READ: Nehemiah 5-6
THINK: There is something that anyone and everyone with a heart for God and a call to change the world must learn – one way or another – and it is this: the closer you get to doing what God wants done, the harder your enemy will fight to stop you.
It is really hard to finish well. It is really easy to fall apart and never quite accomplish your goal. Why? Because the closer you get to doing what God wants done, the harder your enemy will fight you. And the story of Nehemiah to demonstrates two major ways in which that happens.
#1. The enemy will try to distract you! As you approach the finish line, as you get closer to accomplishing your goal and fixing something that’s broken and lighting up the darkness of your world – no matter what that goal is – there will always be a temptation to get distracted. To come down off of your “wall” – whatever that wall may be. And Nehemiah’s enemies tried to distract him. They knew this: On the wall, he was dangerous. Off the wall, he wasn’t. So, in chapter 6, verse 2 they try to lure him off the wall. It says, “Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villageson the plain of Ono.” And Nehemiah receives that message and he says, “Ono. Oh no!” Bible puns are the best. 🙂 But seriously, this is how he responds (verses 2-4) “But they were scheming to harm me; so I sent messengers to them with this reply: ‘I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?’ Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer.”
So, these guys are trying desperately to get Nehemiah off the wall. Ultimately, they wanna hurt him, but they know that they at least have to distract him. They gotta get him off the wall. And here’s the deal – as you move forward and live the story that God created you for and make a difference in the lives of those around you, your enemy will try to distract you. And more often than not, those distractions wont be big, bad things. It wont be this crazy temptation like, “Oh, you’re supposed to go serve in a soup kitchen tonight, but instead you should get drunk and throw rocks at cats.” Because most of you are smart enough to think, “Hmmm, that’s not a good plan. I have something better to do.”
Instead, the distractions will be small. In Nehemiah’s case, they didn’t ask him to do something wrong, they just said, “Hey, come down from the wall for a minute and let’s talk.” In your case, it might be that you open up your computer to figure out how you can help victims of human trafficking, or to sign up to volunteer at a camp or food shelf, or type up a plan for how you’re going to help more people get access to clean drinking water or for how you’re going to share Jesus with the people at your school…but now the computer is open and a thought pops into your head, “I should check Facebook.” 2 ½ hours later you’ve “liked” 43 pictures, creeped on the profile of that person you have a crush on, and you got 2 new chickens and a cow for your Farmville.
And sometimes distractions come in the form of busyness. Sometimes good things keep us from doing great things. I think that one is particularly hard for all of us. We live in a crazy busy society. And we get so caught up in doing good things that we never have time to do great things! We skip church and we skip out on changing the world because we’re too busy being a part of it and chasing after it. And that’s right where the enemy wants us. Cause when we’re distracted we’re not healing the brokenness of this messed up world. But it’s easy to do! It’s so easy to get caught up in good things. We all do it. I do. But God is calling us to something more. He is calling us to be great. And to stay on the wall. Like Nehemiah did. To face the distractions and say, “I am not coming down!”
#2. The enemy will try to discredit you. We see this happen in 2 major ways in the life of Nehemiah. The 1st way his enemies try to discredit him is by spreading rumors. They tell some lies about him. And being lied and gossiped about, having rumors told about you, is a cold hard reality in the life of anybody who fights to change the world. In Nehemiah’s case, they start by passing around this letter to the people. In chapter 6, verse 6 Nehemiah writes, “Then, the fifth time, Sanballat sent his aide to me with the same message, and in his hand was an unsealed letter (Quick Bible verse interruption: When he says “unsealed letter”, its kind of like an ancient blog post, it means it’s meant for everybody to see) in which was written: “It is reported among the nations—and Geshem says it is true—that you and the Jews are plotting to revolt, and therefore you are building the wall. Moreover, according to these reports you are about to become their king and have even appointed prophets to make this proclamation about you in Jerusalem: ‘There is a king in Judah!’ Now this report will get back to the king; so come, let us meet together.” I sent him this reply: “Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head.” They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.” But I prayed, “Now strengthen my hands.”
So, none of the stuff they said was true. If you read Nehemiah chapter 5 you realize it was the furthest thing from the truth. He was the most self-sacrificial leader he could be. But remember, when you do something for God you face opposition not because you’re doing something wrong but because you’re doing something right. So Nehemiah just shook it off, said “Hey, that’s not true,” prayed, and got back to work. And that’s what all great leaders do. Just do a quick Google search of any person who ever changed the world and you’ll find that people wanted to discredit them and said untrue things about them while they were doing what they did.
The 2nd way that the enemy tries to discredit us is to tempt us to compromise. Nehemiah 6 continues in verse 10, “One day I went to the house of Shemaiah son of Delaiah, the son of Mehetabel, who was shut in at his home. He said, “Let us meet in the house of God, inside the temple, and let us close the temple doors, because men are coming to kill you—by night they are coming to kill you.” But I said, “Should a man like me run away? Or should someone like me go into the temple to save his life? I will not go!” I realized that God had not sent him, but that he had prophesied against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. He had been hired to intimidate me so that I would commit a sin by doing this, and then they would give me a bad name to discredit me.” See, Nehemiah knew that he wasn’t allowed in that part of the temple. He could have gotten a big head and thought that he was pretty great and he deserved protection, but he knew better. He knew who God had called him to be and what God had called him to do – and that’s what he went after. But it’s easy to lose focus. The more you accomplish and the closer you get to your goal, the easier it is to lose humility and start believing that you’re really great. The easier it is to start patting yourself on the back and start taking credit where you used to give it to God. Unfortunately, we see it all the time. A recent study done by a professor at Fuller Seminary estimated that over 70% of leaders fail to finish well – even church leaders. It is easy to get close but then get distracted or discredited and never finish. And the closer you get to finishing what God has called you to do, the harder your enemy will fight to keep you from getting there. It’s never easy.
But we can be like Nehemiah. He said, “I came here to build a wall and I’m not stopping until the wall is built. I’m not giving up. I’m not giving up my good name, I’m not giving up my integrity, and I’m not giving up my cause, because God has created me to do this in this season.” God uses ordinary people who let him break their hearts and who are willing to stand up and say, “Somebody has to do something; it may as well be me,” people who may not be the best but definitely care the most, people who know that it won’t be easy and they’ll face discouragement and distraction along the way but know that with God all things all possible and through him this broken world can change.
Nehemiah’s world did. What’s the end of the story: It’s found in Nehemiah 6:15, “So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days.” There was no miracles, no lightning that struck the opponents, just God working through someone who was surrendered to him and willing to fix something that was broken. 140 years. That’s how long they were in ruins. NOBODY thought the problem could be solved. 52 days. That’s how long it took God to change the world through Nehemiah.
How is God calling YOU to change YOUR world?
PRAY: Ask that question. Pray: “God, how are you calling me to change my world?”
I am so blessed and challenged by this! Thanks for reminding us of all the ways we lose focus!