Ashamed of having a problem? It’s a common feeling among Christians. We are somehow above difficulty – or at least should be. But the Old Testament is full of people who didn’t expect God to protect them from struggles and were not embarrassed by them as we are today. They experienced victory, yes, but only because they fought.
Nehemiah attacked his problems head on. His task was to rebuild Jerusalem’s wall. Israel had just returned from the Babylonian captivity (see Neh. 1-3) and the wall was as essential to Jerusalem’s security as modern radar installations are to the U.S. and other countries. Like today, enemies constantly threatened Israel’s borders.
There was plenty to discourage the returning Israelites. Mockery was one of the first ploys used against Nehemiah by his enemies. “He [Sanballat] spoke in the presence of his brothers … 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?” (Neh. 4:2).
Imagine the laughter and ridicule as Tobiah the Ammonite joined in: “… if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down” (Neh. 4:3).
Mockery was designed to demoralize, so Nehemiah had to take the initiative. His first action is instructive to contemporary Christians. He immediately committed the matter to the Lord. Nehemiah knew that before we pray it is our problem; after we pray, it is God’s.
“Hear, O our God, how we are despised,” he prayed (Neh. 4:4). His abruptness conveys how Nehemiah and the people so thoroughly depended upon God.
It isn’t wrong to pray “on the run,” nor irreverent to come into the presence of God quickly – anywhere or anytime. God has dignity, but that doesn’t mean He isn’t available. “Let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace,” Paul exhorted the Hebrews, “so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).
Such an attitude of prayer shouldn’t exclude the little things. When I suggested to a college student that he pray about a problem, he said, “I can’t bother God with that.” But little things, like termites, can eat away at us and defeat us. A few verses in Philippians urge us to pray about all things: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God” (Phil. 4:6-7).
On a recent camping trip, I realized that I am a God addict. I skipped devotions for a couple of days and became very grouchy and unhappy. But what’s wrong with being addicted to God? William Glasser, a prominent psychiatrist, says that everyone is addicted to something – what’s important is whether or not it is something beneficial. No addiction is more beneficial and positive than prayer.
But prayer is only the beginning of the problem-solving process. Too often we stop instead of start with prayer. It is not a magical formula that ends our problems, once and for all.
Nehemiah prayed about his problem and then faced it. “But we prayed to our God, and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night” (Neh. 4:9). It is not a conflict of faith when we attack our problems. Though some problems defy solutions and require only patient prayer, it is a sign of health when we face them.
Some people retreat from difficulties or deny they exist. Many are ashamed of their struggles because of the prevalent attitude that a Christian life should be problem-free. We hear of people who have been delivered of faults and temptations and think it should be the same with us. We confuse being saved from sin with being saved from struggle. But faith doesn’t spare us from the battle; it prepares us to face it.
PRAYER CAN BE dangerous whenever it becomes a substitute for needed action. Moses and Israel were rebuked for this when they faced what seemed to be an impossible situation – Pharaoh and his armies behind, the Red Sea ahead. Frustrated, Moses and the people cried out to God. “Why are you crying out to Me?” God interrupted. “Tell the sons of Israel to go forward” (Ex. 14:15). There is a time to pray about a problem and there is a time to do something about it… to face it.
Take Malcolm Jones. Traveling in a light airplane, he and his friend crashed in the Florida Everglades. In pitch darkness he discovered that his friend was bleeding profusely. With only the moonlight to guide him, Jones started through the swamps for medical assistance. But soon he met a terrifying obstacle. Wading in chest-high water, he saw in front of him a row of green eyes. In the middle was a larger pair of eyes, widely separated. He was in an alligator nest.
As Jones faced the mother alligator, her babies beside her, a voice within him said, “Lo, I am with you always.” Grasping that promise, he walked straight towards the glowing eyes, talking as he went. “Mother alligator, I’m not going to hurt you or your children, but I’ve got to go for help for my friend.” The alligator bellowed fiercely, then suddenly quieted and swam away, followed by her offspring. Though he did not count, Jones said he must have walked through a dozen alligators’ nests to eventually save his friend’s life and learn an unforgettable lesson: Always face your problems.
The experiences of Nehemiah and Malcolm Jones suggest a simple motto for Christians today – after praying about a problem, faith it.
But Nehemiah went even further in attacking the problem. His enemies tried again to defeat him, this time by distracting the workmen with rumors of war and ambush. Nehemiah responded by urging the people to continue working while holding their weapons: “…half my servants,” he explains in Neh. 4:16-17, “carried on the work while half of them held the spears, the shields, the bows, and the breastplates … Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon.”
Nehemiah was not sidelined by his difficulties. His example supplies us with another important life principle: continue building.
Too often we come to terms with our problems at the expense of completing a worthwhile task. A housewife resigns from her Sunday school class because of marital problems. Or a young person, struggling through school, gives up on Christ. Perhaps a church leader considers surrendering his ministry because of a business setback.
Obsessed with our own difficulties, jobs are left unfinished. I recently felt like giving up my ministry. I had to remind myself that it is all right to have problems. People who accomplish something are not only those who get the breaks, but those who are not broken. Success requires building, despite the hardships.
Dr. Charles Sell, Moody