It's because I'm struggling to endure and persevere that I considered getting out of speaking in chapel tomorrow morning.
Public speaking is NOT my thing, and for two weeks now I've been stewing over what to share in Junior's place in chapel. I don't like being in Junior's place. I liked Junior being in Junior's place.
And this past week Matt and I both have been fighting feeling a bit down and overwhelmed, which has made sharing the Gospel message in chapel feel even more out-of-reach. There's nothing particularly wrong, but I've just been feeling a bit sad. Tired. Unsatisfied.
So when Nora was up countless times last night, wailing and burning hot to the touch, and six o'clock came early, and I realized very quickly I would not be getting to the office today to work on the message with little one wailing each time I put her down and the other two on Spring break, and my eye infected and swollen....
I almost did it. Just asked Matt to do it. Emailed Claudin and asked him to find someone else to fill the spot.
But when I finished homeschool and sent the girls outside, and Nora fell into a fevered sleep, and I sat down at my computer to see what I DID have done, this was pretty much it :
Enduring with Christ.
You can't really quit when your sermon is about enduring, can you.
And so. That was what I did today. I endured. I got a lot less done than I should have, some very fantastic neighbors took wailing baby duty for a bit (we think she's teething, but who knows), and in the end, I endured.
And enduring was everything I said it was going to be.
400 BC, Israel in a terrible desperate state, Jerusalem entirely conquered and destroyed by Babylon, Solomon's beautiful temple destroyed, the Jews deported all over the place, and 150 years later, Jerusalem still sits in rubbles when Nehemiah, a man who had never even BEEN to Jerusalem, asked about it.
And when he heard about the spread out despairing survivors, about the burned down gates and the fallen down walls, he began a journey of endurance that offers SO MUCH INSIGHT on the dark and despairing times in our own lives.
He wept, mourned, fasted and prayed. When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven." Nehemiah 1:4
I can say with honesty that that is RARELY my first response to bad news. Rarely my response to dark times. It's far easier for me to reach for some temporary satisfaction, to become lazy, to follow after my emotions and feelings, to turn to a dozen other directions. We must learn to turn to God first, and fervently!
He asked God to look and listen. "Let Your ear now be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant which I am praying now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel." Nehemiah 1:6
Nehemiah got in front of God, right there, and asked Him to look and listen! It was bold. And God DID.
He took responsibility. "We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments nor the ordinances which You commanded us to." Nehemiah 1:7
All times of darkness and despair don't come out of disobedience and rebellion. But when faced with times of darkness or pain, depression or just down-ness, do we search? Are we quick to search our lives and hearts, take responsibility for where we have fallen short, repented of those things and asked God to change our hearts?
He remembered. "Remember the word which You told Moses...remember the prayer of your servants" Nehemiah 1:8-10
In times of darkness, do we make ourselves remember? Do we stop and remember His faithfulness? Remind ourselves of His promises? Ask Him too?
He prayed for success. "...Make your servant successful today and grant him compassion before this king" Nehemiah 1:11
This is unlike how I usually pray. I've got the "your will be done" prayer down pat. But before Jesus prayed that prayer, He first asked God for something else. Nehemiah wanted a successful meeting with the king, and he PRAYED for that success. We should pray for God's will to be done, but we must PRAY for success in overcoming darkness.
He asked for help. "I said to the king, If it please you, and if I have found favor, send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers, that I may rebuild it." Nehemiah 2:4
He asked for permission to go, and letters to pave the way, and the king ended up giving him even more. Because of their relationship, and because Nehemiah had asked God for success, and because Nehemiah ASKED the king. Asking for help is NOT easy...but if we are to endure through the dark nights of the soul, I think it is a MUST.
He acknowledge God...every single step of the way. "...and the king granted the letters to me because the good hand of my God was with me." Nehemiah 2:8
The journey hasn't even BEGUN yet, and Nehemiah is already looking for God's hand. What an insight into enduring times of difficulty with righteousness!
He WENT. "So I arose in the night, not telling anyone what my God was putting into my mind to do, and I came to Jerusalem." Nehemiah 2: 12
Nehemiah prayed and fasted, got permission and found favor...and then He ACTED. I don't know about you, but when I am depressed and struggling and despairing, I am far more likely to not do ANYTHING but muddle. But no matter how Nehemiah was feeling, he followed the leading he received through his time of mourning and fasting and praying, and he WENT.
He encouraged others. "I said to them, You see the bad situation we are in, that Jerusalem ins desolate and its gates burned buy fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that we will no longer be a reproach!" Nehemiah 2:17
Our times of depression and dismay make us isolate ourselves. Nobody understands. We are alone, we feel. We withdrawal and hide our true hearts.
We are NOT alone. We must gather those around us, share our bad situation we are in, and ask for help! It is how God designed community, and it is community that draws us out of the lies of isolation.
He endured through ridicule and threats. "They became furious and angry and mocked us. Hear, O God, how we are despised! So, we built the wall and the whole wall was joined together, for the people had a mind to work." Nehemiah 4:6
When we are down and discouraged, ridicule and fear can DESTROY us...so easily. We are already wounded, and easy to cripple. But we must expect ridicule and be strong! This perseverance thing is not for the weak of heart. When we have a mind to work for Him, being despised doesn't stop us.
He set up guard. "We prayed to our God, and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night." Nehemiah 4:9
In my own life, it seems my times of sadness or depression that I am the LEAST guarded. I am tired, I am sad, and being on guard takes too much energy. But isn't it IN our times of darkness that the enemy could most easily attack? When we are down, we must NOT stop praying and must NOT stray from His Word, neither day nor night, knowing that the enemy seeks to destroy and kill and knows that we are vulnerable.
Yes, God can use our suffering for His glory...but that is through our deliberate and continual surrender of our suffering. If we allow Satan to use our suffering for his glory, he will. We must be on guard!
He reminded others not to fear. "Do not be afraid of them; Remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers." Nehemiah 4:14.
When do we need this reminder more than times of darkness? Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome. Remember the Lord and do not be afraid. Remember the Lord and fight. Even today, even in my current phase of discouragement and fatigue, remembering the Lord and not to fear was transforming. We cannot allow fear, and we cannot forget Him.
He was equipped. "From that day on, half of my servants carried on the work while half of them held the spears, the shields, the bows and the breastplates. They took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon." Nehemiah 4:16-18
It is in these times when we don't feel we can endure that we must strap on our weapons, not abandon them! NOW is the time to add prayer. Now is the time to add more of His Word. Now is the time to embrace and seek accountability. Now is the time for discipline, doing our work with one hand and keeping our other firmly grasping the tools He is offering, the sword of the Spirit, the helmet of salvation...
He stopped internal strife. "Please let us leave off this usury. Please, give back to them their houses. The thing which you are doing is not good; should you not walk in the fear of our God?" Nehemiah 5:9-10
It was clear to Nehemiah that they were NEVER going to make it, they would NOT be able to finish the wall, as long as they themselves were wronging each other. There was no place for it, and he strongly admonished them and asked them to stop...and they did "exactly as Nehemiah said." We cannot persevere through any meaningful kingdom work as long as we are wronging each other.
He refused to be deceived. "Then I perceived that surely God had not sent him, but he was uttering this prophecy that I might become frightened and act accordingly and sin." Nehemiah 6:12-14
This is so good. Satan, friends, is a liar. That is what He does. And when we are down and dismayed, we should be EXPECTING lies to come to us. Almost all of my thoughts and feelings when I am down, when lined up against His life-giving Word, are LIES. And while I can be tempted to believe those lies, WE MUST REFUSE to be deceived. Because when we ARE deceived, Satan is deceiving us that we might become frightened and that we might sin.
We cannot persevere through deception! We must ask God to show us the truth, show us his lies, and refuse to be deceived!
He leaned on God's strength. "They will become discouraged with the work and it will not be done. But now, O God, strengthen my hands!" Nehemiah 6:12
I love this. Nehemiah recognizes it is all. by. God's. strength. And he also recognizes that God will give it to him, His strength. May this become my new prayer when I am faced with discouragement, the shallow daily kind or the deep nagging kind, "Lord, strengthen my hands!"
And SO, says Nehemiah 6:16, the wall was completed in 52 days (after being left undone for 150 years!) and when the enemies heard of it, they lost confidence, for they saw the work had been accomplished by the help of God.
Because Nehemiah was faithful to endure to the end, the work was done, the enemy lost confidence, and God was given the glory.
Another great endurance comes quickly to my mind.
The endurance of what we call Easter.
In the face of threats, in the face of great danger, in the face of arrest and betrayal, beatings, spitting, mocking, in the face of crucifixion, in the face of DEATH...
He wept, He mourned, He fasted. He prayed, He asked for help, He acknowledged God, He encouraged others not to fear, He leaned on God's strength.
And most importantly? He WENT.
And because Jesus was faithful to endure to the end, the work was done, the enemy was defeated, and God was glorified.
When darkness comes, if we can endure and persevere, we will be able to truly follow Jesus...
in His life, in His death, and in His resurrection.
That's what I want, today.
Preaching in chapel tomorrow isn't going to fix this stormy season in my heart. But if persevering will accomplish His work in my life, defeat the enemy, and give Him glory? I'm in.