Re:Solve - Week Four: "Intimidation"
Are you at a point in your life where you need some direction or a new vision? Would you like to learn how to stop trying to figure all that on your own and discover how to align yourself with God's vision for your life? With God's direction and purpose?
That's at the heart of this sermon series, Re:Solve: Aligning Yourself with God's Vision. We'll be spending the next several weeks studying the Old Testament book of Nehemiah--the memoirs of a man who sought to be aligned to God's vision and pursued it with all his heart.
Today we'll be exploring another important step toward aligning your life with God's will... what to do when you face obstacles as you pursue your God-given vision.
Before we jump into our text today. I thought it would be interesting to talk about the following first: Hershey's Chocolate, Dr. Suess, Einstein, Stephen King, Oprah, and Michael Jordan. They all have something in common--let's see if you can pick up on it.
First, Hershey's chocolate...
Milton S. Hershey---the man who blessed us with the sweet milk-chocolate treat we all love---wasn’t a hit the first time around. Before launching his own candy business, he had worked for a local candy factory. But when he decided to go out on his own, he failed miserably.
Despite two more failures, he returned to the family farm and perfected the art of making delicious milk-chocolate candy, which we enjoy in the form of Hershey chocolate today.
Theodore S. Geisel
was an author who struggled to write a novel that publishing companies would call something other than “pure rubbish” several times -- 27 to be exact. The man just wouldn’t quit, though.
One fateful night, he ran into an old friend who had recently taken over as a children’s literature editor. The friend agreed to publish Giesel’s work. Better known today as Dr. Seuss, Giesel was never again called a failure after his first book struck it big.
Despite being known as a true genius in the present day, this intellectual didn’t have a great start (to say he was running behind is an understatement). As a kid, he didn’t begin to speak a word until he was 4 years old. A few years later, his elementary school teachers considered him lazy because he would ask abstract questions that made no sense to others.
He kept on anyway, eventually formulating the theory of relativity -- something most of us still can’t understand today.
King is a best-selling writer (currently 350 million books sold and climbing) whose work has been made into several motion pictures. However, his first work was rejected 30 times, which lead to King throwing it in the trash. Thankfully, his wife made him keep working at it, and -- from that inauspicious start -- the novel "Carrie" was born.
For those who have been through it, losing a child is worse than anything. Oprah lived through this hellish reality after giving birth at 14 after being raped. She managed to not only overcome this, but also being repeatedly molested by her cousin, uncle and a family friend. She was also told by a television producer as an adult that she would never make it in TV. Despite her tragic past, she has worked hard to become a success and amass a net worth of $2.9 billion.
As a kid, Jordan loved basketball and knew he wanted to make a career out of it, though no coach would give him a chance because he was short. After using an inside connection to get into a basketball camp from which players for college teams were chosen, Jordan got noticed by a coach -- who still chose not to invite him to the team.
Jordan returned home discouraged but decided to prove the coach wrong. Now a member of the NBA Hall of Fame, just about everyone would agree he succeeded.
If you were thinking that what all of these people have in common is that they all faced obstacles on the way to pursue their vision and life's calling... you'd be right.
And listen, I know what you're thinking. "These are famous people, Leon. It's different for famous people." Actually, it isn't. It's the same for all of us. Every single one of us faces obstacles on our way to pursue our vision and life's calling.
And every single one of us has a choice as to what we'll do when they come.
Here's what I've learned: As soon as you decide that you want to run with wild abandon after the dream that you have come to believe that God has placed in your heart... As soon as you give yourself completely over to stumbling madly after Jesus...
That's when you'll face some of the most daunting obstacles in your life. The opposition is going to come at you, what will you do when it does?
Today we're going to talk about how you can overcome those obstacles, deal with the opposition that comes at you when you decide to pursue God's will for your life. And here's what I want you to remember:
The best offense is a good defense.
I know that's like the oldest sports cliche in the book, but hang with me, and I'll clue you in on what I'm talking about. But first, let's get to our Scripture passage.
Let's go to our conversation partner, Nehemiah from the Hebrew Scriptures for some insight and to go just a bit farther into his story:
Chapter 4 of Nehemiah opens up with a bunch of insults being hurled at Nehemiah and all of the Jews who are rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. The insults actually hit the Israelites right where they live---taking aim at their God, their workmanship and their legitimacy.
And then we get this:
7 But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the people of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. 8 They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. 9 But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the people of Ashdod----all of these characters essentially represent the historic, ancient foes of Israel. Sanballat was a provincial governor from Samaria who until Nehemiah showed up was most likely had jurisdiction over Jerusalem.
Tobiah was an Ammonite leader and Ashdod was the name of a city inhabited by the Philistines, who were old enemies of the Hebrew people.
The actual translation from Hebrew for verse 7 goes something like this: "When they heard that healing had come to the walls of Jerusalem..." If you recall from last week, in the ancient world to have the walls of your city destroyed was a sign of disfavor from the gods.
Nehemiah uses his words carefully here to show that healing was taking place between the people of Israel and God. The walls were being "healed" not just repaired.
But all of the threats from their opposition begins to take a toll on the Jews. They begin to engage in a lot of negative self-talk, including what scholars believe was a kind of work song that some of the workers began to sing:
10 Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.”That's when the threats from outside got really intense:
11 Also our enemies said, “Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.”And if that wasn't bad enough, there were Jews from the surrounding area who were supposed to be supportive of the cause, who showed up to tell the workers what they thought:
12 Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.”At this point, Nehemiah has a choice. He can give up the cause, give up the dream... He can walk away from everything that he felt called to do and go back to being the king's cupbearer. That's what a lot of people probably wished he would do.
But Nehemiah doubles down. He gives his best Braveheart speech, arms the workers and creates a system where everyone is working in family groups so that they will be compelled to fight even harder if they were attacked.
People were carrying weapons in one hand and working with their other, so to speak. Nehemiah wanted to make sure that Sanballat, Tobiah, and all the other naysayers knew that the Jews building the wall meant business. If they ever thought they would attack the builders, they would have to think twice about it first.
Nehemiah wanted to make sure that all of the people building the wall knew why they were building it, and he also wanted them to know that they were not alone. God was with them. He promised the workers that if there was ever an attack, he would be the first to sound the trumpet. He said:
Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us!”So what do we learn from Nehemiah here? It's a valuable lesson that really speaks into what we're talking about today. Here it is:
The closer Nehemiah got to fulfilling the vision, the more intense the intimidation (both from within and without) became.
But he made the people ready by reminding them what they were building and Who was on their side.
This is so vital for us today. Because it's not a matter of if obstacles and opposition will come when we set out to do God's will for our life, to live into our passion and vision... it's a matter of when.
And when they do, we need to be reminded that we are engaged in something greater than ourselves and our own desires... we are engaged in pursuing God's will and God's way. We also need to know that we are not alone in this pursuit. God is before us, behind us, all around us and in us.
But how do you get to that point where you have that realization and you gather strength from the knowledge of God's presence to keep moving?
I think it comes from asking the right questions, and I think there are three questions that we can ask that will enable us to get there.
First, What Am I Learning?
John Maxwell once wrote: “Adversity writes our story and if our response is right, the story will be good.”
And here's the other thing... in order to get from feeling like it's a burden to believing it's an opportunity for growth you will have to do battle with a couple of formidable opponents:
Your Historic Foes, and Negative Self-Talk.
I don't know what your historic foes are, but I sure know mine: Doubt, Fear, Impatience, Criticism... I have been struggling with them my whole life, and they always show up right when I've decided to do something important and lasting.
Which then leads me to negative self-talk.
If you are able to move beyond getting bogged down with these two opponents, you can then begin to see more clearly what the adversity you are facing might be able to teach you about yourself
Second, What are my next best steps?
This is the difference between being on the dance floor as opposed to watching things from the balcony. Sometimes you need to get a better view of the situation in order to see more clearly what you need to do next.
When you are in the middle of the dance, it's hard to know what's real and what isn't. When you're swirling and spinning it's hard to know which way is up or down, right or left. And this is what it can feel like when you are faced with adversity.
So, how can you get a better view? It might be as simple as unplugging for a while, getting away from social media, being connected, easily contacted. It might mean actually spending some time thinking about what is happening away from distractions.
Sometimes getting a different view means bringing someone else into the process with you. Asking the advice of a trusted friend or loved one. Going to someone who doesn't have a dog in the fight, so to speak.
And above all, you need to be in prayer over it. Praying, whether it's out loud, via journalling, with others... it allows you to give voice to your concerns, to lay it all down for a bit and come to the realization that God is at work in all things and you don't have to be.
Finally, How Can I Remember Why I Started?
You need to stay in touch with your goals when you are facing adversity. Keep the vision of why you started down the path before you. And never let go of the fact that God is on your side.
This is absolutely vital for you to do when you are facing adversity. It's the best way to have a good defense.
I remember a time when this was so true for me. I was pursuing what I had believed was God's will for my life. I had set the course and began doggedly heading in the direction I knew that God was leading me to go.
But when the adversity came in the way of criticism, gossip, outright lies and a dedicated campaign to undermine my ministry, I fell apart. I began to doubt my calling.
I remember lying on the floor one night in the sanctuary praying, begging God to make things better. And I had a vision. I got up and began walking from room to room, praying over all of them, almost like I was casting out evil spirits.
I remembered why I was there. I remembered why I was called. And I knew that God was with me.
If you ask yourself these three questions when you are facing adversity, you will find yourself able to tap into courage you didn't know you had. You will feel more prepared, more fortified. You will know that you are not alone, that you are called, equipped, and sent to do God's good work in the world.
Because the best offense is a good defense.