Note: This message in its entirety covers much of Nehemiah 4. Due to the length of that passage, it is not included here, but reading it is recommended.
Four Ways to Turn Opposition into Joy
1. Expect it
Anyone who steps into a position of responsibility in any organization and on any level, must be prepared to pay the price of opposition. “No leader is exempt from criticism, and his humility will nowhere be seen more clearly than in the manner in which he accepts and reacts to it.” (J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, p. 110) Do you think that Nehemiah expected to show up, say a few words, build the wall, and get back to Susa without so much as a hitch?
“There will always, always be opposition from those who are, by nature, negative and critical. But the work must go on. Progress should not stop because a few were critical of the plan.” (Charles Swindoll, Hand Me Another Brick) It is a falsely idealistic view of ministry and life to think that it will be without conflict. Nehemiah faced it, Jeremiah faced it, Paul faced it, Jesus faced it, and the early church faced it. We are naive to think that a church or any organization that involves people will be free from it. In fact, there is a key truth here, God’s will didn’t allow the wall to be built without opposition!
Could God have built that wall without any Sanballats? Sure he could. But within his will for Nehemiah and the people building the wall was Sanballat and Tobiah and the conflict, slander, and threats they made.
Might you have a Sanballat in your life right now? Are you living with the consequences of a Tobiah? Might God have placed Sanballat there for your good and even for your joy? This is 1 Peter’s point with all trials. While painful, they are good because of their effect. The pain isn’t good, but what the pain reveals and refines in us is good. Therefore, embrace the trial.
Too often when criticism comes, we think we must be out of God’s will because Mrs. So and So doesn’t seem to be on board. So and so said such and such about our this or that; we must be displeasing God! Joe Stowell once said, “In every church I have pastored, God has placed difficult people around me to keep me dependent on him.” Opposition is not out of God’s will, it’s a part of God’s will. Look at the life and death of Jesus and ask, is opposition part of God’s will? The greater the potential for God to be glorified, the greater the expectation we can have for opposition to it.
If I might make a small tangent at this point, you may be here and in an honest evaluation, you’re not Nehemiah in the story, you tend to be Sanballat. You find yourself regularly at the center of controversy or you thrive on conflict. While it is God’s will for there to be Sanballats, it is never God’s will for us to be a Sanballat. Why was Sanballat so concerned about the wall? Was it the wall or because Nehemiah represented a threat to him? Was it the wall or his finances? His power? Conflict unveils the idols and real motives of the heart. Sanballats are on full display. Don’t be a Sanballat.
2. Pray for it
Look at what Nehemiah does. “Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads and give them up to be plundered in a land where they are captives.” (Nehemiah 4:4) What’s Nehemiah’s strategy? He prays! He prays a strong prayer here asking God to turn their evil back on them. The point is that Nehemiah took the matter to God. And he didn’t just do it in verse 4. In verses 6-8 comes the troublemaking and scheming. What does Nehemiah do? “And we prayed to our God.” (Verse 9) When we face opposition that has been sovereignly brought to us by God, we must believe that God has the power to overcome it. Ask him to do so.
Trouble comes and Nehemiah’s on his knees in prayer. We see the same thing with our Lord Jesus. In fact, what was the last thing he did before facing the scourging and the beating, the betrayal and false accusations; what did he do on the cross itself? He prayed at Gethsemane. He prayed on the cross. His last words were prayers.
Do you do that? Do you lay that critical person before God and say, Okay God, here it is. I believe that I am doing your work and here is opposition, please help! I find that when I do that, it makes me more charitable even toward my perceived enemy. It makes me a little more open to even loving my enemy as Scripture and Jesus’ example calls me to do. I see them as God’s tool in my life rather than my enemy. With that, comes a glimmer of joy.
3. Prepare for it
Notice that Nehemiah didn’t simply pray, he took actions to meet the opposition:
- “And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them.” (Verse 9)
- Verse 13 describes how Nehemiah armed the workers so they could respond to an attack.
- He put armed guards at the low spots in the wall (Verses 12-15)
- He had the workers work with a chisel in one hand and a sword in the other. (Verses 16-18)
- He brought a trumpeter with him so that if an attack came, people could rush to the spot of attack. (Verses 18-20)
- He had the people stay inside the city until the wall was done (Verse 22).
We certainly should expect opposition and pray for those who oppose us. This also tells us to be prudent and wise in preparing and responding to it.
After we have prayed, and after we have prepared, joy comes because of this fourth and final point.
4. Fear not, God will fight it
“And I said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, ‘The work is great and widely spread, and we are separated on the wall, far from one another. In the place where you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.’” (Nehemiah 4:19-20, emphasis added)
In both of these cases, Nehemiah turns the peoples’ attention, not to his preparations, or his leadership, or their ability to fight, but to the God of heaven who is “great and awesome” and who is the “God who will fight for us.”
Herein lies the key to turning opposition into joy. When we recognize that the Sanballats and Tobiahs that rise against us are sovereignly placed in our paths by God himself, and that the crisis which they bring will always work out for our good (Romans 8:28), then there is a source of joy to look into their faces (snarls and all) and to realize, My God will fight for me!
Friends, expect it, pray for it, prepare for it, but do not fear the opposition that will come, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31) The echo of that truth, is joy. And that is the joy of opposition.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
©2015 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
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