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About this series
Turning God-Shaped Dreams into Reality
The God of the universe is looking for regular people to accomplish things beyond our wildest dreams. In this series, from Nehemiah 1 - 6, learn how God uses ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things and the process by which He molds men and women for His purposes.More from this series
God wants to use ordinary people to do extraordinary things. It’s not about being smarter than you are; it’s not about knowing more than you probably know. But it’s about having a dislocated heart, right? A broken spirit. It’s about having a time where you take a radical step of faith, it’s developing a strategic plan.
You need to discover where, on the wall of God’s Kingdom – you make a personal commitment, not an intellectual commitment, not an emotional commitment, not a “when it’s nice and not raining” commitment, but a commitment that says, “God, I will do what You show me to do. And I know it might get hard, but when it gets hard, I will be faithful, by Your grace.”
And I have a concern, because I’m having conversations and emails from people, that God is beginning to germinate multiple holy ambitions.
And for some, it’s for kids – and I talked with a guy who’s talking about some things overseas, and some people. Others, it’s in business, and others, it’s with women. And here’s what I know: If you don’t understand what the last step is – having a courageous soul – you might take some very right steps, and get crushed.
This is a serious one. You need to listen very carefully. This is a word for those of you who are stepping out, and you might actually find that you’re a little discouraged. Or you might even have struggled with a little depression lately. Or maybe you’re just disillusioned, like you don’t quite get it: God, I really, I thought I was on the right track, but, boy oh boy, it just seems like things are harder, and everything is uphill.
I had made the deepest personal commitment of my life, I had done it God’s way, and I was discouraged, depressed, and disillusioned. It was the biggest ministry decision. I was a coach, a schoolteacher. I liked to coach; I liked to teach. And, through a number of events – everyone seemed to know it but me, that God said, Chip, I want you to shift gears.
I’d already gone to college; I went to graduate school. I thought I was going to get to be a coach someday, against Duke, or Indiana, or somewhere, and that was my dream. And it was like, “Oh no! Now I’ve got to go back to school.”
And so, I put everything I had in a car, and we gave a car away, and we tote this little car, and everything in a Ryder truck, and arrived in Dallas, Texas, to go to seminary. And it was like starting all over. It was a four-year graduate program.
I had two little kids. I had a total of, I think, seven hundred and fifty dollars, total, between us, Theresa and myself. A missionary let me stay in his house for two months, as we got ready, and we found a little government-subsidized apartment with a bunch of other people.
And then, I went to school with a carpool, every day, about seven o’clock. I got up at four-thirty, and did Greek from five until seven, and spent a little time with God. I went straight through, got home, caught the carpool, got home about five or five-thirty, ate supper, played with my kids for about a half hour. Then, I went to work, from about six until eleven at night, and got up, and did it again.
And I did that, year after year after year, and I did that three years. And money was tight, and the only way I could do it, work wise, was do a straight commission job. And I did a straight commission job, and people wouldn’t pass their physicals, and I don’t know how many months it was like, God, I’ve got two hundred and forty dollar rent, and I’ve got eleven dollars in the bank. What’s the deal?
And I did that, and I did that. We would go to the grocery store – actually, it was a co-op that you’d put in ten bucks, and you’d get all these fruits and vegetables. And we’d go for two or three weeks, and not eat any meat, or any carbohydrates – just fruits and vegetables, of what we got at the farmer’s market.
And I remember, one day, sitting in class, and I was tired, and discouraged, and depressed, and disillusioned, and I thought, This was not my idea. Of all the things that I ever wanted to be, it certainly was not a pastor or a minister.
And so, I stepped out; I had this – I didn’t call it a “holy ambition,” but it was a holy ambition. I said I would do what You want me to do. And I’ll tell You what, this stinks! I’m tired. I’m broke. I’m discouraged. I’m getting four and five hours of sleep. Is this how Thou treatest Thy servants, God? Sometimes when I’m struggling, I pray in King James.
Here’s what I want you to know: I had a common pitfall. Here’s the thesis, here’s what you need to understand: We unconsciously believe a myth, and the myth is, if I do what God wants me to do, if I take a step, if I make a sacrifice – it can be with my time, my energy, my money, my future, a relationship – it’s like, Oh, I know this is a bad relationship. I obeyed God, and I broke up with him, or, I broke up with her, or, I know my priorities are out of whack, and I start meeting with God, or, I’m going to give Him the first portion of my income. Or, I’m going to get out of my comfort zone. I’m going to love people; I’m going to go on a missions trip. When we do that kind of thing, unconsciously, we think, God is going to be so pleased.
Well, He is. But we think He’s going to be so pleased, that life is going to be great; life’s going to be – shouldn’t it be? Right? You’re obeying! Right? He should – you’re just going to get high-fives from the Lord, and, “Way to go!” And He’s going to answer all your prayers, and relationship issues are going to get better overnight.
That is a myth. The common pitfall – jot if you will: “false expectations.” False expectations. Literally, I had three years in, and I was having private conversations with myself, which is not good, when you’re talking to yourself a lot.
And it was, God, I’m done. If this is what it means to follow You, if this is what I get for really obeying, for having a holy ambition, I am done. You can have this. I’m out of here.
What I didn’t understand was, our greatest personal commitments and spiritual victories are almost always followed by periods of intense opposition. Underline the words intense opposition.
Moses takes a big step of faith – intense opposition. Elijah has the big confrontation, and then, later – intense opposition. Jesus sets His face, and says, “Okay.” He’s baptized; He’s commissioned for ministry. And then, what happens? Forty days in the desert, with intense opposition.
You can take it to the bank, or at least you used to be able to take it to the bank. When you step out, and take a step of faith that is the clearly defined will of God, it will usually get more difficult, before it gets easier.
And if you don’t know that, then – I’ve watched this happen: You know what? I thought this was God’s will, but it must not be, because look how hard it is, and how difficult it is, and all these things that have gone wrong.
When I moved to Atlanta, it was probably – that was the second hardest ministry decision. We were in Santa Cruz, I was pastoring a local church. I loved what I was doing; my family loved it. My boys all found Santa Cruz girls, married them. And God made it clear, You’re supposed to go to Atlanta. So, make this decision.
We go. My car, on the way, is in an ice storm. I sent it there on one of those big tractor-trailer things. So, it gets ruined, but I don’t know it because there’s snow when it comes, and gasoline had poured through it. And so, I had this car, in the winter, that I could only drive with the windows down.
My wife had two surgeries on her jaw that didn’t work, so she was in intense pain. I won’t go through it, but, at one point, when it got to number eleven, we started keeping track. In the first ten days, we had twenty-three things happen to the house, things that broke down. One guy said, “Hey, this never happened in my life! We cut through that line, that line, that line, so you don’t have any water; you don’t have any electricity.”
And then – are you ready? I take over the job in 2002. It has a huge international component to it, and it takes millions and millions of dollars. So, does anybody remember what happened in January of 2003? The dot-com bust? So, all the major donors didn’t have any money. We don’t have any money. And, other than that, things are going well.
Now, here’s the difference: You know what my reaction this time was? Wow, I think God is really up to something. I think God must really have something significant, beyond my wildest dreams, for little ol’ me, who doesn’t mean very much, to get this level of opposition.
And I would look back, seven years later, and see a hundred countries, ninety thousand teachers, eight videos, and five books written, in a season of time that I never dreamed could happen to an ordinary person like me, because the opposition told me I was on the right track. Did I like it? No. Part of the opposition that’s meant to pull you down, God uses to develop some character, and some trust, and some issues in you, so that when He blesses you, you’ll understand it’s Him, instead of you.
So, with that, look at Nehemiah. He’s our model. So he’s – holy ambition, right? Remember? He had it made in the shade. He’s cupbearer to the king. And we’ve gone through three chapters to learn about his dislocated heart. We’ve learned that, then, he had this intense prayer time of looking up, looking in, looking out.
He took the radical step of faith. He risked his life. He finds his personal commitment. He says, “I’m supposed to rebuild the wall,” and gathers the people, casts the vision. He’s got the gift of leadership.
And then, he makes this personal commitment, develops out of a strategic plan. And then, you would think – right? – things are going to go great. This is a great man of God. All of history – literally, the entire history of Israel is completely changed by this man.
Now, what happens – I’m going to give you an overview of the next three chapters. In chapter 3, there’s external opposition. It’s very frontal; it’s in his face. The goal is to discourage him. And the means is ridicule, or fear, and we’re going to look at this one very carefully.
In chapter 5 – we won’t get to this one, but I want to give you an overview because, as some of you launch out, you’re going to find yourselves back in Nehemiah, a lot, reading this over, and realizing you’re not crazy; this is God’s will. But it is hard. In chapter 5, the opposition isn’t “out there”; it’s internal. And, all of a sudden, you find that they’re fighting among themselves. The goal of the enemy is to divide, and the way he does it is by selfishness and greed within the family of God here.
Then, in chapter 6, it goes from this corporate opposition, to individual. It’s very, very subtle. They attempt to destroy him. There’s, literally, a contract out on his life. And people he thought he could trust – a priest and a prophetess – come together, and tell him, “You really need to do this.” And the goal was to get him in this certain place, so they could assassinate him. Deception and intimidation.
Well, open your notes, and I want to dig in, chapter 4, because I think this issue of discouragement is so, so critical. And I’ve put it in the metaphor of boxing. My dad was a boxer. He was in World War II. And because of that, when he came back – he went at sixteen – he came back, he couldn’t play any sports. And he really liked sports. So, he learned to box. In fact – I guess you can brag on your dad when he’s dead, but – he’s in heaven right now. But he won the Golden Glove. So, when I was little, he would, “No, no, no, Chip. No, no, no, you’ve got to keep it in here.” So, he taught me how to box. And I don’t know that I ever got any good, but I learned the terminology. And the metaphor of opposition, here, I want to give you, in boxing. We’re going to look at the enemy’s first punch to thwart God’s program in our lives. And it’s the jab of ridicule and criticism.
“When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry, and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews. And in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria he said, ‘What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore the wall?’” You can hear the sarcasm in his voice. “‘Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring stones back to life from those heaps of rubble burned as they are?’ Tobiah” – another one of the bad guys – “the Ammonite who was at his side said, ‘What are they building – if even a fox climbed on it, he would break down the wall of their stones!’”
And then, Nehemiah, you’re going to find in just a minute, is going to respond, and he’s going to respond the way that we need to respond. But I want you to see, here: Ridicule and criticism. Notice, the aim is at their worth. It’s sarcasm. “Why are you taking this step of faith? God can’t use someone like you.”
It’s casting doubt. God has shown you, you start to take a step, and all of a sudden you feel like, Wow, maybe this isn’t such a good idea; maybe I don’t measure up. This probably really won’t work. It probably takes someone a lot smarter than me. Or, Maybe I should do it next year. All that kind of stuff. This can paralyze you.
I was a high school teacher, and it was Grafton High School. And this is in West Virginia, and I was a junior varsity coach, and I knew the varsity coach, and it was my very first year, very first job.
And so, I was a pretty zealous Christian. And I found myself walking into the teacher’s lounge one day, and it sort of cleared out, just before the bell rang, and there were three guys – all fairly young teachers, one middle-aged guy. And they were making – all I can call it is extraordinarily lewd comments, about a very attractive co-ed who was, like, a seventeen-year-old girl in the school.
And I walked in, and I’m hearing this conversation, and going, Man, this is wrong. And, so, I’m listening just a little bit, and it was very lewd and just, like…
And I said, “Excuse me, guys? That’s very unprofessional.” And they kind of looked at me, like, Young, new teacher. Who in the heck do you think you are? And then I kind of got on a roll, so I said, “Guys, that is so disrespectful. Let me ask you, how would you like someone talking about your daughter that way? Those sexual innuendos, those kinds of comments. There is no place for that in us, as teachers.”And the bell rang, and I kind of got rescued, and it was kind of, Great! Whoa! You know? And I thought, Well, I stood up for the Lord. And then, I’ll never forget – the next day I come in the teacher’s lounge, and, “Oh! Here comes the preacher.”
And, people – then a conversation would start: “Oh, let’s not talk about that. Chip’s in the room. We all have to be very careful.” And it was just piled on: ridicule, ridicule, sarcasm, ridicule. So, guess what – I had a solution to that. I stopped going to the teacher’s lounge. I got intimidated. I got my feelings hurt. I felt like I didn’t measure up. I started doubting, Maybe I shouldn’t have said something. But, in my mind I’m thinking, That’s the right thing to do. That was the right, but, then how come I feel so bad? And I felt like a – like a chump.
And then, I found myself a prisoner. I would get – the teacher’s lounge was where the good coffee was! And, so, what do you do? And I remember just coming to grips with, Are you going to allow labels and names and ridicule and sarcasm to define you, or God?
Jot down a verse: Proverbs 29:25, “The fear of man is a snare, but blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.” At some point in time in your life, you need to figure out who you want to be afraid of. You can fear people, and their opinions, or fear God, but you can’t fear both. And one will free you, and the other will imprison you.
So, Nehemiah – how did he respond? He says, “Hear us, O God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in the land of captivity. Do not cover their guilt or blot out their sins from Your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders. So we rebuilt the wall until all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.”
He prayed. Jot that down. He prayed. He gets ridiculed; he’s struggling. He prayed. We’ve been talking about that. He comes before God, and he says, “God, this is what they’re doing.” He didn’t talk back to them. He didn’t exchange words: “Oh, we’re going to build this.” He didn’t defend himself. He prayed. And then, notice, he persisted. He didn’t let them sidetrack – Did you notice that little phrase? “Half of the wall is built.”
I was reading, actually, this morning – it’s a little book I read. It’s a devotional on prayer, called Magnificent Prayer, by Nick Harrison. And it tells this story of a man named Praying Hyde. He was a Presbyterian missionary to the Punjabi people in India. And a fellow – he was a ship captain, who was a Christian, and he was coming to Punjab, and they were having a big conference, and they asked him to speak.
And so, he comes to this conference, and he comes, and they have a little tea – I guess they had tea in those days. And then, he says, “I was taken up to a cup of tea with the delegates and with others, and I was introduced across the table to Mr. Hyde.” He was a missionary there. And he was a missionary – if you know his life story – who went there, and was not very successful, and decided that he was going to make prayer the priority of his mission. And he began to intercede. They tell stories now. I think this is a real calling. Sometimes he’d pray for forty hours in a row. And then, all of a sudden, this revival began to break out among the Punjabi people here in India.
And so, the captain comes, and he has tea and as he walks out from the tea, as the story is told, this man – they called him Praying Hyde – he reached out his hand, and he says, “I want to see you.” He said, “I shall wait for you at the door.”
And there he was, after tea, waiting, and his first words were, “Come with me to the prayer room; we want you to be there.” “I do not know whether” – here is the captain speaking – “I do not know whether it was a command or request; I felt I had to go. I told him that I had traveled all night, that I was tired, and had to speak at four o’clock, but I went with him anyway.
“We found a half a dozen persons there, and Hyde went down on his face before God. I knelt down, and a strange feeling crept over me. Several prayed, and then Hyde began, and I remember very little more. All I knew, I was in the presence of God Himself, and I had no desire to leave that place. In fact, I don’t think that I thought of myself or of my surroundings at all, for I entered into a new world, and I wanted to remain there.”
There is an incredible, incredible power as you learn to come before God, and deal with things at a significant level, and pray. And I will tell you, whether it’s in Korea, or whether it’s in the revivals in America, or whether you meet people where God is doing something – there are some people who spend a lot of hours watching a little box that forms their thinking, and there are other people who spend a lot of time on their knees, or on their face, that shapes their character, and their view of God.
And amazing, supernatural things are very normal with God, but He always wants to start with this, and prayer is one of those avenues of grace. It’s not that big “ought to/have to”; it’s the actual privilege of keeping company with God, in His presence, being transformed by Him, claiming promises about what you’re dealing with, and then standing on those promises, and watching the Spirit of God take the Word of God and change people’s hearts, and circumstances. That’s how God has always worked. And here, we see it with Nehemiah.
Well, the enemy’s second punch to thwart God’s program in our lives is the uppercut of discouragement. Follow along, as I read verses 7 through 12: “But when Sanballat” – so, the wall is half built, and, “Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the men of Ashdod heard that the repairs of Jerusalem walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very, very angry.
“They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. But we” – notice again – “prayed to our God and posted a guard at night to meet the threat. Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, ‘The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we can’t rebuild the wall.’ Also our enemies said, ‘Before they know it or before they see it, we will be right there among them and we will kill them and we will put an end to the work.’
“Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, ‘Wherever you turn, they will attack you.’” Do you see what’s going on here? It’s built halfway, and now there’s an offense, and now you have a group of people who – did you hear some of those phrases?
Now they’re looking at – instead of the wall half built, what is it? All they see is the rubble. There’s too much to do. It says they lost their strength. They’re tired. They’ve lost perspective. And now, they’re hearing these whispers. The rumors are, “Wherever you are, wherever you are, wherever you are, they’re going to come, and they’re going to get you.” And Jews – some of their Jewish brothers are coming and feeding them these lies, feeding them these lies.
Let me give you the four things that flow right out of this passage that will absolutely discourage you – the four causes of discouragement. Let me give you all four, and then develop it.
The first one is loss of strength: The strength of the laborers is giving out. And write down the key word fatigue. Sometimes we over spiritualize things. When you push it, when you work hard, when you’re up early, when you’re up late, when there’s stress, when there’s a lot of demand, and you’re going at it, and then you minister after that, and you get tired, you’re vulnerable. You’re vulnerable. So, the first thing that happens, when you get really tired and really wiped out and you’re vulnerable, you get discouraged.
The second is, notice, the loss of vision. Notice what they say: “There’s so much rubble.” They’re half done, but all they see is that there’s – all they can see is what’s left to do. And the key word is perspective.
Think of where they were just, probably, a week or two earlier. There was rubble everywhere! And they said, “Nehemiah! Let us arise and build! Our God will do this!” They were fired up! The people worked with all their heart. They get half done; they’re fatigued. And doesn’t this happen to you? You lose perspective. Like, “You know something? Man, I was really – we were going to that marriage counseling thing, but we’ve been to three sessions.” Now, instead of, “We’ve made progress,” – “Man, this is a long-term deal.”
Or you start setting some boundaries for some of your kids, and you know it’s going to be really hard, and you say, “Nope. We’re going to do it this way.” And they push back, push back, push back, and you start to see some results, and you think, You know what? This is just too much. You know? Forget this.
Or you fly your flag at work and you begin to share your faith a little bit, and let people know what’s happening, and there’s this inner sense, and you start getting up in the morning and you want to meet with God, and then this happens, and that happens, and you oversleep a couple times, and there’s extra big pressure at work, and you’re up half the night, then you’re really tired. And it’s like, You know what, God? I just…right?
That happens to us. And you get discouraged. And then, these little voices say, “See? God’s not going to use you. Not someone like you. That whole idea, that missions trip? That was stupid. You shouldn’t have gone. You shouldn’t have signed up. See if you can get out of it. By the way, all the money’s not in, right? That ought to tell you something. Maybe God doesn’t want you to go.” Yeah, maybe. Or maybe God really has something great. But you get discouraged.
The next thing is, notice, there’s a loss of confidence is a source of discouragement. Look at the phrase, there, in verse 10, “We cannot rebuild the wall.” They’re half done, but, “We can’t do it.” And the key word there is faith. Before, they believed, By the power of God, this is going to happen. And now, they’ve lost their confidence.
And then, finally, look at verse 12: The enemy will surprise attack you. Ten different times they have a loss of security, and fear. When you get tired, when you lose perspective, when your faith begins to waver, and then when you have fear, let me tell you something: You get discouraged.
And, by the way, it’s very interesting: I’m doing this little study for the fall, and one of the ideas I had was to – it’s not what I’m going to do, but was to take all these different attributes of God, and see where they came out in the life of Christ. And then, I went through – one morning, I read Matthew and Mark, and just, I read it very quickly, but I read it, just to find out times when people were in stressful situations, and what did Jesus do? And it’s interesting. He says, “Fear not,” “Fret not.” But the most common one I saw was, “Take courage.” You’re drowning: “Take courage.” Peter, looking at the waves – “Take courage. Take courage.”
See, courage – courage is, even though there is fear, even though there is opposition – courage is the willingness to step out, trusting God, and to do what you know is right, even when everything around you or inside you is scaring you to death. What did He say to Joshua? “Be strong and courageous. Be strong and courageous. Do not tremble. Don’t be dismayed.” So, when you lose your courage. And so, what is discouragement? “Dis –” is just removing the courage for you to hang in there. So, you want to give in, or you give up, or you start going through the motions.
I told you the story, about going to seminary, my third year. Let me tell you exactly where I was: I was sitting in my seat; it was in theology class. The teacher was Dr. Charles Ryrie. And, so, you should listen to him, because he wrote his own Bible: the Ryrie Study Bible. Brilliant, brilliant guy, and really enjoyed his class.
And where I went to school, they had these large lecture halls that went down stair steps, with these long things. And so, there were probably a couple hundred guys in the class. And have you ever been so tired, and so discouraged, that you go into a stupor? You just… And I probably didn’t get my money’s worth. I couldn’t tell you a thing he said, because all I remember doing is sitting there, going, I can’t do this anymore.
I was fatigued, probably going on four, maybe five hours sleep, max – but four, a lot – for probably two and a half years. I had lost perspective, completely. My calling – Who cares about my calling, man? I’m just, life stinks. I only had one year left, but it was like, I can’t do one more year. My faith is faltering, my confidence. And then, I was afraid. I just thought, You know what? I probably won’t be a good pastor anyway. And I was in that stupor, and I was just sitting like this. And, apparently, the class had ended, and everyone was gone, because, as I sat there, I felt this tap on my shoulder. And I looked up, and it was Dr. Ryrie. And I looked around, and no one was in the room.
And God used him to save my life, and save my future. It was a very short conversation. In fact, it was a one-way conversation. “Chip?” “Yes, sir?” “Don’t make any big decisions in the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours. I don’t care what’s due. Go home, and get two or three good nights’ sleep, and two or three good meals. And don’t make any decisions.” “Yes, sir.” And I figured, He wrote the Bible; I ought to do what he says. And I had, of course, a big paper due, and I just, “Okay.”
And I slept deeply for two or three nights, got two or three, four, really good meals. And it was an amazing thing. God reminded me that, You’ve got three years under your belt! I called you to do this! Here are the plans that I have for you. And you know what? I re-upped. How about you? Which one of these things is causing you to get discouraged? For some of you, maybe you just need to stop.
What if you just said, “I need to rest up. I need a good meal. I need a couple good workouts. I need to not make any decisions. I’ve got to get off this treadmill. I’ve got to stop. I’ve got to get perspective”?
When I went away, sometimes I want to get too much done, too fast. And so, the very first day, I had so many thoughts, and so in the afternoons – I studied all morning, and then, in the afternoons, I’d try and take a walk with Theresa. In fact, we did it every day. And so, the very first day, I remember walking and walking and walking, and we walked about twenty-five minutes, and we turned around and walked twenty-five minutes. And we got about to the forty-minute marker, and Theresa said something like, “Wow, aren’t these trees beautiful?”
And I looked up, and I realized I had walked forty minutes. I had not noticed the trees. I had not noticed the mountains. I had not noticed my wife. I had not noticed – we had a little chitchat.
I mean – ppprrrrrrrr!. My little brain was going, going, going, going. And I remember just stopping, and I said, You know what? Ingram, just lighten up. What you need to do is stop. And I watched the trees. And, for the next twenty-four hours, I just spent time with God, and shut off all the media, and said, You know what? I’m going to trust that, by the time I head down this hill, three or four days later, that You will give me a crystal clear idea of what You want to say to Your people.
And you know what? I took a nap that afternoon. I got a workout later that day. I ate good. I limited how much of that box I watched. And I just – it was amazing. It was amazing, the renewal that happens.
Nehemiah’s response teaches us how to come off the ropes, and rule the ring. Let’s look at verses 13 to 29, to 20, actually, and just notice some very specific things he does.
He says, “Therefore,” okay? He’s discouraged. The people have lost it. They think, We’re done. It’s not going to happen. There are threats. And all the murmuring, now, Nehemiah is hearing: “We can’t keep building this. Bob already left. He and his family, they took off.”
And, if you’ve ever been a leader, and things are falling apart, it’s not a good situation, especially if you’re the head of the family – male or female – but you’re head of the family and, or you’re the head of a ministry, or you’re the head of a project at work.
Notice what Nehemiah does: “Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall in the exposed places, posting them” – notice – “by families, with their swords, spears, and bows. After I looked things over” – notice, evaluation; notice, families are together – relationships – “I stood up and said to the nobles, to the officials, and to the rest of the people, ‘Don’t be afraid of them.’”
Stop being afraid! Why? “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” In other words, “What’s at stake? Let’s remember why we’re here, what we’re doing.”
“When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we returned to the wall, each to his own work. From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears and shields and bows and armor.”
This is real warfare. For many of us, this will translate into spiritual warfare. “The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and they held a weapon in the other hand, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. But the man who sounded the trumpet stayed with me.
“Then I said to the nobles, to the officials, and to the rest of the people, ‘The work is extensive and spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall. Whenever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there.”
So, he’s saying, “Look, we’re stationed here. We’ve made preparation. We’re ready to fight. You’ve got people protecting you here. We’ve gone to the most strategic, vulnerable spots. But we don’t know where it’s going to happen. When you hear the trumpet, that’s where we’re going to gather.” Very strategic, very clear. He has a plan.
He goes on to say, “So we continued the work with half the men holding the spears till dawn, from the first of dawn till the stars came out at night.” Translation: There are times when you bust it, in your life, in your ministry, in your walk with God. And it starts at dawn, and it ends when the stars come out.
“At that time I also said to the people, ‘Have every man and his helper stay inside Jerusalem at night, so they can serve as guards by night and workmen by day.’” And then, notice this modeling: “Neither I nor my brothers nor the men nor the guards with me took off their clothes; each had his weapon, even when he went for water.”
Now, let me give you four very practical things to do when you’re discouraged, and, for some of you, this can’t come too late, because today was a discouraging day. Or maybe it was a very depressing day. Or maybe you’re thinking about some stuff, and what I have shared tonight is like unbelievable. You’re saying to yourself, That’s exactly where I am.
Number one: be proactive. Notice, Nehemiah did not wait around, wondering, I wonder if they’re going to come? I wonder when? And what’s going to happen? He was proactive. Do something practical, and positive.
Notice that he put people in the places where they were most vulnerable. Notice that he got a mindset of battle. It wasn’t just getting the work, or the task, done. He realized, There’s a battle going on.
There’s a battle going on for your soul. There’s a battle going on for your family. There’s a battle going on for your sexual purity. There’s a battle going on for the ministry that God – it’s a holy ambition – and Satan wants to cut you, early and hard. And so, you’ve got to be proactive.
And so, for me, this can mean taking a walk, writing a letter to encourage someone, texting someone that I care about, that I’m thinking, I just haven’t thought about them in a while. In other words, do something positive.
I will go workout. I’ll listen to Christian music. I’ll call someone whom I know very well, and say, “Hey! This is Chip. I’m discouraged. Would you just listen?” And they do. But you’ve got to do something positive.
Discouragement and depression are like a cloud. And when the cloud comes on, you know how you can kind of feel it coming, and you’re sinking, and you’re sinking? And there’s something deep and ugly in our souls, where there’s something almost like self-pity, and it’s coming down, and, It’s really hard, and, This is a terrible place to be and I really hate to be here but I am, I am. Will someone…you know?
When you get to about here, you need to – Man, I’m putting this off! I’m not going there. And it’s a choice! You don’t feel like going there. It’s rousing, and asking the Spirit of God to give you courage.
Second, remember who’s on your team. He says, “Our God will fight for us!” You’re God’s child! You’re loved! You matter! He’s got a plan for you! He loves you! He’s got a ministry for you! Remember who’s on your team.
Remembering God’s great faithfulness in the past will empower you to trust Him for still greater things in the future. Now, that’s what the psalms are all about.
Third: Fight, fight, fight. Notice, he says, “See what’s at stake! Fight for your mothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, your homes, your brothers! Fight!” We’ve lost that.
If you haven’t noticed, there is no easy way to accomplish anything of any value. The reason so many of us get sucked in to the tube is because it’s something that we can do completely passively. That’s why kids who watch a lot of TV early, and play lots of video games, often have real problems thinking, because they can’t wait on anything anymore.
You’ve got to fight. Your will is like a muscle, and you ask God, “I don’t feel like doing this,” and, “When I caved in to that.” You are either a slave of your body, or your body is a slave to you. That’s what the apostle Paul said: “I will make my body my slave.” Your body, your appetites need to do what you say, not you do what it says.
Otherwise, you’re a prisoner: I have to watch this. I have to drink this. I have to eat this. I have to be with her. I have to let people use me. I have to let people walk all over me. I have to, I have to, I have to. You’re not a victim. Fight! Fight! Fight! And you know the areas where God is speaking to you.
And then, finally, never fight alone. He put them in families. He put them together. He put them with someone behind them to protect them.
What we know, from Scripture and experience, is, the people who get connected – and I don’t mean just going to a small group. You can go to a small group, and keep it superficial until Jesus comes. The people who get connected in a small group, who learn to minister, who roll up their sleeves and do something for other people that’s bigger than themselves, together, who share hearts, who share God’s Word, who tell one another the truth, who hold each other accountable with a gentleness and a love – those are the people whose lives progressively, with all the ups and downs that you’re going to have, and I have, are transformed, and become like Jesus.
And, by the way, that’s the game plan, that you be conformed to the image of His Son. You have a heavenly Father who thinks so much of you. He thinks, because He’s infinite – if you think of all the sand there is in the sea, all the stars, the billions and billions – His thoughts toward you are that many. You! Not somebody else. You! Because you matter, because you’re loved. He died for you, He raised from the dead. He has a plan for you. And He invites you, “Come unto Me. Walk with Me. Let’s do life together.”
But He’s going to show up, certainly, in the pages of Scripture, but the Spirit of God lives inside of me! And the Spirit of God lives inside of you. And when we sit around together, openly and honestly, and can put aside our pride and our ego, and allow the Christ in me, and the Christ in you to share with one another, we’re shaped, and loved.
The way He’s going to hug you – now, you might have a big, supernatural experience, and praise God. I’m for as many as I can get of those! But most of the hugs I’m going to get from God are going to have flesh on them. They’re going to be a regular person. And when God listens to me, it’s often going to be through the ears of a kind, compassionate person.
And so, what the enemy wants to do is get you off by yourself. And when you’re alone, you get discouraged. And when you get discouraged, you do stupid stuff, and you’re vulnerable. And we all do.
But do you hear my heart? God has a holy ambition. What’s yours? What’s yours?
Our dream, because it’s God’s dream, is to mobilize one hundred percent of the people to discover the God-shaped dream that He’s forming in your heart, and have you connected with other people, and doing something that you would say, three to five years from now, “I could never imagine that God could use an ordinary person like me to accomplish His love and grace, in extraordinary ways, with others.”