Trash Talk Doesn’t Get to Define You (Nehemiah 4:1-4)

Trash Talk (Nehemiah 4:1-4)

I love sports. I particularly enjoyed playing basketball and football in high school. One of the elements of playing sports was the inevitable trash talk. Somebody from one team or the other would feel the need to comment on how poorly the other team was about to perform. It served as a false bravado verbally building up the team doing the trash talking while attempting to psychologically undermine the other side.

If you think about it, trash talking didn’t have any real power. It was just talk, but some guys would let it get in their head. They would either get so mad that they couldn’t think straight or they would start to believe that they were going to lose. The only power that the trash talk could have was the power that those who heard it gave it.

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Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he jeered at the Jews. And he said in the presence of his brothers and of the army of Samaria, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore it for themselves? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish up in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that?” Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “Yes, what they are building–if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall!” Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads and give them up to be plundered in a land where they are captives. (Nehemiah 4:1-4 ESV)

When the wall starts to get rebuilt it stirs up the enemies of Jerusalem and they the come surround the city and begin a campaign of trash talk. Trash talk is always the same it goes like this, “You can’t do that, because ________.”  The reason doesn’t even have to make sense, it’s just trash talk. Sanballat and Tobiah bring their trash talking A-game in an effort to stop the work on the wall.

I think it’s at this point that it is helpful to realize that Sanballat and Tobiah don’t have Jerusalem’s best interest at heart.  They have a goal; make sure the people never get the wall built.  They don’t want to see the people as strong and independent. They want to exploit the people of Jerusalem and to do that they have to keep the wall from being built.

Along the way you will encounter some trash talk. It’s important to realize what it is, just talk. There are people out there who for whatever reason don’t want the peace of your city. They have an agenda that strikes against everything you will be working to do. They will trash talk. Don’t let it get in your head.

Call to Build the Low Side of the Wall (Nehemiah 3:1-32)

Call to Build the Low Side of the Wall (Nehemiah 3:1-32)

The beauty of a God size task is that everyone has something to do. Every person no matter how small has some value to add. When it came to rebuilding the wall in Nehemiah 3 we see this principle worked out again and again. The priests, beginning with the high priest, lead by example, grabbing their work gloves and put their hand earnestly toward the wall next to them. The daughters of Shallum work tirelessly like their father. Everyone in town is engaged rebuilding the wall right where they are, no one it left out.

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This is also how it works in the kingdom of Heaven. God puts us within proximity of other believers who will complement our weaknesses and who will need our strengths. It is often easy to look at others on a far wall and think they have it better than you or that their laborers are stronger and so you should go over there, but have you considered that your labor is needed where you are? Looking too long at another wall also proves that you have spent too much time looking and not enough time doing.

It is easy to get dissatisfied when there aren’t any stones in your hand. Often we point to where the wall is the lowest like it is a problem rather than our purpose to rebuild it. We often abandon the places that need our resources and ability in favor of the ones that have already been built by someone else. In doing so, we stand on the accomplishments of others rather than fulfill our own God-given purpose.

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.

Don’t Speak About Your Dreams Before You Have Surveyed Reality (Nehemiah 2:11-15)

Have you ever met someone who was just an open sharer? Every time they opened their mouth they couldn’t help but share anything and everything that was going on in their life. This can be an especially bad condition for a dreamer. They will envision and imagine a brighter future, a better tomorrow, and get folks bought into the vision. But if they don’t have well laid plans; if they don’t have a structure in place, everything will fizzle out. It’s better for dreamers to hold their tongue sometime until they can get enough information to formulate a plan.

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So I went to Jerusalem and was there three days. Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. And I told no one what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem. There was no animal with me but the one on which I rode. I went out by night by the Valley Gate to the Dragon Spring and to the Dung Gate, and I inspected the walls of Jerusalem that were broken down and its gates that had been destroyed by fire. Then I went on to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but there was no room for the animal that was under me to pass. Then I went up in the night by the valley and inspected the wall, and I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned.  (Nehemiah 2:11-15 ESV)

Nehemiah comes to the city and rather than announcing right off the bat that he is there to rebuild the wall, he takes a few days to get to know the city. He takes a few men by the stealth of night to inspect the wall. He knows in general that the wall must be rebuilt; now he needs to see specifically where it is weak and what must be done. Again, Nehemiah isn’t just a dreamer, he is a doer and it shows up in his resolve not to let the cat out of the bag until he knows for sure what he is up against.

You may feel compelled to make a gospel impact in your school and neighborhood, but declaring that you will isn’t the same as actually doing it. Sometimes it is good to bring a few like-minded individuals in to survey the situation and plan accordingly than it is to go fully loaded with just your passion and ego. You might want to bring folks like parents, teachers, youth pastors, etc into your dream and see if they can help show you what you might need to do.

You may need to bring a few Christian neighbors in or see what other Christians are doing on your campus. Clarify the needs around you. Too often we go on mission trips or into situations to “help” others and we assume we know what the needs are and too often we “help” meet a smaller need while ignoring a larger need. Find out about your school, neighborhood, etc.

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.

More Than A One Man Plan (Nehemiah 1:11)

O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” Now I was cupbearer to the king. (Nehemiah 1:11 ESV)

When was the last time you prayed for revival? Did you place yourself in the center of the prayer? God use ME, use MY church, use MY denomination. Were you really asking for God to be revered in your town or were you asking for your own prestige? Sometimes our most holy prayers can be covered up in pride. We lasso our prayers short of heaven because we fill them with all sorts of selfish ambition. We are like James and John who approached Jesus and asked if they could be at the left and right hand of Jesus when He came into His kingdom (Mark 10:35-45). We want to be center stage… next to Jesus of course. Leadership isn’t there for the asking in the kingdom of God though; it is bestowed upon those whose chief characteristic is that of a servant.

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Nehemiah asks God not only would He hear his prayer, but the prayers of all those like him. Nehemiah recognizes that he is not alone in this task of prayer and asking God to do something great in Jerusalem again. He is part of a bigger plan. He is out for God’s glory and the restoration of his people, not his own name.

Sometimes we pray for revival and we are lazy. We ask God to move, but we want to sit back and ride the wave of success. We forget that sometimes God calls us to work. I think that is why when Nehemiah uses the term servant it’s important. He presents himself to God to take part, any part in rebuilding the wall. He is there to serve.

Think of it like this. Life is a drama. Everyone is an actor. God is the author and director. Nehemiah submits himself to God’s plan and says; place me where ever you will. Too often we try to tell God (the author and director) how his play should go. We try and take our minor rolls and pitch them to him like we should become the lead. We don’t understand that we have a place and a purpose if we would just listen to Him.

When God calls us to a task we are seldom ever alone in that task. We always have the Holy Spirit present but often He is working in the lives of other believers as well to bring about something great. Start looking around for others in your neighborhood, school, or workplace that God might also be calling to the same mission he is calling you too.

For me I began to seek to gather with our local student pastors for a time of fellowship and prayer. Overtime real friendships evolved and I saw relationships strengthened as we were all working for a common purpose on different fronts in our city.