Phyllis Beveridge Nissila
When I woke up yesterday morning and turned on the news there was yet another story about on-lookers at a crime scene verbally and physically insulting and assaulting police who were there to help and protect, ironically, the onlookers, even while the police were also risking their lives to apprehend an active shooter who had already downed six officers.
(Side Note: It is not my intention to insult all onlookers at a crime scene by suggesting the bad behavior of a few represent the whole, just as it would not be my intention to insult all police officers by suggesting the bad behavior of a few represent the whole.)
There was no mention in the news report of not only the (dangerous) irony of the helpless resisting the helpers but also the incomprehensibility of doing so.
But that is what happens when ideologically- and emotionally-charged politics, arguably at work here, freeze free and informed thinking, and there seems to be a lot of suspended thinking going on these days when it comes to politics.
And a lot of danger.
But the purpose of this post is not to highlight mental, emotional, and physical lawlessness (for some thoughts on that see this series on the “the state of political rage“). There comes a point the danger is obvious to all onlookers and “on-thinkers,” as it were; in short, anybody paying attention, and I think most people now are.
My focus is, “What, now?” to offer some perspective through a believer’s lens to help in the efforts to regain mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual focus despite what may happen politically, including “battleground specifics” from a “survival” post from the past, copied after the introduction.
For it seems the battle is not just political, not even merely existential, but between the greater forces of good and evil.
When Comes Contempt
When wickedness comes, so does contempt, and with shame comes reproach… (Proverbs 18:3, NIV)
I previously wrote about why it may be so very difficult to reason with radical left ideologues who would rather ramp up rage than agree to disagree and work together from there. Their goal is different. They want control not compromise. See what you think.
It is now time to move beyond just identifying the issues from a believer’s (and citizen’s) point of view to ways to overcome them–for both believers and others in harm’s way–and to move forward.
For there comes a point when opposition becomes anarchy (and there are those who encourage this and work it to their best advantage).
When this kind of anomalous behavior in a free society becomes the norm, we are all in trouble, not only on the streets but also in classrooms, churches, homes, and halls of power.
In part we face danger and need to move forward not only because “good people do nothing” (often the charge) but also because the best anarchists, i.e., the best-dressed, best-educated, and best-spoken, con their way into minds and hearts much more easily by a veneer of virtue, or you might say, appearing as angels of light to foster a dark revolution. As to the reality, Psalm 35:20 comes to mind:
For they speak not peace: but they devise deceitful matters against them that are quiet in the land.
I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war. (Psalm 120:7)
But the truth will always come out.
Trouble is, is it too late?
Whether or not it is too late, I believe wisdom provides a solution–and a Savior.
When disaster in the temporal realm hits, citizens are often told to “shelter in place,” where, hopefully, they have made provision for some possible food, water, and utilities disruptions.
My suggestion is that there is a “place” to shelter in the spiritual, as well–which impacts everything else.
Sheltering in God’s Place
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:1-2–for more, read here).
Sheltering, i.e., “a position or the state of being covered and protected” (source) even in the context of Psalm 91, is not only a spiritual haven. It is also a “place,” comprehension central, if you will, that exists in the mind and from which clear-thinking and emotional stasis emanate and influence wise decisions before the quick-draw of anger-charged and anarchy-driven ideologies gin up conflagrations in the streets. For some perspective on this:
Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city. (Proverbs 16:32)
A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man promotes folly. (Proverbs 14:29)
And a patient man has “great understanding” because…
The wise prevail through great power, and those who have knowledge muster their strength. Surely you need guidance to wage war, and victory is won through many advisers. (Proverbs 24:6)
Not only spiritual warriors and advisers but also temporal warriors and advisers know this to be true.
Consider the amount of time the famed military strategist Sun Tzu spends on preparation for battle in his work, The Art of War. Indeed, he emphasizes the importance of how battles are really won “off the field,” so to speak, by careful planning. As he wrote:
Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought.
The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations
lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention
to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose. (“I. Laying Plans, #26,” p. 3, )
A both spiritual and temporal “strategist,” the prophet Nehemiah (the subject of the redux post, below), knew this, too, when during the process of re-building the wall around ancient Jerusalem he dealt with his own–and various kinds of–enemies.
In the narrative, Nehemiah reveals not only how he had to withstand them but also, at the same time, accomplish the complex task at hand.
For, regarding believers of all times, it is not only about resisting and overcoming evil, it is also about continuing to “occupy our positions” of ministry until the return of Jesus Christ, to rescue, if you will, those who have either lost their/our way back to “true shelter” or who have yet to find it.
Here are some field notes, so to speak, based on Nehemiah’s story in a post that first appeared less than three months ago but that seems to be even more relevant by the day.
Old-Testament-era prophet Nehemiah, who was commissioned to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem, employed several practical strategies to deal with his enemies.
Since there is “nothing new under the sun,” I believe his adversaries represent types of “opponents” also found today–especially as political and culture wars heat up and some extremists are threatening violence, even as Nehemiah’s enemies wanted to stop his project with their own threats.
I believe Nehemiah’s strategies can serve as models and encouragements for us, too, in all of the arenas in which we operate, not just political and cultural but also spiritual (note: not denomination, creed, or philosophy-specific religious “programs” because such man-made constructs do not necessarily reflect our true unity as believers in, and followers of, a person: Jesus Christ).
The prophet also employed “spiritual weapons,” most notably, prayer, discernment, and obedience to God’s Word, when it came to practical applications, because back then he understood that his real adversary behind the scenes was in the spirit realm–even as is ours, now.
As defined in Ephesians 6:12, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
But first, a few thoughts on Nehemiah’s preparation–an essential component of a successful campaign in any kind of battle.
A study of the narrative reveals that the Nehemiah was:
obedient to not only his “call” to rebuild the wall but also to King Artaxerxes for whom Nehemiah was the highly-trusted cup-bearer. He knew he would need both permission and provision from the King to tackle the re-building of the wall around Jerusalem. He was…
thorough; it has always been of interest to me that Nehemiah took approximately twice as long to plan the project as the actual re-building took to complete; he wanted to make sure “all the ‘i’s’ were dotted and ‘t’s’ crossed”. He was…
humble; a notable example of his humility was when the wall was complete, he did not respond to the peoples’ plea that he continue as governor of Jerusalem but went back to his original assignment as cup-bearer to King Artaxerxes, and Nehemiah was…
prayerfully patient–and practical. These last attributes were revealed in both his willingness to wait on permission from Artaxerxes as well as his care in surveying the damage and assigning the families and shopkeepers to repair the sections closest to them.
Nehemiah’s patience and practicality are also evident in his response to his enemies’ various tactics, thus he avoided knee-jerk reactions by first getting on his knees in prayer for guidance.
I think the last point is critical because our (real) enemy, through human agents, enjoys lighting as many fearsome, distracting, and exhausting fires–demanding our immediate attention–as he can get away with.
Ever notice that?
But God is the author of a sound mind, and His wisdom is easily entreated (administered) despite the “rumble of hostile drums,” as a friend describes the soundscape of these tenuous times. And in what fray may come, there is also a peace.
I think that in that kind of peace there is likewise confidence, courage, and strength. As James put it in his letter to the saints:
For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, accommodating, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere. (3:17)
Scripture (and, I would add, history which tends to repeat itself) teaches that there is nothing new under the sun, as previously noted; thus I believe that a study of how Nehemiah (successfully) handled each of the major attacks on his work rebuilding the wall around the holy city–challenges from both without and within–reveal what are effective strategies in any era.
So to the battleground in B.C. and Nehemiah’s timeless strategies–after careful preparation, of course–with some parallel strategies and advice for us here in A.D.
Nehemiah faced back then, even as we do today:
As soon as the first stones were gathered for the reconstruction the attacks against Nehemiah and his wall-rebuilding project began. They started with mockery and insults.
“What are these feeble Jews doing?” (One can almost picture a sneer on Sanballat’s face as he says this). “Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble…?” (4:2).
His cohort Tobiah added, most likely with his own look of contempt, “What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!” (4:3).
A modern enemy in the eyes of many put it this way: “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon” (Saul Alinsky*, Rules for Radicals).
Because ridicule is often laced with contempt, it is virtually impossible to counter it with reason. Anyone who has ever been up close and personal with such an adversary will attest that if not resolved, this can be a relationship-destroying dynamic.
Ridicule-based contempt works well on people groups, too, dividing and conquering in its wake.
But most importantly, if we take the battle bait of thinking we need to respond to this kind of attack, especially the contemptuous kind, it is highly distracting, and often mires one in a mud-slinging contest where nobody wins.
Well, except for the one who uses it as a distraction–so that the work falters or fails.
I am reminded of Proverbs 9:7-8: “Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults;
whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse. 8 Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you…”
Why? Because such mockers don’t want resolution, they want destruction.
What did Nehemiah do?
He prayed, “Hear us, O our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads…” (4:4). He left the “response” to God; meanwhile, back to work.
Note for today: Pray, resist distractions, and keep on working**.
2) Stirring up trouble for a fight
Nehemiah writes: “But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the people of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. 8 They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it.” (4:7-8).
A Scripture from elsewhere in the Old Testament reminds us: “a time for war and a time for peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:8).
Successful “warriors” understand that there is that opposition where reason and negotiation are ineffective because the adversary, as previously noted, really desires destruction. Then it’s time to “armor up” in the spirit–and on the ground.
What did Nehemiah do? ” But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat” (9).
Note to believers today: Pray, employ practical as well as spiritual measures for defense or offense, whatever is needed, and keep on working.
3)Trouble on the “inside”
While Nehemiah and the citizens were commencing with the work, he was notified of dissension from within–among the Jews. “And there was a great cry…” (5:1) against the brethren who were lending money at exorbitant interest rates (usury). He called the people together, reminded them of the need for unity, and commanded obedience to maintain unified strength against the enemy from without.
A wise women with whom I once worked on various pro-life issues and activities warned all of us thus engaged to watch out for the “hangers-on,” that is to say, people of questionable motives who often join causes for their own reasons.
In the group we were in, for example, there were “plants” from the pro-abortion side to stir up doubt; a cult-leader looking for recruits (because back then it was primarily religious people who were engaged in pro-life work); and people just out for attention who showed up for the marches and anything covered by the news media, but didn’t do much if any at all of the “work behind the scenes,” often lonely and sometimes dangerous work. Ask those who were imprisoned and/or abused in prison, which got very little, if any, attention–even in the church.
What did Nehemiah do? He responded immediately, explained the danger of such division as not only unjust but also distracting and as such would weaken the larger effort, he ordered it’s cessation and restitution of what was unjustly taken, and instituted consequences if it were not stopped.
Note for today: Among those “internal adversaries” today would be the same kinds of people: the deceivers (aka quislings and perhaps virtue signalers); the greedy; and the attention-seekers whether for press or for recruits for their own personal agendas. Thus, discernment is essential and calling them out is critical, and keep on working.
4) Compromisers: Using Reason, Fear Mongering, and False Prophets
This last multi-faceted strategy is the most subtle and used only after more blatant attempts to stop the work have failed.
After Nehemiah had successfully ignored the insults and accusations, had dealt successfully with exploitation from within the ranks of his people–and the wall got higher, brick by brick–his enemies tried another tactic: the call to compromise, make some concessions, negotiate. This tactic included three different kinds of compromise attempts, each one subtler than the last thus requiring three different resistance tactics.
FIRST: But compromising sounds like a reasonable thing, right?! (That’s the “appeal to reason strategy.”)
Nehemiah, however, having dealt enough with his adversaries already to know they were deceptive, did not take the bait, especially when he learned that Sanballat wanted him to get down from his ladder, come away from his people, travel to a distant village and, well, who knows what would have happened, then.
NEXT: In the next instance, Sanballet changed his tactic. He suggested Nehemiah was suspected of personal ambition to take over Judah and some people were plotting a revolt, so Nehemiah really SHOULD meet with him. Again, however, Nehemiah discerned “they were all trying to frighten us.” He rebuked Sanballat for his lies and prayed to God, “Now strengthen my hands” (6:9).
LASTLY: Sanballet used the “false prophet” strategy, as in a prophet who was really one of Sanballat’s people. This prophet, he told Nehemiah, said that some men were coming to kill Nehemiah, and if he wanted more information, he had to meet with Sanballat “in (a) house of God,” AND, they would also “close the temple doors” because…killers…
(The reader by this time can almost hear Nehemiah saying, in today’s vernacular, “Okay, yeah, right…NOT.”)
What did Nehemiah do? In the first instance, he replied, simply, that he “was carrying on a great project,” and couldn’t come down (6:3).
In the intensified second instance, Nehemiah, keeping in mind what he already knew about Sanballat and his tribe, rebuked him and prayed, again, for strength.
In the last instance, Nehemiah discerned the man was a false prophet hired to intimidate him and discredit his name. In addition to using discernment, this time he responded using rhetorical questions: “Should a man like me run away? Or should one like me go into the temple to save his life?” (6:11), Instead, Nehemiah resisted fear, rebuked the false prophet, and committed the fate of all of his enemies to God (6:14).
Note to believers today: Discern who the enemy is–including false prophets–act accordingly, pray for protection, having done all you can leave your enemies in the hands of God, and keep on working.
Or in the words of Jesus by way of a parable: “Occupy (pragmateuomai)–literally: trade, take care of business [keep on working]; figuratively: bear much fruit) until I come” (Luke 19:13)
*For more on how Saul Alinsky’s ideology and writings have influenced today’s radical left, see this three-part series, Outing the Radical Left’s (Literal) Playbook–and What a Person Can Do
**For our assignments, whether working in private or public domains, at home, in the workplace, or any other arena where we go about our daily business, see here for literal assignments, here for “gifts” to enable us in our work, and here for the outcomes that gradually increase as we allow the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us in the “spiritual maturation process.”
For more posts on both spiritual and physical survival, I invite you to read posts here.