Staying On Course
Text: Nehemiah 6
Proposition: There are many ways that we can be pulled off course especially when we are being effective in what God has called us to.
Introduction: One of the hardest things to do is to stay on course. If you’ve ever paddled a canoe down any river you’ll know the importance of not getting swept sideways in the current. You’ll know what shallow water looks like, to watch out for where the river narrows and what rocks need to be avoided. What’s quickly evident is that staying on course in a river is anything but a straight line. The other thing is that paddling down a river is an opportunity of being constantly thankful. Thankful for the stability of the boat, thankful for making it around the last bend, thankful for the people with you, and thankful for what you see each moment. Paddling a canoe downstream can be like a metaphor for life, a balancing act that has constant adjustments and endless opportunities to be thankful. This morning let’s look at the next chapter in Nehemiah as he seeks to stay on course in the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. The more effective he is in doing what God has called him to do, the more he is pushed and pulled to the left and the right. That’s true in our lives too, as you stay on course doing what God seeks to do in and through you, the spiritual battle brings distractions and hazards. How you respond to those distractions and hazards will have everything to do with how thankful you are as you get ready to go around the next bend in the river. Have a look at Nehemiah 6.
I. Beware of the Shallows of Compromise.
Nehemiah has led the people in finishing the walls and once the last gates are put on their hinges the city will be a fortress once again. In verse 1 Sanballat and Geshem invite Nehemiah to come to the plains, a cooler spot nearer the ocean. Perhaps the thought was to invite Nehemiah to take a break, perhaps it was to try to forge an alliance but what was evident to Nehemiah is that it would be a move in the wrong direction. Four times they send invitations and four times he refuses them. Compromise is a place that can look inviting but like the shallows of a river it will bring you to a halt. So is all compromise bad, aren’t there times when compromise is a good thing? When it comes to conflict resolution, compromise can be the way through, each party agrees to accept less than what they’d hoped for. The compromise in this passage was different from that. In verse 2 Nehemiah sees that the greater intent is not only to delay the building of Jerusalem, it is to kill him. To see through compromise takes discernment, to read the signs and then to go around it, bypass it. So let me ask a different question. Do you think that God compromises, does He ever settle for less than what He really wanted in order to build His kingdom? Maybe we could ask the question another way, ‘Does God ever bargain with us, a ‘if you do this then I’ll do that’ kind of compromise? I think it would be easy to mistake the patience of God for compromise. Jesus experienced the devil’s strategy, being offered the riches of the world in exchange for compromise. Patiently, persistently, Jesus rejected the compromise. So though God knows compromise He doesn’t use it. God enables Nehemiah and us to navigate past a compromise that would halt our faith, high center our testimony or strand our efforts. And it’s also true, he direct result of narrowly missing a shallows in the river, like compromise, will be to be thankful.
II. Beware of the Narrows of Slander.
A fifth letter comes to Nehemiah and it accuses him of planning a rebellion against the king of Persia, of seeking to make himself king in the newly fortified city of Jerusalem. It even goes so far as to say that he’s hired his own prophets to say ‘There is a king in Judah.’ All of these accusations would amount to treason and Sanballat says he will send these charges to the king of Persia if Nehemiah does not come and consult with him. The strategy is again a thinly disguised effort to get Nehemiah outside the walls of Jerusalem in order to kill him. That’s true enough yet the possibility of this being considered true by the king of Persia would be disastrous. Slander is like the way two large rocks in a river force the water to move through as a rapid. Slander is an accusation that can’t be knocked out of the way, Look at nehemiah’s response in verse 9, “Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands.” It’s like aiming the bow of the canoe right between the two jagged rocks and shooting through the gap between them. The way past slander is to move straight towards it and then past it. We don’t have to go far to answer the question if Christ was ever slandered. How did he handle it, what was His response? When they called Him a glutton and a drunkard because He ate and drank with sinners He did not push back, He pushed forward. There is a certain elation that happens when you shoot the rapids in a river, a shout of praise and a great inner thankfulness. Thanksgiving is that time when the slanderer of your soul is seen for what he is, the devil who seeks your destruction. You see him and you move past by moving through the gap and you praise God as you do.
III. Beware of the Shelter of Sweepers.
On the banks of most rivers are branches that hang out over the water. They might be low hanging spruce branches or soft willows and they look inviting. If you go near them the current typically pushes you towards the bank and the branches which can suddenly seem thicker and lower than at first glance now have the potential to sweep the people and the boat into a snag and then to topple it. Nehemiah goes to a prophet in the city named Shemaiah who tells him, “Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you; indeed, at night they will come to kill you.” The sweeper here is the way fear can be used to pull us close to a place we shouldn’t be. If Nehemiah is in the Temple hiding for his life, then he isn’t on the wall. His actions which at the outset are supposed to be considered wise and prudent would ultimately look like cowardice and self- preservation. If the people see the leaders hiding then the people will hide. Only priests were to go into the inner area of the Temple, Nehemiah was being tempted to forget the truth of what God had set as a boundary point. Look at verse 12, “Then I perceived that God had not sent him at all, but that he pronounced this prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him.” Again Nehemiah has a discernment to see the real verses the counterfeit. It was the same with Jesus. There were many times the enemy sought to deceive Jesus, to sweep Him into failure. ‘Should we pay taxes to Caesar? This woman was caught in the very act of adultery… turn these stones into bread…’. In every case Jesus saw through the ruse of pretense to goodness that had the ultimate aim of destroying His glory. To see the sweepers and to pass by them calls you be thankful for not going near where you shouldn’t be. Be thankful for what you know that now is counted to you as wisdom.
IV. Be Ready For The Eddy.
There’re times on rivers when the valley opens up and the water slows down and you start to drift very slowly. Often there will be these spiraling currents called back eddies usually near the shore. The eddy will just slowly turn you around and though the river goes on by, you remain in the same place. Eddy’s don’t look like much but the only way out is to start paddling, pulling hard until you break free. Look what happened to Nehemiah, in 52 days the wall was rebuilt. For 50 plus years it had been rubble and now in less than 2 months it had been put in place. You’d think that would be the end of it and yet what he says next is that there was this ongoing resistance. “Also they reported his (Tobiah’s) good deeds before me, and reported my words to him. Tobiah sent letters to frighten me.” Satan doesn’t quit, there will be back eddies that just seem to stall you in going forward in your life spiritually. Fear to fail, accusations to defeat, distractions to discourage, the way past is to pull hard on your faith, to see the eddy for what it is, slow water that goes nowhere. Perhaps the thing Jesus did the most when He experienced the back eddy was to pray. When disciples fell asleep in Gethsemane, when the crowds were full of bread and fish, when He first chose the 12… Jesus prayed. Thanksgiving is all about keeping on course, appreciating the way the Lord carries us along and loving the way He so perfectly watches over us.