Samuel Johnson once wrote, “Shame arises from the fear of men, conscience from the fear of God.” Isn’t the fear of men often the root of most of our worldly stress?
In the previous post on dealing with anxiety, we saw how moving the focus to God moves it away from the source of anxiety. From there, the progression of trusting God gives us strength to move from fear to faith. We can find countless examples of this kind of faith in the Bible.
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
A Life Worth Examining
When God called Nehemiah to go to Jerusalem and rebuild the wall, he blessed him with provisions (via the king) and a genuine sense of purpose (he mourned upon hearing how vulnerable the city and its inhabitants were with no protective walls).
An example of Nehemiah’s four-part prayer can be found here: Prayer and How to Pray.
But when he arrived in Jerusalem to do this great work, Nehemiah met with adversaries and opposition. After all, some of the “important” people living there liked things the way they were.
Nehemiah based every move on God’s guidance. He prayed for direction, wisdom and strength. He worked on through mockery, intimidation and even physical threat. The book of Nehemiah is a great example of how the Bible teaches us to deal with stress the right way.
7 Stressful Situations, 7 Biblical Responses
The Bible shares one example after another of what it means to fear God — not man — during times of opposition. Let’s take a closer look at seven common stresses most of us face at some point in life and see how Nehemiah walked through them.
How often do we quit when others make fun of us? How often do we dwell on their words instead of God’s?
The situation: When Nehemiah revealed the purpose for his visit to Jerusalem, some of the men laughed and made fun of him, saying, “What are you doing? Are you turning against the king?” They openly mocked him and the idea of rebuilding the wall.
Response: But I answered them, “The God of heaven will give us success. We, his servants, will start rebuilding, but you have no share claim, or memorial in Jerusalem.” (Neh 2:20)
Instead of focusing on the mockery, Nehemiah focused on God. He did not get defensive, but rather he stated the facts and went on with his work.
Our God is a God of love. To fear Him is to follow His command to love others.
Jesus: They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. John 15:21
2. Physical Threat
How often do we become intimidated by someone or something stronger than us? Do we forget that God fights for us?
The situation: When the mockers heard that Nehemiah’s work on the wall continued, they became angry. They made plans to come to Jerusalem and fight, stir up trouble and even kill some of the Jews to stop the work. The people were tired, and the threats were reported 10 times.
Response: “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and powerful. Fight for your brothers, your sons and daughters, your wives, and your homes.”
Nehemiah reminds us to fear God, not men, because God is the one in control.
Jesus: “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt 10:28)
3. Taking Advantage
The situation: The people rebuilding the wall were oppressed and desperate. Some of them charged each other such high interest that many went into heavy debt and could no longer afford to feed their families. They came to Nehemiah with these complaints about the leaders.
The Bible tells us that when Nehemiah heard about this usury he became angry. But first, he thought about the situation.
Response: Then I said, “What you are doing is not right. Don’t you fear God? Don’t let our foreign enemies shame us. I, my brothers, and my men are also lending money and grain to the people. But stop charging them so much for this.”
Nehemiah relied on scripture and reminded the leaders of God’s teaching: “Show your fear of God by not taking advantage of each other. I am the LORD your God.” (Lev 25:17)
Living in fear of the Lord means we never think, “No one will know I’m doing this” when we sin. We know that God knows everything we do, think and feel. He knows the desires of our heart, for better or for worse. He knows what is seen and unseen.
As Nehemiah demonstrated, it’s important to first think before we speak (“The heart of the godly thinks carefully before speaking; the mouth of the wicked overflows with evil words” Proverbs 15:28) and refer to scripture for the right course of action.
4. Distracting Invitations
How often do we get pulled in so many directions that we cannot finish the task at hand? The stress compounds as we get further away from our goal.
The situation: Enemies sent letter after letter to Nehemiah asking him to meet them in a distant location.
Response: He answered each time the same way. “I am doing a great work, and I can’t come down. I don’t want the work to stop while I leave to meet you.” Neh 6:3
Nehemiah stayed focused on the work God gave him to do, not the pressing requests of men. He didn’t make excuses; he just stated the facts. By keeping his focus on God’s plan, he stayed out of the chaos.
“We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne” (Hebrews 12:2)
5. False Accusations
How often do we join in the chaos and worry rather than rely on God to surface the truth and give us the strength to stand strong?
The situation: Another letter was sent to Nehemiah saying that a rumor was spreading (and being confirmed) that Nehemiah and the Jewish people planned to turn against the king. It was being said that Nehemiah already appointed prophets to spread word throughout the land that he would become the new king.
Response: So I sent him back this answer, “Nothing you are saying is really happening. You are just making it up in your own mind.” Our enemies were trying to scare us, thinking, “They will get too weak to work. Then the wall will not be finished.” But I prayed, “God, make me strong.”
On our own, we fall weak to the temptations, accusations and lies of the world. We start second-guessing ourselves, thinking, “Did I say that? Could I have implied that??” Nehemiah didn’t second-guess himself. He relied on God to strengthen him as work on the wall continued.
How often do we follow the advice of others before we ask God what He wants for us? Do we tend to think spiritual people can tell us more than God can?
Situation: A prophet friend tells Nehemiah to go with him into the Temple of God and close the doors (which was not allowed), because men were coming to kill him that night. Prophets were trusted to deliver God’s words, warnings and blessings to the people.
Response: But I said, “Should a man like me run away? Should I run for my life into the Temple? I will not go.” I knew that God had not sent him but that Tobiah and Sanballat had paid him to prophesy against me. They paid him to frighten me so I would do this and sin. Then they could give me a bad name and shame me.
Nehemiah prays that God will “remember” the people trying to frighten him.
Satan attempts to attack us in our spirituality. In fact, he often uses scripture, but his interpretation and application is ALWAYS off (example: the temptation of Jesus in the desert).
Here, God gave Nehemiah the wisdom and discernment to know the truth. Even though prophets were trusted spiritual leaders, God gave Nehemiah eyes to see. When he prayed, he didn’t condemn his adversaries, he left them to God to “remember.”
7. When the Popular Thing Isn’t the Right Thing
How often do we overlook the negative behavior of people who treat us well or who have “important” positions? Do we turn a blind eye to what we don’t want to see?
Situation: One of the adversaries, Tobiah, had integrated himself into the family of some of the “important” Jewish people. The people told Nehemiah all the good Tobiah was doing, but Nehemiah knew better. While the people praised Tobiah, Nehemiah received frightening letters from him.
Response: The Bible does not give a direct response from Nehemiah, but it does let us know that Nehemiah could discern Tobiah’s hypocrisy.
Conclusion: Continue your work and let God reveal the truth at the right time. Proverbs 29:25 says, “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.”
Ultimately the wall was rebuilt in 52 days — an amazing feat. When all the enemies of the land heard of this success, the Bible tells us they were shamed because they realized this was done with the help of God. Nehemiah told the people: “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Neh. 8:10)
“I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” -John 14:27