God’s people had been suffering in captivity for about 90 years. A new generation was given the opportunity to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple of the LORD. It was an awesome task that would take great strength and courage. The Promised Land was infested with their enemies, adding to the difficulty. Look at just a bit of the story in Ezra 4.
1 When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the Lord, the God of Israel, 2 they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, “Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.” 3 But Zerubbabel, Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the families of Israel answered, “You have no part with us in building a temple to our God. We alone will build it for the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, commanded us.” 4 Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building.
Zerubbabel, Jeshua and the heads of the families of Israel were not being unkind to the pagans who wanted to help them. They wisely recognized that these interlopers were simply troublemakers, looking to frustrate their plans for the second temple. So their biggest challenge was not the work itself, but the people who were trying to DISCOURAGE them. These discouraging people were seeking to turn their hearts from the fear of God to the fear of man.
Isn’t that much of our problem as Christians living in this world today? Sure, we have our own internal struggles, weaknesses, and sins which keep us from serving the LORD and building His Kingdom. But we also have people in our lives who discourage us in our efforts to do the LORD’s work. So who are these discouraging people? Here are just a few examples…
A member of your family, or even many members of your family may be discouraging you. They may think that your faith is too radical, or your choices make you seem sort of odd. Maybe they question your choice to homeschool, or spend all that money on a Christian school for your children. Or, you have been discouraged to go to seminary or to the mission field. To make matters worse, some of these discouraging people may even be Christians themselves.
Or maybe you have some discouraging people on your committee or ministry team or even your church leadership. These folks would rather critique what is wrong rather than participate in doing what’s right. They question everything, and sometimes just show up to vote “no.” They frustrate plans and work against what would bring spiritual growth to the church. These sorts of discouraging people make you just want to quit.
Or these discouraging people may be your peers or so-called friends. While you desire to grow in Christ and strive for holiness, they seem to be pulling you more and more into worldliness. But this isn’t just obvious sin or rebellion–more like frivolous, time-wasting sorts of things. They get busier and busier with things that build their own temporal kingdoms rather than God’s kingdom. So their very presence in your life discourages you to live a different sort of life.
So what can you do with discouraging people? I guess you could try to eliminate them all from your life and build up strong barriers around yourself. But that isn’t typically realistic, and will prevent you from learning to love the discouragers in your life. If you read the rest of Ezra, you will see a much better solution. The Israelites sought the help of King Cyrus who decreed that the work would go on, silencing the discouraging people. Then God’s people finished the work with all their hearts, deeply encouraged and thankful. Well, we have a much better King who hears our prayers and subdues our enemies! Seek King Jesus, and He will give you the strength to follow Him. Then, go do it with all your heart. Stop seeking encouragement from the people around you, and find it in Christ and in the Word of God. That may sound like the Sunday School answer, but it’s the right answer that keeps us focused on serving the LORD in the midst of frustrating people!