ANGRY OPPOSITION REQUIRES A CONSTANT STATE OF GUARDED READINESS WHILE MAINTAINING FOCUS ON THE WORK AT HAND
Boxing illustration: Keeping your guard up – can never let your guard down; Certainly our forces stationed over in Iraq and Afghanistan understand this principle. The enemy can attack at any time. Their tactics are devious – suicide bombers – guerrilla warfare; you have to sleep with your weapon at your side; no different in the Christian warfare
Illustration of the Christian’s armor – Ephes. 6:16 “in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”
The devil is firing flaming arrows at us – trying to accuse us and mock us and intimidate us and discourage us from doing God’s work; can’t go out in this wicked world in the morning if we don’t have on our Christian armor
We are told to “Resist the devil” and he will flee from us – not stand still and pray and do nothing
Once again we see the balance between trusting in God’s Sovereign protection and yet taking our responsibility to protect ourselves
4 KEY ACTIVITIES TO FIGHT OFF DISCOURAGEMENT AND PROTECT AGAINST ENEMY ATTACKS:
I. (:9a) KEEP PRAYING – short phrase but ¼ of our message this morning
“But we prayed to our God”
Look at that transitional word “But” –
The Enemy does not want you to Pray; they had been plotting a surprise attack; they first had tried to insult the workers and discourage them with their mocking taunts – but we learned last week to boast in our weakness and allow the power of God to work on our behalf to accomplish what looks to be impossible; when insults (mocking, ridicule) didn’t do the trick; they tried the intimidation of a military attack – but Nehemiah would not allow the people to wilt under such angry threats – He immediately turned to God in prayer
All of our work for God must start with Prayer; when we come under attack; when we feel the burden of discouragement, we need to go to God in prayer
by Kelly Willard
I cast all my cares upon You,
I lay all of my burdens down at Your feet.
And any time I don’t know just what to do,
I will cast all my cares upon You.
Prayer has already been a key theme in the Book of Nehemiah – Review:
1:4 – fasts and prays when he hears the report of the devastation in Jerusalem – starts with confession of corporate sin; pleads for the favorable hand of God – providential blessing upon the work
2:4 — moment of crisis before the king when he is about to present his petition – He shot up a quick inner prayer and then boldly made his request
2:12 – listening to God speak back to him and form the vision in his mind and heart for the work that needed to be done and for the strategy to accomplish the work
Chap. 3 – prayers of consecration associated with the completing of various phases of the rebuilding project
Now we get to Chap. 4 and the angry opposition that tries to shut down God’s work – once again the leaders of God’s people must start with prayer – vs. 4-5
A. The Privilege of Prayer
Not a waste of time or a burden
Look at how Christ valued the time spent alone with His heavenly Father; he protected that time and made it a priority – despite his busy schedule and all of the demands upon Him
Study His prayer in John 17:25-26 “O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” Spent the hours right before His arrest, praying in the Garden of Gethsemane
B. The Personal Nature of Prayer
– personal in the relationship we have to God as our Father and Chief Shepherd – pray to “our” God
– personal in the concern God has for our individual needs – “It matters to Him
concerning you” – Think about that – the God of the universe – the one who created each star in the vast universe; the one who is orchestrating His grand plan for all of history – it matters to Him concerning you
1 Pet. 5:7 “casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you” – Do you think
the Jews in Jerusalem were troubled with any anxiety or fear?
– personal in the plan that God has for each of our lives – not just a master plan for all of history
C. The Power of Prayer
E. M. Bounds Power Through Prayer
“What the church needs today is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use – men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. . . The pulpit of this day is weak in praying. The pride of learning is against the dependent humility of prayer. . . Prayer is not to the modern pulpit the mighty force it was in Paul’s life or Paul’s ministry. Every preacher who does not make prayer a mighty factor in his own life and ministry is weak as a factor in God’s work and is powerless to project God’s cause in this world.”
(Also pp. 122-123)
But Nehemiah does not stop with Prayer – there are 3 other critical activities that provide the proper balance; emphasis on prayer does not mean we ignore our practical responsibilities and take care of the things we can control
II. (:14a, 20) KEEP TRUSTING
“Some boast in chariots and some in horses, but we will boast in the name of the Lord our God” Ps. 20:7
“and this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith” 1 John 5:4
Nehemiah does not have a great deal to say about Faith in this chapter – but he models it in his courage as he rallies the people – two very short expressions of faith:
A. Remember the Greatness of God = Only defense against paralyzing fear and discouragement
Vs. 14a “When I saw their fear, I rose and spoke to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people: ‘Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome’”. . and fight …
Good leader senses the fear that is rising and takes action to counter it;
Takes courage to inspire courage in others
Need to take our eyes off of our troubles and our circumstances; then off of ourselves and our weakness and inadequacies and turn our eyes upon Jesus
Music is a great help; reading through the Psalms and finding one that fits our emotional state; remembering how God has come through for you and your family in the past
B. Remember the Grace of God — He Gives us the Victory
Vs. 20 “Our God will fight for us” [just had exhorted the people to be prepared to fight]
Sometimes after ministry success, we get too big for our britches; we forget our own bankruptcy and the grace of God that accomplished all for us; Very sad when God’s people want to take credit for God’s victories
No challenge is too great if God is on our side – Remember the grasshopper mentality (Num. 13:33) of the spies who had checked out the promised land – the fruit looks great but there are giants in the land – be like Joshua and Caleb who understood that “Our God will fight for us”
The Enemy does not want you to Trust in God
Even though the success of the venture depends ultimately on the providential favor of the sovereign God (which is why it is so essential to keep on praying and keep on trusting), Nehemiah devotes most of the attention in this chapter to the 2 activities that involve man’s responsibility: Keep Guarding and Keep Working
He is very practical in his administration of the work and his directing of the efforts of the people
III. (:9b-14) KEEP GUARDING = the main focus of this chapter – Keep Your Guard Up
A. (:9b) Constant Vigilance
“and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night”
Cannot relax for a moment; don’t be surprised by opposition
The Enemy does not want you to Be on Guard
How do we guard our children against the forces of evil in this world – certainly not by sending them out to pre-school to be influenced at such a young age when they are so vulnerable; certainly we are careful about the type of friends they hang around
How do we guard our own eyes against lust; against temptation in any form; if we know we are weak in an area, we need to set up a guard; may involve some accountability
How do we guard the church against error? Have to check into problems and take action; can’t just ignore things and hope that things will take care of themselves
Constant vigilance is needed because of:
B. (:10-12) Constant Threat of Discouragement – 3 specific threats detailed here
1. Overwhelming Task (:10)
“Thus in Judah it was said, ‘The strength of the burden bearers is failing, Yet there is much rubbish; and we ourselves are unable to rebuild the wall.’”
“the work is great and extensive” (:20)
How do we respond when faced with tasks that seem overwhelming?
Doubting their ability to complete the task; plus they were dog-tired from having reached the half-way mark
Wiersbe: Why did this discouragement rise from the royal tribe of Judah? (See Gen. 49:8-12). They had David’s blood in their veins, and you would think they would be men and women of great faith and courage. The answer is found in Nehemiah 6:17-19: Some people in the tribe of Judah were secretly cooperating with the enemy. The ties of marriage were stronger than the bonds of commitment to the Lord. According to 13:15-22, some of the leaders of Judah were not wholly devoted to the Lord, but were more interested in making money. The combination of marriage and money divided their loyalties, and they became the cause of discouragement.
Important that we impact unbelievers; don’t be in relationships with unbelievers where they are impacting you negatively and drawing you away from the Lord; Are you being used by the enemy to discourage the hearts of God’s faithful people; how about discouraging the hearts of your parents??
Redpath: If these walls were to stand, they had to be built on solid foundations, and therefore every bit of rubbish had to be cleared away until the foundations were exposed. Before the walls could be built, there was a great deal of underground work to be done. Before they started building the walls upward, they had to have the foundations downward. Before they could bear fruit outwardly, they had to bear fruit inwardly. They had to go down before they could go up.
2. Covert Conspiracies (:11)
“Our enemies said, ‘They will not know or see until we come among them, kill them and put a stop to the work.’”
Three pretty intimidating objectives: all planned and carried out in secret (supposedly)
cf. political scheming in the workplace
3. Internal Doubts (:12) – Failing Hearts
“When the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times, ‘They will come up against us from every place where you may turn,’”
Yamauchi: “Ten times over” is an idiomatic expression for “again and again” (Gen 31:41).
Report of the pessimists – no way out; impossible situation; hopeless; no way to turn for deliverance; that report led to growing fear among the leaders and the people
C. (:13a) Concentration of Defenses on Points of Weakness
“then I stationed men in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, the exposed places,”
Anticipate where the enemy is most likely to strike; act strategically;
Use your resources wisely
D. (:13b, 14b) Concern for Personal Interests
“and I stationed the people in families with their swords, spears and bows.”
“fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses.”
Remember that they were positioned to do the work of rebuilding closest to their home.
Protecting what is most precious is a great motivator; self preservation;
Some things are worth fighting for
IV. (:15-23) KEEP WORKING (WHILE YOU KEEP GUARDING) – Six Insights:
A. (:15) Staying on Task
“When our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had frustrated their plan, then all of us returned to the wall, each one to his work.”
Careful guarding provides the safe environment for staying focused on the work God has called us to carry out
God is the one who personally frustrates the plans of His enemies and grants us success; the coalition conspiracy apparently backed off their plans for a military strike once they lost the element of surprise – Why would they back off??
Ps. 33:10-11 “The Lord nullifies the counsel of the nations; He frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, The plans of His heart from generation to generation.”
The Enemy does not want you to keep working to accomplish God’s Kingdom Priorities
B. (:16-18a) Balancing Guarding and Working
1. Half of the people delegated to each priority – Guarding and Working
“From that day on, half of my servants carried on the work while half of them held the spears, the shields, the bows and the breastplates;”
Spurgeon loved this verse right here …
Wiersbe: When Charles Spurgeon started his church magazine in 1865, he borrowed the title from Nehemiah and called the publication The Sword and the Trowel. He said it was “a record of combat with sin and labor for the Lord.” It is not enough to build the wall; we must also be on guard lest the enemy take it from us. Building and battling are both a normal part of the Christian life if we are faithful disciples (Luke 14:28-33).
Might be referring to some special subset of people … or perhaps to all of the men;
Nice balance between offensive and defensive weapons
2. Strategic Military Leadership
“and the captains were behind the whole house of Judah.”
Leadership is always important
3. Even the Workers (the Builders) were always prepared to Fight
“Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon. As for the builders; each wore his sword girded at his side as he built”
No one should be found who isn’t holding a weapon and prepared to use it
C. (:18b-20a) Concentrating Defenses at the Point of Attack
“while the trumpeter stood near me. I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, ‘The work is great and extensive, and we are separated on the wall far from one another. At whatever place you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there.’”
Clear communication; pre-determined signals and instructions; everybody on the same page; not trying to fight the enemy alone; rallying the troops and unifying them to make a united stand against the onslaught of the enemy;
Application: do we sound the alarm when an attack arises? Do we rally to one another’s side to fight the enemy together? Or is everyone isolated, fighting their own little battle with no help from the body?
“the work is great and extensive” – much to accomplish; What can I do to help?
D. (:21) Maximizing Every Opportunity to Work
“So we carried on the work with half of them holding spears from dawn until the stars appeared.”
Had to use every minute of daylight available; wanted to complete the task as quickly as possible; when the sun came up the next day they started all over again; had to be an exhausting project;
E. (:22) Sacrificing Comfort for Protection and Productivity
“At that time I also said to the people, ‘Let each man with his servant spend the night within Jerusalem so that they may be a guard for us by night and a laborer by day.’”
Important to concentrate the forces within the walls of Jerusalem.
Fensham: The people coming from the rural areas and villages preferred to spend the night in their homes. This created a situation of movement into the city early in the morning and out of the city late in the evening. This could be dangerous for two reasons: the people going to and fro might be attacked by the enemies, and it was not easy to check on the people arriving. The enemies might easily have the opportunity to sneak in.
F. (:23) Leading by Example
“So neither I, my brothers, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us removed our clothes, each took his weapon even to the water.”
Not some type of ivory tower, theoretical leadership. Nehemiah was down in the trenches, rolling up his sleeves, strapping a sword on his thigh and calling out “Hand me another brick.” His family did not enjoy some type of royal pass where they took the cushy spectator seats and watched the work from afar. They volunteered for the dirtiest and hardest tasks and showed people the way.
No time for discouragement in the work of the Lord; we need to be growing in holiness; we need to be using our spiritual gifts to build the church of Jesus Christ –
“Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lie ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-14
For us that one thing that we must do involves four key activities to fight off discouragement and protect against enemy attacks:
– Keep Praying
– Keep Trusting
– Keep Guarding
– Keep Working
ANGRY OPPOSITION REQUIRES A CONSTANT STATE OF GUARDED READINESS WHILE MAINTAINING FOCUS ON THE WORK AT HAND
Swindoll: Discouragement is nothing more than a barrier Satan erects between great people and great achievements. I wonder how many great triumphs we might have seen but didn’t because great people simply lost heart.
Poem: Don’t Quit
When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all up hill,
When the funds are low, and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.
Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As everyone of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about,
When he might have won had he stuck it out.
Don’t give up though the pace seems slow,
You may succeed with another blow.
Success is failure turned inside out,
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far;
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit,
It’s when things seem worse,
That you must not quit.