"Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building." (Ezra 4:4)
An old story says that the Devil once held a sale of all the tools of his trade. Everything was displayed—keen-edged daggers of jealousy, sledge-hammers of anger, manacles of greed, arrows of covetousness and spears of deception—all available at bargain prices. Nearby was a table holding the more subtle weapons of vanity, fear, envy and pride.
But in a place of honor, framed and set apart from all the others, was a small wedge, marked and dented from frequent use. The name on this wedge was Discouragement, and its price was higher by far than any other tool being sold. Asked the reason for this surprising difference, the Devil explained, "It's because this is the tool I use when all the others fail. Let me get that little wedge into a person's consciousness and it opens the way for everything else! It's provided more opportunities for me than any other!"
The people of Judah, freed from exile in Babylon late in the 6th Century B.C., returned to their land to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and its great Temple. But those who had been living in the land during the interim were not happy with the new arrangement and did whatever they could to discourage the rebuilding. Official letters of accusation, appeals, threats, intimidation, sabotage of the work in progress—and more—all served to slow down the work and even brought it to a complete halt for some sixteen years.
The wedge of discouragement is still as effective a weapon as any the Enemy has in his arsenal. There are shields, however, that offer protection:
- Patience. God's delays are not necessarily God's denials.
- Responsibility. Don't blame your lack of progress on others. We are where we are through our choices alone.
- Courage. Be willing to do what you fear.
- Wisdom. Be open to reconsidering your goals and revising your plans.
- A quiet heart. Be at peace. Put the burden down and rest until your heart is still.
- Faithfulness. Look up. Hold simply to God and to the journey God has set you on.
For the people of Judah 26 centuries ago, the shields held. Work resumed, and the city and its Temple were rebuilt. Strong leadership prevailed. Persistence won the day. Goals were reached, victories won. The wedge of discouragement can slow — but need not stop — the progress of the people of God.