When the Enemy Attacks

When we put our energy toward accomplishing the works of the Lord, the enemy does not like it.  He will do whatever he can to thwart our efforts and progress.  As Charles Stanley puts it in Church Awakening, “While Christ has promised to build up the church, the adversary is equally committed to tearing it down.”  And he will use people both outside of the church and inside of the church to make that happen.

Church, Enemy, Spiritual Warfare, Church Awakening, Charles Stanley, Build Up, Ephesians, Hard Times

At the beginning of chapter 4 of Nehemiah we see opposition come from outside the church.  At first, the opposition comes in the form of words, in mere insults: “They can’t do it.”  “It isn’t good enough.”  “It won’t work.”  “They will fail.”  Sound familiar?  These are simply words, but if they are received with the wrong attitude, they can be utterly destructive.  This kind of opposition casts doubt and makes you wonder if the task is even possible (and without God, it probably wouldn’t be…but that’s another post for another day).  It makes you question if God actually wants you to be doing this.  And it takes your focus off of His vision to the much smaller vision of man.  Words can be devastatingly destructive if we allow them to be.

Nehemiah didn’t let these words win; the building of the wall continued (vs. 7).  But their choice to continue working only made the enemy angry.  They then conspired to come against Nehemiah and his men in a physical manner – they were going to put a stop to the building one way or another.  In America, we don’t often see physical attacks such as the ones mentioned here, but the enemy still has ways, beyond words, to try and halt our work and progress.  Busyness would be the first way.  How many people within the church, how many Christians, are too busy to put their hands and feet to the tasks of our Lord?  Or what about money?  The budget doesn’t allow for such a vision… Or he keeps the few people who could finance the vision from “catching” the vision.

Which leads us to the idea that the enemy sometimes uses those inside the church to stop our progress.  He keeps us busy, keeps us from tithing, keeps us prideful…and mostly, he discourages.  In verse 10 we see, “The strength of the burden bearers is failing, yet there is much rubbish; and we ourselves are unable to to rebuild the wall.”  How many times have you seen the strength of leaders fail?  How many times have you seen burn out happen?  How many times have you seen someone walk away because the struggle seemed insurmountable?  I myself have been guilty of thinking the task is too large, that there is too much rubbish standing in the way, we will never make it.  And when I allow those thoughts to invade my soul, I’m letting the enemy win.  When I allow those thoughts to influence my actions and/or the actions of those around me, I have become a tool in the enemy’s hand.

Nehemiah didn’t allow that to happen.  His response is a perfect model for how we should respond in the face of an enemy attack.  First, he prayed.  Or I should say, they prayed.  At this point, Nehemiah’s “I” became a “we” – the people were catching the zeal and passion for the Lord’s work that Nehemiah had from the start.  So when trouble threatened the horizon, they went to the Lord in prayer.  This should always be our first response.  No matter what the situation, finding ourselves on our knees is the best place to be.  It is only in prayer that we can prepare for battle.  It is only through prayer that we can dress ourselves in the armor of God and prepare for the spiritual battles that face us every single day, “for in every duty we must expect opposition from our spiritual enemies” (Wesley).

But that prayer means nothing if we don’t put our feet to our faith.  “Nehemiah was not the fanatic to blunder into the delusion that prayer was a substitute for duty…” for he knew that prayer with action is “the most effective defense measure” (Expositor’s).  He could have easily prayed for protection and continued on the way they had been – building the wall without any regard to the enemy.  But he took it one step further, Nehemiah prayed for protection and then prepared for battle.  Protection doesn’t mean that God will keep the battle from happening, but it does mean He will be there fighting right alongside you, strengthening your faith, bolstering your spirit, and so much more.  Protection means that we are never alone.

The second response that we see from Nehemiah is unity: “I said to the nobles, the officials, and the rest of the people, ‘The work is great and extensive, and we are separated on the wall far from one another.  At whatever place you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there.  Our God will fight for us” (vs. 19-20).  Our best chance of success is to pull together as one when the enemy attacks.  Regardless of whether the attacks come from outside our walls or within – the answer is unity.  IF we are united THEN God will fight for us.

Unity is a form of anointing in the Lord’s book.   The 133rd Psalm is a  short one but the entire point is that unity = anointing: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony!  It is like fine oil on the head, running down on the beard, running down Aaron’s beard onto his robes.  It is like the dew of Hermon falling on the mountains of Zion.  For there the Lord has appointed the blessing – life forevermore.”

“The origin of anointing was from a practice of shepherds.  Lice and other insects would often get into the wool of sheep, and when they got near the sheep’s head, they could burrow into the sheep’s ears and kill the sheep.  So, ancient shepherds poured oil on the sheep’s head.  This made the wool slippery, making it impossible for insects to get near the sheep’s ear because the insects would slide off.  From this, anointing became symbolic of blessing, protection, and empowerment” (gotquestions.org).

Unity, Anointing, Forgiveness, Enemy, Nehemiah, Love, Abundance, Protection, Blessing, Empowerment

When we are united, it is then that God anoints us.  It is then that we receive blessing, protection, and empowerment.  But the significance doesn’t stop there.  First, and foremost, this isn’t speaking of outward unity, but rather, true unity, unity of the heart.  In order for us to be truly unified in that sense, there can be no unforgiveness or bitterness.  For if we do not forgive, the Lord will not forgive us, and we forfeit the blessing that unity brings (Matthew 6:14-15).  Aaron and his sons were not permitted to minister to the Lord or be in His presence without the anointing of the oil.  Without unity, without that anointing, we harm our relationship with the Lord.  When we ourselves are not forgiven, when we have not payed our debt, we cannot be in the presence of the Lord.  Sin cannot be in the presence of the Lord.  And if we can’t be in His presence, we certainly can’t do His work.

The oil of anointing held a very pleasant aroma.  It was made from olive oil, cinnamon, myrrh, cane, and cassia lignea (very similar to cinnamon) (Exodus 20:23-25).  When someone was anointed the aroma would have been very agreeable, attractive to others.  When we are truly and wholly united, only then will we be attractive to those outside of our walls.

This anointing we receive from the Lord when we are united is excessive as we can see in the 133rd Psalm.  The oil ran down Aaron’s beard and onto his robes.  Even today in the Middle East, oil for anointing is poured in such a way that it reaches every limb.  It’s an extravagant amount.  The dew of Herman mentioned in the Psalm is also mentioned because of it’s abundance – historical documents note that this dew, even in dry weather, was so abundant that tents were as wet as if it had rained at night (Clarke). God’s anointing – His blessing, His protection, His empowerment – is abundant when we are living in true, straight-to-the-heart unity!

When the enemy attacks, our response should be prayer with action and true unity.  If we do these things, there is much to come in return: protection, blessing, empowerment and more!  God is there!  He is always there!  He just wants us to acknowledge His presence, His power, and His purpose (unity, or true community).

When the enemy attacks, God will respond justly.  The question is, will you?

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When God Gives a Vision…

I always have a plan for the way things are supposed to go.  And more often than not, God tends to throw a wrench into those plans.  A lot of the time, I don’t even understand what’s happening or why there was a shift.  But sometimes God grants us a peek at what He has in store, sometimes He allows us to see a glimpse of what is to be.  Those are moments of vision.  Sometimes God gives us a vision of how He wants us to move forward in furthering His kingdom.

Glimpse, Clouds Part, Vision, Dream, God Sized, Hope, Future, Nehemiah, Furthering the Kingdom, Goal

Now, I’m not necessarily speaking of something supernatural like a dream where we see the future and know for certain exactly what it all looks like (though, with God, all things are possible).  One of the ways Merriam-Webster defines ‘vision’ is “the mode of seeing or conceiving; unusual discernment or foresight.”  God often gives us an unusual foresight to conceive what the future might hold.  For instance, God has given Justin and I a vision for our church of young adult ministry, specifically for those outside the church.  That vision certainly wasn’t expected.  And since that moment of foresight, we haven’t heard much, I believe, because God is saying ‘not yet.’  I can see as I reflect upon this past year and our current situation that He is preparing us now for something in the future (However, about half way through writing this post…that ‘wait’ became a ‘ready, set, GO!’).  He has given us a vision, of that I am certain.

So what should our response be when God does give us a vision?  Nehemiah was a man of vision.  Before there was ever a vision, he spent a lot of time in prayer (more on that here).  Prayer is vital to any vision God gives us, both before and during the implementation of that vision.  We can’t carry out God’s plans if we aren’t in daily, constant communication with Him.  If we aren’t communicating with Him then we are doing nothing more than making the plans of God the plans of man.  Prayer is essential.

Once Nehemiah is sure of God’s vision, he sets himself to plan for the task.  He has to evaluate the situation, see the reality of what needs to be done.  In the second chapter of Nehemiah, verses 12-16, he mentions twice that he doesn’t tell anyone what God has put in his mind to do.  When God gives you a vision, it isn’t to bring glory and fame to your name.  When God gives you a vision, it is still HIS vision.  If we ever use that to bring attention to ourselves, we have missed the point.  So Nehemiah quietly moved forward without attracting any attention.

In the midst of that planning and preparation, the vision or the problems that arise within the vision, may seem insurmountable.  Nehemiah was surrounded by ruins and disappointment (quite literally).  He was given a vision for a problem no one else seemed to want to fix.  And in the middle of the night, as he was planning, he literally came to an impasse: “Then I passed on to the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool, but there was no place for my mount to pass” (vs. 14).  So what did he do?  He found another way!  Nehemiah didn’t give up at the first sign of difficulty.  The vision seemed impossible from the start, but he didn’t let that stop him.  And even when it became even more difficult, Nehemiah kept moving forward.  Why?  Because this wasn’t a vision of man.  This was a God sized vision.  And only with the power of God could it be accomplished.

Finally, Nehemiah feels it is time to cast the vision (vs. 17-18).  He explains to the Jews the situation they are in, the why.  Then he gives them a solution to fix it and says, let us fix the issue, together.  He doesn’t cast the vision and say, ‘Okay, God gave me this vision, I’ll be over here working on that.  Can you guys pray for me?’  No, a God-sized vision requires that His people come together in unity to accomplish the task.  And He also explains how God has been in the mix.  It’s one thing to cast a vision of how we see things.  It is another when we are able to point to God in the process.  I love how Matthew Henry  looks at Nehemiah casting the vision: “By stirring up ourselves and one another to that which is good, we strengthen ourselves and one another for it; for the great reason we are weak in our duty is because we are cold to it, indifferent, and unresolved.”   If we are weak it is because we have become indifferent.  When God gives us a vision, it is our responsibility to stir ourselves and others up.  And no matter how crazy or impossible the task, we can’t take the time to worry about what other’s think, “The man who is in dead earnest has no time to be self-conscious, he does not indulge in sickly reflection on the effect of what he says on other people’s opinions about himself, he will not care what they think about him so long as he moves them to do the thing it is laid on his soul to urge upon them” (Expositor’s).

And lastly, when faced with opposition, Nehemiah doesn’t give up on the vision God has given him.  Instead, he clings more tightly.  We will face opposition.  When God gives us a vision, it is usually something that can’t be done by the hands of man.  In order for that vision to succeed, God will have to be in the mix or it will fail.  That way we can’t take the credit.  Because of that impossibility, there will always be naysayers.  And there will always be obstacles to overcome.  Nehemiah’s response to that opposition is this: “The God of heaven will give us success; therefore we His servants will arise and build…” (vs. 20).  In other words, we are determined to make this happen, we will not give up because God Himself will grant us success.  When you know you have a vision from the Lord, there is no need for doubt or discouragement, there is only moving forward.  If He has given you a vision, He will provide the means.  All He requires from you is faith.  I have been reading through Draw the Circle by Mark Batterson (I highly recommend it).  He notes at one point that it is “Our job is to hear [God’s] voice.  His job is to establish our steps.  And if we do our job, God will do His” (pg.25)!

our-job

So stand firm.  Push forward.  And never forget to pray – “We need to work like it depends on us and pray like it depends on God” (Batterson, Draw the Circle).

The voyage continues here.

Response to Crisis – It Matters!

We have all experienced crisis and trouble at some point in our lives.  And we all respond a little bit differently.  It doesn’t matter if that crisis is a betrayal, a job loss, a natural disaster, or something else entirely….our response matters!   Christ followers are supposed to be different from the rest of the world.  So when we experience moments of crisis, when we experience trouble, when we are face to face with a devastating circumstance, the world is watching to see how we respond.  Our response matters!

In the first chapter of Nehemiah, within the first four verses, Nehemiah is given heartbreaking news – the walls of his home city are demolished, there is no protection for his people, for the people of God.  They are a city in crisis!  He is broken and in disbelief.  So he grieves and weeps…for days.  It is in this grief that we can learn a good deal from Nehemiah.

Crisis, Fear, Struggle, Mourn, Response, Trouble, Anguish, Sadness, Trials, Prayer

First, amidst that weeping, in his mourning, Nehemiah never neglected to pray.  In fact, he also fasted.  You see, “he eased his sorrows and unburdened his spirit by pouring out his complaint before God and leaving it with Him” (Henry).  How often do we mourn without the comfort of our Lord and Father?  How often do we turn away and forsake Him because our heartbreak must be at least partially His fault??  The Jews were the chosen people of God.  Nehemiah could have easily started cursing God, ‘Why did You let this happen?’  ‘How could this be?’  ‘Where were You?’   Instead, his first response in grief was to pray.

So how did he pray?  He first lifted praise to the Lord, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God….” (ch. 1 vs. 5).  That’s hard isn’t it?  In the midst of heartbreak, the last thing we want to do is praise the One person who could have prevented the heartbreak in the first place.  But praising Him during trials is an important response for our faith and His word tells us to be joyful when we meet trials (James 1:2).

He was in constant prayer, day and night.  The idea of God’s people being left unprotected bothered Nehemiah to the depth of his soul.  Instead of worrying and fretting, he prayed.  And then prayed some more.  I am a firm believer that God never tires of hearing our prayers.  In Matthew 6:7, the Lord denounces vein repetition.  However, “the prayer that is repeated simply because the worshipper is too persistent to be satisfied until it is answered” doesn’t fall into that category (Expositor’s).  We should be circling every crisis we encounter with prayer until the matter is resolved (one way or another).  If that means years of prayer, so be it!

He looked to God’s word: “Our best pleas therefore in prayer are those that are taken from the promise of God, the word on which He causes us to hope” (Henry).  We need to be praying His word, praying the promises of God, just like Nehemiah, “Remember the word which You commanded Your servant Moses…” (ch. 1 vs. 8).  Praying His word isn’t intended to remind God of what He has spoken, I don’t think He needs the reminder.  But, rather, to acknowledge that we are aware of His promises, His commandments, and His goodness.  We know that through heartbreak, through troubles, through sour lemons, God can bring goodness, mercy, joy, and triumph.  Why?  Because His word says so.

He was specific.  In order to be specific in our prayers, we must be seeking God’s will in the first place.  We must be actively doing our part.  Nehemiah didn’t just hear the news, mourn, and pray.  He began to plan a way to fix the problem, all the while praying, seeking the will of God – “He did not sit still and say, ‘Let God now do His own work, for I have no more to do,’ but set himself to forecast what he could do towards it” (Henry).  And when he felt the Lord had shown him a way, Nehemiah began to pray specifically.  Because of his position as cupbearer to the king, he knew he held a place of significance and favor.  The cupbearer had to be trusted, after all, they were the ones who could most easily kill the king!  Because of this position, he knew approaching the king was an answer to his problem.  Nehemiah, like Esther, had been placed there for such a time as this.  So he prayed for that meeting specifically, “…make your servant successful today and grant him compassion before this man” (ch. 1 vs. 11).  We do not have to be vague in our prayers!!

He waited on the Lord’s timing.  Chapter 1 of Nehemiah is set in the month of Chislev, and chapter 2, when he finally speaks to the king of the matter, is set in the month of Nisan.  There are FOUR months between the two!  Some sources believe these four months passed because Nehemiah was not in the presence of the king.  Possibly due to winter months, or possibly because he only worked one quarter out of the year.  But regardless, from the time Nehemiah heard of the crisis of Jerusalem until he was able to do anything about the matter, four months had passed!  All the while, Nehemiah kept praying and kept seeking the Lord’s will.  He was waiting for an opportunity to arise, for God to open the right door.  He recognized the need to be preparing, and while he did not sit still, he didn’t rush into anything either.  He wanted to be certain of the will of the Lord.

He continued to pray in the very moment he needed it:  The king out right asks Nehemiah what is bothering him at the beginning of the second chapter.  Perhaps Nehemiah didn’t hide his sadness as well as he believed, or perhaps due to fasting for four months, his physical appearance was altered to a point that the king couldn’t help but notice that Nehemiah’s countenance was not quite right.  So the king implores Nehemiah to express his anguish. And after a moment of fear, he does, then, “The king said to me, ‘What would you request?’  So I prayed to the God of heaven” (ch. 2 vs. 5).  You see, “the brief and sudden prayer reaches heaven as an arrow suddenly shot from the bow, but it goes right home because he who lets it off in his surprise is a good marksman well practiced” (Expositor’s).  Nehemiah had already been in constant prayer about this situation, so it makes sense that as he steps forward to speak with the king that he would, one last time, ask the Lord for confidence, clarity, and compassion from the king.  It would have been a natural reflex, just as it should be in our own lives.

In conclusion, our response to crisis, no matter the form, should be to pray and seek the will of God.  He knows better than we do how best to move forward.  He knows how the crisis will be fixed already.  And He knows best how to equip each one of us for the moments we find ourselves in.  Nehemiah sets a beautiful example of prayer in crisis, it would be wise to follow his lead.  The world is watching.  Our response matters.  Will you worry, curse God, and shut down?  Or will you pray, trust the Lord, seek His will, and move forward?