Strength Through Opposition

nehemiah wall_final

If we never have resistance, we never become stronger. 

Have you heard the saying “Whatever doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger” (or some variant)? I have. Sometimes I wonder why folks say that in the midst of a trial or some type of tribulation. Sometimes I wonder if they think they’re being profound. They sure don’t seem to care much about what I’m going through. Perhaps you have heard the same thing in similar circumstances and felt the same as I. But you know what? I’m wrong in my feelings.

 

The truth of the matter is that trials and tribulations enter our lives because God chooses them to enter our lives for the purpose of refining us and strengthening us (James 1). If we never have resistance, we never become stronger. But when we face resistance with the right attitude and meet it head-on, strength for our journey of faith is increased and God is glorified.

 

We just saw what discouragement can do to us through the example of Nehemiah and his builders. They were fatigued, frustrated and fearful. But did they stay there? Or did they find the result of the resistance to doing God’s was better – much better – than their initial reactions. Let’s take a look and see.

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. 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; and the captains were behind the whole house of Judah. 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, 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. Our God will fight for us.”

So we carried on the work with half of them holding spears from dawn until the stars appeared. 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.” 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. Nehemiah 4:15-23 NASB

 

Resilient

The first way we are strengthened by opposition is that opposition makes us resilient.

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. Nehemiah 4:15 NASB

Notice the progression here in verse 15. There enemies heard that their plans had been revealed to the builders and that God had frustrated their plan. The result was that the workers – all of them – returned to work on the wall. While the builders were initially frustrated at their circumstances, their circumstances made them resilient enough to bounce back – with faith and reliance on God – and continue the work they had been called to accomplish.

Nehemiah didn’t give lectures to the workers. He didn’t try to guilt the workers into returning to work. Nehemiah simply reminded the people that God was for them, not against them. That God had brought them to this point not to break them but to build them. God was making them into a resilient bunch!

How are you doing in being resilient in spite of opposition? I know this is an area where I struggle quite a bit. Sometimes I just want to hide when opposition to my serving God occurs. Does that ever happen to you? When it does, remember this lesson from Nehemiah –

God is for you, not against you. Bounce back and get back to building your wall.

 

Rethink and Reorganize

Another way we are strengthened by opposition is by the opposition making us rethink and reorganize our priorities. Nehemiah had already organized the people in chapter 3 and they had finished half of their task. Now, however, a new situation had come about that required a change in organization.

Nehemiah had to rethink his strategy for building the wall. Before this opposition, Nehemiah had organized the builders in teams and everyone built their portion of the wall. Now that there was some serious opposition rearing its ugly head, Nehemiah revisited that strategy. He had to think anew – rethink – the best way to accomplish this task in light of changing circumstances. We shouldn’t let this get lost on us. When our circumstances change and we are opposed by the enemies of God, we need to rethink our strategy. We need to be flexible enough to change how we are going about doing God’s work. So Nehemiah thought and came to a conclusion: if the enemies were going to attack they would most likely do so at the weakest places. So Nehemiah put guards at all the vulnerable spots. This served two purposes – it discouraged the enemy and it encouraged the people because it dealt with their fear.

When we’re discouraged, one of the things we can do is to reorganize our priorities. You can look at your life. You can adopt a change in approach instead of becoming so discouraged that you quit. Do you have a problem in your marriage? In your job? Church? Walk with God? If so, don’t bail out! Rethink your problem, reorganize your thoughts and keep moving toward the goal to which God has called you.

In verse 16 the workers reorganized again by dividing responsibilities – half worked and the other half kept watch. Those who worked used one hand for pushing the wheelbarrow, and with the other hand, they carried a weapon. And, they worked together as a team.

 

Remain

Now let’s back up and look at this passage as a whole. Do you see what I see? The workers did not flee. They remained at the worksite, they remained building the wall. That is the final thing I think we can glean from this passage in Nehemiah. When opposition comes (and it will), remain where God has called you.

When I was a pastor of a small church, there were times where I just wanted to flee. I just wanted out. Why? The opposition had planted a Sanballat and Tobiah in our congregation. They stirred up trouble and discouragement. It was difficult to be sure to get in the pulpit each week knowing – KNOWING – that I was going to be criticized for how I preached that morning or how I failed to do something according to the expectations of the enemies of God’s work. But I remained. It wasn’t comfortable. It wasn’t fun. I focused myself on what God had called me to do and not my circumstances. God eventually peeled the veneer off my Sanballat and Tobiah. He revealed them for who they are. Now it took the death of the church I pastored for that to happen. But is was a worthwhile price to pay for others to be warned about these folks and their unrepentant divisiveness.

 

Remember and Redouble

Are you experiencing opposition in your service to God? Perhaps it is from a friend as it was in my case. Maybe your government is acting against you. Maybe it someone else. Whomever is opposing your work, remind yourself that they are opposing God, not you. If they hate you, they hate you because of your relationship with Jesus Christ. Let the haters hate. Let them say what they want. Redouble your effort to be resilient in your response, rethink and reorganize your priorities and method of doing your work and remain at the task God has given you.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. I Corinthians 15:58 NASB

 

Discouragement in the Ranks

nehemiah wall_final

 

Our Savior, when confronted with difficult tasks never gave up. He did not give in to fear. He never once stopped because of opposition. The Apostles never did either. Neither did the early martyrs of the church. And neither should we.

But we prayed to our God, and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night.

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.”

Our enemies said, “They will not know or see until we come among them, kill them and put a stop to the work.” 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,” then I stationed men in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, the exposed places, and I stationed the people in families with their swords, spears and bows. 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 for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses.” Nehemiah 4:9-14 NASB

 

So the opponents of God’s work in Jerusalem are angry. They were so mad that they conspired together to come and fight the Jews. These guys were ticked off and were willing to kill. Wow. What was their response to all this? They prayed.

But we prayed to our God, and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night.

They prayed and they took action. These guys took positive actions after they prayed. How often, when we are threatened by God’s opponents, do we pray first and then take action? We need to work on that, don’t we.

There are at least three things that cause discouragement in the ranks. These three are Fatigue, Frustration and Fear. When these three happen together the effect they have on discouraging God’s work is amplified. Lets take a look at what happened in Nehemiah’s situation and how we can apply that to ours.

How do you feel after a really difficult task? Are you fulfilled? Excited? Tired? Yeah, tired. Me too. Now think of being in the middle of a difficult task and feeling the same way. You look around and realize that there is still much work to be done. Do you suddenly feel more tired than before? Me too. Let’s take a look at the fatigue that had set in and how it affected the workers on the wall.

Fatigue

Verse 10 reads,  “Thus in Judah it was said, ‘The strength of the burden bearers is failing…'” Simply put, the workers were tired. They were hitting it hard and needed some rest. The phrase “giving out” carries with it the idea of “staggering, tottering, and stumbling.” These guys were tired with a capital “T”. And this is a major issue.

Whenever you or someone else is physically tired and drained, discouragement at the slightest problem comes quite easily. Why were they fatigued? Take a look back at verse 6:

So we built the wall and the whole wall was joined together to half its height

That is quite a bit of lifting and placing heavy stones on a wall. We’d be fatigues and drained as well. Imagine the amount of work and energy required to achieve this goal. They had every reason to be tired.

Perhaps a contribution to their discouragement was that they were just halfway done. Their job remained unfinished and they were receiving threats and persecution on every side. They were pretty much done. They wanted to quit.

Have you ever felt this way? Have you ever been so tired of doing what God has called you to do that you’re ready to just stop? I have. In the midst of trying and discouraging times, losing the focus of our labor is easy to do. When we forget that we work for God’s glory and not ours discouragement is not far behind. Take time to take a break from your work. Take time to recharge.

 

Frustration

Another contributor to discouragement is frustration. Verse ten continues by stating

…Yet there is much rubbish…

So not only do they see the half finished wall, but they also see the enormous amount of rubble lying around. There were broken rocks, dirt and other assorted debris. I can imagine it looks as messy as one of my children’s rooms!

When things are so messy we can sometimes lose sight of the job before us. What we can forget amid the frustration of the moment that, like these folks, in the process of working toward our goal the mess will as a result get tidied up. In Hebrews the author challenges us to strip off anything that would hinder us from running this race of life well. Our goal, like the goal of building the wall, must remain in the forefront. We need not be frustrated by the debris all around us. We also don’t need to keep the unnecessary impediments that we carry with us.

Whatever is entangling you – be it television, the internet or something else – and tripping you up, discard it and refocus your effort on doing the task that God has called you to do.

Fear

The enemies of the Lord’s work had struck fear in the hearts of God’s people and they felt like giving up.

Our enemies said, “They will not know or see until we come among them, kill them and put a stop to the work.” 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,” then I stationed men in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, the exposed places, and I stationed the people in families with their swords, spears and bows.

The workers had set their minds on what the enemies had said. And the enemies did not just say they would do harm – they marshaled an army against them. These workers were intimidated. They were fearful. And the fear they felt led to their discouragement.

Notice who grew fearful first:

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,”

The Jews who lived nearest to the threat from the opposition grew fearful first. Being on the front line of any conflict has its costs. Fear is one of those costs. While it is normal to fear aggression, being disabled by that fear is not an option for us.

Are you on the front lines? Are you fearful of what the enemy has pledged to do to you? There are plenty of threats to biblical Christianity. We are routinely tarred with the charge of being ignorant, stupid, intolerant or some other insult. Stopping our work for the Lord is easy. We stop and the insults and intimidation stops. But, in the words of Buzz Lightyear, we should “Never give up. Never surrender!”

Our Savior, when confronted with difficult tasks never gave up. He did not give in to fear. He never once stopped because of opposition. The Apostles never did either. Neither did the early martyrs of the church. And neither should we.

Our task in life is to glorify God, not win a popularity contest with those who hate God. We glorify God by living out His word and completing the task placed before us. Our society is a mess. The rubble is all around us. We look around and the enemies seem to be winning. Their words try to discourage us and humiliate our actions. They threaten. They demean. The work of standing for Christ looks like it can not be accomplished. It looks too hard. We seem too tired. The enemies appear too numerous. Rebuilding seems just too hard…

Can someone hand me another rock?

 

A Race Worth Running

Even with all the aches and pains that go along with running

this race, it is a race worth running.

 

Years ago I used to love to run. I didn’t like to run for speed but for distance. I always tried to run farther and farther each time I would run. I really didn’t care how long I took to run, I just enjoyed running. After a few knee surgeries, a broken ankle, and aches and pains that come with getting older, I began to make excuses. The pain I felt running outweighed the joy I got by running. To me running in a race against myself just wasn’t worth running anymore because of the pain it caused.

Have you ever felt this way about life? Have you come to a place where you are ready for the world to stop so you can get off? I’ve been there. I get tired of some of the junk of life and those who shovel it around. But each time I get discouraged, my mind is brought back to a particular passage of Scripture that encourages me. I hope this encourages oyou.

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2 NASB

“Therefore…”

Whenever we see a “therefore” in Scripture, we need to know what it is there for. In this passage the author of Hebrews had just penned the “Hall of Fame of Faith” in chapter 11. That forms the basis of this passage. The “therefore” in v. 1 makes us look back on chapter 11 and remember all these persons of faith. Were they perfect? Had they lived an easy life? Uh, the answer would be an emphatic “No”. In chapter eleven you had a liar (Abraham), a murderer (Moses), a harlot (Rahab), and an adulterer (David). Perfect? No. Easy livin’ folks? No. But all listed as ones who lived their life by faith. So how does this affect chapter 12? Let’s take a look.

“since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us…”

The author states in v. 1 that we have a “great cloud of witnesses surrounding us”. These witnesses must the ones listed in chapter 11. The “therefore” in v. 1 makes this so. So the author is saying because of these witnesses surrounding us, we should do some things.

Before we get to the things we should do, what are these witnesses doing? Well picture a stadium filled with these witnesses. Now picture you are running on the track below. The witnesses are so much cheering you on as much as they are inspiring you on. They are examples of those who ran their race by faith. This life run by faith should inspire us to look for the One in whom these folks placed their faith. I believe that all these lives, if properly understood, point not to themselves but to the One who perfected them.

“let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us…”

First we need to lay aside everything that encumbers us. This is clarified by the next phrase “and the sin that so easily entangles us…” Do you have something that is always tripping you up? Get rid of it! The idea is not that we are sinless or perfect. In fact the text makes clear that the runners have sin issues. If you want proof, just look back at chapter 11. The idea here is to strip off anything and everything that causes us to stumble. So if you have issues with things on the internet, get off the internet. The same goes for TV. No matter what it is that causes you problems, you must get rid of it. After all, isn’t your love of Christ greater than your love of whatever thrill received through a particular sin.

Now recognizing a sin and ridding oneself from that sin are different things. Recognizing sin should be pretty easy. At least I want to believe it should be easy. Sometimes sin can become so ingrained in us that it is hard to recognize it. Has that ever happened to you? Honestly it has happened to me. Sin is sin no matter what we call it. We can get a little too comfortable with sin, can’t we? Well the author says that we need to get rid of these encumbrances and the sin that “easily” entangles us. We have to make a decision to rid ourselves of THAT sin. And once we rid ourselves of THAT sin, we need to move on to the other sins that will invariably come to the forefront.

“let us run with endurance the race …”

We are to run with endurance that which has been laid before us. Look at this again: run with endurance. We are not to run quickly, crazily, or in spurts. We are to run with endurance. The Greek word for endurance here is hupomone. It means “to remain under”. The idea is to remain in the stressful situation and not to look for an escape. This is the essence of endurance. Staying under pressure until the pressure achieves its purpose. Does this hurt? Yeah. Would I rather not be under pressure? Honestly, no. I have learned to embrace the difficulties. I’ve learned that the pressure is meant to purify me. While the pressure is not so pleasant, I’ve learned that it is necessary if I am to mature as a believer.

Have you learned to embrace the difficulties of life? Perhaps you have a “Mr. Helper” like me. He (or she) is always looking to remind you of past failures, real or imagined. These folks are everywhere. They have no other reason to live other than to try to knock you off your stride. They want to discourage you. They want to stop you. When you have a Mr. Helper in your life, embrace the challenge. And rely on your family in Christ. We need to be about encouraging one another, especially when there is a Mr. Helper involved.

“that is set before us…”

So endure as you run your race set before you. Did you see that? You don’t choose your race course. It is set before you. Your race—the road you take in life—may be quite different than the race set before me. That is fine. Actually that is better than fine! God is sovereign and we need to recognize that fact. When we submit to His sovereignty, things that previously made no sense and discouraged us now become part (somehow) of God’s plan for us. I can rest in His sovereignty knowing that nothing surprises Him.

“fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, ”

But not only are we to put off sin and run with endurance, we are to fix our eyes on Christ. We are to place our gaze on Him—the One who authored our faith and the One who will make our faith complete. That is a “for sure” thing. So what is the bummer here? Through trials and tribulations our faith is perfected. We will one day be perfect. That day may not be today, but it will surely happen. It is guaranteed to happen.

“who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Jesus, who is the one who authored our faith and the One who will perfect it, is our example. Just like Jesus endured the cross with its shame because of the joy set before Him, we should all endure the temporary pain of running this race of life because of the joy that is set before us: we are being used by the creator of the universe in glorifying Him.

So, have you had a tough day? Week? Year? Are you finding the pressure of life getting to you? Do you have a Mr. Helper who just loves to ridicule you and harass you? Well, you’re in good company because if you don’t have struggles and difficulties, you need to examine if you are even on the race course. Those who are engaged in the race of life will have difficult times. We will struggle. We will be tested. And we will be refined. The refining process, while hot and pressure filled, is rewarding. So submit yourself to the sovereignty of God, stand up, live under the pressure with grace. And experience God perfecting the faith He has already given you.

Even with all the aches and pains that go along with running this race, it is a race worth running. Run your race well.