‘Uphold the weak.’ 1 Thessalonians 5:14 NKJV
Every school has boys and girls who are at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Some of them are physically unattractive, some are slow learners, and some are simply unable to make friends and find a comfortable place in the school environment. (The same is true in the workplace and the church.) The key question is: what should teachers do when they see one of these children being ridiculed and taunted by their peers? Some would say, ‘Kids will be kids. Stay out of the conflict and let the children work out their differences for themselves.’ But the Bible says we are to ‘uphold the weak’. When a strong, loving teacher comes to the aid of the least respected child in class, something dramatic occurs in the emotional climate of the room. Every child seems to utter an audible sigh of relief. The same thought bounces around in many little heads: ‘If that kid is safe from ridicule, then I must be safe, too.’ By defending the least popular child in the classroom, the teacher is demonstrating that he or she respects everyone and will fight for anyone who is being treated unfairly. One of the values children cherish most is justice. (Adults do too!) They are, conversely, very uneasy in a world of injustice and abuse. Therefore, when we teach children kindness and respect for others by insisting on civility in our classrooms, we are laying a foundation for human kindness in the world of adulthood to come. So wherever you are today, endeavour to ‘comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.’
‘We have wronged no one.’ 2 Corinthians 7:2 NKJV
Life coach Douglas Woods says: ‘Each of us holds many values … Some … superficial, transitory, or fitting solely the moment in which we find ourselves. Others are more fixed and stay with us through our life; these are our “core values”.’ Paul could adapt to any culture in order to reach people for Christ, but when it came to his core values he could say, ‘We have wronged no one.’ Your core values are: (1) Your friends and lifelong companions. Abraham Lincoln said, ‘When I lay down the reins of this administration I want to have one friend left, and that friend is inside myself.’ (2) Your compass. Seasons, relationships, circumstances and goals change, but core values remain. Like a compass, they always point you in the right direction. Is living this way easy? No. Doubters will think you’re foolish because you walk by faith. People without family values won’t understand your devotion to your family. The carnally minded won’t understand your dedication to Christ. And those whose core values differ from yours will try to convince you to follow them, or lower your standards. (3) Your anchor. Without core values you’re adrift. Any storm can take you under; any current can carry you places you don’t want to go. But with core values you have an anchor that holds even when the weather gets nasty. Addressing issues that come with age, Christian psychologist Dr James Dobson says: ‘Midlife crisis is more a phenomenon of the wrong value system, than the age of the group in which it occurs. All of a sudden you realise the ladder you’ve been climbing is leaning against the wrong wall.’
‘Our enemies said … “We … will kill them and put an end to the work.”’ Nehemiah 4:11 NIV
Cause number four: Fear. ‘Our enemies said, “Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.”’ Why did Israel’s enemies not want the walls of Jerusalem to be rebuilt? Resentment! A wall around a city guaranteed its protection and prosperity. So first they criticised the Jews; then they threatened them. But notice who got discouraged first: ‘Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn they will attack us.”’ (Nehemiah 4:12 NIV) When you hang around negative people long enough, you pick up their negativity. When you listen to someone repeatedly say, ‘It can’t be done,’ eventually you start believing them. So pick the right company! Avoid people who strengthen your fear and align yourself with those who build up your faith. Do you have fears that are making you feel discouraged right now, that are preventing you from developing and growing? Do you fear criticism or embarrassment? Are you afraid to take that big step and look for a new job? Maybe you’re afraid you’re not capable of the task. Maybe you’re worried you won’t hold up under pressure. Maybe it’s the fear that you have to be perfect. Count on it—fear always discourages you! In whom are you trusting? If it’s in yourself or other people, read this promise: ‘The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.’ (Deuteronomy 31:8 NIV)
‘We cannot rebuild the wall.’ Nehemiah 4:10 NIV
Failure. The third reason we become discouraged is reflected in the Israelites’ complaint: ‘We cannot rebuild the wall.’ In essence what they were saying is, ‘We’re too tired. It’s not possible. It’s foolish to try. We give up.’ Because they were unable to finish the job as quickly as planned, their confidence plummeted; they lost heart and became discouraged. Question: How do you handle failure in your life? Do you sit down and hold a pity party? Do you say, ‘Poor me! I can’t get this job done’? Do you start complaining, ‘It’s impossible. It can’t be done. I was a fool to even try’? Do you blame other people: ‘Everybody else let me down. They didn’t do their part of the job’? The difference between winners and losers is winners see failure as a temporary setback. They’ve learned to look beyond it, whereas losers see failure as permanent. Each time a winner gets knocked down, ‘they … get up again.’ (Proverbs 24:16 NLT) There’s an old adage that says, ‘In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins—not through strength but through perseverance.’ It’s when faithfulness is most difficult that it’s the most necessary. As author John Mason observes, ‘The secret to success is to start from scratch—and keep on scratching!’ So when you get discouraged stand on this Scriptural promise: ‘Keep on being brave! It will bring you great rewards. Learn to be patient, so that you will please God and be given what He has promised.’ (Hebrews 10:35–36 CEV) Be brave, be patient, and you will succeed.
‘There is so much rubbish that we are not able to build the wall.’ Nehemiah 4:10 NKJV
Cause number two: Frustration. The Jews were building a new wall, but old, broken rocks were strewn everywhere, along with dirt and dried-out mortar. And when they looked at ‘so much rubbish’ they became discouraged and lost sight of their goal. There was so much junk in their lives they didn’t know how to get on with the real business of living. Any time you undertake an important project there’ll be rubbish to remove, and sometimes it gets frustrating. You can’t avoid this, but you can learn what to do with it so you don’t give up on your plan. What’s the ‘rubbish’ in your life? Trivial things that waste your time, consume your energy, and keep you from becoming all you want to be? Things that keep you from doing what’s most important, like building a relationship with your spouse and children, or being active in your area of giftedness at church? The rubbish in life is those things that get in your way: the interruptions that keep you from accomplishing your goals. And these are the things you need to deal with. In other words, you need to take out the trash! Nobody else is going to do it for you. God won’t, and you can’t ‘pray it away’. God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and said, ‘Take care of it.’ It’s in maintaining the blessings God has given you that you learn the difference between what’s important in life and what’s not. And that’s a lesson you’ll keep learning over and over.
‘The strength of the labourers is giving out.’ Nehemiah 4:10 NIV
The story of Nehemiah highlights four major sources of discouragement. Let’s look at the first of them: Fatigue. The people in Judah said, ‘The strength of the labourers is giving out.’ In other words, they’d worked themselves to exhaustion. They were worn out physically, mentally and emotionally. Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that discouragement is strictly a spiritual problem. We say, ‘Maybe I need to recommit my life to God,’ when in fact the real problem is we’re burned out. We need rest and renewal. Indeed, sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is relax, or go to bed, or take some time off. When do fatigue and discouragement surface? Look at verse six: ‘So we rebuilt the wall until all of it reached half of its height.’ Do you know when you’re most apt to get discouraged? When you’re halfway into a project! Everybody works hard at first. The Bible says the people ‘worked with all their heart.’ (Nehemiah 4:6 NIV) Why? Because of the newness of the project. It was exciting and novel, but after a while the newness wore off and the work got boring. Life settled into a routine, then a rut, then a ritual. Be careful: when fatigue walks in, faith walks out! That’s why the psalmist said, ‘He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul.’ (Psalm 23:2–3 NIV) Fatigue is one of the biggest causes of discouragement, and it often shows up about midpoint. It’s why we leave so many projects unfinished. Bottom line: if you need time off, take it!
‘Where there is no vision, the people perish.’ Proverbs 29:18 KJV
What do you ‘see’ in your future? What’s your ‘vision’? In 1862 Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, yet one hundred years later African-Americans were still victims of segregation. During a speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, Dr Martin Luther King Jr expressed his vision in these now famous words: ‘I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the State of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream … of that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”’ The night before Dr King was assassinated in Memphis, he told his audience he had ‘seen’ the Promised Land, and even though they may not get there at the same time, they would one day enter it. If you don’t have a vision for your life, ask God for one. And when He gives it to you, pour your life into it believing you’ll live to ‘see’ it fulfilled!
‘Time would fail me to tell of …Jephthah.’ Hebrews 11:32 NKJV
Your child of promise may be far from perfect today, and their transition into God’s Kingdom may be anything but smooth. ‘Time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of aliens.’ (Hebrews 11:32–34 NKJV) When you read these names and know their stories, you realise Satan will fight your child of promise from the day they’re born until the day they die. And if he can’t get to them, he will try to get to their children. Jephthah had to rise above the stigma of having a prostitute for a mother and a father who wanted nothing to do with him. But he overcame all this, led Israel to victory over their enemies, became known as ‘a mighty man of valour’ (Judges 11:1 KJV), and ended up listed alongside the Bible’s greatest heroes, including Abraham, Moses, Esther, Ruth, and David. Abandonment, abuse, addiction, absenteeism, anger, and aggression—none of these can stop God from using your child of promise if you’ll ‘stand in the gap’, pray on their behalf, and keep speaking God’s Word over them. ‘What is the gap?’ you ask. It’s the difference between what is and what can be; the difference between who your child is right now and who God knows he or she will become in the future.
‘I sought for a man among them who would … stand in the gap.’ Ezekiel 22:30 NKJV
Sometimes your child of promise may get into trouble at school, mix with the wrong crowd, and experiment with drugs, alcohol, gangs or sex. They may rebel against everything you’ve taught them. But that doesn’t mean they won’t eventually respond to God and do His will. Before Saul of Tarsus became Paul the apostle God had to throw him off his horse, humble him before his peers, and blind him for a season. Do you remember what Jesus said to Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus road that day? ‘It is hard for you to kick against the goads [thorns, stings].’ (Acts 9:5 NKJV) Sometimes your child of promise will come the easy way, other times they’ll come kicking and screaming; they won’t get there overnight! God took Paul into the wilderness for three years to detox him from wrong thinking and reprogram him with the truth of His Word because that was necessary to equip him for his calling. (Galatians 1:18) So when your child of promise seems to be lost in the wilderness, blind to their destiny, or even down in the dust, don’t despair; God is still at work. What should you do? God said, ‘I sought for a man [or woman] among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of …’ (Ezekiel 22:30 NKJV) Build a wall of protective prayer around your child. ‘Stand in the gap’ and pray God’s Word over them. Jesus promised that when you pray with authority here on earth, He will move Heaven on your behalf (see John 14:13).
‘Jephthah … was a mighty man … but he was the son of a harlot.’ Judges 11:1 NKJV
Genes are powerful things! They can determine a child’s hair colour, eye colour, and the proclivities that make them like their father or mother. But when a child grows up and constantly makes bad choices it may not be genetic; it may be that the enemy has targeted them because he’s discerned their destiny. That’s when God steps in. Moses’ mother placed him in a basket and hid him in the Nile River. But God arranged for Pharaoh’s own daughter to find him, take him to the palace, and raise him as a leader in Egypt. As a parent, when you do your part, God will do His. When you do all you can for your child, God will intervene and do what you cannot do. Paul writes, ‘We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.’ (Romans 8:28 NLT) God has a ‘purpose’ for your problem child, so keep loving them and praying for them however long it takes. The Bible says, ‘Jephthah … was a mighty man of valour, but he was the son of a harlot.’ Your child may have been born in less than ideal circumstances, but that won’t stop God from blessing them. On the contrary, He can use every circumstance in their past to fuel their future with wisdom and strengthen them to fulfil the thing to which He’s called them. So don’t give up on your child of promise. Pray, ‘Lord, You promised it, I believe it, and it will come to pass!’