had brought their plot to nothing, that all of us returned to the wall, everyone to his work.”
They weren’t that exhausted. They were back at work the next morning because the issue was as much mental as it was physical. They were letting their guard down mentally. They were getting their eyes off God. They were forgetting the providence of God that had brought them here. The good hand of God was upon me. They were forgetting the success that God had already allowed them to achieve, because they were becoming feeble-minded.
By the way, it’s a little bit of an aside to this, but I wrote a Truth Matters for our radio audience just recently called “Talking Things Up,” and this verse and this passage reminded me to be careful how we talk about God’s work. We’re not able. Many of those people have showed up at business meetings, the beginning of projects like we’re setting out to achieve here with Take the Hill. We’re not able.
I don’t mind realism. I don’t mind prudence. But be careful that doesn’t spill over into unbelief—a lack of trust in God, a feebleness and a faintheartedness that’s unbecoming of the greatness of God. In fact, there are three voices in chapter 4. Read the article, you’ll find it at “Talking Things Up.”
There are three voices in chapter 4. The first voice is the voice of the enemy: “You won’t.” Right? Verse 11: we’re going to come and kill you and cause the work to cease. “You won’t.” Then the second voice is the feeble-hearted believer who says, “You can’t.” We’re not able to build the wall. And then you have the voice of Nehemiah, the leader, rallying the troops. Verse 14: remember God, great and awesome, God will. “God will.” Be careful how you talk about God’s work. Be careful what you say to yourself about God’s work. The enemy will say, “You won’t,” which will encourage you to say, “We can’t,” and we need to remind ourselves that God is great and awesome. “He will.”
There’s another factor: fear. The final factor in their dismay is fear. This is verses 11 and 12: “And our adversaries said, ‘They will neither know nor see anything, till we come into their midst and kill them and cause the work to cease.’ So it was, when the Jews who dwelt near them came, they told us”—did you notice this—“ten times”? There’s a little bit of a panic, by the looks of it. “From whatever place you turn, they will come upon us. They’re coming. They’re coming. They’re coming. Ooh, they’re coming.” Calm down, would you? But they’re driven by fear. They’ve being told the enemy is ready to pounce. They feel like a gazelle on the North African plains with a pride of lions nearby.
This is a lack of faith, this fear. They needed to be reminded—and Nehemiah will do it in quick fashion in verse 14—that God is great and awesome. Stop fearing man so much. Start fearing God more, because we fear man too much when we fear God too little. And he says in verse 20, God’s going to fight for us. See, faith is a refusal to panic, because you’re reminding yourself to be still and know that He is God.
But here’s a little thing that I think is worth noting as we get to the final thought of encouragement. This fear was defined by a lack of faith, and this fear was driven by the fact that they were living too near the enemy and that they were listening to the enemy too much. Did you notice who the people who are saying this? Notice this in verse 12. These are the Jews who dwell near them. It would seem that there were some who were living outside the city gates, who were bumping up against these communities that were dead set against this project and the people of God, and they were living on the border of enemy territory.
And I think it’s worth noting that because you and I live near the enemy, right? We’ve already identified that. If you go to Psalm 23, you’ve got this beautiful image of God as our shepherd and we are His sheep. But notice how God prepares the table before us in the presence of our enemies. You and I live in the presence of our enemies. Jesus sent us out as lambs amidst the wolves. Jesus said in His high priestly prayer in John 17:15, I want you to be in the world but not of it. But we’re in it. We’re in a world that lies in the lap of the wicked one.
We’re in a world where man’s arguments are like strong towers that are erected against God’s glory and wisdom. And, if we’re not careful, instead of us influencing them, they influence us. Right? Lot pitched his tent near Sodom and Gomorrah. Mistake. And it says in 2 Peter 2:7–8 that his righteous soul was tortured by what he saw and what he heard. His diet of worldly stuff was too much, and it compromised him, and it weakened him, and it hobbled him. What about Paul with a broken heart in 2 Timothy 4:10: Demas has left me because he has “loved this present world.” Living near the enemy opens you up to their propaganda. And if you imbibe their propaganda, you start becoming preoccupied with them, and you become spooked.
Did you notice how preoccupied these Jews are with the enemy? They told us ten times. it’s not that Nehemiah was that dumb that he needed to be told ten times that the enemy was coming. It’s just that they had listened to the enemy so long they were talking their talking points. They were imbibing the propaganda. They were allowing the enemy to spook them, and they lost sight of God. They became jittery, feeble-minded.
It’s a lesson, guys. You and I can’t avoid contact with the world, but work darn hard to make sure there’s no contamination by the world. Be in it but not of it. That’s why you’ve got to put on the whole armor of God. You’ve got to buckle up with some truth each and every day. You’ve got to have the shield of faith up. You’ve got to hold the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, high. And you’ve got to put on the helmet of salvation. You’ve got to guard your mind. You’ve got to have a biblical worldview. You’ve got to have a proper theology. You’ve got to know the gospel.
You’ve got to keep preaching to yourself what’s true and what’s not true: that the church will be built, and Jesus is coming, and the devil is losing. And, you know what? Things are on course. Things aren’t falling apart; things are falling into place. You’ve got to keep reminding yourself of biblical truth. He’ll never leave me or forsake me. My God can provide all that I need. He’ll meet me in the darkness. He won’t abandon me to my enemies. This sin isn’t worth it. This is a temptation of the evil one. You get the point. Put on the helmet of salvation. Stop imbibing the enemy’s propaganda. Turn the television off. Get off the internet. Open your Bible. Get to a Bible study. Be in the Word as you’re in the world so that the Word in the world governs your thoughts, which informs your emotions, which directs your actions.
During the Second World War, C. J. Auchinleck was the Commander-in-Chief of the Middle East Force, and he put out this order because it seemed that some in the British and Allied forces had turned Rommel into a bogey-man. Rommel was a brilliant military tactician, fearless, courageous. He had marched the German army and their panzers halfway across the world.
But here’s what C. J. Auchinleck sent out as an order to the British and Allied troops: “There exists a real danger that our friend Rommel is becoming a kind of magician or a bogey-man to our troops, who are talking far too much about him. He is by no means a superman, although he is undoubtedly very energetic and able. Even if he were a superman, it would still be highly undesirable that our men should credit him with supernatural powers. I wish you to dispel by all possible means the idea that Rommel represents something more than an ordinary German general. The more important thing now is to see to it that we do not always talk of Rommel when we mean the enemy in Libya. We must refer to ‘the Germans’ or ‘the Axis powers’ or ‘the enemy’ and not always keep harping on Rommel. Please ensure that this order is put into immediate effect, and impress upon all commanders, that from the psychological point of view, it is a matter of the highest importance.”
Can we stop talking about Rommel? Can we stop talking about the world and the culture and the darkness and things going wrong? Can we talk about a sovereign God? Can we talk about a triumphant church? Can we talk about a gospel of which we need not be ashamed? Can we talk about the fact that greater is He that is in us than He who is in the world?
Okay, let’s get to the encouragement. You’ve waited a long time to be encouraged. So that’s their enemies, that’s their exasperation. Now, their encouragement. We’ve about 15 minutes here to cover a few points. Here’s the bottom line. It’s always too soon to quit. I forget who I stole this from. This wasn’t original to me, but it is strikingly challenging: The Christian has no right to be discouraged in the same world as God. I want to say that again. I don’t think you were listening. The Christian has no right to be discouraged in the same world as God. Joshua 1:9; we saw that last time together. Be courageous. Do not be dismayed, for I will not fail you. God is alive, brothers. God is sovereign, men. He loves us immensely in Christ, and He has given us the abundant hope and help of the Holy Spirit.
George Verwer of Operation Mobilization said this: I have never had a discouraging day in my life. But, hold on. I’ve had discouraging mornings, afternoons, and nights, but never a discouraging day. I just read that recently. That’s jumping all over the place in my head at the minute. I love that. He’s acknowledging you can get discouraged, but you don’t have a discouraging day—because when you get discouraged in the morning, if you remind yourself of certain truths, if you go to God, if you lean on Him for His grace, you’ll get past it. You’ll get over it. You will have discouraging mornings. You will have discouraging afternoons and nights. But you don’t have to have a discouraging day. Because the Christian has no right to be discouraged in a world over which God reigns. So, let’s look at a few things. I’m just going to hop, skip, and jump.
Number one, prayer. You want to deal with discouragement. You want to know how Nehemiah helps them not to quit? Number one is prayer. They did not simply cry about their predicament. They cried out to God about their predicament and asked for His help and relief. Chapter 4, verse 4, notice: “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” (4:4–5). Scroll down to verse 9, and you read again, “Nevertheless we made our prayer to our God, and because of them we set a watch against them [the wall] day and night.”
I’d love to pick all of those apart in terms of the content of their prayer. I don’t have time, but you get to see they went to their knees. Don’t let life drive you to your knees. Willingly fall on your knees and cry to God to vindicate you, to vindicate Himself, to deal with your enemies in His way, in His time, for His glory. The whole project was birthed in prayer, wasn’t it? You go back to chapter 1; Nehemiah hears about that dilapidated state of the city and the citizens. Look at verse 4: “So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned. . . . I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said: ‘I pray, Lord God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant” and so on and so forth (1:4–5). He says, Lord, would you use me to do something about this. Chapter 2, verse 4, when he is before Artaxerxes and the king asked him why he’s so sad, before he opened his mouth, he says, “So I prayed to the God of heaven.” And God opened the king’s heart and gave him permission to return.
Prayer for Nehemiah was not a last resort but a first response. See, for us, it’s a last resort. For him, it was a first response. He understood that you can do more once you have prayed, but you cannot do more until you have prayed. So, the first thing you should do is pray. Because at that point you’re inviting God into the problem—His wisdom to your thoughts, His strength for your weakness, His power in the face of your opposition. James 5:16: it is the “fervent prayer of a righteous man” that what? Accomplishes much. Prayer will accomplish much in your child’s life, in that conflict that you face, in that hill you must climb, in that battle you must fight.
William Temple said somewhere that “whereas we think our real work is our activity, to which prayer is an adjunct, our praying is our real work.” That’s right. Colossians 4:12 says of Epaphroditus that he labored for you in prayer. The word “labor” means “to work.” He worked for you in prayer because prayer is the work.
Number two, persistence. Prayer. Number two, persistence. Just good old-fashioned persistence, not giving up, plowing ahead, keep on keeping on. They resisted, and they persisted. Verse 6: “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.” Verse 9: “Nevertheless we made our prayer to God, and because of them we set a watch against them day and night.” Verse 15: “And it happened, when our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had brought their plot to nothing, that all of us returned to the wall, everyone to his work.” Verse 23: “So neither I, my brethren, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me took off our clothes, except that everyone took them off for washing.”
They dug their heels in, and they kept going. They pushed past their moods. They worked through their problems so that they might work off their problems.
David Jeremiah, in a message on Nehemiah 4, says this: “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.” That’s such a good word.
That’s why Churchill was so effective, so prodigious. In her book I Was Winston Churchill’s Private Secretary, Phyllis Moir talks about his diligence, his doggedness, that kind of bulldog spirit. He had the country to govern. He had the Nazi threat to face. And he had book deadlines. She talks about a day when Prague fell, and he was hurrying to complete a 300,000-word history of the English people. He said after supper, “It’s hard to take one’s attentions off the events of today and concentrate on the reign of James II—but I’m going to do it.” And he did. This woman said of him, “When a job of writing has to be done, Mr. Churchill sits down to it whether he is in the mood or not and the effort generates his creative power.” Love that. The effort generates the creative power. To borrow the words of the basketball star Jerry West, you can’t get much done in life if you only work on the days when you feel good. Prayer, persistence, keep on keeping on. The effort will generate its own creative power.
Number three, perspective. Perspective. Now, it’s more implicit than explicit, but we can tell that they had lost perspective, right? When they set out, they had a mind to work. They got halfway through the job with great enthusiasm and excitement. And now, the excitement is waning, and exasperation has set in, and they’ve lost perspective. You know what? We’re not as enthusiastic as we once were. I don’t think we’re going to be able to pull this thing off. Nehemiah brings perspective, doesn’t he? We’ll come back to this verse: “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” (Neh. 4:14).
Nehemiah, as a visionary leader, brought perspective. Good leaders bring perspective. Good fathers bring perspective. Good pastors bring perspective. Good businessmen in the office bring perspective. They help frame an issue. They help people see what their emotions won’t see or their lack of conviction or belief won’t see. Good leaders bring perspective. They help people see the bigger picture. They help people see the problem can be solved. In chapter 1, you see Nehemiah with a theological perspective, right? Read chapter 1 in your own time. He hears about the city. It’s dilapidated. The people are discouraged. And, all of a sudden, he starts to pray, and he puts it all into a theological perspective. Do you know why we are here? Because I have sinned and our fathers have sinned. We have broken covenant with God, and this is the very thing He said He would do.
Then, in chapter 2, with permission to return to the city, he arrives. he does his own thing during the night where he surveys the walls, sees what it’s going to take. He does some measurements, and he does a cost analysis of what needs to take place, and he comes up with an organizational chart of how it can be pulled off, so on and so forth. Then he tells the people. And he brings perspective, because it says in chapter 2, and I told them of “the good hand of my God upon me.” He brought perspective. He says, guys, God’s in this. Let me tell you, God’s in this. King Artaxerxes let me come here. God’s in this. Not only did King Artaxerxes let me come here—God’s in this—he sent men with me to protect me on the journey, and he gave me wood from his forest, and he’s given me a leave of absence to pull this thing off. To give them perspective.
You’ve got theological perspective (ch. 1), historical perspective (ch. 2), and then motivational perspective (ch. 4). Hey, guys, remember, God is great and awesome, and remember to fight for your families. I know you’re tired. I know you’re spooked. And I know you’re fearful. But I want to remind you what’s at stake: your family and your future. He gives them perspective.
In fact, I read a book some years ago, Born Fighting, about the Scots-Irish, my people, coming to the United States. It traces them back to the middle of Europe, the Celts. And one of the things that the Celts did when they went to battle was, as the man lined up facing the enemy, they had their children and their wives behind them. They brought their children and wives to the battlefield because it brought perspective. What was the perspective? If we get beat today, our wives get raped, and our children get taken into slavery. That brings perspective. That reminds you what you’re fighting for. Perspective is so important.
Vance Havner said, “You can’t be optimistic with a misty optic.” It’s a great little statement, isn’t it? You can’t be optimistic with a misty optic. You have to have perspective. You’ve got to see things clearly.
Number four, praise. Praise. The people needed to get their eyes off themselves, off their enemies, and onto God, whose good hand had sponsored the work. Nehemiah calls them to urgently remember the Lord, great and awesome, and then to remember that the Lord would fight for them (vv. 14, 20). By the way, this phrase “great and awesome” is a flashback to Exodus 14:13–14 and the exodus and the great redemption of the people of God. They needed to be reminded that God was for them. Did it matter who was against them? Anybody greater than God, anything more powerful than Him? He’s the Lord of hosts. The armies of heaven are at His side. He’s omnipotent, all powerful.
These men of God and the people of God needed to address their fears with the proper theology of God. Theology’s so practical, so helpful. You want to deal with your fears? Read a good theology book on the attributes of God: His sovereignty, His immensity, His wisdom, His power, His mercy, His covenant-keeping nature. Once you get an outline of the greatness and power of God, everything shrinks to its proper size. You feel emboldened. If God is for us, who can be against us? The Lord is my helper, whom shall I fear? What can man do to me? Study this passage, and you’ll see the uniqueness of God, the attentiveness of God, the righteousness of God, the power of God, the holiness of God, the sovereignty of God, the unfailing nature of God.
We’re back to how we talk about things and how we talk about the Lord’s work. The enemy wants to say, “You won’t,” and if you’re not careful, you say, “We can’t,” and you need to remind yourself, “God will.” Tozer said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” That’s why you need to study theology. You need to read Knowing God by J. I. Packer just to get started, because what you think about God’s the most important thing about you.
You need to maintain, as we move towards a close, a big view of God. See, they were talking about the enemy. They had made the enemy into a bogey-man. They had attributed to Tobiah and Geshem and Sanballat what the eighth army in the Middle East had applied to Rommel: supernatural powers. We need to maintain a big view of God: that He’s sovereign and in control of everything; that He’s omnipotent and nothing’s too difficult for Him; that He’s omnipresent and wherever we are, He’s there; that He’s a covenant-keeping God and will fulfill His promises. When we have a big view of God, problems will seem small, our enemies will seem weak, and our hopes will seem secure.
A while ago I finished an autobiography on R. T. Kendall, who followed Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones in London at Westminster Chapel. It’s an interesting story because they were so unlike in some ways. But there’s a great story in that story where Carl Henry, a great American theologian attached to Southern Baptist Seminary, would come every summer, and R. T. Kendall and Carl Henry became great friends. One day they were driving to the chapel. They were in the front of Buckingham Palace on their way in a car when R. T. Kendall said to Carl Henry, “If you had your life to live all over again, what would you do differently?” To which that great man of God, with a very keen theological mindset, said, “I would remember that only God can turn water into wine.” If I had to live it all over again, I’d remind myself of the omnipotence of God, His power and His sovereignty. That’s the key.
Finally, the partnership. Here’s another plank in resolving our discouragement. I won’t spend a lot of time on it. Time’s gone, and it’s kind of self-explanatory. But you’ll see throughout this chapter that one of the solutions was drawing strength from one another. Verses 13 to 14 and verses 16 to 23 are all about people coming together. You see that, in the face of the enemy’s threats, he positions men in the lower parts of the wall. He puts the people of God, according to their families, along those walls. Towards the end, he realizes that they’re spread thin, and so he keeps a guy beside him who carries a trumpet. And we read in verse 20, “Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.” It set up this scheme where no man felt alone, and wherever the pressure was, they would rally to that person and rally to that place. They were to live in partnership. And, guys, as we wrap this up, the God who lives in society created us in His own image for society, right? It’s not good that man should be alone. Human beings survive and thrive in company. Lone rangers are dead rangers.
I was shocked, frankly—having been in the British police for five, six years—to come to the United States and find that most policeman are out in the car by themselves, which, to me, is just nuts. It’s crazy. Now, I know they get backup to them as soon as possible. One officer pulling a car over in the dead of night on a lonely road with three occupants. It’s crazy. Two is better than one (Eccles. 4). I’ve been on patrols in Belfast where there’s 16 of us—three or four police officers and 10 or 11 British squadies. I’ve been in armored vehicles with a half a dozen of us. In fact, my role as a reserve police officer was that very role. In an armored vehicle, when we got to the scene of something, as the two full-time officers approached the issue, I took a covering position with a long arm to give them cover every single time.
Two is better than one. A threefold cord, not easily broken. Life is a duet, not a solo. God has placed us into families. Jesus sent the disciples out two by two. There are 59 “one another” statements in the Bible. I hope you’re in a Bible study. I hope you’ve got a Paul in your life. I hope you’re a Paul to a Timothy. I hope you’ve got a Barnabas. That’s how we survive the tough times. Like George Verwer, we will get discouraged, but we need not have long and extended days of encouragement.
We can fight discouragement with these God-given weapons and overcome. Second Corinthians 4:7–9: We are handicapped on all sides, but we are never frustrated. We are puzzled but never in despair. We are persecuted, but we have never had to stand alone. We may be knocked down, but we’re never knocked out.
Father, we thank You for Nehemiah 4. We thank You that it can act in our life as smelling salts to help us fight one more round. Because it’s been well said that the man that fights one more round is never beaten. And, Lord, we just pray that we would be a profile in courage when facing discouragement, that we would keep on keeping on, that we would understand that we are in a fight and that fight won’t let up. And there’ll be factors at work to bring us down, such as fear and frustration and feebleness and fatigue.
But help us to pray. Lord, help us to keep perspective. Lord, help us to take an account of who You are and what You promised to do. Help us to buddy up. And help us just to dig our heels in and, by the grace of God, keep on keeping on. As old William Carey said, “I can plod.” Help us to plod our way to heaven victoriously, faithfully, triumphantly. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.