Here’s a question for you. Is it inevitable that you will face opposition if you try to do some good work? Perhaps you could also ask if you want to do any work in a good way, will you face opposition?
You may have your own answer connected to your experience or the experiences of those you know. I am beginning to conclude that opposition is indeed inevitable. Now some will identify that as a revelation of character. The more challenging you are or the more you are an agent of change, the more you are likely to provoke. But I want to invite you to explore your character before you look at outside provocation.
The wall you run into to help us is Nehemiah’s wall which he is gloriously building on a foundation of prayer, wisdom, commission, grace, team work and collaboration. It is a good thing to do. He knows for sure it is in line with the authority of the king, his God and his people. Inevitably he provokes opposition.
In the fourth chapter of his journal you can see the drama of opposition played out. You have already met the opponents. They have names – Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem. They are real figures but they are also archetypes or examples of opposition to good work. This chapter gives you an insight into opposition and struggle and how to handle it.
This opposition expressed itself in four connected ways. Anger, being incensed, ridicule and questions. Later on it gets even uglier but I am going to suggest you sit with these for a moment and learn from them.
Please remember you are looking into Nehemiah’s mind. He will need to face all this opposition but I am proposing that we start with his mind.
Here is my reasoning. For Nehemiah to overcome this external opposition he, like any effective leader, will have to deal with his inner opposition first. For him to overcome the anger and incensed reaction in others he will have to overcome his inner anger. There will be a part of Nehemiah that was angry at himself for putting himself in this position in the first place? Buried deep in his soul there is a voice saying “why did you not stay a cupbearer”? A self preservatory part of him is incensed at the path he has taken. Somewhere in his psyche there will be a mocker that visits him at night and asks “are you crazy?”
How can you be sure of this? I suggest you look back at his prayers, tears, fasting and mourning followed by months of waiting to broach things with the king. It is there that the battles were won. It was there that the walls were built. Before he lifted one foot he was facing his inner struggles.
You can’t weep, mourn, fast and pray over hundreds of years of failure without facing struggle. He would have faced inside of himself the dark anger of his sinful and rebellious nature. He would have wrestled with his rage and faced down his inner conflicts. Well before Sanballat got angry with Nehemiah, Nehemiah had been angry within himself.
Do you honestly think that Nehemiah had not asked “what am I, a feeble Jew thinking of if I believe I can rebuild a wall that no-one else has been able to build for four hundred years?”
Months before Sanballat asked it Nehemiah had already asked it of himself.
Inside himself on his own, Nehemiah would have said “can we restore this wall?” “Will we ever offer sacrifices again?” “Will we finish it in time?” “Can we bring burnt stones back to life?” “Can we turn heaps of rubble to strong walls?” He will have asked “Can I lead the people to build a wall strong enough even to hold a fox let alone a nine foot thick wall to hold a city?”
A good leader will already have battled, struggled, wrestled with his or her demons of doubt, rage, fear, terror, mockery and blame. He or she would already be working on the good work of mind construction and soul restoration.
You know this because, as you will see, Nehemiah did not allow this opposition to overwhelm him. His mental wall held firm long before the Jerusalem wall was under threat.
Here are a couple of closing thoughts. I have studied anger management for many years. One question to ask of the opposition is “what is in it for you if I fail?” It is a diagnostic question. The answer reveals the vested interest of the angry person. For Sanballat, Nehemiah’s wall was a threat to his power-base and with it his financial security as well as all the prestige which came with his post. He stood to lose big time if Nehemiah succeeded – hence his anger.
Now ask this of yourself “What’s in it for me if I fail?” At first sight it’s a strange question. Surely you want to succeed. But this would be to underestimate your own complexity. There could be plenty of advantages to you of failure. If you look at some things in your work which you might consider failures maybe try asking the question “what did I gain from that?” Your inner enemies may have appeared to win but you may have benefited from that lost battle by living the quieter life or by not having to grow. It’s worth a thought.
Paul advised Timothy that if he wanted to live a godly life in Christ he would be persecuted. History, theology and spirituality show you that persecution will come from within and without.
As we look at work as struggle, I am suggesting if you want to achieve anything, that your battles will take place first inside of you. Win those and you will win the war. We’ll see how Nehemiah kept wining as we look further into his journal and of course into his mind.
Nehemiah Chapter 4:1-3
4 Now it came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews. 2 He spoke in the presence of his brothers and the wealthy men of Samaria and said, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Are they going to restore it for themselves? Can they offer sacrifices? Can they finish in a day? Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones?” 3 Now Tobiah the Ammonite was near him and he said, “Even what they are building—if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down!”
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