But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs, Ammonites, and Ashdodites heard that the work was going ahead and that the gaps in the wall were being repaired, they became furious. They all made plans to come and fight against Jerusalem and to bring about confusion there. But we prayed to our God and guarded the city day and night to protect ourselves. Then the people of Judah began to complain that the workers were becoming tired. There was so much rubble to be moved that we could never get it done by ourselves. Meanwhile, our enemies were saying, “Before they know what’s happening, we will swoop down on them and kill them and end their work.”
The Jews who lived near the enemy came and told us again and again, “They will come from all directions and attack us!” So I placed armed guards behind the lowest parts of the wall in the exposed areas. I stationed the people to stand guard by families, armed with swords, spears, and bows. Then as I looked over the situation, I called together the leaders and the people and said to them, “Don’t be afraid of the enemy! Remember the LORD, who is great and glorious, and fight for your friends, your families, and your homes!”
When our enemies heard that we knew of their plans and that God had frustrated them, we all returned to our work on the wall. But from then on, only half my men worked while the other half stood guard with spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. The officers stationed themselves behind the people of Judah who were building the wall. The common laborers carried on their work with one hand supporting their load and one hand holding a weapon. All the builders had a sword belted to their side. The trumpeter stayed with me to sound the alarm. Then I explained to the nobles and officials and all the people, “The work is very spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall. When you hear the blast of the trumpet, rush to wherever it is sounding. Then our God will fight for us!”
We worked early and late, from sunrise to sunset. And half the men were always on guard. I also told everyone living outside the walls to move into Jerusalem. That way they and their servants could go on guard duty at night as well as work during the day. During this time, none of us—not I, nor my relatives, nor my servants, nor the guards who were with me—ever took off our clothes. We carried our weapons with us at all times, even when we went for water. Nehemiah 4:7 - 23 (NLT)
You’ve probably watched (or at least heard of) the reality TV show called “Fear Factor”. People face their fears. Some things they have to do are really disgusting. They eat worms, bugs, and parts of formerly living creatures! I do not qualify [ever] as a contestant!
What is your greatest fear? Is it sickness, the unexpected big bill, an accident, growing old? Is it death, losing your good looks, spiders………really big spiders?
What exactly IS fear? There are many synonyms used to identify fear – worry, nightmare, terror, and phobia. There are all kinds of words to describe that most common life-paralyzing event called fear. There is fear of closed-in places, claustrophobia. There are people who are afraid to leave the familiar confines of their homes, agoraphobia. I used to love to climb trees as a kid; now I can’t stand heights…it’s a phobia, a fear!
We have all experienced what it feels like to fear.
Dr. Walter Cannon, a pioneer researcher in psychosomatic medicine at Harvard Univ., describes what happens to the human body when it becomes angry or fearful:
Respiration deepens; the heart beats more rapidly; the arterial pressure rises; the blood is shifted from the stomach and intestines to the heart, central nervous system, and the muscles; the processes of the alimentary canal cease; sugar is freed from the reserves in the liver; the spleen contracts and discharges its contents of concentrated corpuscles, and adrenalin is secreted."
Fear can rob you of your life. Faith was a better game plan for Nehemiah, and it will work even with the worst fear factor.
Nehemiah’s enemies plotted to cause confusion and discouragement among the Jews. Had Nehemiah played it safe, he would have thrown-in with Sanballat and Tobiah and their Ammonite-Ashdodite neighbors and the walls of Jerusalem would have remained in rubble. He would have gotten an “A” for political-correctness, but God in heaven would have been shaking His head in disgust!
So, how do we follow God in the face of our most overwhelming fears? Notice the pattern that emerges from the life and ministry of Nehemiah; when it comes to fear…
Problems never seem to come at a good time. And often you're in the middle of trying to fix one problem when another problem comes. And it's often when we weakened by the struggle that Satan will try to make things even worse in hopes that we will give up.
When you stop and consider that our wrestling match in life is not with the bills, our health, the weather or some English teacher that got up on the wrong side of the bed, but rather our battles are against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Eph 6.12).
Jesus told us about this cosmic struggle.
The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give life in all its fullness. John 10:10 (NLT)
Our fears do not come from facing the everyday cares of life – they come because there is a larger struggle going on in this fallen world.
You can expect a struggle with fear because Satan’s main goal is to keep folks away from a relationship with our loving God. He wants to keep you out of heaven. Now, if he has already failed at that because you’ve given your life to Jesus, and He has saved you…Satan’s next priority is to keep you from living a full life. In short, the devil wants to steal eternal life and the joy of abundant living here on earth. Expect fear to cross your pathway! And, when it shows up…
Fear is contagious. In Nehemiah’s case the job of rebuilding the walls seemed [and was] next to impossible. The grumbling started when the long hours and hard work began to overwhelm some of the weaker builders. That played right to the hand of the enemy. They threatened constantly. They began rumors; trash talkin’ was born!
This is typical for enemies. The radio voice of “Tokyo Rose” talked to the G.I.’s in World War II. She had that smooth-as-silk voice that was supposed to convince soldiers their cause was hopeless. Rumor is always the weapon of choice for evil.
Nehemiah dealt with the rumor mill in two ways. First, he prayed. In addition, he gathered the people together for encouragement. This exposes fear for what it is…unbelief that must be stopped.
In your own life there are fears that can cause you to come unglued. That will not happen if you enlist your family to pray. One of the reasons you are encouraged to attend church often and to be involved in whatever happens here, is not to wear you out – it is to build you up! Consider what Jude, the brother of Jesus said:
But you, dear friends, must continue to build your lives on the foundation of your holy faith. And continue to pray as you are directed by the Holy Spirit. Live in such a way that God’s love can bless you as you wait for the eternal life that our Lord Jesus Christ in his mercy is going to give you. Jude 1:20-21 (NLT)
Expect fear, and when it shows up, expose it and then…
How did Nehemiah encourage the people to “engage” their fears?
Then as I looked over the situation, I called together the leaders and the people and said to them, “Don’t be afraid of the enemy! Remember the LORD, who is great and glorious, and fight for your friends, your families, and your homes!” Nehemiah 4.14 (NLT)
The problem with most of our fears is that we allow them to become invincible dragons in our minds, rather than engaging them in warfare.
An old German proverb says, Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is. Nehemiah put swords in the hands of the builders and brick carriers; he gave them instructions on what to do when the trumpet sounded, and he reminded them they were fighting for their families and their way of life. That’s how to engage your fears.
When the outgo is greater than the income and your upkeep threatens to be your downfall, engage your fear – meet it with faith that says He is able to supply every need.
When the doctor says there isn’t a cure, remember to engage that monster with the faith that says you’ve got THE Great Physician on the case.
When rumors fly about that job, your reputation, the economy, election outcomes, engage fear by being a person of faith. You may not have any sense of what the outcome will be or what God is up to – but faith is just that which walks without sight…otherwise it wouldn’t be faith.
As a believer, engaging our fears means putting our faith to work. Paul reminded Timothy:
I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. Phil. 4:13 (KJV)
When fear offers itself you should not tremble – expect it.
When fear arrives you should not wonder – expose it.
When fear threatens, don’t grumble or run – engage it!
When fear falls flat –
How many fishermen do we have here? What do you do with the catch after you get the scales off? You eviscerate it; you disembowel, or fillet the tasty little fellow.
Oh, this is the part I like! (No, I don’t have a thing for fish innards). Notice what Nehemiah did. There was a huge task that required men…not children to complete.
However, even men can become afraid.
When Nehemiah called the people together he didn’t mince words. He told the workers they had a tough enemy out there, and the working hours were going to be long and hard. But he also communicated the game plan with a fillet-knife:
He told them to carry their weapons – do you have a Bible?
He told them to be watchful – do you pray?
He told them to listen for the trumpet call – are you ready to serve?
He posted a guard – are you disciplined in spiritual things?
Readiness was the theme for dealing with the enemies of Ashdod and Ammon. Staying at ready eviscerates fear too. Nehemiah encouraged the people to face their fears, and that is the key in spiritual matters or family, business or any part of life.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said,
Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.
The first step in doing what you fear is always the hardest. The promise of Jesus is always, take it – and I’ll handle the fear factor!