“I sat down and wept and mourned for days.” Have you ever felt that way? Maybe you didn’t actually have a multi-day weeping period (or, maybe you did), but perhaps you felt as if the discouragement you were facing warranted that kind of grief. It’s totally understandable. Ministry is tough. Really tough. Sometimes, you may feel like searching for some random job on Monster.com, rather than sticking with the toilsome task and ornery people of your ministry.
That weeping quote above comes from Nehemiah. He said it when he heard about the condition of his home city of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:4). He was facing a daunting discouragement, an insurmountable task, and one that would bring endless problems. Nehemiah contains 13 chapters of problems. Through it all, Nehemiah gives us insights into how we can find strength even in the difficulty of our situation. It’s not enough to simply “be like Nehemiah.” We must look beyond Nehemiah to the mighty, enabling, infinitely-powerful, and ultimately-sovereign God who is with us every step of the way.
- Pray. The book of Nehemiah begins with a prayer. There is no action at first, other than Nehemiah’s confession of crushing grief. No. He hears the news, then fasts and prays. In his prayer, one that is worth our taking as a pattern, he acknowledges God’s greatness, prays for God’s favor, confesses sins, and pleads for success. His prayer is grounded in the solid facts of God’s character. As you face your own difficulty work, it is essential to contemplate the character of your God, and to turn to him in prayer.
- Plan. Often, we become fatigued, because we’ve lost sight of the very task we’re supposed to be facing. We tend to get bogged down in the terror of the details and the oppressive minutiae (not to mention the “annoying” people). The result is a total loss of perspective. What you need is a fresh look at the situation, and the formulation of a plan. Nehemiah (Nehemiah 2) records how Nehemiah began a process of careful planning. He approached the king (his employer), he requested supplies, he made a journey, he inspected the wall, and he prepared to work. Nehemiah realized that all his careful planning and meticulous preparation was not a result of his amazing skills. You may have read Getting Things Done, and have a sweet system for being more productive, but that’s no measure of your success. Nehemiah sums up the reason for success in planning and preparing: “The good hand of my God was upon me” (Nehemiah 2:8, 18). “The God of heaven will make us prosper” (Nehemiah 2:20). Even though the chapter records Nehemiah’s planning, the message is pervasively about God’s enabling. “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”
- Do. Nehemiah acts. In utter reliance on God, he embarks on a task—a big one. He must mobilize a small army of rag-tag refugees, inspire them, instruct them, and set to work on the walls of Jerusalem. The city hadn’t just been abandoned for many years, it had actually been destroyed. Rebuilding the walls was somewhat like trying to rebuild a housing development flattened by a hurricane. The job seemed insurmountable, but it was a job that had to be done. Staring at the work we have to do can be an appalling thing. The amount of work is shockingly disturbing. Yet there is only one thing to do about it: perform the work that God has given you to do.
- Persevere. Nehemiah’s challenges weren’t over. Far from it. He faced major problems. Some of the local establishment weren’t all that happy about the returning Israelites, who were eager to reclaim their plot of pillaged land. So, they paid Nehemiah a little visit. (It wasn’t a friendly one.) Nehemiah must not buckle to the pressure, in spite of the fatigue that he and his men were probably already experiencing. Instead, Nehemiah went through the cycle of regaining strength. He prayed (4:4, 9), they planned (e.g., 4:16-18), and worked. “So we built the wall,” Nehemiah says flatly (Nehemiah 4:6). Sanballat or no Sanballat, the work had to be done. Persevering may very well be the hardest part of ministry. Just going on, just putting one foot in front of the other, just facing yet another Monday morning. It’s not easy. For Nehemiah, whose discouragement and opposition were probably on par with yours, prayed (repeatedly), planned (frequently), and got right back to work, persevering.
There is no mistaking the fact that ministry is hard work. There are massive responsibilities. People are at stake. Lives are being affected. But we serve a God whose infinite power and incredible wisdom blows away the chaff of our discouragement. He is greater, mightier, more majestic and glorious than we can ever conceive. He is God, and there is no other.
Looking to God is exactly what we need in times of discouragement. That look will turn in to prayer, which will lead to planning, which leads to work…which leads to success—all because of God (Nehemiah 1:11, Nehemiah 7:1)