What happens when you face opposition and obstacles during the rebuilding process? Can this be a sign to stop the project or to work even harder?
Welcome to #ThankfulThursdays where I hope to answer these questions as I continue to share from my personal experience about what to expect when we begin to rebuild.
Last week when I launched my new website I wanted to share with you the lessons I learned throughout the rebuilding process. When I was seriously wrestling with the idea of overhauling my website and parts of my ministry, God brought me to Nehemiah and the story of rebuilding the wall. If you have read my blog before, you know that God often uses people and stories from the Bible to teach me His truth and encourage me on my faith journey.
I learned so much from Nehemiah’s story! Below is a recap before we head into the next (and most difficult!) lesson:
In his project to rebuild the wall around the city of Jerusalem, Nehemiah was faced with a number of obstacles, challenges, and discouraging people. As I reread the story, I wondered how he had the determination to continue because the opposition was so great on many levels. But Nehemiah did not quit; instead, he prayed and planned. He then set a schedule and sought support. He sacrificed and was successful because he saw the obstacles and opposition as hurdles to overcome in order to complete God’s work.
Here is a little background on Nehemiah if he is new to you:
Nehemiah was a godly Jew who lived during the 5th century B.C. in Susa, the capital of the Persian empire. He was the cupbearer to the Persian king, Artaxerxes I. Basically this meant he was the king’s righthand man because in the ancient world this was a very important and prestigious position. Nehemiah’s responsibilities included making sure that the king’s drink was not poisoned. After all, one of the easiest ways for an assassin to remove a monarch was through poisoning his drink! Though Nehemiah was considered one of the king’s most trusted and loyal advisors, he was concerned about the problems and struggles of his own people who were living back in the homeland.
Nehemiah’s concern centered on the city of Jerusalem whose walls were in ruins. The walls had been destroyed by the Babylonians almost a century and a half before, when Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem and took the Jews into captivity. The Jewish people who had returned to Jerusalem from Babylon following the seventy year exile had completed the rebuilding of their Temple, but the walls of the Holy City remained as piles of rubble.
Here is the part of the story we read last week and will use again today:
Nehemiah 4: 6-14 (The Message):
“We kept at it, repairing and rebuilding the wall. The whole wall was soon joined together and halfway to its intended height because the people had a heart for the work.
When Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites heard that the repairs of the walls of Jerusalem were going so well—that the breaks in the wall were being fixed—they were absolutely furious. They put their heads together and decided to fight against Jerusalem and create as much trouble as they could. We countered with prayer to our God and set a round-the-clock guard against them.
But soon word was going around in Judah,
The builders are pooped,
the rubbish piles up;
We’re in over our heads,
we can’t build this wall.
And all this time our enemies were saying, “They won’t know what hit them. Before they know it we’ll be at their throats, killing them right and left. That will put a stop to the work!” The Jews who were their neighbors kept reporting, “They have us surrounded; they’re going to attack!” If we heard it once, we heard it ten times.
So I stationed armed guards at the most vulnerable places of the wall and assigned people by families with their swords, lances, and bows. After looking things over I stood up and spoke to the nobles, officials, and everyone else: “Don’t be afraid of them. Put your minds on the Master, great and awesome, and then fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.”
You do not know how inspiring this passage was to me during my rebuilding process…and I had none of the real dangers (like getting killed!) that Nehemiah and the Jewish people had to face.
What about you today? Are you in the process of rebuilding, restoring, or remaking something in your life?
Maybe it is a new venture, job, or even career.
Maybe you are trying to rebuild a relationship with someone.
Maybe you need to rebuild your confidence and trust after a devastating loss or failure.
Maybe your physical body needs some restoration after a stressful time.
Maybe your future needs to be rebuilt after you have faced and dealt with the pain of your past.
Whatever it may be, I know God has taught me some life changing truths throughout out my rebuilding project that I hope will help me as I encounter other areas in my life that may need to be mended, improved, or restored. I strongly encourage you to reread the whole story found in the book of Nehemiah, Chapters 1-6 (it’s a great read!) because I am sure God will speak to you through it as well.
I tried to categorized what I learned about what to expect when rebuilding into 4 key areas. Last week I tackled the first two (you can read that post HERE) and today we move onto the hard part: OPPOSITION AND OBSTACLES
- PRAYER AND PREPARATION
- SCHEDULE AND SUPPORT
- OPPOSITION AND OBSTACLES
- SACRIFICE AND SUCCESS
OPPOSITION AND OBSTACLES
Have you ever started a rebuilding project only to get into the middle of it and face huge barriers? Unexpected hurdles? Costly repairs? Let’s just think of this on a literal level. You decide you just want to do a few things to update your bathroom, so you begin by taking the tiles off the walls so you can paint…uh-oh. Underneath you find water damage and all the walls need to come down. Once you take the walls down, now you realize the whole shower and tub need to be replaced which leads to damaging the floor! And it goes on and on. You get the picture, right? It is a snowball effect. But you already committed to the project. You’re in the middle of it now, so there is no going back. You need a functioning bathroom!
Let’s return to the story of Nehemiah. He prayerfully prepares by asking God for wisdom and guidance. He schedules the project by cautiously counting the cost and assembling the right people to support and help him in this massive and crucial rebuilding project. It is going so well. Until it isn’t.
Sanballat and Tobiah were rulers in two of the Persian provinces surrounding Judah and were very angry that someone had come to help the Jews (Nehemiah 2:9). They were both threatened by Nehemiah’s success in rebuilding the wall because they did not want Jerusalem to become a strong and well-defended city. So they began their opposition by mocking and ridiculing the builders:
“Sanballat was very angry when he learned that we were rebuilding the wall. He flew into a rage and mocked the Jews, saying in front of his friends and the Samarian army officers, ‘What does this bunch of poor, feeble Jews think they’re doing? Do they think they can build the wall in a single day by just offering a few sacrifices? Do they actually think they can make something of stones from a rubbish heap—and charred ones at that?’
Tobiah the Ammonite, who was standing beside him, remarked, ‘That stone wall would collapse if even a fox walked along the top of it!'”
Nehemiah 4:1-3 (NLT)
When you start to rebuild the walls of your life you can expect to face opposition and obstacles both within yourself and outside yourself. Unfortunately the enemy’s first strategy to stop God’s work in our lives is to discourage us through sarcasm, scorn, or rejection.
We either begin with negative self-talk that goes something like this:
“Who do you think you are starting this project? You will never get it done! You always start things and never finish them. No one is going to help you. You are going to fail and look like a loser.”
(Full transparency: those are words from my own head!)
Or other people, even if they are not overt or confrontational, begin to plant seeds of doubt and discouragement:
“Are you sure you want to go ahead with this? Do you really need to? I am not sure if you are ready or have the resources. It is going to be challenging and you have a lot going on in your life right now.”
No, they are not throwing stones at us or trying to physically knock us off the wall…but it sure can feel that way.
In looking at Nehemiah’s story, let us not lose sight of these truths: Progress on the wall brought out the enemy. Opposition came because Nehemiah was successful.
As we also begin to see progress and success in our personal rebuilding projects, the same thing will happen to us. Either we will begin to question or distrust ourselves, or others will be uncomfortable with the direction we are moving and try to get us off track.
That is why half-way points are always critical. On the one hand, we can feel very encouraged when a project is half completed. Our accomplishments can invigorate and encourage us to keep moving ahead. On the other hand, the middle can also become a place of discouragement and hopelessness as we realize there is so much further to go (think about the bathroom example). Now throw in a personal attack, and we are vulnerable to burning out, walking away for awhile, or leaving the job completely.
Nehemiah knew this too (and that is why we can learn so much from him!), so that when he saw discouragement, doubt, and fear taking hold of his workers he took action.
His first proactive response should come as no surprise to you: he made sure that the people continued to pray. Remember, this is how Nehemiah started the rebuilding process: with prayer. So now that things are becoming difficult, he returns to seeking God.
“But we prayed to our God and guarded the city day and night to protect ourselves.” ~Nehemiah 4:9
I love how he played both defense (prayer) and offense (guards). I strongly suggest we need to take the same posture when we face obstacles and opposition during rebuilding. We need to get down on our knees and ask God to protect, guide, and support us. We also need to be proactive in setting up guards around our minds, thoughts, attitudes, and even people who do not encourage us in God’s truth. The Bible tells us to take every thought captive and use the tools God has given us to defeat the lies and manipulation of the enemy:
“We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity.” ~2 Corinthians 10:5-6 (The Message)
Next, Nehemiah asked them to remember their “great and awesome” God and fix their eyes on Him. It is so easy to fall into the trap of focusing on our present circumstances instead of trusting God. Although it is a well-worn cliche, I still love the truth of this quote:
If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it.
Nehemiah knew with certainty that God had put it in his heart to rebuild the wall and had provided the resources, people, and position to complete the project. He was not going to let the opposition or any obstacles deter him from achieving his goal. Rather, he used them as fuel to push through and keep fighting. Here is how he continues to challenge the people:
“Don’t be afraid of them. Put your minds on the Master, great and awesome, and then fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.” ~Nehemiah 4:14
Godly counsel, unwavering encouragement, and bold challenge from wise and discerning people who know God’s truth are foolproof ways for us to defeat discouragement and doubt.
Are you in a discouraging situation in the midst of your rebuilding process? Are you listening to the voices of doubt instead of truth? Is there so much debris from the broken walls of the past that the situation seems impossible? Are there obstacles that seem insurmountable? Is the opposition powerful and unrelenting?
I have been there, dear friends! Here are some simple action steps to take when opposition and obstacles threaten the rebuilding process:
- Take it to the Lord first by praying specifically about the situation.
- Remember how big and mighty God is…with Him all things are possible.
- Guard yourself against doubt and discouragement by replacing those voices with truth (read your Bible!).
- Don’t give up! Stay and fight for what God has already promised you.
Yes, there will be sacrifice, but there will also be success if we continue to endure. Join me on #MindfulMonday for the last and most uplifting lesson!
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