Dealing with Discouragement

Are you stuck in discouragement? Nehemiah’s prayer in Nehemiah 1:4-11 gives you a model to leave discouragement behind, by remembering God and his promises.

As we drove through Wyoming, my husband and I were amused at some of the creative—and somewhat inhospitable—names of places we saw along the way. Besides the famous “Devil’s Tower,” we passed by Poison Creek, the town of Recluse, Deadman Butte, and, my favorite, Crazy Woman Creek. While there is no town called Discouragement, it feels like a place I know too well.

If you’ve spent time in discouragement, you know it’s a wilderness place that robs you of your confidence and hope. There’s no progress, no positive feedback, and everything you do seems pointless and empty. It’s a bad place to find yourself, and a worse place in which to be stuck.

In the first chapter of Nehemiah, Nehemiah received a very discouraging report from his brother, Hanani, who had recently returned from Jerusalem. The city was still in ruins; the Jewish exiles were “in great trouble and shame” (Neh. 1:3).

The news hit Nehemiah hard. “I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying” (Neh. 1:4). Clearly, he was discouraged! Here’s how Nehemiah dealt with that discouragement, and here is his encouragement to you.

Remember who God is.

Nehemiah 1:5

Nehemiah turned to God in his discouragement—the best thing for any believer to do! He remembered God was “great and awesome” (v. 5). God was powerful enough to work in Nehemiah’s situation. He had loved his people and kept his promises in the past, and he would do so in the future. The Jews were not without hope because God was still God.

He is still God! If you’re discouraged today, remind yourself of who God is, and what he can do. Put your hope in his capable hands.

Acknowledge your part in the problem.

Nehemiah 1:6-7

Jerusalem was in ruins because God’s people had worshiped other gods. They had broken God’s commandments and repeatedly refused to repent. This is what led to their destruction and captivity. Nehemiah acknowledged this even as he prayed for God’s mercy, and he included himself in the nation’s sin: “Even I and my father’s house have sinned” (v. 6).

Sometimes our discouraging mess of circumstances is due to our own sinful choices. Examine your heart and confess your part of the problem. God will forgive and restore when we turn to him.

Remember God’s promises.

Nehemiah 1:8-10

As he prayed, Nehemiah recalled God’s promises to Moses and to his people. He remembered that if the people repented, God said he would bring them back to the chosen land, “to make [his] name dwell there” (v. 9). Nehemiah trusted in that promise.

It’s easy to avoid reading your Bible when you’re discouraged, but that’s where you will find the many precious promises of God, which are there to encourage you for such times! Keep reading your Bible and pray over God’s promises. Let them lead you out of discouragement.

Be specific.

Nehemiah 1:11

Nehemiah’s prayer wasn’t vague as he went to move forward into action. He planned to petition the king, and he needed “mercy in the sight of this man.” He actively sought God’s blessing and trusted God would guide his path.

Discouragement can keep you stuck in a pattern of self-pity, fear and hopelessness—but God doesn’t want you to remain there. As you turn to him in prayer, you can remember who he is. Confess your own part if you have sinned, and trust in his promises. Eventually God will reveal the path forward, and you’ll see the town of Discouragement in the rearview mirror!

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah detail God’s faithfulness as his people returned from exile to their homeland. For more encouragement from these books, read Laura Sweet’s devotional series, Faithful among the Ruins.