Contend and Build

By Justin Dean    |    July 24, 2023


The world that we are living in is a spiritual and physical battlefield. Most of the world knows this. Historically, most of the civilizations in the history of the world have known this. But it seems that many of us, especially in America, have forgotten this reality.

Cotton Mather, a seventeenth and eighteenth-century American Puritan, wrote that “[Christianity] begat prosperity, and the daughter devoured the mother.” Christianity brought with it prosperity—the Protestant work ethic, Christian morality and laws, the inalienable rights of human beings, the virtues of justice, temperance, and courage. Matther was describing how biblical wisdom, when widely accepted by a particular people, produces an environment ripe for people to prosper.

The problem, as Mather succinctly describes it, is that when prosperity is widespread, people forget its source—the daughter devours the mother. A biblically formed people have a sinful tendency to forget God and begin to worship their comfort and prosperity. They neglect the Creator for his creation, and when that happens, their faith flounders and society collapses. We are in this precarious situation today. We have prospered. God has blessed us, yet most of our society has turned away from him. I pastor a young church in Davenport, Iowa. Most of us are making more money than we were ten years ago. We own nicer houses, drive newer cars, and can afford to go on vacation. But as the Lord prospers us, it’s easy to forget that we are in a war. Opposition can surprise us. How do you feel when a fight breaks out at a hockey game? Pretty normal, right? Okay. Now how do you feel when one breaks out on the golf course? It’d be shocking. Our world is far more like hockey than it is like golf. So many Christians don’t realize they’re playing the wrong game until a fight breaks out.

God has called Christians to build families, churches, businesses, schools, and governments on his Word because Jesus is the King of the nations. The book of Nehemiah teaches us that all of our work will be done in a war zone, with proverbial bullets flying. If building things isn’t hard enough, it’s even more difficult when people are actively set against you and doing their best to stop you by any means necessary. This is why the fourth chapter of Nehemiah is one of my favorite chapters in the whole book of Nehemiah. In this chapter, we learn some common tactics of the enemy, and we get a striking picture of how a godly leader responds to those attacks.

The Response to Mocking and Threats

The first thing we see God’s enemies do is jeer and mock those who are trying to rebuild the wall (Neh. 4:1–3). Mocking is a common tactic God’s enemies use to discourage God’s people from the work God has called them to accomplish. What was Nehemiah’s response? It was two-fold. First, he prayed. “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. Do not cover their guilt, and let not their sin be blotted out from your sight, for they have provoked you to anger in the presence of the builders.” That’s a bold prayer. Nehemiah prays and then gets right back to work. The punches start flying, but the people don’t let the scrap get them off mission. “So we built the wall. And all the wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.” Oh God, give us a mind to work even in the midst of the cultural war zone we find ourselves in.

The steadfastness of the workers only infuriates God’s enemies, and they double down on their efforts to stop the Kingdom work being done. This time, they “plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it.” When mocking didn’t work, their enemies started sowing seeds of doubt. That enemy sown doubt had an effect. The people started saying, “The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble” (Neh. 4:10). This is psychological warfare. When that doesn’t work, they begin issuing threats of physical violence, “They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them to stop the work.” Here’s the principle: Satan wants to tear down and destroy what God builds. As the work of God continues and picks up steam, so does the opposition. The goal here is to scare God’s people, heighten their anxiety, and cause them to quit doing the good works God has called them to.

Being naive is not a fruit of the Spirit.”

—Justin Dean

How do the people respond to this threat? They again respond with prayer and add to that preparation. You see that two-pronged approach in Nehemiah 4. First they pray. “And we prayed to our God” (Neh. 4:9). If God be for us, who can be against us? We must keep the faith even when things get especially difficult. God’s people are called to trust God and not fear. Second, they prepared a guard as protection during the day and the night. Nehemiah teaches us that the wise man keeps his head on a swivel (as my old football coach used to say). Being naive is not a fruit of the Spirit. We are in a war, wars have enemies, and enemies want to stop what God is doing. So Nehemiah tells the people to get prepared for the attack. Keep working with one hand but carry your weapon with the other (Neh. 4:17). This is good gospel ministry amid a crooked generation (Acts 2:40).

If we are going to succeed in the purposes of God for our generation, we too must be a people with a sword in one hand and a toolbox in the other. In other words, we must reject comfort and the lies of prosperity and embrace the pain that leads to progress. Proverbs 13:22 says, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.” If we want to leave our kids and grandkids a Christian inheritance—which is far more than just money—we will have to sacrifice our pleasure and comfort. We will have to build something for them that will last, and we will have to do all of this in a culture set against us and our God, a culture that wants to see us fail.

G. K. Chesterton once said, “The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” What is behind us is our families, our children, our homes, our churches, our schools, our society, and our God. God is calling us to rise up and build amid a culture that has turned against us. Don’t be surprised by the fact that we have real enemies, and they are using everything in their arsenal to stop God’s Kingdom from advancing—this is hockey, not golf. Let us, like Nehemiah, pray and prepare ourselves for the work and battles ahead.

Justin Dean

Justin Dean is lead pastor of Sacred City Church in Davenport, Ia.

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