We have a choice. Either we are going to give in to our enemies or to overcome them. Either we will allow their bullying continue and suffer depression or we will stand up against our enemies and overpower them through Jesus Christ. O how I as a pastor desire that each of you stand firm against the enemy. God wants to lead us out from the hands of our enemies. He wants us to glory in His strength. Listen to David in Psalm 18:28-29,
There are all sorts of ways we God's people have been intimidated and captured by fears. Listen to Psalms 106:34-47. Let it refresh our minds of some important truths we have covered before.
"They did not destroy the peoples, As the LORD commanded them, But they mingled with the nations, And learned their practices, And served their idols, Which became a snare to them. They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons, And shed innocent blood, The blood of their sons and their daughters, Whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan; And the land was polluted with the blood. Thus they became unclean in their practices, And played the harlot in their deeds. Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against His people, And He abhorred His inheritance. Then He gave them into the hand of the nations; And those who hated them ruled over them. Their enemies also oppressed them, And they were subdued under their power.
Many times He would deliver them; They, however, were rebellious in their counsel, And so sank down in their iniquity. Nevertheless He looked upon their distress, When He heard their cry; And He remembered His covenant for their sake, And relented according to the greatness of His lovingkindness. He also made them objects of compassion In the presence of all their captors. Save us, O LORD our God, And gather us from among the nations, To give thanks to Thy holy name, And glory in Thy praise."
I want you to know that in order to become a godly man or woman that we must get back all the territory that God has given us. Fear of losing something shows that we highly prize something. Most often it shows that we need to protect that favored thing and we compromise. This is why in Psalm 106 speaks about the Israelites though being in their own land were serving other task masters. You yourself need to give up these things and become wholly loyal to God.
Let me develop this a bit further by a recent scripture passage I read. Let's look at Psalm 17:13 15.
"Arise, O LORD, confront him, bring him low; Deliver my soul from the wicked ... , From men of the world, whose portion is in this life; And whose belly Thou dost fill with Thy treasure; They are satisfied with children, and leave their abundance to their babes. As for me, I shall behold Thy face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Thy likeness when I awake." In this Psalm we see the wicked obtaining all sorts of treasures to such a degree that they can give their children a big inheritance. God will give all these things like riches, wealth, bonds, stocks, lands, estates, etc. to the wicked. One doesn't have to be great or good to get these things. We have to realize that if He would give these things to them, then we know they are not of great value. These people live for their belly, that is, their desires.
These verses no doubt form the place where Paul in Philippians 3:18-20 discussed the love of the ones who left God because they desired their bellies to be filled. They don't love God. The wicked are known for the love of this world. But our citizenship is from heaven. Our treasures are beyond the reach of the world. Philippians 3:18-20 says,
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"18 For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, [that they are] enemies of the cross of Christ, 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is [their] appetite, and [whose] glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. 20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ."
Now after a rally of building, one would think that they would have been set free. But they weren't. The enemy used threats to play on the old fears. They feared losing what was theirs and so they stopped the work of God. They gave up their hopes so they could protect their most prized things. My brother and sister, let me remind you that I can show you how to overcome the chains of these fears, but unless you give up these prized things, the fears will come back even worse. As long as there is a hole, the rain will fill it. You must fill that hole with grace and love for God. Never leave a empty hole for another to fill.
The only way a real godly man and woman will be developed is when they can say "no" to these fears. This is understood though not clearly spoken in nehemiah. Their families and lives were at stake. If they held to these fears, if they considered protecting their own self interests to be greater than getting God's work done, then they would have given in to these fears and not have come out of them. They were encouraged to place God's work as more important and they did so.
Nehemiah 4:10 reads, "Thus in Judah it was said, 'The strength of the burden bearers is failing, Yet there is much rubbish; And we ourselves are unable To rebuild the wall.'"
God is so gracious. He knows of their fears. He knows about their distress. Don't ever think that God doesn't care or is not able to help. Nehemiah's presence and faith is a gift of grace to bring the people out of their fears to serve Him alone. And God did use Nehemiah's strong and humble leadership to lead the people out of their despair and fears. Nehemiah intercepted with prayer and penetrating truth statements which kept them working on the wall at first to half its height and then to begin building on top of that to complete it. Now let us turn and examine verses 7 to 23 and examine five ways Nehemiah had led the people out of their fear.
1) Persistent prayer (Nehemiah 4:9).
When we get desperate we pray. Nehemiah continued to face crisis after crisis and met each one with prayer. He refused to give into bitterness, frustration and anger. God had sent him there. He trusted God had a way out. This is the godly leader who perseveres in faith rather than in doubt.
In verse 9, Nehemiah prayed. It says, "But we prayed to our God." He and his companions prayed. We have discussed the praying aspect of Nehemiah before. Prayer brought Nehemiah here to Jerusalem and here he remains because of prayer. We have confidence that when we ask God according to His will that He the everlasting One will intervene on our behalf at the most appropriate time. It is not whether He will but when and how He will.
Let me share with you a few verses that expand on the importance of prayer. Philippians 4:6-7 say,
"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
About two weeks ago, many things were pressing my mind and my heart. I read this passage and did what it said. I went through about ten items all in three parts just like the passage says: prayer and supplication with thanksgiving.
1) Prayer. I would first tell the Lord why a situation is difficult and what I sense he would want done. I perhaps would mention how I needed His help to get it done. Then part 2) supplication. I would specifically ask Him to care for the problem. If a miracle was needed, I would ask a miracle. Lastly, 3) with thanksgiving. I would give thanks that He is not only able but willing to care for these things.
He designed prayer as a means by which He would work out the difficult situations I would run into. After about thirty minutes, my heart felt free from all these responsibilities. I couldn't solve them, but I didn't need to. He would now be responsible to take care of them, and I would see, one by one, how He in His time through His means would answer those prayers.
People say they can't help but worry. But really worry is a choice, a poor one. If you are a Christian then refuse to be anxious but pray. Why not pray as commanded?! Prayer does not take much time. The real question is whether you will trust God to care for these items.
Wise precautions. (Nehemiah 4:9).
Do what one can. In verse 9, we also note that Nehemiah set up a "guard against them day and night." This statement is very interesting. Some people accuse him of not trusting God but man's means of protection. They could accuse Nehemiah of being very unspiritual. I don't think we are shown this to point out Nehemiah's weakness but as a model of how we are to use both prayer and the means at hand. Remember threats are of two kinds: empty and real. But we usually cannot distinguish between the two when confronted with them. We therefore must set up a guard. We must always do what we can to affirm that we will not give in to the bully. We affirm it for ourselves. We are not going to give in. We also let the bully know that we are not going to give in. He has to fight for what he wants. We know it is wrong to compromise God's clear commands and will. Our resilience will help ward off the enemy.
This points us to some very direct questions. How does prayer combine with other activities of man? When and how do we know that man is not interfering with God's work? I don't think there should be this tension. Nehemiah wasn't going back and forth worried about whether he should do this or that. He asked God for deliverance and started heading that way with doing what he could do.
1) We should really depend upon prayer. This is the first statement. By depending upon prayer I mean really take these things to God and see what He wants. We talk with God about the issues and listen. One of our problems is that we only sprinkle a prayer over our affairs rather than seriously talking to God about them because we do not believe God makes much difference.
2) We secondly must make sure we stay within the framework of God's truth and law. You might have resources that you could "arrange" by pledging your soul or life. I think we must be very careful to use the resources we can get an instant loan or credit card. Our family has received 102 loan or credit offers this year so far -not counting the email offers. Yes, my wife counts them! However, these loans are not our resources. We must use only the things we really own. Loans put us in servitude to others. We must not lie to get around issues. We also must refuse to use what God has prohibited us from using even if it costs us our lives or good grades. What will you do if your teacher wants you to read a homosexual or pornographic novel? The threat is that you will not get a good grade if you upset the teacher. If you don't get a good grade, then you might not get a certain scholarship. If you don't get a certain grade, you might not get into that program. But requires you not to compromise your eyes and mind.
We read that horses and chariots were not to be used by the Israelites even though they were being used by the enemy. Some weapons are not permitted. God promised them victory but not through those means. It would make every bit of sense to use these means but God said no. The principle is clear that God wants us to not have confidence in our weapons no matter what they are. But since some weapons can make us feel superior, they become like idols. He wants us to trust in Him. I think of the way we use loans, medicines, birth control, gimmicks, etc. If these things make us confident that we are well without Him, then we have created a problem rather than solving one.
Now you might come back and say that the things I mentioned are the means God has given to us to combat the enemy. I don't think so. God takes what we have and what are legitimate means to overcome the enemy. You might have to study about the use of such things,m but unless you are willing to open up your life to what He wants, you will not be able to reasonably study these topics.
I sense God wants to set us free to trust Him with what we have. My guess is that the guard Nehemiah had was hardly adequate. For a great wall, this meant he could have maybe 25 soldiers on each wall, maybe 50. We are talking about a threat of 4 armies that could probably easily slide into a city that only had half built walls and ones that did not have gates. We see that Nehemiah's soldiers were insufficient in number so that he got non-military people to take places in providing security. Verse 13 says, "then I stationed men in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, the exposed places, and I stationed the people in families with their swords, spears, and bows." We can sense that their defenses were very weak. But this is okay. If we can pray and entrust ourselves to the Lord and do everything that we can honestly before the Lord, then we can trust Him to work out the solution. The blessing comes when we have participated but that we know the victory is from the Lord.
Conclusion The enemy never attacked. They could have, but they didn't. I think they would have if everybody was at ease and not paying attention to the threat. We must take the threat seriously. We must use our resources to deal with the enemy. It is like taking the 5 loaves and 2 fish and feeding a multitude with a twist. There is more to the eye than it sounds. Notice what is happening when all the people gather up stones and swords and arm themselves around the wall. Sure the enemy could penetrate but they knew it would be at a cost. They could see the seriousness of the people defending their homes. The Spirit of God used this courage on the part of the people of God to ward off an attack. Listen to Nehemiah's hope in verse 14, "Remember the Lord who is great and awesome." His real hope is in the Lord who is great and awesome. We might think we are taking it into our own hands by doing what we can, but usually whether it be a law case or whatever, we realize that God is asking you to work with Him in the project. There usually is enough weakness on our part, in this case their defenses, to still awe the people with God's greatness. The people were not saying, "We can do it." Nehemiah focused them on what God could do and encouraged them to stay faithful doing what was good and legitimate.
Intensive participation (Neh 4: 12-13).
Intensify their efforts . At first, it seems that only the professionals were defending the weak places, but when the threats intensified, well so must the defense. A good defense after the battle does no one any good. In verses 12-13 we see Nehemiah reinforced the wall by expanding the defense team. He was desperate. Looking at it objectively, we see that everyone became participators this way. God used the voices of the Jews to come up with a solution that would help everyone overcome their own fears.
It is easy for us to trust the professionals, but often they are not what is going to hold back the enemy. The reason is our trust is in man rather than God. Another reason is that we are not operating as one but as individuals. God has made us a body. We are one. If one place gets hurt, then the others come in helping. Our family greatly appreciates the extra love shown when our family recently went through a difficult time. But I want you to realize that there are many people out there needing help. The enemy in some cases has run right into the life of one of our families.
He is mocking us. You can pray but it is not going to do any good. "Ha, ha!" My brothers and sisters, what is it going to take to get us out from our television sets and get you visiting the others in our congregation not to mention the lost? When will you start putting your family on the wall with sword in hand so that you not only keep an eye on your family but also reach out to protect others.
Lately, we have been learning a lot of the immune system. Many of us have a dead Christian love. We hear of brothers and sisters in need but don't really pray and do what the Spirit prompts you. As a result, trouble worsens. Now if we allowed infections to grow in our body, say in one part of our body. What is the normal thing to happen? The whole body focuses on that weakness by sending special cell units to fight off the enemy.
Application If our lives are so isolated that we do not know the needs of others in the Lord's body, then we are too isolated. We need to take part. The Concert of Prayer is a great time to find out the needs of our needs here as well as far away. Secondly, we must get out there and make other people's needs part of our busy lives. This is the love of God. Without action, talk about love is cheap.
Encouraging words (Neh 4: 14).
Nehemiah was great at these speeches. He must of had the gift of encouragement. In verse 14 he first told them to not be afraid. Many of us have heard these words, "Don't be afraid." It seems to help little when you are afraid. But Nehemiah backed it up with the truth and a challenge. The truth was that God was great and awesome. God is able even when man isn't. We should expect more of these faith battles as our lives grows. I was recently talking to one person who thought their trial was once in a life time thing. I told them, "No, no. Our lives are a series of opportunities to further trust God in these crises."
Furthermore, there was a challenge. He presented to them the stakes involved. They were there to protect their families and lands. We need to keep focused on what our lives are for. What is God's mission? I hope each of you make it a priority to attend the mission conference where we learn what is on God's heart. But returning to our focus on overcoming the enemy, don't forget to apply this to facing the enemy and saying that you are going to get back what God has promised you.
Focused on God's will (Neh 4:15-23). Keep focused.
The other thing that was done after the enemy demobilized their fighting forces, was to redistribute the forces and maintain a proper guard. In other words, they were willing to let down their defenses for the sake of the work of God. They had to keep building. Sometimes the emergencies and troubles that occur around us can get us to misfocus. A misfocus quickly becomes a snare if we are not careful. We would never feel comfortable to keep building. But they came up with a plan that enabled them to protect them with a thinner layer of protection so that more of the reserves could get to the actual building. If there is trouble on one place, then they will blow a trumpet and everyone will hear. The reserves will run on over to help. This required more faith. However Nehemiah again focused them on God's work through their feeble resources in by saying in verse 20, "Our God will fight for us." They were truly not to live by the fear of their enemies.
This work was not easy. It wasn't for the fainthearted. But praise God, the Lord gave them the plan they could work with.
Application Project Love is before us. It is far beyond our resources. But we are using prayer and our resources for looking. Our search shows our confidence in God. If we stopped looking and praying, then we would see that our vision has been waylaid. But God is asking us to stay focused on His work.
Application Beyond Project Love is the vision to reach the Chinese and others for Christ in Pittsburgh. If we are so focused on our job or children, then we will not rightly do God's will. It takes a careful balance. I do not encourage you to forget your family or job for church work. We have to become experts in taking what we have and begin to expand our focus. I believe one of the best ways is through the home. We invite people over. We get to talk and know people. But we also have fellowship groups or cell groups. I hope you take part in being with God's people. It is not just a meeting but a means of protection and advance.
Summary Fear from the enemy is designed purposely to keep you from doing God's work. The ultimate test is to see whether you have been waylaid. Have you actually done what God has called you to do? Yes, we have bad health, disappointing friendships, difficult family circumstances, but the key question in the end is that are you so poised to do God's will that someone's threat will not be able to keep you doing what God wants. You might need to move slower than you thought. But you never gave up. You were determined to do what you could to affirm His will in your life. Your faith was deepened to trust God for things you never trusted Him to do before and so you find Him to be so great and awesome.
The Israelites finally overcame their fears and the wall was built. As they built this wall, the enemies had to give up some easy ways that they were manipulating the people. But when we sense what God wants, then we can believe Him for the way. The resources will never look enough because they are pointing us to coworking with God. He could do it all Himself but wants us to join Him in the task so that we can join Him in the glory of it all. This year God is calling us to restoration. What is needed in your own heart? In your family? In your church? In your job? In your school work? Let us no longer give into our enemies who intimidates us with fears, but stand firmly in trust to God to lead us as His overcomers!
Biblical Foundations for Freedom