January 27, 2012 – Aaron Bird
Rewind: Fear can be a powerful motivator. When channeled properly, it can drive us to work harder, think faster, and push farther than you ever would have thought possible. More often than not, however, we let our fear motivate us to stand stock still. It makes our knees knock, our skin crawl, and our feet feel like they’re trapped in blocks of concrete. Our fear – be it of change, of failure, of rejection, of heights, of spiders, of clowns, or of squirrels – manifests itself in the form of self-constructed cages that prevent us from moving forward. Worse yet is when we let that fear drag us back from freedom to slavery.
After spending nearly four hundred years as slaves to the Egyptians and suffering abuse, oppression, and disgrace, fear was a concept with which the Israelites were terribly familiar. So, when Pharaoh finally gave in and let the people go, the exodus was anything but orderly. Even as families gathered hastily, and belongings were frantically packed up, the Israelites were holding their breath, waiting for Pharaoh to change his mind as he had done so many times before. But, you can bet, that when they approached the city limits and saw no guards waiting to stop them, the Israelites took off running! They left Egypt just as fast as they could with plans to never return.
Moses led God’s people out of Egypt, into the desert, and towards the Promised Land, but the journey would be neither boring nor direct; God certainly did not select the “shortest time” option on His divine GPS (it took FORTY YEARS to get to their destination!!). The detours began two or three weeks after their deliverance: God spoke to Moses and told him to turn around and lead the people back towards Egypt. Still riding on the spiritual high that follows the kind of miraculous works they witnessed in Egypt, and reassured by the visible presence of God in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, Moses and the Israelites faithfully followed the Lord.
God continued to speak to Moses, directing him to lead the Israelites to the east and then to the west, zigging and zagging His people through the desert. You see, God was very much aware of the power of fear, and chose His path accordingly, saying, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt” (Ex. 13:17). He understood that, despite His promise, despite His very presence, His people were likely to surrender to fear and turn away from His goodness, preferring the comfort of familiar oppression back in Egypt to the unknown treasures of His glory in the Promised Land. Thus, in all of His divine wisdom, God chose to prolong their journey, consequentially building their trust in His provision. The Israelites didn’t know it, but He was preparing them for the coming chaos.
The Israelites had just reached thehore of the Red Sea and were awaiting further instructions from the Lord when they first heard that Pharaoh had changed his mind. After the loss of every first born son in the entire nation, Pharaoh’s heart was harder than ever, and once his son’s funeral was over, he wasted no time assembling an army of charioteers to bring the “lost” slaves back.
Can you imagine the fear, the absolutely paralyzing terror, that must have taken hold of each and every Israelite when they heard that Pharaoh and his army were on their way? They had only just left Egypt! God had promised deliverance! They had trusted Him; they had trusted Moses! And for what? To die in the desert? They demanded of Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (Ex. 14:11-12). Their terror was so all-encompassing that they mistook God’s provision for faulty planning, and slavery for protection. They let themselves be so overwhelmed by doubt and fear that they completely forgot who was leading them, even though He was right in front of them the whole time.
What fears do you have? What is it that limits you? What makes you hesitate to trust? What compels you to keep the lights on while you sleep? What stops you from enjoying the fullness of the life you’ve been promised? What makes you squeeze your eyes shut, hold your breath, and lock your knees? Whatever it is – big or small, rational or irrational, kept secret or worn on your sleeve for the world to see – in the midst of chaos, there’s only one thing you need to remember: Who is it that’s really leading you?
No matter what life throws at you; no matter if it makes you want to laugh or cry; no matter if your first instinct is to run hide, dance, or jump for joy (that’s right, we’ve left the realm of fear and moved into a much more universal truth), the main thing is to keep the Main Thing the main thing.
The Lord has promised to bring deliverance for His people, and He has yet to stand us up. When the Egyptians were closing in on the Israelites (who had their backs to the sea), God threw up a wall between His people and their enemies, and parted the sea, providing an escape route. Moreover, when the Egyptians attempted to follow the Israelites across the sea floor, God crushed them, decimating the greatest army the world had yet to see! God promises to provide, to rescue, and to lead His people, always. He is the hero of the text, and the realization of every good thing.
God always shows up, and He is never terrified. He will never be bested. So next time you’re afraid, take a breath and remember the main thing is to keep the Main Thing the main thing. With God leading you, what’s the worst that could happen? Death? Last I checked, He’d already taken care of that.
Pause: His love never fails; He is greater than anything you could ever dream up. Our God is mighty to save, and if our God is with us, then who could ever stop us? What could ever stand against us and pose a real threat? You can rest safely in your Father’s arms, knowing He will never forsake you.
“I love you, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.” Psalm 18:1-3
“The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strongholdof my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident.” Psalm 27:1-3
Surely he will never be shaken; a righteous man will be remembered forever. He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD. His heart is secure, he will have no fear; in the end he will look in triumph on his foes. Psalm 112:6-8
Push Play: There is no reason to be afraid: God’s got your back. He’s been repairing broken hearts, finding lost treasures, and rescuing warrior princesses and knights-in-shining-armor alike for longer than any of us can imagine. He conquered death on the cross, and is still freely giving that salvation away to all of us. Lucifer’s got nothing on Him. When you know the Lord, there is absolutely no reason to fear, ever. Pain is fleeting, loss is temporary, and death is not the end. God is one trust-fall partner you can place your faith in one hundred percent. And yet, we fear. We still don’t trust…
There is no reason to be afraid, but, when you are afraid, embrace the fear. Fear is only a problem when it stops us from trusting in the Lord (like it does in this video). The issue isn’t the fear itself, it’s when we allow it to paralyze us or push us back towards something that we know is wrong. Fear is only powerful when you leave it unaddressed and deny that it exists; that’s when it festers and grows, forming chains around your ankles and walls around your heart. Instead, make efforts to recognize fear for what it is – a lie, a farce, a temptation to deny who God really is – own it, and submit it to the Lord.
He is waiting for you to call on His name; to open your eyes and see that He’s right there in front of you as a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire, leading you through the desert, building your character and reinforcing your faith. He will take your fear and turn it into strength. He will provide. He will show up; He’s already shown up. Embrace the fear; claim its power as your own, and keep your eyes on the Main Thing. He will catch you every single time.
Rewind: By 444 B.C. the city of Jerusalem had been in ruins for about one hundred years, serving as a constant reminder of the injustice done to the Israelites at the hands of the Babylonians. King Artaxerxes of Persia, the son of Esther’s husband King Xerses, was ruler over the Israelites. A Jewish man named Nehemiah held the dangerous yet honorable position of being royal cupbearer. Although his job was to put his own life in danger on a daily basis for the sake of the king, by testing his wine for poison, it’s fair to assume that a servant as trusted as Nehemiah would have led a pretty comfortable life. But, as is so common in the lives of believers, God soon placed a call on Nehemiah’s heart that demanded both attention and action.
Now, the Jews had been back home in Jerusalem for almost one hundred years, but the city was far from being rebuilt. In fact, aside from the restoration of the Temple in 516 B.C., few other construction projects had been completed, due in large part to the frequent raids on Jerusalem by neighboring war lords. The city was in dire need of protection, but the once strong walls, meant to keep out invaders, still lay scattered in heaps of rubble on the outskirts of town. When Nehemiah’s brother, Hanani, came for a visit and relayed this sad news, Nehemiah’s heart broke, and his soul became restless. He wept, fasted, and prayed for his fellow Jews. Soon enough, however, he came to recognize the longing in his heart for what it really was: a call to action from the Lord.
Traditionally, royal cupbearers (and most other royal servants) were expected to maintain a happy disposition in the presence of the king, so, when Nehemiah, visibly wracked with anxiety, presented Arataxerses with his daily wine, the king expressed his concern, or, at the very least, his curiosity. Nervously, Nehemiah explained the situation in Jerusalem, and, at the king’s prompting, asked for a leave of absence, during which he would go to Jerusalem and lend a hand in rebuilding the city. To Nehemiah’s great surprise and pleasure, the king granted his request.
Once he arrived in Jerusalem, Nehemiah met with other Jews, and quickly decided that the one thing he most needed to do was to rebuild the city walls. Thus, he assembled a large, talented, and very motivated team of men, and they started building, one brick at a time. The process was long, it was difficult, and it certainly stirred up a lot of discontent. In particular, the worst of all the war lords, Sanballot, made numerous attempts to prevent Nehemiah from completing his task.
Sanballot invited Nehemiah to dinner, threatened to kill him, and started very dangerous rumors concerning his loyalty to king Arataxerses. But, no matter the request or the complaint, Nehemiah’s answer was always the same, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” (Ne. 6:3).
In the face of grave danger, Nehemiah maintained his composure, continued his work, and never once faltered in his reverence for the Lord. Even when the only safe place for him to hide was behind the closed doors of the Temple, a place laymen like himself were forbidden from going according to Jewish law, Nehemiah remained faithful. He remained on the wall. He understood that his great work was actually God’s great work, and refused to let anything deter him. He knew that building that wall was the one thing he absolutely had to do: “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.”
So, what about you? What is the one thing that you just have to do this year? Maybe it’s a habit you need to make, or maybe it’s one you need to break. It could be a relationship you know you have to end, or it could be one you know you should start. Maybe it’s something as intangible as having the joy of the Lord in your heart each and every day. Maybe it’s finally turning away from the sin that has haunted you for all this time…
Whatever it is, your one thing won’t require extensive discernment. It won’t allude your attempts at identification, and it won’t hide in the shadows of your busy mind. Your one thing is something you feel deep in your bones. It might even be something you’ve felt deep in your bones for quite some time now. All you have to do is engage with that one thing long enough for it to convict you; just long enough for you to see that God’s DNA is all over it, and all over you.
Forming or breaking a habit, starting or ending a relationship, moderating or eliminating a negative tendency, seeking God’s face in a new way or running from temptation with more vigor than ever before…
This is your semester. This is your year. Don’t waste it only worrying about all of the earthly things you should be doing. Do what it is that you know you absolutely have to do. Recognize your one thing for what it truly is: a call God has placed on your heart to do a truly great work. So, get on your wall and stay there; don’t let anyone or anything bring you down.
— January 19, 2012, Aaron Bird
Pause: The story of Nehemiah summariazed above is taken from Nehemiah chapters 1-6, and it’s definitely a good place to start when meditating on your one thing… Here are a few other passages you may find helpful; in all things, seek to place the Lord first.
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 1 Cor. 10:13
Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. James 2:15-18
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. Colossians 2:6-8
Push Play: Nehemiah’s call was strong, steady, and undeniable. Even under threat of death, he stood firm. As terrifying as building that wall must have been for him at points, especially when Sanballot was threatening to kill him, it also must have been such a source of comfort for Nehemiah. He was so certain of his task, so convicted by the Lord’s prompting to return to Jerusalem and rebuild that wall, that he put everything else on hold, and boldly proclaimed that he was “doing a great work.” The man certainly was not lacking in confidence.
Oh, how I envy that certainty of purpose from time to time. Forming an honest answer to the question What is one great thing that you want to do? is overwhelming. It’s a question weighted down by implications, expectations, and the promise of time consuming deliberations. For most of us, a question like that can be temporarily paralyzing, because the future, in all of its immeasurable vastness, is where people and ideas get lost. For some, the intangible entity that is ‘the future’ has too much uncertainty to wade through comfortably, while for other sit serves as a safe space in which to deposit all of the desires they’re just too busy to attend to at the moment; either way, thinking about or planning for the future tends to trip people up.
But I think one of the key aspects of Nehemiah’s story, and one of the reasons why it is extremely relevant to our lives here in the 21st century, is that his conviction was for the present, not for the future. He wasn’t caught up in the planning; he was swept away by the doing. He wasn’t deceived into waiting for the perfect moment; he was inspired to act here and now. We could learn a lot from a guy like Nehemiah.
It’s time to stop being intimidated. It’s time to stop putting off the things you know you shouldn’t. It’s time to stop being distracted or discouraged by other commitments and obligations, because when they stand in the way of God’s call, those otherwise healthy commitments become idols, and that gets very dangerous very fast. It’s time to do what you have to do; what your soul longs to do; what you’re being called to do. Find your one thing, and then, brick by brick, step by step, victory by small victory, start building your wall.