When I lived in California I had a friend who owned a Ferrari. Now a Ferrari is one fast automobile. But it is so well engineered that I never knew how fast it was actually traveling. Honest. Really I didn’t know. Ahem. Well, one interesting thing I noticed about his Ferrari was that there was no rear-view mirror. When I asked him why his car didn’t have one he replied “It had one but I took it off. You’re in a Ferrari. What is behind you doesn’t matter!” Well alrighty then!
So often we look forward and fail to realize that there is a lot to learn from the past. In that spirit, I want us to take a rest, part two, from our normal time of listening to Nehemiah to take a moment to remind ourselves some of the lessons we have learned in the previous chapters. This week we are covering chapter four through six.
Chapter 4 – Opposition Builds Character
I used to be an avid weight lifter. I owned free weights, a weight machine and I was a member of a gym with a personal trainer. I would work out 4 days a week, sometimes five. Each week I would try to lift heavier and heavier loads. I would try to do more sit ups than before, more pull ups and more push ups. As I got stronger, the weight increased. But as a result of the weight increasing, I became stronger. This is what we encounter in the first verses of chapter 4. The opposition has been encountered. They are strong and determined to stop the work and discourage the people. The opposition ridiculed their work with a statement such as in verse 3: “Even what they are building—if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down!” NOw imagine a wall multiple feet wide, getting taller and built with rather large stones. Now imagine a fox – a tiny little cute ol’ fox – running on it and the wall tumbling down. If someone said that, you’d be discouraged, wouldn’t you? I would. But that is just when we need to carry on as the workers in Nehemiah’s time did. We discovered in the first few verses of chapter four that opposition builds strength.
We must take the opposition at hand, resist it and, just like weight lifting, get stronger.
And boy, oh, boy, we’ve got some opposition today! We have governments aligned against Christianity, the media are just waiting for the next failure, entire movements want to eliminate us from the face of the earth. It can be downright discouraging. But now is not the time to take a step backward or even to take a break. We must take the opposition at hand, resist it and, just like weight lifting, get stronger. And take the battle to the opposition. But how?
We also learned that prayer (vv. 4-5) is a source of strength and encouragement. When the enemy opposes your work in service of God, turn to God in prayer. Lift your burdens and your discouragement to Him. He’s big enough to handle it and make you stronger in the process.
But remember, our reaction to discouragement tells all others everything they need to know about us.
Discouragement in life, like here in chapter four, comes from many sources. We can be discouraged when our past creeps into our memory. We can be discouraged when folks simply don’t like us. It can come from family, friends and even other Christians. But remember, our reaction to discouragement tells all others everything they need to know about us. A true leader – and I dare say a true servant of God – reacts well and moves forward with God’s plan. How are you doing with discouragement?
Chapter 5 – Conflict Resolution the right way
I had a class in Seminary on Conflict Resolution. I had the same sort of class recently at work. Resolving conflict is difficult, especially when feelings are hurt and one’s character is attacked. I’ve been through that! In chapter five we learned the right way to handle conflict. Lets take a look and remember the lessons we learned.
First, anger is not our enemy in handling conflict.
What that anger causes us to do is the issue, not that there is anger. In Ephesians 4:26 we are told that when we are angry, we are not to sin. Notice that. We can be angry, just don’t let the anger control you to the point of sinning. Like here in Nehemiah, anger can be a great motivator for righteous living and repenting of past wrongs. But anger not used wisely can turn an opportunity for growth into a time of destruction. So be careful when you’re angry. Is it really worth destroying your testimony? Nehemiah here in chapter five stopped and thought about those things that were angering him. That is some good advice for us. In order to keep our anger in check, we need to pause for a minute or two…or three or ten for some of us! We need tp pause and reflect on the root cause of our anger and not just the anger itself. That will make all the difference.
When we do take this pause, we are showing that we have some discipline. I know that is difficult. But the times when my anger has done the least good is when I just react to something rather than take time to reflect first.
Next time anger comes your way, reflect before you react.
The last two things I really want to highlight here in chapter five is being courageous and loving enough to confront other Christians when they are wrong and keeping our behavior righteous. That may sound easy but it isn’t.
I don’t really like conflict. I’m not afraid of it, but I really don’t enjoy it much. I remember once I had to confront a man about his conduct when I was a Pastor. This guy was making phone calls, writing emails and generally undermining the ministry I had. I didn’t want to have conflict, but it sure looked like conflict wanted me. So one day I confronted him after church. It didn’t end well. Besides calling me a few choice names, he acted like he was going to punch me. But a funning things happened to me. Even though I was being yelled at and threatened, I grew calmer and calmer. You see I prepared for this conflict not by memorizing some lines but by spending time in prayer. Now truth be told, I haven’t always done that. But this time I had. The difference was amazing. While this man’s anger caused him to rage out of control, my preparation caused me to be calm and act righteously, focusing on the conduct and leaving the person’s integrity out of it. SO how are you doing? If you’re like me, you need some more work on this one.
When confronting others we must be focusing on the conduct and leaving the person’s integrity out of it.
Chapter 6 – Hearing what is, not just what I want to hear
Have you ever been speaking and someone later accuses you of saying something you didn’t say? Or they misinterpret what you say because before you even say it, they’ve already made up their mind that you are wrong? This happens all the time. Sadly, quite a few Pastor’s have to endure this kind of stuff every Sunday after they preach. You see people often hear what they listen for. Oh it doesn’t matter what was actually said. If they expected something wrong to come out, the wrong thing is what they’ll hear.
You see people often hear what they listen for.
This lesson is important for us to learn because if this hasn’t happened to you yet, it will. When this happens, we need to remind ourselves of the lesson here in Nehemiah six: when opposed unrighteously, lied to and lied about, we need to stand our ground, and pray. Our reaction to those who oppose God’s work being accomplished says everything about us. So take some time and remember these lessons from Nehemiah.