Dealing with Distractions
Restoration • Sermon • Submitted • Presented • 28:58
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Dealing with Distractions
Some of you might know that I’m a morning person. I like mornings. Mornings are the best time of the day. I get a lot of things done before I even leave for work every day besides those things like showering, dressing, and making coffee. I do my Bible study and prayer time. I do school work. I work on sermons. I get a lot done most days.
One of the reasons that I get up really early every day is so that I can avoid a lot of distractions. When everybody else is sleeping, the house is quiet and it’s just me and the cat who likes to sleep in my lap while I’m at my desk in the morning.
When I try to do things in the evening, there are a lot more things that can keep me from doing what I need to do. I mean Sunday mornings comes around every week. So does Sunday and Wednesday night. I need to have my work on my sermons done.
But it’s so easy to get sidetracked isn’t it? It takes a lot of determination to finish what we start because there are always so many other things competing for our attention.
One thing that the Book of Nehemiah makes clear is that life is a battle from beginning to end. And if we are in a battle that means we must have an enemy.
Here in Nehemiah 6, we learn that the enemy has two main ways of working. The first tactic is fear. Satan is prowling around, as Peter says in 1 Peter 5:8,
…Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
But he has another battle plan as well. He not only uses fear, he also uses flattery. 2 Corinthians 11:14 says:
And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.
He comes with attractive promises and flattering words, assuring us that what he offers will cost us absolutely nothing.
Whatever method he employs, whether it is fear or flattery, his aim is to distract and destroy us. We need to be on guard against each of these approaches. We need to be on guard because Satan is both a lion that devours and a serpent that deceives.
As we study chapter 6, we are going to see some of the things that can distract us from the work we are supposed to be doing. I’m going to pray and then we’ll work through this text together.
The first distraction we face is compromise.
Since Sanballat and his buddies failed in their attempts to stop the people building the wall, they decide to concentrate their attacks on Nehemiah himself by changing their tactics and resorting to a subtle method of persuasion.
You will experience this as well when you try to correct some things in your life. Many people today are failing in their Christian walk because they listen to the advice and temptations of those closest to them and begin to compromise.
Let’s take a look at verses 1-4:
Now when Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies heard that I had built the wall and that there was no breach left in it (although up to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates), Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come and let us meet together at Hakkephirim in the plain of Ono.” But they intended to do me harm. And I sent messengers to them, saying, “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?” And they sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner.
These enemies suddenly become Nehemiah’s friends and invite him to a conference down on the plain of Ono. Ono is located on the seacoast near the Gaza strip. It was a beautiful resort area. But Nehemiah senses danger:
But they intended to do me harm.
So, Nehemiah said, “Oh, no!” to Ono.
Some commentators suggest that they were trying to trick him into leaving Jerusalem, where he had armed support, to come to a conference where they could ambush him. Nehemiah evidently senses this. He declines saying,
“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?”
That is a great answer even though it sounds blunt. Nehemiah sees through their plan by refusing their invitation four different times.
All of us are going to experience continuing pressure to change our minds and go along with something that is wrong and compromise. Some of us give in to repeated pressure. We might say no the first time but find our defenses weakened as the temptations continue.
We find Nehemiah persisting in his refusal because he knows what his priorities are: “I am doing a great work. I have a great calling. God has committed a tremendous project to me, and if I leave, it will be threatened. It won’t be finished.”
Sometimes these distractions come disguised as harmless choices or even good things.
There are many things that distract us from what’s really important - things like TV, sports, email, Facebook, texting…
One of the most helpful things that we can do to resist the temptation to compromise is to remember that God has called each of us to a great work. That’s true for every believer in Christ whether this is your first time here or if you have been here for decades.
But not all compromise is bad.
Loving compromise can be good and useful things if there are no moral or spiritual issues involved. Happy compromise can strengthen a marriage or ministry, but this is compromise among people who love each other and have the same purposes in mind. When you invite the devil to join your team, expect him to change the rules and the goals; and expect to be defeated.
We are called to make a kingdom impact.
We’ve been called to a great task, one that we have to prioritize or we’ll be distracted from it. If we don’t practice some “planned neglect” of other things, even good things, we’ll be distracted from God’s best. That’s what Nehemiah does. He’s involved in a great work, and he’s not going to forsake it for anything less.
The first distraction is compromise. The second is:
When the enemy cannot distract us by offering peace, he switches back to his original scheme of making accusations. He moves from softball to hardball.
Look at verses 5-7:
In the same way Sanballat for the fifth time sent his servant to me with an open letter in his hand. In it was written, “It is reported among the nations, and Geshem also says it, that you and the Jews intend to rebel; that is why you are building the wall. And according to these reports you wish to become their king. And you have also set up prophets to proclaim concerning you in Jerusalem, ‘There is a king in Judah.’ And now the king will hear of these reports. So now come and let us take counsel together.”
Statements like “it’s been reported” and “they say” have caused trouble in many local churches and ministries. In every organization, there are gossip-mongers, hovering like vultures, just waiting for tidbits of slander that they can chew, swallow, and then regurgitate. Someone has defined gossip as news you have to hurry and tell somebody else before you find out it isn’t true!
This accusation is designed to pressure Nehemiah to give into them and fall into their trap. But he resists because he sees it for what it really is, an enticement based on lies. It says it was an “open letter.” In other words, it was designed for everyone to read, so that the lie would be spread around that Nehemiah was trying to make himself king.
Nehemiah responded three different ways
· he denied the rumor
· he prayed to God for strength
· he went back to work
Look at verse 8:
Then I sent to him, saying, “No such things as you say have been done, for you are inventing them out of your own mind.”
That’s the best way to respond to a charge like this -- just a flat denial. He doesn’t try to challenge the accusation but simply says, “That is a lie. There is no truth in it.”
And then, invariably, as was his practice, he responds with another “popcorn prayer” in verse 9:
For they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.” But now, O God, strengthen my hands.
Their tactics were to get the people to think that Nehemiah had some hidden motive -- his own glory -- for rebuilding the wall, hoping that the workers would get discouraged and quit. Nehemiah simply prays, “Lord, do not let that happen. Strengthen me to work all the harder.” They were on the last lap of the race and the finish line was in sight. He took care of his character and trusted God to take care of his reputation.
First there is compromise, then accusations and the last one is:
Once again, the enemy switches his game plan up in verse 10:
Now when I went into the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, son of Mehetabel, who was confined to his home, he said, “Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple. Let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you. They are coming to kill you by night.”
What Shemaiah says sounds pretty logical: “Some people are out to get you. They are going to kill you.” Nehemiah certainly believes that! The man suggests, “Come on up here and we will go into the temple and shut the doors. They will not dare attack you there.” That sounds good too, but Nehemiah senses that something is wrong. He knows that he is not permitted to go into the temple because only priests could go inside.
So, he answers in verse 11:
But I said, “Should such a man as I run away? And what man such as I could go into the temple and live? I will not go in.”
He knows that a prophet who was really from the Lord would say nothing contrary to God’s commands. In verse 3 he said, “I cannot come down.” Now he says, “I will not go in.”
Having the right priorities gave Nehemiah the courage to do what was right. Courage isn’t the absence of fear but instead it’s the determination to do what is right no matter how much we’re afraid.
You see, it’s not just a matter of saying ‘no’ to distractions. We have to first say ‘yes’ to the right things, so that our priorities match up with God’s priorities and we’ll be able to deal with distractions the way Nehemiah did.
God gives Nehemiah some insight in verses 12-13:
And I understood and saw that God had not sent him, but he had pronounced the prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. For this purpose he was hired, that I should be afraid and act in this way and sin, and so they could give me a bad name in order to taunt me.
It was all part of a plan to discourage and distract the people from following Nehemiah’s lead. Fueled by jealousy and ambition, these enemies accused him and tried to trick him into giving into their demands with threats.
We must be aware of this kind of attack in our lives as well. Don’t take someone’s advice or do what a friend asks you to do just because they seem like a nice person. Don’t let anyone or anything distract you from God’s priorities.
The best response to threats is what Nehemiah does here:
“Should a man like me run and hide and try to save his life by wrong approaches and unlawful practices? Should I compromise just to save my own skin?”
He falls back upon his clear understanding of who he is and what his priorities are. He is a believer in the Living God and as doesn’t need to resort to dishonesty to save his life.
Nehemiah meets this distraction by going to prayer once again in verse 14:
Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, according to these things that they did, and also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who wanted to make me afraid.
This brings us to the end of this first phase of Nehemiah’s work in verses 15-16:
So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.
Even their enemies had to admit that God was at work! This entire project was finished in just 52 days!
What a beautiful picture of the power of Christian witness in a community! Even their enemies had to agree that God was working among them. But the enemies are still not through. They weren’t ready to give up just yet. In these closing verses we see how they continue opposing and distracting in 17 and 18:
Moreover, in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters to Tobiah, and Tobiah’s letters came to them. For many in Judah were bound by oath to him, because he was the son-in-law of Shecaniah the son of Arah: and his son Jehohanan had taken the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah as his wife.
That is simply saying that Tobiah had intermarried with the Israelites. Taking advantage of that relationship, he was seeking to weaken Nehemiah’s influence by nothing more than mere gossip. As Nehemiah says in verse 19:
Also they spoke of his good deeds in my presence and reported my words to him. And Tobiah sent letters to make me afraid.
Here’s one of the overriding truths from this book: The enemy never quits.
He is never going to give up while we are still alive. God has great blessings, encouragement, and joy for us along the way, but we must never stop battling against the world, the flesh and the devil until we get to heaven. The enemy of God will never quit. If he cannot distract you with fear and flattery, he will use gossip and false accusations.
As we close this morning, let’s ask God to apply this passage to our lives. I see at least two ways that we can do this:
Practice saying “yes” to God’s priorities
Practice saying “yes” to God’s priorities
The best way to not be distracted is by being attracted to those things that are on the heart of God. Once we’re aware of what those are, and are attracted to them, we need to commit ourselves to a life of full devotion and complete commitment.
I heard a story about a Native American who left the reservation to join his cousin who lived in the city. One day, as they were walking down a busy street, the Native American said, “I hear a cricket.” His city cousin was amazed because all he could hear was the traffic. After a short search, the man reached down and picked up the cricket.
When he stood up, he pulled some change out of his pocket and dropped it on the sidewalk. The noise was no louder than the cricket’s, but immediately several pedestrians stopped and turned toward the sound. The man then turned to his cousin and said, “See, people hear what’s important to them.”
What are you hearing today? What is it that’s important to you? Are you focused on God’s purposes or are you focused on a bunch of other things?
Practice saying “no” to the devil’s distractions
Practice saying “no” to the devil’s distractions
I don’t know what distractions you’re faced with but it might be television. I read that the average American spends five hours and 4 minutes watching TV every day. That equals 77 days of nonstop TV watching per year. By the age of 65, the average American will have spent almost 14 years glued to the tube, one fifth of their lives.
Let’s take some time right now and ask the Holy Spirit to help us identify those things that are distracting us from God’s priorities.
· Is it a friend?
· An activity?
· Your money?
· Your possessions?
· Your thoughts?
· Your career?
When the Spirit makes it clear, decide how you can begin to say “no” to those things that are keeping you from what’s most important. Maybe you can practice saying, “no” like Nehemiah did “I will not come down” and “I will not go in.”
Friends, the enemy will try to distract you. But the whole time, God is building His kingdom. Satan is subtle but God is sufficient. Remember, when God’s priorities become our priorities, God’s kingdom work will advance. When the wall was completed, verse 16 says,
….all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.
May that be said of us!