I have spoken with some who were concerned that the large amount of resistance or opposition that they were experiencing was an indication that they were out of the will of God. The story of Nehemiah shows us that just the opposite is true and it gives us some ideas on how to respond.
After fasting, prayer and repentance, Nehemiah is given divine favor to return to Judah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and to restore its gates. You would think that such a noble endeavor would curry nothing but favor. Instead jealous and greedy men opposed him so vehemently that his workers had to work with a tool in one hand and a weapon in the other.
His principal opponents were Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem the Arab (didn’t someone write a song about him?). First they tried discouragement. “If a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall” (4:4). I can relate to that. When I first came to Middle Tennessee to plant a church, the priest in the next town told me a number of times that there was no way that an Anglican Church would work in Smyrna, Tennessee. Further I was doubly doomed because my vision was to plant a traditional parish and another priest said that that only a contemporary church would have a hope of working.
What did Nehemiah do with this resistance? He went to prayer and called upon God to defend him and he kept working. In fact rather than being discouraged, they intensified their efforts and worked from can to can’t.
Next Nehemiah’s enemies spread lies about him. They said that he was doing this work in order to make himself king.
I can relate to that also. We had such serious problems with the builder of All Saints’ in 2002 that the builder falsely accused me of felony assault. I was arrested and had to go to court and it took some time before my name was cleared. It is an exhausting thing to try to prove your innocence so Nehemiah denied the accusations, refused to meet with his detractors and went on about his work. No dialogue for Nehemiah!
The third thing that Nehemiah had to face was Tobiah trying to bully him through letters. And we thought cyber bullying was a new thing.
One day when I was quite new to the Internet, I received an email from a stranger looking for dirt on the Bishop in order to bring charges against him. I confronted the person telling him that is not how we did business and that if he did not like the Bishop’s leadership then he was free to find another denomination. The next thing I knew I was being brought up on charges in an ecclesiastical court for behavior unbecoming to a priest. The Bishop thanked me for defending him but he asked me to apologize to the man in order to make the charges go away. I could not do that because I believed that I had done nothing wrong and that the stranger was trying to manipulate us through fear. The Bishop then asked if I would just meet with the stranger, to which I agreed. However the night before we were to meet, the stranger survived a heart attack and I never heard from him again.
Nehemiah’s response to the attempt to make him fearful was to call for a holy day and have a celebration. In doing so he took his eyes off of his enemies and looked to God. He fought fear with worship.
According to the notes on Nehemiah in the English Standard Version Study Bible the theme of Nehemiah is “The Lord’s protection of his people and the need for their faithfulness to the Torah and their faithfulness in worship.” (p. 821).
So when we face resistance or opposition we do not need to fear that we are out of God’s will. In fact, the more we work for God’s kingdom, the more opposition we will face because the forces of darkness fight against the light. We can take a lesson from Nehemiah when the resistance comes and refuse to be stopped by discouragement or lies or fear. Instead we are to look to the Lord to be our defender and shield while we remain faithful to walk in obedience to His Word and be constant in worship.
“ O God, who art the author or peace and lover of concord, in whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom: Defend us, thy humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in thy defense, may not fear that power of any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (BCP p.53).