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About this series
Keep Pressing Ahead
How to Make it Through Anything
There are times in our lives when we simply get to the point that we say, "I can't take it anymore!" This depression is just too dark. This marriage is just too hard. The job I lost, the family member I buried, the junk I'm going through. And deep, down inside your heart you say, "I quit. I'm done." And though you may go through the motions on the outside, you've just had it. Your mind says, "I've got to trust God," but your heart says, "I've heard it all before and it's not working for me." You begin to drift - from people and from God. This series, drawn from Nehemiah, will help you overcome adversity and keep you pressing ahead no matter what.More from this series
I was having breakfast with some very old friends, known them for twenty years, been very close and, the kind of friends that come to your kids’ weddings, and become “aunt” and “uncle.” And we’ve gone way back, and I could tell that the man was really wrestling with something. And normally, what’s great about our friendship is, I’m just Chip. I’m not “Pastor” this or that, and we’re just tight. And he said, “I’ve got a question I need to ask you,” and he had those tones, like, “Put your pastor hat on; put your theological hat on, because I’m wrestling with something. I kind of know the right answer, but I’d like your thoughts on it.”
He began to tell a story about one of his older sons – godly man, godly husband, has been greatly used in his church, high integrity. But he’s been working on a business for ten, fifteen years, and just at the point he gets to the breakthrough, literally, something bizarre happens. I mean, bizarre. So, it’s a very unique business, where he grows tropical fish, and then that market changed, and he grew tilapia, and things that were just so bizarre, as he gets to this point, that just crushes and decimates the business.
And my friend looked me in the eye, and just said, “Why?” You ever been there? Like, “Why? I’m not disobeying. I’m not doing anything wrong. I…” And his words were, “I know God is good,” right? “I know God has a purpose,” okay. “But why?”
I said, “I’ll get you some information, but here’s what I can tell you that I know for sure. What I know for sure is that adversity is an uninvited and unwanted friend, in the hands of an all-knowing God, whose purpose in adversity is to wean us from our pride and self-dependency, to usher us into deeper intimacy with Jesus, and to redirect our lives to make sure we get the very best, and God gets the greatest glory.”
Now, sometimes, you can look on the front of your notes, sometimes adversity comes when you obey. Sometimes it comes when you disobey, and there are consequences. And sometimes it’s personal attack. I don’t know the reason behind this situation. But I can tell you, there’s one that I don’t think we give much mental thought to is personal attack.
And you’ll notice, on those notes, personal attack – there’s an enemy behind it. There’s an enemy of your soul. There is an angelic being, who is the most intelligent, most beautiful, cherub in all the world, who wanted to usurp God’s role, and when he did, he took a third of the host of heaven. And his name is Lucifer, or Satan, or Beelzebub – multiple names in Scripture – and he has a third of angels that were good angels that turned bad angels – they are now called demons.
And this isn’t weird stuff. This is the reality of a biblical worldview. His goal is to destroy your life, destroy your faith, ruin your marriage, make you discouraged. Anything that you’re doing that is positive, encouraging, or helpful in your life, or in the name of Christ, he wants to discourage you, and take you out of it.
So, some adversity – please do not hear, “all adversity.” Some adversity, some pain, some difficulty, some unexplained things are not just because, in general, you’re making progress, or not just because there are consequences of something you did wrong, or, just, “it’s a fallen world.” Sometimes you’re under spiritual attack. And how you respond to spiritual attack is different than how you’d respond to those other things.
Now, I want to give you five quick ways that are times when spiritual attack is, often, very, very common.
But here are the five times when these things are occurring, you might say to yourself, Maybe…and you need discernment. You ask God; He’ll show you. But when you’re growing spiritually.
Sometimes when you decide, I’m going to memorize this passage. I’m going to get up and meet with God. I’m going to… You take steps spiritually, often, attack comes.
Second, when we invade enemy territory. In other words, when you begin to share your faith, or you are doing things that are bringing light: you help some orphans; you go on a mission trip – spiritual attack occurs.
When we expose Satan for who he is. I remember writing this book a number of years ago, called The Invisible War: What Every Believer Needs to Know About Satan, Demons, and Spiritual Warfare. I could not wait to get this done. When I was writing this, and then when I taught on it, oh my, you talk about – we had the most bizarre things, difficult things, overwhelming things. Because when he is being revealed, he doesn’t like it.
The fourth is when we repent and make a clean break with worldly or sinful patterns. Over the years I have had dozens of couples living together and realize, “We know this isn’t right. We’re going to separate, then we’re going to do it right. We’ll get some counseling,” et cetera. And I just warn them, “Now, you understand, probably it’s going to get worse, before it gets better.”
Or in my Celebrate Recovery days, as I’ve had times with heroin addicts, and coke addicts, and people on pornography, or whatever the addiction – when they make a clean break, they hit bottom. “This is what I’m going to do,” and they get accountability. I just say, “Now, you understand, the next ninety days, all hell will break loose.”
Satan doesn’t let go of people easily. It’s going to be really, really hard. And you’ll get this look, like, “But I’m doing what’s right.” No kidding. That’s a normal, normal time.
And the fifth is when God is preparing us for a great work for His glory. There are times when you can’t figure out – you pray, you search, and you just don’t know what’s going on. But there’s an invisible world that knows a little bit more of what’s going on than you do.
And when God is preparing you for something very significant, one of the signs is, there’s this spiritual opposition. And often it’s a dot here, and a dot here, and a dot here. And it takes a little while, and you realize, Oh, I think something is happening here. It’s happened multiple times.
I could trace my journal, or trace Church history – I remember reading something by Spurgeon, who talked about, every great wind of God – just before there was this great breakthrough, he’d have these discouraging, depressing, clinical times of – really felt like his whole ministry was a failure. And then, there would be this breakthrough. Well, there was a lot of spiritual opposition to take him out before the good thing was going to happen.
Now, in Nehemiah 6, here’s what we’re going to see. We’re going to see what it looks like to put on the full armor of God, to do what God calls us to do.
And what we’re going to see is, you’re going to see what it looks like with clothes on, with a human being who responds. And the parallels with Ephesians 6 are astounding.
Beginning in verse 10 of Ephesians 6, here’s what we learn: who is behind spiritual warfare, personal attacks. “Finally, brethren, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.” Command: “Put on the armor of God, so that you can take a stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
Now, this is a guy who is getting beat up, stoned, thrown overboard, personally attacked at every level. And the apostle Paul, in chains, is saying, “It’s not that guard; it’s not that problem. It’s not Rome; it’s not those Judaizers. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood. There is a power behind this that is seeking to take me out because I’m doing what God wants me to do.”
And then, he says, “Therefore” – verse 13 – “put on the full armor of God, so that when the evil day comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then” – well, how? – “with the belt of truth buckled around your waist” – well, how else? – “with the breastplate of righteousness in its place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.
“Now, in addition to this, take up also the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.”
And then, in the sense of, in the process of all of this, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. And with this in mind, be alert and always praying for all the saints.”
What I want you to see is, there are four specific, ways that the enemy attacks us.
The very first one, the most common, is deception. Just circle that. I want to give you an overview of the whole of what we’re going to go through. The first is deception. Notice in John 8:44 Jesus calls Satan – who? He’s “the father of lies.”
The second is condemnation: the sense that you’re worthless, you don’t measure up. Notice, Revelation 12:10 calls Satan – who? “The accuser of the brethren.”
As you look at the other page, you notice Plan C of his tactics is doubt. In Genesis, the very first words that come out of Satan’s mouth, in Scripture, in the form of a serpent, is tempting mankind by saying, “Did God really say…?” Placing doubt.
And then, finally, he’s “a roaring lion,” from 1 Peter 5:8. And a big part of what the enemy tries to do is scare you, and paralyze you with fear, so you bail out of God’s program for your life.
So, with that said, are you ready? Let’s dig in. Nehemiah chapter 6 – plan A, deception. “Now it came about when it was reported to Sanballat, Tobiah, the Geshem, and the Arab and the rest of their enemies, that I had rebuilt the wall, and that no breach remained in it, although at that time I had not set up the gates or the doors, that Sanballat and Geshem sent a message to me, saying, ‘Come, let us meet together in Chephirim in the plain of Ono.’
“But they were planning to harm me. So I sent a message to them, saying, ‘I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?’ And they sent messages to me four times in this manner, and I answered them in the same way.”
Okay, let’s get Nehemiah, right over here. The walls are completely done. I did a little research, and I found out they did excavation during this time. The walls were roughly, at this time period – it changed – they were about almost ten feet wide. They’re somewhere between – whether it was built into a hillside – they figure it was somewhere between twenty-six hundred to forty-six hundred meters around. Everything is done, except the gates.
Now, the enemy has realized, when that gets completely secure, life is going to change. Worship is going to start. The political powers are going to change. God’s agenda goes forward. And so, there was a general attack on all the people. And it was fairly intense. Now it goes from general and the people, to the leader. It goes from fairly intense to highly intense.
And you’re going to see, there are four tactics that they use on Nehemiah that are four of the very specific things the apostle Paul will say you will face, and I will face. And he even tells us how to face them.
Tactic number one is deception. So, they’ve tried scaring him; they’ve tried rumors. They were going to attack. Here’s the tactic: “You’re a reasonable man, Nehemiah. We’ve had our differences. But you don’t seem like a narrow, foolish person. Let’s have a, let’s have a meeting.”
And this city, actually, is twenty-seven miles north of Judah, right on the border. It’s a territory that wasn’t in control by the Jews. And so, they’re asking him to get out of where he doesn’t have protection. It’s got to be about a day and a half, twenty-seven miles – you don’t drive your car back then, right? So, if you walk twenty-seven miles, figure it out. A donkey is not that much faster.
So, he’s looking at a couple days’ trip, both ways, and what they’re coming on to say, “Look, let’s be reasonable. We’ve had our differences.” And then, they appeal a little bit to what other people might think: “You don’t want to be known as narrow-minded, do you? You don’t want to be known as someone who is not willing to come to the table and talk about how we could resolve our differences together.”
Now, here’s what you need to get, because this happens over and over and over and over, all four times: He discerns deception. He discerns, this is not a legitimate attempt for peace or reconciliation. This is an attempt to get him off the job, distracted, and they may even want to kill him. You see the line where he says, “But they were planning to harm me.”
So what’s the temptation? What’s the application for us? The temptation is to get distracted. God’s got a plan for your life. God’s got a calling on your life. For some, the will of God is really clear: “Address this marriage issue.” For some it’s, “You know what? Address this parenting issue.” For others it’s, “Address this ministry, or this small group,” or something He wants you to do. But it’s really clear, this is what you’re supposed to do.
When that gets really clear, and that’s the will of God for you, the enemy will try to get you distracted. He’ll try to deceive you; he’ll bring pressing, urgent, important, “You’ve got to do this,” “You’ve got to do that,” “Oh, we need you.” And he wants to take you off of what you are called to do.
And so, you need to be someone that’s astute, that can hear God’s voice, that’s prayerful, that’s in His Word, so you’re taking what’s coming in, and filtering it through truth. And so, the New Testament command is to put on the belt of truth.
And so, Paul is picturing, in the metaphor, as a Roman soldier of his day, because he’s writing to a group in Ephesus, and he wants them to get it. And he says, “You see those Roman soldiers, right? And you know how they are.”
And there’s this belt, and every piece of armor connects to the belt. You put the belt on, and then the breastplate that goes from right under your chin, down to your thighs – it connects, and the sword connects. So, everything is about the belt. Everything starts with truth. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” “You’ll know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Ninety percent of all that demonic forces want to do in your life are not weird. They are not The Exorcist. They are not physical or audio manifestations. It’s deception. Very subtle. They just want you to believe lies about God: “He doesn’t care about you. He doesn’t keep His promises. You don’t matter.”
Or lies about you, “You’re worthless. You’re stupid. He wouldn’t use you. You’re not smart enough. You’re too old. You’re too young. You’ve blown it before. You’ve had an abortion. You’ve been through two marriages. This isn’t going to work.” Lies, lies, lies – “There’s no hope for you.”
And once he gets you to believe a lie – about God, the future, your past, yourself – you’re done. You don’t have to worry about things moving in your house. You don’t have to worry about manifestations that are weird. Ninety percent of all he wants to do.
But the average believer doesn’t understand how demonic, spiritual warfare occurs, and you’re being deceived, and deceived, and blaming yourself, or blaming someone else. Nehemiah doesn’t. And he doesn’t get distracted. He picks up on what it is.
The belt of truth is being honest with God, and honest with yourself. It’s living in this reality of, “I’m not going to con God. I’m not going to act, or say, or pretend that things aren’t – I’m going to be absolutely, ruthlessly honest, because, ‘The Lord is near to those who call upon Him, to those who call upon Him in truth’” – Psalm 145:18. Nehemiah’s response here is discernment and perseverance. He discerns what’s going on, and he perseveres. Now, I don’t know what distracts you. It can be different. And sometimes it’s so appealing.
This last week, from about Monday afternoon to Thursday evening, I had at least three different things come into my life, or across my desk or my computer, that basically did this, “Chip! Chip! Chip! Chip! Chip! Chip! You’ve got to help! You’ve got to help! You’ve got to help! You’ve got to do this! You’ve got to do this! If you don’t do this, everything is going to fall apart, and you’re the only one!” You ever have those?
And I looked at them, and everything in me – it was like a lure, it was, Oh yeah, yeah, boy, I’ve got to do that. And everything in me wanted to, and I realized, No, really, that’s that person’s role, and… And every one of those would have blown my entire week.
But I felt this pull. And, just, thank God, I was studying what I was studying, and what I realized is, These are important issues; these are issues that need to be addressed. They don’t have my name on them. Because if I would have tackled them, I will assure you that what you’re getting right now would not be what you’d be getting. Because I would have been distracted from the main thing.
These are the call of God, the big things. Everything else is a distraction.” It’s hard to say no to that, isn’t it? To get pulled into a relationship or solving something that may not have your name on it. Now, if it does, take it! Deception.
Second is condemnation. He’s “the accuser of the brethren.” Notice how their tactic shifts – this doesn’t work; he doesn’t take the bait.
“Then Sanballat sent his servant to me in the same manner a fifth time” – oh, wow, this is getting old – “with an open letter this time in his hands. In it was written, ‘It’s reported among the nations, and Gashmu says, that you and the Jews are planning to rebel; therefore you are rebuilding the wall. And you are to be their king, according to these reports. And you have also appointed prophets to proclaim in Jerusalem concerning you, “A king is in Judah!” And now it will be reported to the king’” – speaking now of King Artaxerxes, king of Persia – “‘and now it will be reported to the king according to these reports. So come now, let us take counsel together.’”
Do you see what they’re doing? They went from trying to deceive him, get him out of town, stop the work, to – this is basically – it’s not even thinly veiled. This is a threat. This is, “Hey, we have this letter.” This is a rumor; this is slander. This is, “Nehemiah, we just are telling everybody, and we’re having this letter, and we’re going to put it, like, overnight UPS to the king in Persia. And this isn’t about rebuilding the wall. It’s not about God, it’s about you, and your ego, and you want to be the king, and you actually have hired some people to be your own prophets.”
And so, they have made up this story. But the story is filled with emotion, and it condemns – what? It condemns his motives; it condemns his actions. It says, “You’re nothing that you purport to be. And this is getting spread all over Judea, and we’re going to send it all the way back to Persia.”
How do you respond when you have those feelings of condemnation? He knows it’s not true! Notice what he does. They say, “Come on, now, are you going to talk now? If you don’t talk to us, we’re going to send the letter.”
“Then I sent a message to him saying, ‘Such things as you are saying have not been done, but you are inventing them in your own mind.’” And then, notice, discernment again: “For all of them were trying to frighten us, thinking, ‘They’ll become discouraged’” – or demoralized – “‘with the work and it will not be done.’”
And then, notice this prayer: “But now, O God, strengthen my hands.” He doesn’t pray, “O, God, take away everything.” “Give me the strength to make it through.” And so, the temptation here is to defend yourself. The temptation is to go from, “This is what I’m supposed to do. This is –” Now, there are lots of things in your life, but, “This is what God has called me to do. This is the top priority right now.”
Distraction didn’t work, so now there’s all this condemnation: “You’re not doing this for the right reason. Look at your motives. Who are you trying to impress? What about this? What about that?”
And you know where your energy can go? It can get off of doing the very thing you’re doing, “No, no, no, you need to understand. I do have the right motives. And see this email? Look. I’ve been four hours digging up all the emails that defend my position, then I got them all together, and I’ll send them to you and, and by the way, we have to have a meeting. We have to have a meeting, because I heard, in that meeting, these people were saying this stuff about me, and – no, no, I’ve got to defend myself, and everyone needs to know that I didn’t do that, I really…” Right?
Did Nehemiah defend himself? He had a quick, clear, factual reply. He realized, people, there are some people that question your motives, that slander you, that condemn you, that are used by the enemy. And it happens at work. At times, it happens in your family. It happens with friends. It happens in some small groups. And there are certain times you just need to say, “You know what? I’m not going to defend myself.”
The command here is to “put on the breastplate of righteousness.” That’s what protects you from condemnation. And in essence, what that is, is that when God shows you what to do, you’re in the process of obeying Him. It doesn’t mean you’re perfect. But what keeps you is, “As far as I know, before God, my motives are right. As far as I know, before God, I’m doing what I know God wants me to do.”
And that’s the breastplate of righteousness. That protects you. That lets you know that these innuendos, and these slanderous reports. You know they’re not true. But you can spend a lot of horizontal energy trying to defend yourself. Instead, Nehemiah – it’s discernment – declares the truth – and then he prays for strength.
I’ll never forget, probably the hardest time for me: I was in the midst of a big transition, and you know how transitions go. And it was with an organization, and I was on my way out and like every organization, we had a lot of good things that happened, and a few not-so-good things that happened.
And one of the not-so-good things that happened – so, I had to take credit for a lot of the not-so-good things that happened, but this happened to be one of the things that I shouldn’t get credit for, if you know what I mean.
And so, I had a board member email me, and then call me, and say, “Man, I was just in this meeting, and this guy, who is a part of this group, came in and said ‘A, B, C, D,’ and that it’s your fault, and you did this, this, and this, and said these two things are true.” And he goes, “I know that’s not true, but I need to ask you about it.” And I said, “Man, are you kidding me?”
Well, with my personality, I was livid. I couldn’t sleep for three days. I can’t believe that guy did that! Actually, that was his responsibility, and he’s covering his rear.
I’m just like, “Ahh!” And everything – I wanted to, “Hold on. Wait a second. I got the documentation on that.” And everything in me, “I’ll tell you what. I can prove this, and I can prove that and…”
And I had lunch with a guy named Bill, Bill Leonard. He is in the real estate area, and does what’s called a high-tech breakfast, where they invite people in the tech world to hear a speaker, and just an amazing guy, heart for people.
And we were having lunch. And I began to – it was three days afterwards. I said, “Bill, man, you just cannot believe what happened the other day.” And he was a friend, and a confidant. And I started to explain. And he, literally, he put his hands on my hands. I talk with my hands. He just grabbed them and put them on the table.
He goes, “I don’t want to hear any more.” I said, “What do you mean?” “I don’t want to hear any more about the past. Doesn’t matter what it is.” I said, “But, but, but, but, Bill –” He goes, “I don’t want to hear anymore!” I said, “But, Bill –” He said, “Look, don’t defend yourself. It’s energy that’s wasted. It doesn’t matter – is the guy telling the truth?” “No.” “Is it true?” “No.” “So you’re really just concerned about your reputation that’s wrapped around your ego, right?” “Yeah.”
He said, “Right now, in your life, a hundred percent of your energy needs to be forward focused on the dream God put in your heart. You want to see Romans 12 Christians here, there, and everywhere, right?” “Yeah.” “That’s being launched, right?” “Right.” “You need to find the platform, the home base, right? You need – okay, get your energy there. Get off that.”
And I’ve just got to tell you, it was so hard to let go of that. But, even the guy that did that – you know what the apostle Paul would say? He’s probably a wounded guy. He was fearful; he was making a report to a board. He probably slanted some of the stuff. In his own mind, he probably justified it. And the apostle Paul would lean back and say, “My battle is not against flesh and blood.”
It’s not that guy. It’s not that supervisor. It’s not what your mate said. It’s not what one of your kids – you know what? You know who is behind this? Start connecting the dots. The enemy is using some people that don’t like you very much, some people that are jealous of you, and some people who actually love you very much to coordinate messages – condemnation.
And your temptation is to spend your energy justifying and proving how okay you are. Jesus said, “Wisdom will be vindicated by her children.” You know what He meant by that? Basically, it will all come out in the wash.
The worst things I’ve ever been through, and, at times, by the grace of God, where I’ve not defended myself – I now have my two-to-three-year rule. You just wait two or three years, and when people lie, or people do this, or this, or that, guess what. You’re not the first person they did that to. In two or three years, that will probably become evident. In about two or three years, if you were correct, it will come out, as well. And if you weren’t, it will come out, as well. But condemnation is powerful. The enemy uses it. Sometimes you get paralyzed.
Third tactic, if those two don’t work, is doubt. “Did God really say…?” You start to doubt what God told you. You doubt the ministry. You doubt the direction. You doubt, “Is this the right marriage?” You doubt, “Should I even be in this relationship?” You doubt all kinds of stuff. And on really, really bad days you can even doubt, “Maybe I’m not a Christian.” On really, really, really bad days, “Maybe God doesn’t even exist.”
You ever had that? Have you ever had that thought? And then thought to yourself – especially if you’ve been a Christian for a long time, and you’ve seen God do all this, and – What a blasphemous thought, to ever have that in my mind. And then, condemnation comes: What a terrible person I am, to ever have that thought. Well, did you generate – no. All these things work together. The enemy wants to pump you with thoughts, and condemnation.
Before we go on, get this clear – are you ready? Condemnation is general. It’ll make you feel bad about you, and like you want to run away from God because you’re a terrible person. That’s the enemy. Conviction is clear, very specific, and there will be an action. It won’t be like, You messed up, in general, or, You’re a bad dad – or, in my case, I was a bad dad, a bad pastor, a bad husband – you name it. And I just felt overwhelmed. It was general. And it took me about three hours to figure out, This is the enemy. You’d think I’d be smarter than that.
But when the Holy Spirit convicts, it’s specific. You can respond to it. And the goal is because God wants to restore you back close to Himself. So, when I’m convicted by God, instead of, You’re a bad, terrible dad, it’s, You haven’t talked to one of your sons in two weeks. He was traveling; you were traveling. Take the initiative. Conviction. I wrote a note, and then I called him. See the difference? That’s different than, That’s right. I am a terrible father.
And then, what happens? And the enemy brings all these things – anything bad, as a father, you’ve ever done. You know what? I bet, when he was eleven – I didn’t go to that one ball game. And, I don’t think he really loves me. I noticed, when we were on vacation, he kind of looked at me funny, and – right? It goes on and on and on. And it’s baloney! It’s from the enemy. But you start believing this stuff, I will tell you, it will take you down.
So, look at the doubt here: “And when I entered the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, the son of Mehetabel” – or something close to that – “who was confined” – or, literally, “closed in” – “in his home, he said, ‘Let us meet together in the house of God, within the Temple, and let us close the doors of the Temple, for they are coming to kill you, and they are coming to kill you tonight.’ But I said, ‘Should a man like me flee? And should one such as I go into the Temple to save his life? I will not go in.’”
Then, notice, discernment pops up again: “I perceived” – or some of your translations say, “I realized” – “that surely God has not spoken to him, but he uttered this prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. He was hired for this reason, that I might become frightened and act accordingly and sin, so that he might have an evil report in order that they could reproach me.” And then, verse 14, he prays, “Remember –” And notice, the prayer is no longer a defensive prayer: “God, help me. Protect me. Strengthen me.” It’s offensive now. He says, “O God, remember Tobiah and Sanballat according to these works of theirs, and also Noadiah the prophetess and the rest of the prophets who were trying to frighten me.”
And then, notice the resolve. He keeps pressing ahead. He discerns. He prays. He acts. He’s got the belt of truth on, the breastplate of righteousness. He understands. He’s not going to doubt God’s promises; he’s not going to doubt his calling. What’s in bold? “So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth day of the month, fifty-two days later. And it came about when all of our enemies heard of it, and all the nations surrounding us saw it, they lost their confidence.” Literally, the Hebrew word is, “Their faces fell downward.” Well, why? “For they recognized that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.”
See, the temptation here is to question your calling. Now, to get the little bit of background on the story, because you might say, “Okay, ‘question your calling.’ Where does he get that, from that paragraph?” This Shemaiah, did you notice that, when we get his name, he’s the son of so-and-so, son of so-and-so, son of-so-and-so? Well, when you get that, those are pretty important people. All right? We’re getting a lot of lineage.
Now, he’s closed in. Now, commentators aren’t sure – is he in prison, or is it house arrest, or has he willfully closed himself in? But he’s a prophet. When it says, “They’re going to kill you,” or, “They’re going to kill you tonight” – when you look at it, it’s actually in a poetic form. It’s a prophecy. And then, we learn, later on, this Noadiah – there’s a prophetess – she and some other prophets are saying the same thing.
And so, here’s what’s really happening, okay? You’re Nehemiah, it’s been rough, the wall is almost done. Whew! – it’s just about done. The gates are ready to drop. It’s a big victory. You’re this close to breaking through and getting it done.
And pretty soon, you get this message: They want to talk. You see through that one. Then there’s this threat, this emotional blackmail. You see through this one. But you’ve got to trust somebody. And this guy is a man of God. This guy is a prophet; he’s a priest. If you can’t trust a priest and a prophet, who are you going to trust? And so he says, “I’m shut in, and I’ve got issues, and I’m under attack from these terrible people. Come to my house. I want to talk to you.”
So Nehemiah stops working. And he goes over to this guy’s house, who is shut in. And he goes, “They’re going to kill you. They’re going to kill you tonight. God has revealed it to me. So, here’s the plan. Let’s you and I – we’ll go to the Temple” – because the Law states, clearly, no one can be killed inside the Temple. But the law also clearly stated that only a priest could go into the part of the Temple he’s talking about, and Nehemiah knew God’s Word. And he knew that would be sin. And because he knew God’s Word, and he knew that he wasn’t allowed in there, the recommendation from someone acting as though he were his friend, he realized, This smells. This isn’t from God. He said, “It’s not God’s will to flee. It’s not God’s will to quit. It’s not God’s will to cave in. It’s never God’s will for someone in my role to go into the Temple.”
But the temptation is to doubt. When someone you really respect and admire – and maybe it’s an older Christian, or, as a lady caught me in between the hallway, she goes, “What you described” – it was in the earlier service. She said, “That happened this week. I have an issue that’s very hard, and very difficult. And I know the will of God, and what the Scripture says, and I don’t have – I can’t get out of this situation.” Issue in her marriage.
And she said, “I talked to three people this week. One was a deacon in a church; the other was a spiritual mentor. Both of them told me to divorce my husband. And I’m glad I met with a third person, because I realized, you know what? I don’t have biblical grounds. What I need to do is persevere. I need to do what God wants me to do. I need to be the wife that God calls me to be, in the midst of a difficult, painful situation, and live it out. Now, he can make his choices.” But she said, “Here I had people who really care about me, who were giving me counsel that is against what I know is true. And I came this close.”
How about you? You ever have someone who, out of their genuine concern, actually tells you the exact opposite thing to do? Is this Scriptural?
How about Peter? Do you think Peter really cared about Jesus, and loved Him a lot? And when Jesus said, “I’m going to go to the cross,” remember? What did he say? “Oh, I don’t think that’s a good plan. I care too much about You. Let’s not go with that one.” And do you remember what Jesus’ words were back to Peter on that one? “Get behind me, Satan.”
See, here’s what you’ve got to understand. This whole spiritual warfare stuff – it’s way less spooky than you think, and it’s way more about lies, and doubt, and deception. And it can come through people that are hostile to you, it can come through people that have no idea they’re being used by the enemy, and it can even come through people that they’re actually thinking they’re helping you, and it’s out of concern where they tell you the exact opposite thing you should do.
But it calls into question – when someone with spiritual authority says, “You know something? Go ahead and do that.” And you really want to do it anyway, but down deep, you know it’s wrong – sometimes you need to ask, discerning, “Is this from God, or is this from the enemy?” And so, here, the biblical command is, have your feet shod with the gospel. That protects us from doubt.
And when the apostle Paul describes that, the Romans, during that time – it’s a picture. They would have these sandals, and they would go up to about here, and they would wrap around with leather – and Alexander the Great made these famous – and they would put nails in the bottoms of their sandals, so when they fought, they had stable footing, because the landscape would be really different. And Alexander – it’s recorded that he felt like his armies won many, many battles because they had sure footing. And the apostle Paul takes that picture, and he says, “You are established in the gospel of grace.”
In other words, Christ died for you. Your sins are forgiven. You’ve been justified. You’ve been taken out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. His Spirit lives in you. You’ve been adopted. He has a plan for you. He loves you. He will keep His promises. He gives you a calling.
As you go it, it will be hard; there will be a battle, “I’ll never leave you or forsake you.” What he’s saying is, “Your doubts have to go back to your position in Christ, and what is true objectively.” Not what you feel this day, or what a friend says, or someone who calls it into question, or circumstances that make it hard.
You’ve got to go back to what is true, not what you feel. And that’s rooted in grace. That’s rooted in what Christ has done for you. And what happens is, when we don’t, those doubts come.
I’ve had doubts when I’ve gotten really discouraged, and, for me, I’ll believe a lie, and then the condemnation comes. And then, I’ll start – it’s not smart, but forgive me – then I’ll soak in it for a while, and then I’ll be thinking I’m really a really, really, really terrible person. And then I start doubting, and then it gets to, Well, there’s no use – I’m – God never used me anyway, and, I don’t think this will probably work, and, Maybe I didn’t even hear God’s voice, and, What was I thinking? And, Who do I think I am? And…
Do any of you ever have those thoughts?
See, that’s real. And you know what I’ve learned? That’s spiritual opposition. And you need to fight. You flee from lust. You fight the enemy. You realize, You know what? That’s not true. That’s a lie. That’s condemnation. That’s not…
God, I’m open. If there’s something I need to hear, if something I’ve done wrong, You show me. I’ll own it. I’ll confess it. I’ll get right with You, and I’ll get back on track.
That’s doubt. You called me to do this. You saved me; You put this desire in my heart. I know from Your Word, You want to help those people. You want to help those unwed mothers. You want to help those people in the inner city. You want to help those people in our neighborhood. You want me to lead this small group. You want me to go on that mission trip. You want me to work this marriage out. You want me to be patient with my son. It’s the will of God! And all the stuff comes. And the temptation is to give in, give up, or opt out.
Well, he’s not done. The final one is fear, because he is like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. And so, in the last one – verses 17, 18, and 19 – just notice how this is an ongoing issue: “Also in those days many letters went from the nobles of Judah to Tobiah.”
Now notice nobles. These are leaders. This is a disloyal faction. These are people, day in and day out, who are people with money, and power, and position, and the letters are coming in, and the letters are coming out, and he’s the governor.
“For many in Judah were bound by oath to him” – Tobiah – “because he was the son-in-law of Shecaniah the son of Arah, and his son Jehohanan had married the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah. Moreover, they were speaking about his good deeds in my presence and reported my words to him.” Do you get the picture here? The interwoven, political junk that’s against Nehemiah’s God-given assignment. And so, every day he keeps – they’re hearing all the wonderful things about Tobiah.
And then, he has a private conversation, and pretty soon, it’s showing up on someone else’s email. It’s right up there on YouTube, and he’s going, “I cannot believe that someone put that up there.” And notice the whole reason behind it all: “Tobiah sent letters to frighten me.”
If you want a little Bible study, in each one of these sections you’ll find the word, frighten, frighten, frighten, frighten, make us afraid, or, plan to harm. Fear is a powerful thing. The temptation is to lose heart. I just can’t take this anymore.
Notice, it’s never ending: “in those days,” “many letters,” “nobles” – plural. It’s
like, wave after wave after wave. It just never seems to stop. You get spiritually exhausted. You say, “I just” – in your head, before you said, “I just can’t take this anymore.” And the New Testament command is to “take up the shield of faith.”
And his response is discernment and perseverance. Do you get the two things? He discerns what’s going on, he presses ahead; discerns what’s going on, presses ahead.
The apostle Paul gives us a picture. These are darts: These darts of doubt, these darts of condemnation, these darts of fear, these darts…
When the apostle Paul is describing for the Ephesian church about how to handle this, he talks about the shield of faith, and there are two different words for a shield. One is those round shields like the gladiators use, the round ones like this, right?
The others were about four feet by two and a half feet. They had a metal frame, and then they had a space. And then they would put cotton, and after the cotton they would put leather. So, there would be a four- to six-inch space between the frame and the outer part of the shield.
On the shields, then, they would have hooks. And when a Roman legion was going to go into battle – and often it was against a city, and people were in towers, and the people in towers actually had machines. They could shoot multiple arrows, just like in the movies – that’s actually true – or they would dip them in pitch and fire, as they were coming.
So, what they would do is, they would lock their shields. And then, when they saw them come, they would go down on one knee and put the shields up – tchoo, tchoo, tchoo, tchoo, tchoo, tchoo, tchoo, tchoo. It’s actually reported, one fellow came back, in Greek literature, he had two hundred arrows in his shield.
Now, listen to what he’s saying: “Therefore, taking up the shield of faith…” Faith, here, is not your salvific, believing faith for salvation. This is the faith and belief that victory is assured, that God will keep His promises, that He loves you, that you’re on the right track, and He will provide everything that you need.
And the way you do that is, when doubts come, the shield of faith – notice, with the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. And so, I’m condemned last Saturday. I got three hours; I’m in the tank, and I’m realizing I’m believing lies. And so, I start quoting Scripture about who I am in Christ, about, “There’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” – Romans chapter 8. And I start saying them out loud.
And then, I verbally rebuke the demonic spirits that are trying to discourage and depress me, because I’ve said, God, search my heart. If there’s something wrong, show me. If I’m the worst dad in the world, show me, individually. I’ll own it. If I’m the worst husband… And so, one by one – and still, I struggled and struggled and struggled. And then, so often, there is this powerful thing that God has given us that when you praise God, and when you thank God, and when you put that to music, there is something.
Remember when Saul had those demonic spirits? What did he ask for? “Find someone who plays the harp and have them come.” And David came, and he sang, and he sang truth.
And so, man, I put some worship music on my iPod, and I stuck it in my ears, and I found a place where people couldn’t hear me. And I didn’t feel like singing, and I sang praises to God, and, tchoo, I got a breakthrough. But it’s spiritual warfare.
Here’s what I want you to get: Fight! Fight! Discern! Be honest. Check your heart. And then, step up and fight.
Let me give you three specific ways to take this message with you. Number one, recognize the source of opposition. Your battle is not against flesh and blood. Let those people go. Don’t tag it on your wife, your husband, your son, your friend, your small group leader, your supervisor. They’re a pawn in the hand of the enemy. It doesn’t mean – let them own their stuff, but realize, when all this stuff is happening, there are times, there’s someone behind it.
Second, remember, who is in you is greater than he that is in the world. You’ve just got to remember. You’re a victor! You don’t fight for victory; you fight from victory. The Spirit of God lives in you, if you’re a Christ follower. The Spirit that raised Christ from the dead is inside your mortal body. You have the Word of God, and the truth sets you free. You need to know it, claim it, live it, verbalize it, and fight, because greater is the One that is in you than he that is in the world. But, boy, you can’t, just, Oh, poor me, self-pity, I’m discouraged; nothing ever works, blame other people. It’s death.
And then, third, the only way to lose is to give up. The absolute only way you ever lose: if you stop pressing ahead. We started the series with a verse, “For you have need of endurance so that once you’ve done the will of God you may receive what is promised.” God has got a great plan for you. Do not bail out.