Text: Nehemiah 2:10-20
“Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” —1 John 4:4
Anytime we set out to follow a God-shaped vision, there will be… resistance. Steven Pressfield, the writer of The Legend of Bagger Vance, described “resistance” as protean: “It will assume any form, if that’s what it takes to deceive you. Resistance will reason with you like a lawyer or jam a nine-millimeter in your face like a stickup man… The more important a call or action is to our [soul], the more Resistance we feel toward pursuing it.”
Sometimes our greatest resistance comes from within, as depicted in my son’s new short film, Dismal & Himself (feel free to follow the link below to watch it online). Internal resistance might stem from procrastination, lack of confidence, shame, guilt, or feelings of inadequacy. Other times our greatest resistance comes from external opposition, namely other people who want to see us fail. This was the case with Nehemiah.
In this third devotion of our series in Nehemiah, we see the former exile thrust into a mission to restore dignity and livelihood for a vulnerable people who have lost so much. After having his heart broken for the things that break God’s heart, this cupbearer to the king of Persia is sent back to Judah to begin an urban revitalization project and rebuild its broken down walls. You’d think people would be okay with this, right?! How could people be against doing ‘good’ for others who are struggling? But it says, “When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites.” The slander machine soon kicks in.
The struggle is real. Not everyone will roll out the red carpet for you when you want to do something noble, generous, empowering for others, or pleasing to God. Some will even work against you. Nehemiah is met with intense enemy resistance. His opponents want to crush his reformation project and keep the people oppressed. So they aim to slander his name and falsify his motives. Nehemiah’s progress will be in direct correlation to how he manages to deal with the resistance to his mission. He has opponents, and how he responds to them is critical to his success.
Anytime we pray to God, “Build Your kingdom here,” we should also consider the high cost that comes with that petition (Luke 14:28). Are you ready to be doxxed, maligned, or bullied by others? Are you ready to have your business boycotted? Are you prepared for betrayal? Have you considered that it might cost you your livelihood, your comfort, or your sense of security? Are you ready for the intense spiritual warfare to come… or, did you only mean: “Build Your kingdom here as long as it doesn’t cost me anything?”
Nehemiah considered the cost of obedience. He understood the kingdom of God always has its opposition. The cross of Jesus Christ has always had its enemies, of whom you and I were once such villains when our minds where only set on selfish ambition and “earthly things” (Philippians 3:18-19). But thank the Lord Jesus for saving us from ourselves so we don’t have to live with such hostility any longer. Now we can live as ambassadors of the cross.
Nehemiah would appreciate the words of novelist Victor Hugo, who wrote:
“You have enemies? Why, it is the story of every man who has done a great deed or created a new idea. It is the cloud which thunders around everything which shines.”
Philippians 1:28 says: “Don’t be afraid of your enemies; always be courageous, and this will prove to them that they will lose and that you will win, because it is God who gives you the victory.”
Consider: Your resistance is here to stay. But your perseverance will always be greater. Nehemiah said, “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding…” (Nehemiah 2:20). We can keep our kingdom mission steadfast by heeding the wisdom of Paul’s instruction to the Romans: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). When we understand that greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world, we can say from the depth of our sincerity, “Build Your kingdom here,” and mean it with a full understanding of what it might cost us. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him no matter the intensity of the opposition this week.
Heavenly Father, your word assures us that all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. It’s not if, but when. Holy Spirit, teach us how to be an example of our Lord Jesus Christ when we are persecuted, never returning animosity with its own kind, but overcoming all evil with good. Grant us the grace and mercy to do this as we continue in your kingdom mission with patience and steadfastness, in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for personal reflection, small group discussion, or dinner table conversations:
- How do you usually respond to criticism and opposition? How do you think you would handle a life-threatening persecution for your faith?
- What did Nehemiah do when he first arrived in Jerusalem? (Nehemiah 2:11-12) From where did Nehemiah receive his motivation to rebuild Jerusalem? (2:12) What attitude did Nehemiah have about himself and about God? (2:12, 18, 20)
- Why did Nehemiah experience opposition to the work of rebuilding Jerusalem? (2:19) How did Nehemiah respond to his opponents? (2:20) Whom did Nehemiah credit for the Israelites’ expected success? (2:20)
- What can we learn from Nehemiah’s example of leadership and from how he responded to opposition? Why do you think Nehemiah was so confident that the Lord would grant him success?
- How can you prepare to face criticism and opposition in your daily life, or even intense persecution for your faith? How can you demonstrate your dependence on the Lord for steadfastness and success?
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