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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 1045am Svc, 2010-09-05

Text: Nehemiah 4:1-14

The road of life is not an easy road to travel. I am sure everyone here can testify to that! There are many responsibilities to bear - As a Christian you are responsible to obey God and please Him in everything you do. As a son or daughter, you have a responsibility to your parents. And if you have family you are also responsible to your spouse and children. If you are employed, you are responsible to fulfill the work that you are paid to do. If you are a student, you are responsible to attend lectures, keep up with your studies and CCA and pass every test and exam. In every place you go, there are a whole host of high expectations, demands and stressful challenges that you simply have to face - standards and deadlines to meet, difficult people that you have to put up with, and on top of all that, you have your own personal weaknesses and limitations to struggle with. And sometimes all these can be quite overwhelming. How in the world do you cope with them?

But one thing that can really help us to face these trials and meet all these challenges well is to have good morale. With a healthy morale you will have the resolve to press on even when the going gets very rough. In fact, the morale you have can make all the difference between living a defeated life and living a victorious life!

Good morale can make all the difference between winning and losing. This is something that many youths must have experienced at the recent Youth Olympics. Their ability to perform was affected extensively by their morale, and their coaches played a crucial role to boost their morale with a pep talk just before each event. Some have testified that in events where solid endurance is needed like the triathlon, the sight of a cheering crowd can do wonders to help them. The same strategy is applied in business - motivational talks and seminars are often organised for executives to boost their will to succeed.

Good morale can also help to build up a nation. We all know that our government has been investing a lot in National Education. They make each National Day celebration very grand and memorable. They talk about the Singapore spirit. Why are they doing all this? It is because unless we Singaporeans are thoroughly motivated we may not have the will to overcome our challenges we face and work together to achieve the progress that Singapore needs. 

Having seen how useful it is to have good morale, let us seek to apply this principle to living the Christian life. We must diligently maintain the firm resolve to keep pressing onward and upward in living for Christ with God's help. We must keep growing spiritually and keep ourselves aflame for Christ and committed to godliness.

However, as much as we try to keep our morale good and strong, we must be aware that there is an Enemy out there who is constantly seeking ways and means to discourage us and even disable us from running our race. The apostle Peter calls him our Adversary, the Devil and he describes him as a roaring lion that prowls about seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). The apostle Paul describes him as the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2) who shoots fiery darts at us (Ephesians 5:16). He also says that we must not be ignorant of the devices he uses to take full advantage of our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 2:11). And he attacks us especially when we are spiritually weak and vulnerable, and when we let our guard down. We must therefore make good use of the spiritual armour God has provided to protect ourselves against his attacks.

This morning we are going to look into the book of Nehemiah to learn about how the Enemy can discourage us, and also about how we should respond to discouragement in a way that prevents more damage and that moves toward healing our wounds.

Nehemiah was the man that God raised up to accomplish an important task - to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. This rebuilding work took place after the Jews had been released from their Babylonian captivity in 539 BC. Despite all their efforts however, they faced plenty of opposition from their hostile neighbours and they only managed to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem in the first 20 years. 

After about 80 years the walls of the city were still in ruins. When Nehemiah heard about this sad state of affairs he became so burdened with it that he resolved to obtain permission from the Persian king to let him return to his homeland to rebuild the walls. Chapter 2 of the book tells us how greatly encouraged Nehemiah was when the King not only gave him permission to do what he requested, but also provided all that Nehemiah needed to accomplish the work. When Nehemiah returned, the first thing he did was to survey the walls to get an idea of the scale of the work. Then he gathered all the Jewish leaders together and he convinced them all to begin rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. With one accord they said, 'Let us arise and build!' 

The 3rd chapter of the book tells us how they proceeded to do this - The city wall was divided into 42 sections, and each section was assigned to a group or family to build. But problems soon began to appear in chapter 4. These were caused primarily by the hostile people who lived all around them: There were the Samaritans on the north, led by Sanballat, the Ammonites on the east led by Tobiah, The Arabians on the south led by Geshem, and the Ashdodites who were the remnants of the Philistines on the west. Let us turn our Bibles to Nehemiah 4:1-14 and to see what these hostile neighbours did (Read the text).

We observe that the device their enemies used in vv.2-3 against the Jews was destructive criticism (4:2,3). Essentially they were saying that Jews were totally incapable of building the wall of Jerusalem. How unkind they were to say such hurtful things about the Jews who were working so hard at that time, putting their blood, sweat and tears into building the stone wall every day under the blazing sun. Dear friends, have you ever received such unkind criticism before? If you have, how did you respond to it? Did you retaliate against those who criticize you with words that are just as unkind? 

Let us learn from Nehemiah's response as given in vv.4-5 'Hear, O our God; for we are despised: and turn their reproach upon their own head, and give them for a prey in the land of captivity: And cover not their iniquity, and let not their sin be blotted out from before thee: for they have provoked thee to anger before the builders.' These words were spoken to God, and not to those who had spoken against the Jews.

Here we see that Nehemiah did not react at all to their criticism. He did not retaliate against the enemies with equally unkind words. Neither should you react when you receive destructive criticism from others. Resist the urge to hit back at the one who criticized you. Instead of doing that, you should turn to God and pour out all your hurt feelings to Him. This is what Nehemiah did when he prayed, 'Hear, O our God; for we are despised.' Whenever you are discouraged you must go to God in prayer immediately and tell Him exactly how you discouraged you are. And God will grant you His sufficient grace to overcome your discouragment.

You will also notice that Nehemiah prayed that God Himself will take all the necessary action against the enemy. He said, 'turn their reproach upon their own head, and give them for a prey in the land of captivity: And cover not their iniquity, and let not their sin be blotted out from before thee'That doesn't sound very nice, does it? In fact it sounds quite similar to the imprecatory psalms of David. For example in Psalm 58:6, David wrote, 'Break their teeth, O God, in their mouth: break out the great teeth of the young lions, O LORD.' In Psalm 109:10 he wrote, 'Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg: let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places.' And yet, it is a well-known fact that David was most generous in his personal dealings with his enemies. When he had his bitterest and most dangerous enemy in his hand (King Saul), he not only refused to kill him, but he refused to let another person lay his hands on him (1 Samuel 26:5-9). And when he became king, David showed kindness to the remaining descendant of Saul, Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 9:1-2,11).

And so we must understand that all these so-called imprecations or curses of David or Nehemiah had no malicious intent in them. They were merely expressing to God the deep grief and pain they felt in their hearts over the enemy's malicious attacks. They were not in any way demanding or commanding God to do unkind things to their enemies, for no one can tell God what to do. David and Nehemiah were merely committing all their burdens and hurt feelings to the Lord and letting Him do whatever He sees fit to their enemies. 

This is actually a good practice to follow in your response to any unjust criticism that makes you discouraged. Pour out all your feelings to God frankly and honestly, and then just rest your case with Him. Be content to know that God will deal appropriately with the ones who have criticized you unjustly in His own good time. This was what the Jews did in v.9 of our text 'Nevertheless we made our prayer unto our God.' The result of this is in v.15 'God had brought all their counsel to nought' It is God's work! Romans 12:19 tells us: 'Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.' 

Now, besides handling the enemy's attack in the right manner, we may also at times need to handle the things that the enemy says against us. Let us look now at the unkind things the enemies were saying about Nehemiah and the Jews in v.2,3, 'What do these feeble Jews? will they fortify themselves? will they sacrifice? will they make an end in a day? will they revive the stones out of the heaps of the rubbish which are burned?...If a fox were to jump on the wall he shall even break down their stone wall.' Essentially this means that all their hard work is futile. It will all amount to nothing.

Have you ever been discouraged by the awful thought that all your loving devotion and service for God, for the Church or for your Christian friends is of no value at all, and is not accomplishing anything good? If you give in to such thoughts you are actually playing right into Enemy's hands. The Devil is very skilful at using people to criticize all your good efforts especially when you are down. 

For instance, when Job was afflicted beyond all measure his own wife came and told him, 'Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God, and die.' (Job 2:9) She was telling him, 'Job, what's the point of being so devoted and faithful to God, if this is what you get in return? You may as well just curse God and die!' Perhaps you have been doing so much for the Lord, only to find that you are not doing as well as those who have done nothing for Him, or worse still, you are not doing as well as those who are against you.

One person who experienced this was the writer of Psalm 73. He was a godly person who was thoroughly discouraged when he saw how greatly the wicked prospered while he who lived righteously seemed to be in a most miserable state. Let us read what he said in vv.13-14 'Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency. For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning.' He was almost at the point of giving up his righteous living and following the wicked.

How should you respond when people keep telling you that all that you are doing is in vain? Or when the Devil himself sows those seeds of doubt in your heart that you may as well give up your efforts because all your labour is apparently for nothing? He tries to convince you that the hours you have invested in the Word of God, in prayer, in worship, in fellowship and evangelism have not yielded the expected results, and you will be much better off doing whatever the world is doing instead. 

Look now at v.6 of our text, and you will see that Nehemiah and the Jews responded by working even harder! 'So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work.' Instead of allowing themselves to be discouraged by the words of their enemies, they seemed to be even more determined to work than ever! How in the world were they able to respond like this? I believe that what made the difference here was their faith. Faith provides us with the insight we need in order to perceive things correctly. Things that may appear to be very foolish and useless in the eyes of the world will turn out to be most profitable and worthwhile only when we see them with eyes of faith.

Faith takes hold of the firm assurance God gives us in 1 Corinthians 15:58, 'Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.' God has said it. I believe it. That settles it! Whenever we take God at His Word our vision becomes a lot sharper. By faith we can see that our labour is really not in vain at all. It may not seem to be producing the visible results that the world demands, but by faith we know that God has guaranteed the good outcome. 

And this explains the unusual response of Nehemiah and the Jews who were building the wall. By faith they were able to see right through the enemy's attempts to discourage them. This made them even more determined than ever before to complete the work. And so the criticism that was intended to discourage them ended up encouraging them instead! The enemies must have been baffled and even shocked to see that the wall was now halfway to completion! 

Listen to this carefully. When you are doing the right thing God wants you to do, the difficulties and obstacles you face may well be an indication that you are actually on the right track, and therefore you must never give up. Some years ago I received an email from sister Chan Pui Meng when she was serving the Lord in Kenya at a mission station which had gone through plenty of difficulties. She wrote: 'Surely Kiluani needs a lot of prayers. It has been a difficult work right from the start but someone said to me that the degree of difficulties of a work is an indication of its effectiveness, as Satan is active to destroy that which is good.' This means that the more difficulties we face in the Lord's work the more determined we ought to be to persevere and get it done with His help.

What you should do then, whenever you are discouraged by the things that are being said against you, is to take a good look at the whole situation from God's perspective. Ask yourself why these hurtful things are being said at this time. And when you are convinced that what you are doing is God's will, then seek the Lord for His grace and strength to rise up and continue with it!

This was the way that Nehemiah and the Jews responded to criticism - Instead of being discouraged by it, they all had a mind to work. They became even more determined to complete the rebuilding of the wall (v.6). And after overcoming many other obstacles they finally completed the wall within just 52 days (6:15,16)! This was truly an amazing feat in those days, considering the building methods they used at that time. As a result of this the Lord was glorified and the enemies became the ones who were utterly discouraged! Look at Nehemiah 6:16 'And it came to pass, that when all our enemies heard thereof, and all the heathen that were about us saw these things, they were much cast down in their own eyes: for they perceived that this work was wrought of our God.'

We have just seen how Nehemiah and the Jews responded so well to the criticism of their enemies by turning to God to deal with them and by working even harder through faith. I trust that what you have learned from the study of this passage in Nehemiah 4 today will help you to be mindful of Satan's schemes to discourage you. The main application for you is to press on with whatever God diects you to do in your journey of life. Whatever difficulties you face, you must keep your morale high, because God is with you every step of the way. Keep saying to yourself, 'By my own strength I can do nothing, but I can do all things through Christ which strengthenth me' (Philippians 4:13).

There is another lesson that we ought to learn from this. Do not let your talk discourage others. While we seek to overcome discouragement, we must also learn not to cause discouragement to others. Please be careful with the words that you speak or write to others, lest you unwittingly become a source of someone's discouragement. We are warned in James 3 that the tongue 'is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.' (v.8) Your tongue can inflict untold pain and damage if you are not careful. But if it is used well under the Holy Spirit's control, it can be used to comfort, to encourage, edify and strengthen others. That is what you should always use it for. 

In v.14, we see Nehemiah doing this quite well 'And I looked and rose up, and said unto the nobles, and to the rulers and to the rest of the people, Be not afraid of them: remember the Lord, which is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your houses.' And then in v.20, after giving the instructions to the Jews, he ended with the words, 'Our God shall fight for us.' What inspiring words there are - full of conviction and full of encouragement. Nehemiah was tuly an excellent encourager. We need to have such people today.

Among the spiritual gifts that God has given to the Church is the gift of encouragement. If you have this gift, please use it well. The Church needs it! And even if you do not have the gift of encouragement, you can still do your part to give a little encouragement to others. It doesn't necessarily require much time and effort from you. Here is an assignment for all of us: Before this day ends, think of someone who needs encouragement and send a little note to him. It may make a difference in the way he goes through the week ahead. Let us realize that even a little word of encouragement you give can go a long way to help others.

And what is the best way to encourage a person? Point them to the Lord. This was the basis of Nehemiah's encouragement - He directed the people to the Lord in v.14 ('Remember the Lord.') and in v.20 ('Our God shall fight for us.'). That is the best thing you can do to encourage anyone to press on. And that is also the best way to be encouraged - Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Meditate on His love for you, and on all that He has done for you. Think of the great victory that He has won for you and all the marvellous blessings that He has purchased for you. There is really nothing that can encourage you better than the thought of our Lord Jesus Christ!

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25