Open Doors to Continuing Challenges
Amanda and I got married in September of 2002, and after a few months we moved to Orlando so I could go to seminary. The preparations were made well in advance, and this is what it seemed the Lord was leading us to do. One of the things that set the tone for our stay in Orlando was our move. We loaded up the uhaul on a saturday afternoon and were set to arrive in Macon late that night.
We were getting close to Macon (in the middle of nowhere) and the uhaul truck started jerking. I kept looking around to figure out what was going on, everything seemed to be fine. Plenty of gas, etc. But then I looked at the gas gauge again and realized I was looking at something that seemed to say there was a half tank when in reality I was empty. I was running out of gas! I got off at the next exit, pulled into the gas station, everything seemed fine, but on this night every pump at the station was out of order! I got back on the interstate, took the next exit and then the truck died. Pitch black, no stations and the truck is done. I thought “OH no!”
Interestingly enough the last thing I loaded on the truck was an old gas can that I had not used in years. While loading I had debated even bringing it, but I did, and since it was literally the last thing I put on the truck i simply opened the uhual trailer door, grabbed it (it wasn’t even packed in a box!), and gave it to Amanda sp she could go a couple miles down to the gas station, and with about a ten minute delay we were fueling the truck.
God provided us clear direction in moving to Orlando, but there were challenges at every step, and yet God provided for us in each challenge.
It often seems this is the case with different ventures. God provides for you and opens doors, and those doors lead to other challenges and also God’s provision.
In today’s study of Nehemiah we see he arrives in Jerusalem and lays out a plan for his work. We see it will not be easy but God provides for him. God’s open doors lead to ongoing challenges but also his blessings.
The restoration Nehemiah prayed about suddenly gets real in this passage.
Then I came to the governors of the province Beyond the River and gave them the king's letters. Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen. 10 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant heard this, it displeased them greatly that someone had come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel. 11 So I went to Jerusalem and was there three days. 12 Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. And I told no one what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem. There was no animal with me but the one on which I rode. 13 I went out by night by the Valley Gate to the Dragon Spring and to the Dung Gate, and I inspected the walls of Jerusalem that were broken down and its gates that had been destroyed by fire. 14 Then I went on to the Fountain Gate and to the King's Pool, but there was no room for the animal that was under me to pass. 15 Then I went up in the night by the valley and inspected the wall, and I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned. 16 And the officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, and I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, and the rest who were to do the work. 17 Then I said to them, "You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision." 18 And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, "Let us rise up and build." So they strengthened their hands for the good work. 19 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they jeered at us and despised us and said, "What is this thing that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?" 20 Then I replied to them, "The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem." (Nehemiah 2:9-20 ESV)
Four principles to focus on when pursuing God’s purposes.
- Resist Continuing Opposition
Nehemiah’s prayer is answered, his requests are granted, his papers accepted. The journey begins. Nehemiah comes with all the necessities including a officers of the army and horsemen.
But then Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonites rise up. Probably best to see these two guys as influential chiefs of the neighboring hostile nations of Samaritans and Ammonites, and sought by alliances with Jewish nobles. These guys are displeased.
Have you ever prayed and prayed for something. God provides for you and you rejoice. But then maybe you think I wish he hadn’t answered that.
The jeer at the people. They throw false accusation against them to discourage the people saying they are rebelling against the king.
Nehemiah was sad/displease at the news of Jerusalem (1:2). Now these guys are displeased because someone is coming to help (2:10). You know there is opposition in everything you do. You plant seeds in the ground and you have to contend with weeds. You build a shed and you protect it against rot. You get a new computer and you install virus protection. It should not surprise you that when you do something God calls you to do you got someone opposing you to your face. With the rising concern for God’s kingdom sprouts an opposition to that task.You should just have it as a goal to make someone mad! :-)
Business, church, marriage. Whatever you are seeking to restore you have to contend with the past actions that got you to that point and also the future opposition.
These guys are coming to harm, but Nehemiah seeks the welfare, the good, of the people. Nehemiah is on delicate ground with the king. He is being attacked by others. What do you do in that situation. You see the common good. This is a strategy of Christianity.
Jeremiah 29:7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jer 29:7 ESV)
- Take time for Inspection.
Repair begins with inspection. Inspection is to look carefully at or over, it is to view something critically. Much of Nehemiah’s work in this section is inspecting the work that needs to be done (v13, 15).
He goes out at night. He does this because he doesnt want others to know what he is attempting. He only takes a few men. He does not tell anyone what he is doing until he has made a careful inspection (v14, 16). He did not put his plans on facebook until he knew what he needed to do. You do well to consider things before you go live too! :-) Things are broken and sagging v14.
“Good work is likely to be well done when it is first well considered.” Matthew Henry.
It is always wise that before you go to work on something you examine what needs to be done. Measure twice cut once. You don’t want to start fixing something until you know what the problem is. On a building you might see an exterior part that is fallen and looks terrible but the inside is still strong. Other times things might not look that bad but upon further inspection the main support beams are compromised. In anything it is so important to know what you really have.
But our mission as a church is not just building walls and gates. The clarity of mission that comes in the new testament is that we are the temple. The spirit of God dwells inside us. Our work is not with broken walls and sagging gates but broken hearts and sagging spirits.
The purpose in a man's heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out. (Pro 20:5 ESV). Spiritual renewal is harder to discover than anything else. It takes time and effort.
We want to build others up and encourage them with. I want us to be a church that is pursuing deeper spiritual work.
“Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17 ESV)
1 Cor 3:10-12 also speak about building wisely. We want to lay a solid building and it takes time to make sure you have a solid foundation.
How are you doing this? Are you engaging in fellowship with others?
Know the people you are around. As a spiritual leader do some inspection. Ask how your kids are doing? Ask how you wife is doing?
If you have had a hard time in your walk with the Lord you need to consider that. Consider why you are struggling. Inspect yourself. 1 Tim 4:16 “watch your life and doctrine.” f mental processes fix attention on.
When people come into work down and out ask them what’s going on. Do some inspection.
Those that would build up the church’s walls must first take notice of the ruins of those walls. Those that would know how to fix must first discover what is wrong, what needs changing, and what may serve as it is. Nehemiah’s view of Jerusalem.
This could be one of the bigger changes at Bridgeway. REally getting to know others. It’s not about checking boxes. You do that and you miss where people are really at.
Know your heart and you can better help people. Think about something you are struggling with and consider what the biblical definition of that is. Consider what is the root cause of your struggle. It’s not just your kids are driving you crazy. Are you upset that you are not getting your way. Are you craving something in your heart that has become more important than loving your kids?
I want to challenge each person to do this. Examine yourself. Examine your marriage, your parenting. Share with others what you are struggling with. If you are not fruitfully inspecting your own life you will never do it with others. How are you doing in reading the word, in community, and in reaching out to others?
- Focus on the good.
There are two ways you can go through life. The path of faith or the path of unbelief. That is the fundamental decision of our lives. And that shapes the way you see every part of life. In some ways it affects our daily life: are you going to focus on the negatives or are you going to focus on the positives. Are you going to be an encourager or the one who saps the life out of things. Cooler.
Right here it is plain to see there is much cause for celebration. He tells the people what God has done. At the same time you are in a ruined city, you got no walls for protection, you have enemies rising up against you.
“They are in a sorry state and suffering disgrace because of it” (v17).
And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, "Let us rise up and build." So they strengthened their hands for the good work. (Neh 2:18 ESV)
Notice what happens here, their hands are strengthened for good because they hear God’s hand is behind it. They know it is hard but it is what God calls them to. You will persevere through many hardships if/when you know it is what God calls you to do. If you think running a business is supposed to be easy and everything go your way then you are going to be confused when problems come up. If you think Math is a breeze and then it takes you forever you will be discouraged. If you think being a friend to others should be easy and no friction you will give up. It is hard and being the person God calls you to be is hard, but when you are reminded of what God calls you to do you are strengthened for that task. You hear that and you are strengthened. You hear another mom talk about being patient with her kids because God is patient with her. That strengthens you. This is the church being the church, the people of God being the people of God.
Who are you encouraging? Who are you strengthening? Be in the word. Be vocal. Strengthen the hands of others by reminded them what the hand of God has done for them.
“He did not undertake to do the work without them (it could not be the work of one man), nor did he charge or command imperiously, though he had the king’s commission; but in a friendly brotherly way he exhorted and excited them to join with him in this work. To encourage them hereto, he speaks of the design…” Matthew Henry.
- Trust God for Prosperity.
They are derided for their work. They have a big task. They have opposition. They are said to be going against the kings commands. They are risking their wellbeing. They have to focus on the God of heaven.
It is the eternal view that gets you through those rough days. It’s the eternal view that gets you up in the morning.
You do what pleases God regardless of the results, because it is the right thing to do, and you trust him to prosper you. If he does, then great. If not, it is OK. v20 “we will rise and build.”
Nehemiah replied with impressive gravity: "The God of heaven, He will prosper us, and we His servants will arise and build; but ye have no portion, nor right, nor memorial in Jerusalem."
God makes prosper: succeed, be profitable; experience prosperity. The root means to accomplish satisfactorily what is intended. Real prosperity results from the work of God in the life of one who seeks God with all his heart (2 Chr 31:21; cf. Josh 1:8; Psa 1:3).
We should live lives that don’t make sense in the earthly. Apart from an eternal reward why would we do the things we do. Why would we give to the church, invest our time in the church. Why would we take time to reach out to people who don’t like us.
This is also a view to the exclusivity of Christ. “Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Joh 14:6 ESV).
You have to decide whose kingdom you are going to work to build. The kingdom of the world or the kingdom of God. Nehemiah goes all out on building the kingdom of God. We will also see the great opposition of some and the great indifference of others. Opposition and indifference are both the fruit of not following God. Indifference is our greatest threat. Often the reason people are weak in the effort is because they see little value with Christ. Christ saves us from a fruitless and unproductive life. He saves us from giving our lives to the kingdom of the world. He makes it possible for us to be brought into God everlasting and never perishing, never falling apart kingdom. He brings us into the prosperity of God’s kingdom.
Jesus is the way to have true life and prosperity with God (Eph 1:3, John 14:6). If we reject him, then just like rejecting the temple of Nehemiah’s days, we reject the very means to life with God. Jesus is the true temple. He is the one we have access to God’s spirit.
Apart from Christ, we have no part in God’s kingdom. Failing to serve Christ is true rebellion and it gets us no portion in the kingdom of God.
They are ashamed that they have sat still so long without so much as attempting this needful work, and now resolve to rise up out of their slothfulness, to bestir themselves, and to stir up one another. "Let us rise up," that is, "let us do it with vigour, and diligence, and resolution, as those that are determined to go through with it." So they strengthened their hands, their own and one another’s, for this good work. Note, First, Many a good work would find hands enough
Our lives are in the hands of the God of heaven. Some things don’t make sense, but we know that when we align our lives with him we are doing the right thing.
Press through adversaries. Nehemiah was obedient to him even above his own king. That is what it means to follow Jesus. He has to be your king…
God provision comes in the midst of adversity, and his provision often opens the way for more adversity, and that is why we have to keep our eyes focused on the God of heaven. He alone can prosper us. Whether it is a gas can in the back of a uhaul, an encouraging Scripture,
Focus on his work, his blessing, what he is doing. Even when life feels completely undone and ruined, we need to see what God is doing, has done, and the blessing he has poured out.
When we come to the cross we experiencing God’s blessing and prosperity, but it is met with challenges at every step.