Helping you grow closer to God
Download the Chip Ingram App
Keep Pressing Ahead Resources on sale now.
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.