Text: Nehemiah 4:1-9
“In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.” —Ephesians 6:16
It can be quite frustrating when other people criticize your actions, especially when those people don’t know your heart. Just like the moon couldn’t keep shining if it paid attention to all those dogs barking at it, we need to keep our focus on the mission God has called us to without getting distracted by all those negative voices screaming at us externally, or internally. We should never be surprised by criticism. Matter of fact, we should learn to expect it and deal with it appropriately.
It’s been said that all you have to do to avoid criticism is say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing. There is no such thing as opportunity without opposition. Never has their been a person of faith, vision, and action who didn’t face criticism. If Jesus was criticized, you can take it to the bank that you will be criticized, too. Even though there is a beneficial side to good-intentioned criticism—that which genuinely seeks your welfare—that’s not what we see unfolding in the fourth chapter of Nehemiah. What we see here is criticism born out of enmity.
When Nehemiah and those missional communities rolled up their sleeves and got busy for God’s kingdom business, there were some folks who became furious about their work. Sanballat and Tobiah didn’t want to see that wall rebuilt. They weren’t offering constructive criticism; they were enemies of Israel, and enemies of God. They didn’t have the people’s interest in mind, just a seething hostility that manifested itself in sarcasm, mockery, and slanderous attacks.
We serve God differently under faith as opposed to discouragement. We worship and pray differently under faith than under discouragement. That’s why our enemy is so intent on discouraging us through critical voices. Sometimes the most negative voices are the ones in our head. I read recently that Robin Williams’ widow stated that the Hollywood star was chased by an “invisible monster” during the final months before taking his own life. Those invisible critics in our head can often be the most brutal on our soul, the most haunting in our memories, and the most crippling to our faith.
We need to rightly deal with those “invisible monsters” in our lives. Like most attacks of discouragement, the lies of the enemy are often laced with small amounts of truth. The critics were right in that, as builders, the Jews were feeble. There was weakness in their efforts. There were elements of inadequacy and inexperience. They didn’t have the best materials to work with. A lying, discouraging attack will often have some truth in it, but it will neglect the greater truth: God was with them and has promised to see them through.
I used to get very beat up when the invisible enemy pointed out my weaknesses, my flaws, my failures, and my inadequacies. Not so much anymore. I take those small facts and I point them to the greater Truth found in 2 Corinthians 12:8-10…
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Consider this: The victory over your invisible enemy doesn’t come from denying all his little facts; your victory comes from taking all those minute realities and pinning them to the cross of Jesus Christ. It is there that He takes our unworthiness and grants us the covering of His worthiness. He takes our insufficiency and wraps us up in His all-sufficiency. He takes away our sin-soaked garments and redresses us in His perfect righteousness. When Nehemiah’s enemies plotted together to inflict confusion and discouragement, the man of God knew how to handle it—“we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night” (Nehemiah 4:9).
Nehemiah’s greatest weapon against discouragement was his prayer life. Think about that as you seek to abide in Christ this week.
Father, help us to recognize the difference between constructive criticism that we can learn from, versus those disingenuous voices that never have our best interest in mind. Grant us wisdom to know the difference, and the diligence to face our opposition with bold faith in your greater Truth over our lives. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for personal reflection, small group discussion, or dinner table conversations:
- Why do you think some people get upset when they see others succeed? What kinds of events, opposition, or setbacks most discourage you?
- Why did Sanballat become angry with the Jews and what did he and Tobiah do to discourage the Jews from rebuilding the city walls? (Nehemiah 4:1-3)
- How did Nehemiah respond to the taunts of his enemies? (Nehemiah 4:4-5) How did Nehemiah and the Jews respond to the evil plotting of their enemies? (Nehemiah 4:9)
- When have you ever felt opposition from other people when you have done what you thought was morally right? How should we respond to negative events or criticism from others?
- What can you do today to prepare yourself to deal with opposition or criticism from others? What have “invisible monsters” been saying to you lately? What greater truths are you going to claim over those voices?
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