This morning continues our look at the great book of Nehemiah.This wonderful Old Testament work has a lot to teach us about our lives as Christians and how we pursue relationship with Jesus.
Nehemiah spent three days in Jerusalem, before going out in the night to walk around the city and inspect the walls for himself. After he had completed his inspection, reveals his mission to rebuild the walls and bring dignity back to the city. The people are on board, and prepare for the work ahead. Three men, Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite & Geshem the Arab, jeered and mocked the people of Jerusalem.
The people worked diligently, they and their families rebuilding sections near their homes and districts. When Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem heard that work was going forward they plotted to fight against Jerusalem.
When reading Nehemiah 2:9-4:23, two big ideas stand out: Planning and perseverance in the face of opposition.
When Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, he told no one of his mission. Instead, he began to inspect the city and the walls. He began to make preparations—he began to plan.
As Christians, we need to make plans (and realistic plans at that). Over the last few years, I’ve noticed that this is something many Christians don’t do well, as if our plans would somehow hinder God’s sovereignty and ability to work in the world. At best, prayer is the extent of much of our planning:
“God, I want to do XYZ… and Lord God, I just pray that a door to XYZ would be opened.”
“The secret of our success is prayer. That’s the only reason for our success.”
And while I don’t want to diminish the importance of prayer in any way, we need to understand that diligent prayer does not make up for a lack of preparation. In everything we do, we must both pray and act. Notice, Nehemiah 4:9: “And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.” The people both prayed and acted. They prayed for protection, and made preparations against attack. They understood that if the hand of God is on them, as Nehemiah says it is (v 2:18), then nothing can stand against them. Indeed, a few verses later, in 4:19-20, we’re told, “The work is great and widely spread, and we are separated on the wall, far from one another. In the place where you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us” (emphasis added). Read the passage in full. Who’s acting. Nehemiah and the people of Jerusalem. Who is fighting? God.
God works through our actions as He sees fit and our plans can in no way hinder Him. As the psalmist said in Psalm 135:6, “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does.”
Because of this, we need to persevere when opposition comes—not if, but always when. Nehemiah faced tremendous opposition from not only Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem, but even from his own people! Family members from the surrounding villages came appealing to those who worked on the walls to flee so they wouldn’t die. Whenever we step out in faith, opposition will come, either subtly or overtly. Maybe it’s your parents who don’t understand why you talk about Jesus so much. Maybe it’s your church family that doesn’t understand why you don’t want to live in a big pre-fab home near the new building (these are a couple of things I’ve come up against recently). Maybe it’s your boss who knows your convictions but tries to have you violate them. Maybe you’re facing threats to your life.
One of the promises of the Christian life is hardship. Suffering. Opposition. And Jesus wants us to suffer well, as He suffered well. “[W]e do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,” says Hebrews 4:15. We need to remind ourselves that opposition will come, and we must be ready. How did Nehemiah prepare? He reminded the people of the goodness of God; he called them to perservere. “Do not be afraid [of those who oppose you],” he says in verse 4:14. “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome…”
When you face opposition, do you find yourself despairing? Are you hopeless and afraid?
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9, emphasis added). I don’t say that to invalidate the very real feelings that come along with challenges. But remember, God has commanded you to move forward in the face of opposition.
And sometimes you need to strap your sword to your side and keep working.