Sunday’s sermon didn’t get recorded! So, here’s a short summary.
Series: “Rebuilding After Covid Exile – Gleanings from Nehemiah”
Title: Spiritual Warfare
Readings: Ephesians 6 and Nehemiah 6
As Nehemiah undertook the work that God had given him to do, he experienced intense opposition. His opponents tried to intimidate him and fill him with fear so that the work would stop, Nehemiah would hide, and his name come into disrepute.
As we (the Church) undertake the work that God has given us, we will experience intense opposition. Our opponent (Satan) will try to intimidate us and fill us with fear so that the work will stop, we will hide, and the name of Christ will come into disrepute.
Our work consists of making disciples, loving God, and loving people and is expressed in our mission statement as, “A loving community desiring to know God, share Christ, and care for people.”
But we must face the reality that Satan wants to disrupt this work. Whether things appear to be going smoothly or roughly, we are always under constant attack. The devil is a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8), a murderer and a liar (John 8:44), and a trickster (Matthew 16:23) and he wants to intimidate us and fill us with fear so that God’s purposes for us will be thwarted.
So, what do we learn from Nehemiah in Nehemiah 6 that can help us? Four things, I believe:
i) Just Keep Working
Nehemiah’s opponents asked him to meet with him. Knowing that they were up to no good, he simply said: “I’m doing important work so I can’t come down.”
Frustrated by this, Nehemiah’s opponents started a public campaign of misinformation. Knowing that they were spreading lies, he simply said: “You’re just inventing this.”
Similarly, Satan will try to draw us out to get us to spend time doing things that distract us from the work God has called us to do. He is also the arch-accuser and so we can expect him to make all sorts of accusations against us.
Our best response is to say, “No, God has called us to make disciples and that’s what we’re going to do. We’re not going to get caught up in other things that distract us from God’s purposes.”
ii) Just Keep Praying
The book of Nehemiah is peppered throughout with short prayers. This chapter is no different and contains this short prayer: “… but now God, strengthen me!”
It’s no secret that I’m a great fan of short prayers, and my favourite go-to short prayer is, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
I love his prayer because it’s so comprehensive – to ask for mercy includes asking for any good thing you could ask for e.g. strength, wisdom, forgiveness, healing, … whatever!
The 5th century Church Father, John Cassian, was also a huge fan of the often-repeated short prayer. His was Psalm 70:1 – “O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me.”
What’s your go-to short prayer? May I encourage you to choose one and let it be ever on your lips, and you will find that God is present with you to help you in every circumstance you’re in.
In Ephesians 6, Paul’s final instruction to the Ephesians regarding Spiritual Warfare was, “Offer prayers and petitions in the Spirit at all times.”
At all times!
iii) Just Keep Standing
Nehemiah begins to receive death threats! Shemaiah says to him, “They are coming to kill you, they are coming to kill you tonight!”
And then Shemaiah basically advises Nehemiah to stop working, run away, and hide for his life!
Nehemiah handles this with two rhetorical questions which amount to something like this in our vernacular: “What do you take me for? A coward?!”
He wouldn’t be cowed into fearful retreat and hiding. All he was concerned about was getting the job done. So, he stood firm in the purposes of God.
In Paul’s instructions to the Ephesians regarding Spiritual Warfare he says, “Therefore, pick up the full armour of God so that you can stand your ground on the evil day and after you have done everything possible to still stand.”
In other words – don’t run away, just keep standing and don God’s armour, namely: truth, justice, peace, faith, salvation, the Word, and prayer!
iv) Just Keep Discerning
After Nehemiah ignored Shemaiah’s dodgy advice he says, “Then I realised God hadn’t sent him at all.”
Of course, hindsight is usually 20-20, but often God gives us foresight – the ability to see what is really going on; to see through what is on the surface to what lies beneath.
And we need to constantly seek this foresight so that we can discern things and say, like Nehemiah, “We realise this isn’t from God.”
1 John 4:1 tells us to “test the spirits” and 1 Thessalonians 5:21 tells us to, “examine everything carefully and hang on to what is good.”
So, we have a biblically sanctioned level of scepticism where we need not just accept things the way they appear to be but to seek to look deeper to find out what’s really the case. And yet, we need to be careful to not go overboard with all sorts of weird conspiracy theories.
We must remember that though the Devil can use people (think of Jesus rebuking Peter in Matthew 16 by saying, “Get behind me Satan”), our real enemy is always Satan.
Paul says in Ephesians 6 – “…our battle is not against human enemies… [but against] rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavenly realms.”
In all this, we must also remember the most important fact: our Lord Jesus duelled with the Devil in the desert and defeated him (read Matthew 4) and so we do not need to fear him. We simply need to resists him and submit to God (see 1 Peter 5).
“Lord Jesus Christ, Head of the Church. Have mercy on your Body, amen.”