Fight Anxiety with Faith in God, not Faith in You (Nehemiah 2:18-20)

Anxiety can come into our lives though all sorts of avenues. One of the key ways it can creep in though facing opposition. We can hear the negative voices around us and begin to believe them. We can second guess our own thoughts, efforts and plans simply because of what someone else said. Often it is too easy to listen to the voices of the doubters, the haters, and the plain old enemies. So what do you do when you face anxiety because you have listened too much to the voices of your detractors?

Go back and you remember the vision. You remember the plans that were put in your heart, not by your own ambition or effort, but by almighty God himself. You remind yourself that if God is for it… does it matter whose voice is against it?

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And the officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, and I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, and the rest who were to do the work. Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.” And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work. But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they jeered at us and despised us and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” Then I replied to them, “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.” (Nehemiah 2:16-20 ESV)

This is what Nehemiah does. When the contemporary leaders of the territories surrounding Jerusalem were pressing in on him, saying that they would get his permissions revoked and that he had no right to rebuild a wall (before a brick was even put on top of another). He didn’t appeal to his own courage, he didn’t appeal to his relationship to the king; he appealed to the will of almighty God. He knew God was in it and therefore it was going to happen. There was no room for anxiety.

So when you face opposition (and you will) be sure to press into God. For years I have been praying the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:9-11) as a way of helping me take the focus off the struggles in front of me and placing it on God’s plan and purpose for my life. If he has given you a vision or a dream to reach others, then be sure that He will deliver you, your job is to stay humble and stay close. Make sure that all along the way you are pointing others to the work that God will do and is doing. To take credit for it yourself to stumble and fall before you have reached the finish line.

Is it God’s Will for Me to Face Opposition? (Nehemiah 2:10)

I had a conversation with a friend one day who was discouraged by some of the circumstances in his life. He thought God had called him to participate in a certain ministry. We reached a point in our conversation where I finally asked him why he was so discouraged. He shared that if it was God’s will for him to be a part of that particular ministry, why was it so hard? In particular, he wanted to know why even seemingly good people wouldn’t jump on board and help.

I understood his thoughts. I’ve been there before. In our culture we have watched so many fairytale movies where everything works out perfectly in the end. We imagine that if God is in something, it will be like that. We are puzzled when we meet opposition. We are discouraged that even though we have prayed and know we are on the right track that forces quickly rise against us.

I was sure to counsel this young man that most often when we are in the center of God’s will, we will face opposition. I pointed him to the cross of Jesus and shared. No one on earth ever walked a path more perfectly, yet faced so much opposition (Hebrews 12:4). Following God’s plan leads us through opposition, not around it, or over it.

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But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant heard this, it displeased them greatly that someone had come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel.(Nehemiah 2:10 ESV)

 

The story of Nehemiah was turning into a fairytale; he seemed to be getting everything he wanted. He had a dream, he had a plan, he had permission, but now he faced opposition. Finally on the road to rebuild a wall, before he even enters the city, the governors of the surrounding land marshal their minds together and let him know of their displeasure. He doesn’t slow down, he knows he is in the right; he has God on his side, what can opposition mean, other than this is a moment where God will shine the most.

If you plan to effectively reach those in your school and community around you, you must know that you will face opposition, don’t be surprised by it, be ready for it, have your heart prepared in prayer and face it.

Differences That Don’t Divide (Nehemiah 2:9)

I have two friends who have a disagreement about how to handle a headache. One will get a headache and muscle through it, use a cold rag, essential oils, anything they can before they would ever attempt to take an over-the-counter pain medicine. The other will have a headache and pop an over-the-counter pain medicine right on the spot. They both insist the other is wrong in how to treat a headache. One accuses the other of being too quick to take medicine, the other one accuses them of suffering needlessly when God has provided medicine… Who is wrong and who is right?

I try to convince them that even though they are addressing the same issue (headaches) two different ways that the other person doesn’t have to be wrong. They can still love God just as much as they do, have the same amount of faith, etc. One just trusts that the over-the-counter pain medicine is evidence of God’s grace and the other prefers different means. Too often we as Christians can fight over non-essentials and make a big deal out of something that isn’t a sin or lack of faith, but is simply just a different approach.

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Then I came to the governors of the province Beyond the River and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen.  (Nehemiah 2:9 ESV)

The occurrences of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah happen pretty closely together. Indeed they used to be considered one book. Ezra was embarrassed to ask for a military escort when he went back to Jerusalem because He had made a big deal about how great his God was (Ezra 8:22).  So Ezra went and made it safely without a military escort, yet when Nehemiah went to Jerusalem he went with a military escort (Nehemiah 2:9). Both had a genuine faith. One believed God would provide without a military escort, the other believed the escort was God’s provision. What we know is that both men had a deep faith and a calling from God.

Nehemiah would end up working with some of the men who returned with Ezra. It was important that though they saw God’s provision in different ways that they trust each other when it came to the task of building a wall.  The body of Christ is too often divided and fractured today not by essential doctrines, but by preferences and differences.

The Difference Between Dreamers and Doers (Nehemiah 2:5-8)

Do you know the difference between dreamers and doers? Dreamers have brilliant ideas about how to shape and influence the world. They may have a great idea for a new invention, product or ministry. They have passion, they have drive, but ultimately many dreamers fizzle out because they are never able to get out of the dream stage. So again, I ask, do you know the difference between dreamers and doers? …A well thought out plan.

Most dreams die on the drawing board, not the launch pad, because dreamers seldom ever take the time necessary to develop a strategy to see their dream become a reality. They imagine what it would be like if they had a certain budget, or enough folks, or the right kind of equipment but they never sit down and assemble a plan to get there. Rather than estimating costs, assembling a budget, and pulling others on board,  the dream dies because nothing substantial ever gets put down on paper, much less in the hands of someone who can help make the dream a reality.

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And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.” And the king said to me (the queen sitting beside him), “How long will you be gone, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me when I had given him a time. And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given me to the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may let me pass through until I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy.” And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me. (Nehemiah 2:5-8 ESV)

Nehemiah has a specific plan. The king basically asks, “What do you plan to do?” and Nehemiah comes back with specific requests for letters of endorsement from the king. (Basically he asked for building permits and supplies to build the wall.) It’s important to note that if Nehemiah hadn’t already been thinking through about what the next steps would be that when he had such a huge opportunity he would have blown it by just sharing a dream.  It’s at this moment that having a plan ready to go is what turned Nehemiah into a doer and not just a dreamer.

Do you have dreams about the gospel impacting your school and your community? Do you imagine or dream that you could lead your lost friends to Christ? My next question for you is simple… What’s the plan?

  • Map your Neighborhood
  • Learn the Names of the Students in your Math Class
  • Establish goals like meeting all of your neighbors, or learning who else is a Christian at school, or setting up a 501c3

Pray without Ceasing (Nehemiah 2:4)

We had set out early that morning, a van full of teenagers on the way to camp. Before we left we had prayed, like we always do, and asked God for safety as we traveled. We loaded the van and seven hours later we are almost at camp. We are just getting past Chattanooga, TN and the traffic starts to clear. For the first time in a long time we had a little open space on the road. I pulled over to the far left lane. There was no reason to do so, but as I decided in my mind I should pull back in the middle lane a tire on truck that used to be beside us went out pulling him into the middle lane! Fortunately no one was injured, but I reflected that we had been in that lane just seconds before, had we been there when the truck tire blew we would have been in a horrific accident. I prayed quickly in that moment a prayer of thanks but once we arrived at camp I reminded our students that we had asked God for safe travels and he answered our prayers. Sometimes we are able to pray small prayers in the moment based on larger prayers that we have prayed before.

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Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven.(Nehemiah 2:4 ESV)

Have you ever had one of those situations where it seemed like nothing was happening, but then all of the sudden everything was happening? Nehemiah is in one of those moments. He has been in mourning for his people. He has been fasting, praying and asking God to use him, to use his position with the king, and then all of the sudden the king asks him a question. What do you do in a moment like that? When it seems like your whole future will swing or not swing on the hinge of the next few moments? You pray!

To be sure it wasn’t a long and drawn out prayer. He didn’t hush the king and ask for time to run to the chapel. He quickly and humbly in his heart prays to God. His prayer has been anchored in the foundation of intentional prayer where he has been for the last several months. Remember his emotion was brought into focus by prayer and fasting; now he sees the hand of God moving to answer his prayer. Nehemiah can’t help but confess his dependence on Him.

Nehemiah avoids every opportunity to declare himself a great man and instead has to declare that God is a great God! This is what humble leadership looks like. Before he will launch into any kind of four point plan, or share his dreams about a wall being completely rebuilt, or even ask the king for advice he goes straight to God and acknowledges that this could only be a work of God’s hand and so he moves forward holding on to that hand, not trying to navigate this alone.

The Value of Sharing a Personal Story (Nehemiah 2:1-3)

There is value in sharing your personal story of heartache over injustice. It is more moving than sharing the statistics of what is going on. It gives people a face and a name. There is a difference between hearing of the thousands of starving children on another continent and hearing the story of Daniel, a small boy who doesn’t have enough to eat. It’s like this when Nehemiah presents his case before the king; it is much more personal than it is political.  Most likely this king had never before thought about how his actions had affected so many people so far away, but when he saw how it affected Nehemiah, he was moved.

Compassion International does an amazing job of presenting in this way. When you hear of the millions of people around the world living on below $1.50 a day it is a poverty issue, but when you see a picture of an individual child and you read their story, it is a personal issue. You might want to end poverty, but most likely until it becomes personal, you won’t do anything to actually fight it. Personal stories move people to action and here Nehemiah’s personal relationship to what is going on is what gives him credibility before the king.

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In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, “Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” (Nehemiah 2:1-3 ESV)

When you stand before a king it is important to have your act together. Nehemiah most certainly did, most of the time. But on this one occasion he let his grief get the best of him and he was sad in the presence of the king. Many modern readers won’t pick up on this, but this was a big deal. The king could have assigned Nehemiah’s sadness to a host of places. He could have accused Nehemiah of not liking his policies, or even worse considered that he was in on a plot to assassinate him. He could have ordered Nehemiah’s execution for nothing more than a frown and a tear.

Nehemiah responds quickly with a salute to the king. He declares, “May the king live forever!” He wants the king to know that he is not burdened politically, but personally. His tears represent a real story of heartache and hardship endured by his people who don’t have a wall to protect them. He doesn’t accuse the king (though the king is ultimately most likely the reason the wall hasn’t been rebuilt). He simply presents his story.

Your heart has most likely been stirred over the past week as you have been encouraged to empathize with the people in your city, school, neighborhood, or workplace. You have been asked to remove distractions and bring your feelings about these people and God’s glory into focus. Take a moment now to go a step further and journal personal stories of individuals you know and how they have affected you.

For me it was a little girl who came to a student lead club and told the leaders that she really wanted to go to church, but her mom wouldn’t take her. Her mom would let her come to the club that met before school though so she heard the gospel from her peers there and had a chance not only to accept Jesus into her life, but connect with a group of believers from several different churches. I am convinced that we were able to empower our students to reach this girl who would have never been reached by our traditional church and youth group methods.