At church we’re studying Nehemiah (which, to my surprise, I’ve found is extremely relevant to our lives.) Nehemiah had a bold plan, blessed by God, to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. The Jews had many enemies who wanted them to fail—at anything. Threatened by the possible success of such a grand project, Sanballat, Tobiah and company gathered their resources and took aim. At first they hoped to squash the plan before it got off the ground. When this didn’t work and construction began successfully, they upped the ante and launched a full-scale verbal assault complete with public humiliation. They attacked the Jews’ self-image. Questioned their ability. Mocked their faith. Deflated their hope. Scoffed at their vision.
Any one of the arrows could have discouraged Nehemiah and his people. Surely a full onslaught would cause massive doubt, prompting the Jews to run back to the safety of the status quo.
It might have if Nehemiah wasn’t sure of one thing: He was living firmly in God’s purpose and God’s blessing was upon them. Instead of waging a battle on his own Nehemiah “prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.” (Neh. 4:9). And then, in full confidence he faced his enemies. Armed with a trowel in one hand and a sword in the other, workers continued to build the wall.
In this country we don’t often receive physical threats for carrying out God’s work. But that doesn’t mean warfare isn’t very real. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)
Our own Sanballats stand on the sidelines and criticize:
“Shouldn’t you wait until you get more experience?”
“I never let my children do THAT!”
“Haven’t you tried diets before?”
“You want to start a new business in THIS environment?”
“Ever since you stopped drinking you’re no fun anymore.”
“Do you realize how difficult it is to get published?”
“Maybe you didn’t pray enough.”
Often our worst enemies are the ones inside our own head (my personal favorite):
“Who am I kidding, I’ll never be able to accomplish that…”
“There are so many others more qualified…”
“If I were a better mother/wife/friend…”
“What will others think?”
“I can’t, it’s too risky/scary/dangerous.”
Some of the barbs meet resistance and fall away. But, others find our weakness and penetrate. Ouch! Soon we’re disabled, disheartened and disillusioned, willing to settle for the status quo. Ah, it’s so much safer and more comfortable there!
But is this what God desires of us? To play it safe? Avoid risks? Pursue the sure thing?
God created each of us for a unique purpose. But finding and fulfilling that purpose requires movement. Often it requires we travel off our map into unfamiliar territory where it’s risky and uncomfortable. Like the Jews we feel threatened. The enemy attacks. We begin negative self-talk. Doubt our ability. Waver in our faith. Lose hope. Or question God’s calling. Satan’s happy because he knows if he can just keep us focused on ourselves, we’re rendered useless for the Kingdom.
We learn from Nehemiah there is a way to fight this battle: with a trowel (God’s work) in one hand and a sword (God’s word) in the other. For the question isn’t “if” but “when” the battle will happen. And we need to be prepared. “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground...Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
There is real power in God’s word. Whatever you’re experiencing, there is a verse of victory. Find it. Claim it. Tape it to your bathroom mirror. Memorize it. Say it aloud. Stand firm in its truth. “With God we will gain the victory, and he will trample down our enemies.” Psalm 108:13
In Him we can be brave.
"Brave" by Nichole Nordeman. This song is so empowering and victorious.