MISSION POSSIBLE SERMON SERIES
DANCES WITH WOLVES – DEALING WITH OPPOSITION AND CRITICISM
JUNE 16, 1996
The team you manage at the office has been working on a landmark proposal for your company for the last couple of weeks. Everyone in your organization says that this is the best idea the company has ever received. They are already patting you on the back. It is the day of the big presentation before your boss and the management team. As you pitch this idea to the group you feel great about what you are saying. You feel like you are connecting with the people. After your presentation, you want to give yourself a high five. You are saying to yourself that you hit a home run. Then your boss looks at you and in a very condescending tone says these words. “That was it? That is the creative idea we have been waiting to hear? That is what all the commotion was about?” And you watch as your project, before your very eyes, is thrown into the trash. While this is occurring, the managers sitting around the board table snicker and roll their eyes. How do you respond to that?
You have spent an entire afternoon preparing a special meal for your husband to show him how much you love him. The table is set with china, the candles are lit and soft music is playing in the background. Your husband bolts through the front door, looks at the situation, grabs the remote, clicks on the television set. As he makes his way into his favorite easy chair, he looks up at you and says, “Honey, I had a huge lunch and I really want to watch the seventh game of the NBA finals.” Ladies, how do you respond? How do you deal with that one?
You have just received a phenomenal promotion which means that you will have to move to La Jolla, California. There is a big raise and new benefits plus a company apartment overlooking the Pacific. You can’t wait to tell your family and your friends about the promotion. You tell them and they say, “California, you won’t like California. The weather is nice but the people are kind of strange and superficial. You’ll be back in Texas; I’ll guarantee it, in about a month.” How do you respond to that?
What happens when you find yourself dancing with wolves – dancing with criticism and opposition from an ex-spouse, a mate, a co-worker, a friend, a neighbor or from someone you don’t even know. What do you do about it? The stinging barb of criticism hurts, doesn’t it? Opposition and criticism has the potential to depress us, disable us and debilitate us.
We have been in a series on leadership. We have been talking about a man who was one of the greatest leaders to ever live. His name was Nehemiah. Nehemiah is going to show us how to handle criticism and opposition. God tapped Nehemiah on the shoulder and asked him to go to Jerusalem, God’s city, and to do something that had not been done for 90 years. Nehemiah’s task was to rebuild the walls around an entire city. And you will see that Nehemiah took some serious flack when he attempted this project, as he built the project and even when the project was completed. Let’s sit back and observe how this man handled all of this junk thrown his way. I think we all can learn a thing or two about handling criticism and opposition.
I am going to break this message down into two parts. First we will look at the opposition’s mission and then we will change gears and look at the leader’s commission. All of us are leaders. Don’t ever think that you are not a leader because every person has a sphere of influence and leadership can be defined as influence. We are all leaders and God want you and me to become the best leader possible. For us to achieve the level we want to achieve, we have to learn how to handle criticism and opposition.
The mission of the opposition. Let’s begin with verse one of Nehemiah 4. The first aspect of the opposition’s mission is old and something we use all the time today: ridicule. Nehemiah 4:1. “When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews…” The heart of a critic always resists change. Those people who are the most inflexible are, for the most part, the most critical. That is true on every athletic team. It is true in every company. It is true in every church. It is true in every family. Those who don’t want to change, those who don’t want to color outside the lines are the most critical. You would think that Sanballat would have sat back and applauded the Jews. He should have said that what they were doing was phenomenal, a small band of people rebuilding the walls around a whole city. Since the walls had been in a shambles for 90 years you would think that he would complement their team building. Instead, he ridiculed the Jews. Nehemiah 4:2 says that he ridiculed them in the presence of his associates. We love to down people in front of others. When we ridicule someone, when we mess them around, when we take cheap shots at them, there are always people around to jump on the bandwagon and fire their darts. If someone will take the lead and criticize you or me, you had better believe that there are people waiting in the wings to add to the criticism. Sanballat led out in this effort and right behind him, if you read a little bit further, you have got Tobiah applauding him and echoing him.
Ridicule is a substitute for reason. Laughter is a substitute for logic. And viciousness is a substitute for vision. Sanballat continued. Nehemiah 4:2, “…will they finish in a day?” He is giving us a hint on how to major in ridicule. You exaggerate. Nehemiah never said they would finish the project in a day. Then he said, “…can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble…burned as they are?” And you thought that Dennis Rodman was the only person who could get under the skin of people and mess with them. Sanballat. I wonder if he had bleached out hair too. He knew how to do this stuff.
Nehemiah 4:3, “Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said ‘What they are building…if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!'” Trash talking. Tobiah made a blunder here though. He said, their wall. It was not their wall. It was God’s wall. Nehemiah was the superintendent, but they were criticizing God’s work. There have been times in my life when I have criticized something and about two or three months later I have figured out that I had been criticizing God’s work, God’s vision, God’s agenda. That is exactly what Sanballat and Tobiah were doing.
Ridicule is effective. We just saw it modeled in the last song we heard, because it attacks our self-worth. It tears apart our self-esteem. Leaders have to deal with it. Here is the leadership principle in this first point. Critical people love M & Ms. In other words, they love to maintain the mundane. Leaders always attempt to stay SLIM. Critical people love M & Ms but leaders always attempt to stay SLIM. S, they consider the source. L, they listen and learn from every bit of criticism. I, they ignore it, in most circumstances and situations. M, they always discern the motive behind the shot.
Another mission of the opposition was to take they hats, turn them around and start a rally. They rallied the troops together. They used ridicule and next they rallied the troops together. Have you ever noticed that critics run in packs, kind of like wolves. Nehemiah 4:8, “They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it.” And you had better believe that they were organized. In the north, Sanballat and the Samaritans were ready. In the south the Arabs were ready. In the east Tobiah and his forces were ready. In the west Ashdod was ready. They had surrounded Jerusalem and were ready to fight. They had a big negative rally. A moan rally. A flack rally. An opposition rally. A criticism rally. Have you ever met people who, after a while, you discern have only one mission; to be against stuff? Have you ever met people like that? I will list a couple of people you might know who traffic in discouragement, criticism and ridicule. The assassin. The assassin is the man or woman who shoots insults at you from places you don’t even recognize. Maybe the grassy knoll. Or maybe a neighboring home. They get you in the cross-hairs and wham, they fire the shot and you wonder where it came from. Do you know any assassins? There are some people who traffic in discouragement who are laundromat people, looking for dirty laundry. “Oh, really, he said that?” “She did that?” And once they find the dirty laundry they hang it up for everyone. “Let me tell you about this.” “Did you hear this one?” Then you have some people who traffic in discouragement known as hackers. They are always trying to crack the code. “I wonder what makes him tick.” “I wonder what makes her tick.” They are always collecting negative information. Do you know any hackers? You had better run from them. Another person who likes to hang out in critical packs is the fire extinguisher person. This is a man or a woman or teenager or child who extinguishes any creative idea, any change, anything that might get them out of their comfort zone. Especially if there is growth involved, they extinguish.
They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. Here is the second leadership principle. Whenever you are handling criticism and opposition, remember this. Hurt people hurt people. When I remember that, it helps me. Nine times out of ten, not every time but most of the time, the people who are after you, the people who are criticizing you, the people who are so negative are hurt people. You get behind the mask. You check their past. You see what is happening in their relationships. You will find that they have been hurt or damaged somewhere and they are looking for anyone or anything to lash out at. Hurt people hurt people.
The third mission of the opposition is to spread rumors. Didn’t Fleetwood Mac have an album years ago called “Rumors”. OK. Not a CD, but an album. See that dates me, doesn’t it? Nehemiah 4:11, “Our enemies said, ‘Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.'” Here is a great way to spread rumors. Are you ready? Feed on people’s fears. You see, these people surrounding the Jews, they couldn’t take them on. They didn’t have the fire power, they didn’t have the muscle. They didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to do it. So they fed on their fears. So the Jews began to freak out. “They are going to kill us. They might be behind the wall. They might be in the trees. Watch out. Watch out.”
Nehemiah 4:12, “Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, ‘Wherever you turn, they will attack us.'” Here are two characteristics of rumors. They are spread by those individuals who live closest to the enemy. Also, they are always exaggerated the more they are repeated. And here is another leadership principle. Leaders handle rumors like gum. They chew on them for awhile, but they never swallow them because they will stay in your stomach for seven years and mess you up.
Well, in the midst of the opposition’s mission, you have Nehemiah and the Jews modeling a leader’s commission. Let’s see what a leader is supposed to do. A leader, right up front, is someone who relies on God during times of opposition. Nehemiah is going to pray a weird prayer, a strange prayer. Nehemiah is a book about prayer. Over and over Nehemiah prays. Throughout the Bible you can find prayers like this. “Lord, forgive us of our sins.” “Lord, take away our transgressions.” “Lord, forgive me and forgive my family.” Well look what the man of God prayed. Nehemiah 4:4, “Hear us, O our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity.” You see, Nehemiah is fighting his battle on his knees. He is not name calling. Sanballat was saying, oh those dirty Jews. Nehemiah was not saying, oh those despicable Samaritans and those horrible Arabs. He just asked God to turn their insults back on their heads. The human side of Nehemiah, the human side of you or me would have us find Sanballat, Tobiah and the rest of the forces and punch their lights out, to name call, to curse right back at them. He didn’t do it. Remember when David was getting ready to rumble with Goliath, the behemoth? What did David say? Did David get in a shouting match with him? No, no, no. David said this. “God, this is your battle. I am giving myself to you. You take charge. You’ll give me victory.” David said that. When Daniel was forced to pray to King Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel did not start crying or freak out. He went to his house and began to pray to the one true God.
Nehemiah did the prayful thing but he also did the practical thing. For example, if you are lying in your bed tonight and you pray, “Dear Lord, protect my family from burglars.” is a great prayer. The Bible says that God will put a hedge of protection around your family, but also God has given you a brain. He wants you to get up and lock the doors, engage the security system. Do the prayful thing and the practical thing. That is why in the Bible, over and over, you will hear this recurring phrase, watch and pray. Watch is the practical part. Pray is the divine part. This is weird, too, I hope you picked this up. Did you catch this here. In chapter four something happens. In chapters one, two and three Nehemiah said he prayed, he called on the Lord. Now, it says we prayed. How did these people learn how to pray? Who taught them? The leader prayed and they saw him praying and they began to get involved in prayer. You want your leadership team to change at work. If you begin to pray, others will follow. If you want your family to change, begin to pray, they will follow. Do the divine thing, pray and also do the practical thing.
Also Nehemiah reinforced the weak points. The wall, as it was being constructed, was weak in certain areas. Nehemiah 4:13, “Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall…” We all have walls around our lives and there are weak points around your lives and mine. The opposition, Satan, tries to attack us at our weakest points. Nehemiah was smart. Nehemiah had things worked out. When an enemy would attack a certain section of the wall, he had someone blow a trumpet. And when the trumpet was blown, every one who heard the trumpet would run over to that section of the wall and reinforce it. They were ready to take on the opposition. Where are you weak personally? In the financial area? Are you tempted to do something kind of shady to get ahead? Are you tempted to take some money under the table? How about in your thought life. Are you tempted in the area of lust, in sexual immorality? You need to reinforce your wall with people to help you. Do you know the weak points of your company? You had better reinforce those weak points. Are you getting ready to make a presentation next week? Before the presentation, think about the weak points and reinforce them. Be ready. Reinforce your weak points. “…at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows.” By families. They were together, they had community.
Now I am going to make a bold statement right now. If you are not connected into a local Body of Christ somewhere in this area, and if you are not connected into a small group or a Bible study or Sunday School Class, you are going to have a tough time when attack comes. In fact, when opposition comes your way, good luck. I doubt that you will be able to stand. We can’t do this thing alone. There are too many Caribbean Christians out there. They move to a little island where everything is protected. The sands are white, the water clear, the palm trees bend nicely in the breeze. One day, though, the force five winds blow. One day the hurricane hits. One day the waves come crashing. And they wonder what happened. Christianity is a family thing. It is a team thing. It is a togetherness thing.
There was a man in the Bible names Elijah. Elijah was trying to do life solo. He was being chased by one of the meanest women who ever lived, Jezebel. Elijah was running and one day sat down and said, “God, take my life. Please.” God fed him and then said, “Elijah, get up. I have got someone to help you whose name is Elisha.” Elisha ministered to Elijah. Remember when Saul was freaking out chasing David. David was praying to God to be delivered but he was also running like mad. God put someone in David’s life to help his through this predicament. His name was Jonathan. Do you have someone you can share you life with? Do you have someone who loves you? Do you have someone you can be in real community with, that you can really connect with? You have to have it to live this life. You have to be a part of some local church and active. Because if you are active you are not going to be as vulnerable to temptation or those force five winds that come your way.
Reassure the people. Here is what Nehemiah said. Nehemiah 4:14, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” Remember the Lord. If you study the wars, many were fought with slogans. The slogans usually began with the word remember. The Spanish-American war, Remember the Maine. WWI, Remember the Lucitania. WWII, Remember Pearl Harbor. Down near San Antonio, Remember the Alamo. Think about those slogans. They were always remembering defeats. Remembering when you were hammered, now use that defeat to motivate you to go after the enemy. Nehemiah doesn’t do that. Nehemiah doesn’t say, remember the Babylonian captivity. He says, remember the Lord, remember the good stuff. Ladies and gentlemen, make sure around your office, around your house, around your apartment that you have trophies of God’s grace to remind you of what God has done when the difficult times come.
In my little office, across the way, where I really work and study, I have three or four pictures that mean something to me spiritually. When I feel down, depressed or despondent, all I have to do is look up and see those pictures and remember how God had changed that family’s life. I remember how God had even used me in that situation. I remember what God did in this church or that church, in this mission or on that mission. Maybe a poem. Maybe a verse of scripture. Remember the Lord.
Nehemiah urges us to remain loyal. Nehemiah 4:6, “So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height…” You know when you buy a car you are so excited. Usually, though, when you get halfway through paying for it, it begins to lose its newness. When you are working out running about one hour and get thirty minutes into it, you want to quit. Half way up the mountain, the same thing. When the Jews got halfway done with the wall they began to concentrate on the rubble. They began to concentrate on the old mortar and the old brick and they lost focus on the task at hand. Nehemiah 4:21, “So we continued the work with half the men holding spears, from the first light of dawn till the stars came out.” Persistence. The word work is used five times in chapter four of Nehemiah. You can talk about vision. You can talk about conferences. You can talk about money. You can talk about looks. You can talk about all this flowery stuff, but the bottom line is work. For example, the Walt Disney Corporation invites their competition to come in and study them. They are not worried. Do you know why? They know that no one is going to work like Walt Disney. Are you working? Are you persisting? And better yet, what area in your life are you tempted to give up on? In what area are you saying it is too tough? Don’t give up on that marriage. Don’t give up on that relationship. Don’t give up on that business dream. It is easier to quit than commit. It is easier to throw in the towel than stay in the game. It is easier to bail out than blast through. Persevere.
You see the opposition’s mission will always be there. But, if we take and follow the leader’s commission, we are ready to go dancing with wolves.