Resilience in a Tough World; Lessons from Nehemiah

By Pastor Emmanuel Akatukunda

Back in the day we used to sing a song that went like this: “Life is full of perplexing situations…but we can have victory over every matter if we learn to wait upon the Lord.” For many of us there are many situations that work against us. It is clear that God has given us a vision; that we have goals but there are serious obstacles on our way. Whether it is an unexpected terminal illness, a financial or business crunch, or family disruptions. There are many examples of people in the Bible who demonstrated resilience in tough times. Resilience is the ability to recover or bounce back after going through tough situations. Today we will focus on Nehemiah, a man who showed an exceptional quality of resilience as he led his countrymen to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem amidst very harsh external opposition of Israel’s enemies and internal spiritual decline of the people of Jerusalem.

1. Faith in God

To have faith is to put our total trust in God. This is very important if we are to be resilient. When you have faith in God you will pray, knowing that God will help you. He will guide you. He will open unexpected doors. He will give you the strength that you need. You will gain the confidence to confront the insurmountable circumstances in your life. He will give you wisdom on how to deal with certain situations. When Nehemiah was faced with opposition, he turned to God for protection. In Nehemiah 4, we read that

Sanballat…ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble —burned as they are?” Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!” (Nehemiah 4:1-3). This is how Nehemiah responded: Hear us, our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity (Nehemiah 4:4).

Because of his faith in God, he was also able to encourage his team: After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” Nehemiah 4:14

2. Focus on The Goal

Resilient people keep focused on the main goal. At the same time, set out short term goals that you want to accomplish. Learn to celebrate once you achieve a milestone, even if it doesn’t seem to be that great. Over time, those seemingly small milestones will compound to great accomplishments. Focus helps us to put our present challenges in perspective. In Romans 8:18, Apostle Paul reminds us that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

Nehemiah faced opposition from his enemies but He remained focused on the main goal. In Nehemiah 6:1-4 we read that
2 Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.” But they were scheming to harm me; 3 so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” 4 Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer.

He did not give room to the enemy to distract him. He remained focused. It can be very easy to give up or be distracted if we do not keep the big picture in focus and also learn to start small and celebrate every milestone we accomplish. Learn to celebrate the process. Do not deprive yourself joy because you are waiting to celebrate when you reach that big goal. Learn to discern how God is at work even in those seemingly mundane things—and give him thanks.

3. First Things First

Resilient people know how to put first things first. They have their priorities right. Many times, we struggle a lot because we do not have our priorities right. This causes us a lot of stress and anxiety. Setting the right priorities will save you from unnecessary pressure. You will learn to say “no” to certain things including good ones. You will know how best to spend your energy, time and other resources. You will focus most of your energies on things that really matter. You need to ask, “What has God called me to be?” This is a question about your vocation. The second question is about your life’s purpose and vision. What on earth am I here for? How does God want me to live for Him and serve Him? How has God equipped me to serve His purpose? This has to do with your gifts, passions, training, experiences and perhaps resources.

Nehemiah was a man who had his priorities right. The project was about rebuilding the wall but ministry was to the people. The goal was God’s honor and glory. It is no wonder that when he received the news about the broken walls of Jerusalem, the first thing he did was to pray, fast, repent and ask for God’s favor. “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 1:4).

When Nehemiah received reports that some of the vulnerable people in Jerusalem were treated unjustly by their rich and powerful countrymen, he intervened (Nehemiah 5:1-19). It wouldn’t help much to build a wall but within it were people who were deeply wounded and divided. Nehemiah 5:6-8 says:
6 When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. 7 I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, “You are charging your own people interest!” So I called together a large meeting to deal with them 8 and said: “As far as possible, we have bought back our fellow Jews who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your own people, only for them to be sold back to us!” They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say.

4. Flexibility

I previously shared about flexibility as the ability to adjust plans and strategies as you carry on with your vision. Your life-calling (vocation), purpose and vision may not change but you must learn to constantly adjust strategies for accomplishing the vision as the times and circumstances change. For instance, many people, families and institutions have had to adjust their plans and strategies in order to survive or even thrive in these very tough times. We have had to adapt to online and virtual means of communication. Much of the formal learning in educational institutions is being moved online. We have to innovate new ways to live, learn, relate, or transact businesses. Nehemiah had to constantly change strategies in order to counter opposition and continue with his mission of rebuilding the wall.

Nehemiah 4:16-18 says:
16 From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah 17 who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, 18 and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. But the man who sounded the trumpet stayed with me.

This was by no means a convenient way of building the wall. But it was necessary to protect the people against the enemies without stopping the work of building. Flexibility means that we will have to think through the options available to us so that will continue with the mission God has given us. Some options may not be convenient. Some will stretch us out of our comfort zones. We may have to do things in ways we never thought we would. We may have to adjust our budgets. As long as it honors the Lord, let us be open and flexible as we pursue our God-given vision.

Nehemiah’s story has a very beautiful ending. Despite all the external opposition and the internal challenges, “the wall was completed…in fifty-two days” (Nehemiah 6:15). My prayer for you is that you will not only survive the crises that you may encounter but rather thrive in them. God is there to help you. Keep your faith in Him. Remain focused on the main goal while celebrating the small milestones. Keep the first things first. And, be ready to be flexible by adjusting your plans and strategies as you pursue your vision.

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