Opposition to your ministry is one of the primary causes of burnout for pastors. We have been looking to Nehemiah for help in dealing with opposition. While rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem he reached a critical point in Chapter 4. The opposition became so intense and the discouragement of the people so overwhelming that work on the walls came to a halt. So, what did he do to get the people back on track?
The first thing he did was revise his plan. Nehemiah was inflexible when it came to his vision to rebuild the walls, but he was flexible with his plan for how to get there! A change of plans is not a change of vision. To overcome all the discouragement, he needed a change of plans. If you need to change horses in the middle of the stream, that’s ok, if it takes a different horse to get you to the other side. Don’t let your pride and ego get in the way of your own vision.
So, what was Nehemiah’s revised plan? Nehemiah 4:13,Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places (security and confidence), posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows. Why by families? Because… when you are under attack, you NEED support! Never fight alone!
Earlier this fall, the Los Angeles Dodgers earned their way into the playoff for the National League Championship. It was just over 70 years ago, when they were still the Brooklyn Dodgers, that history was made when the Dodgers’ General Manager, a man named Branch Rickey, hired the first black professional baseball player… the great Hall of Famer, Jackie Robinson.
It was a great vision that was shared by both Rickey and Robinson. In the initial interview, Rickey asked him, “I know you’re a good player, but do you have the guts?” Of course Robinson had guts. Then Rickey clarified what he meant by that question; “Do you have guts enough NOT to fight back?” Rickey knew in that day and age that Robinson would be subjected to all kinds of terrible verbal abuse, and to verbally or physically fight back would have disastrous results.
Rickey- a devout Christian himself- knew it would require a superhuman effort on Robinson’s part. He knew that Robinson could not do it alone- that he needed support. That support would come from Jackie Robinson’s own personal relationship with God, from Branch Rickey, from Jackie’s wife, Rachel; and, ultimately, from his teammates as well.
The verbal abuse from opposing teams and fans was unbelievable. At a game in Cincinnati, not long after he joined the team, the fans there were hurling all kinds of racial slurs and abuse at Robinson. All of a sudden, the Dodgers famous shortstop, Pee Wee Reece, called time out, slowly walked all the way across the infield and put his arm around Robinson. The crowd clearly understood the meaning of the gesture: “If you are against this man, you are against all of us! We stand together as a team!”
When you’re facing opposition, make sure you have support! Like the running back on the football field who needs a team, you need a team, too! You need your church family, you need your small group, you need CPR brothers. You need support.
V14, After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” There’s a play on words here. The words in Hebrew for “afraid” and “awesome” are the same word! He’s saying, don’t fear your opponents, fear God instead! If you fear God– if you lean into your relationship with him with ultimate honor and trust– then you are not going to fear people!
Instead of constant fearful thinking about your opponents that only leads to more discouragement, think instead upon the Lord— remember the Lord! Which is exactly what Nehemiah had already been doing! At the beginning of the verse 14, he said… “after I looked things over…” The implication of that phrase is that Nehemiah himself had found renewed strength/vision/confidence/security as he remembered back on all that God had done and all that God had provided in order to bring him to this place to fulfill the vision. By looking back he found the strength to move forward and into the future!
I recently had the privilege of preaching at the 20th church anniversary of a dear friend named, Rich. Rich and I had roomed together in seminary for a couple of years and have remained good friends ever since. I’m very grateful for his friendship. In fact, I probably would not be standing here this morning if not for him. I was working at the first church I served out of seminary in Little Rock, AR. I had been on staff at that particular church for a little over two years when, for a variety of reasons, I arrived at a one of the lowest points ever in my ministry. Quite honestly, I was about to give it up. I had applications to a couple of grad schools sitting on my desk as I pondered pursing a different career.
Then, late one afternoon, just before I was about to leave for the day, my friend, Rich, following a prompting from God, stopped by to say hello. He had come to Little Rock for the day for a DMin seminar and still had a good three hour drive ahead of him going back home, but he stopped anyway. It didn’t take long before I started to pour my heart out to him and told him that I was about to hang it up and pursue a different career in life. He listened to all I had to say. And then he spent some time helping me REMEMBER. He helped me think back to my calling from God to ministry, he helped me recapture the whole reason why I was doing what I was doing- why doing ministry! He prayed with me and went on his way. As a result, I decided to hang in there. Within the next week, circumstances around my greatest cause of discouragement completely and unexpectedly changed, and I became even more convinced of God’s vision for my life. I put the applications in the garbage.
When opposition comes, pray first, don’t strike back… don’t be discouraged… invite others to pray with you… revise your plan… lean on your support… and remember the Lord!
Look what happens as a result… v. 15, When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to our own work.
The vision continued!