Craig Groeschel - Standing Strong in the Face of Adversity
Hey, it is great to have you with us today at every single one of our Life.Churches, our Open Network churches, we love you guys, all over the world at Church Online, streaming on YouTube, those of you streaming the message, I pray that God speaks to you in a big way. Who is ready today to hear from God's word? So glad that you are. We are in part three of a four-part message series called The Good Work. Today I pray the message would be encouraging to you, but we're actually gonna start off with some things that could be a little bit difficult.
The title of today's message is Standing Strong in the Face of Opposition. Here's what I hope that you'll understand. Anytime that God leads you, he prompts you, to do something meaningful, to make a difference, something that's generous, something that benefits someone else, something that is lasting, unfortunately, you could expect opposition. You can count on obstacles. You can expect on spiritual resistance to come and to try to slow your work.
If you look at stories in the Bible, Adam and Eve are serving God, and the evil serpent comes to resist them, and distract them from God's will. Moses had Pharaoh, who was an enemy, David had Goliath, go to the New Testament, Jesus had Herod, the Pharisees, Jewish leaders, Judas, the devil, the demons, all the haters went on and on. Batman had Joker. Nehemiah, the person that we're looking at, he had Sanballat and Tobiah, and others who opposed his work. Perhaps you're just joining us, and you don't know the back story. You missed the previous two weeks. Let me give you the story.
Nehemiah was an ordinary guy who was a cup-bearer, or a servant, to King Artaxerxes of Persia. He heard about the plight of his people, maybe a thousand miles away or so, who were in a horrible situation, because they had been, their city had been destroyed by the Babylonians. So his heart was breaking for his people, and he realized, somebody has gotta do something about this. It might as well be me. He seeks God, he asks for favor from God, he approaches the king, may I go back and rebuild the city? It's a fascinating story of a spiritual journey, and a heart for leadership of an ordinary guy who believed that God could use him to do something that hadn't been done before.
You can read the details in the Book of Nehemiah, wish we had time to go over them. But when he went back, he started rebuilding the gates before rebuilding the walls. And you can read about this, he was leading a group of people to rebuild the sheep gate, the fish gate, the valley gate, the horse gate, the water gate, the dung gate, and I'm not making these up. These are in your Bible, you should read them. The water gate and the dung gate. I wanna live by the fish gate, not the dung gate, but that's just me. What's crazy is he was inspiring these other ordinary people to come along and do this work.
In other words, I am a pastor, I don't know how to build a gate. And this is kinda the type of people that he's working with. They were not masonries, they were not carpenters. He was working with goldsmiths, merchants, and perfume-makers. How you get a perfume-maker to build a gate is beyond me. What was interesting is they started making some progress. For the first time, the gates were coming up, there was progress on the walls, and the people started to think, maybe, just maybe, we can do this. In other words, this thing is going down. What do we know? That whenever the work goes down, opposition shows up. The moment you tend to start doing something that glorifies God, you can set your calendar to know that spiritual opposition is gonna show up.
And we see this in chapter four of Nehemiah. We'll start in verse one, and watch as we have all of this opposition. Scripture says this. When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he's a bad guy, he became angry and was greatly incensed. So what does Sanballat do? He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates, and the army of Samaria, he said, "What are those feeble Jews doing"? Now, what you may not understand just from our English translation the word feeble, from the Hebrew text, it actually means like a flower that was chopped off. That's what it means, it means a flower that is now dead. So when he's saying feeble, he's saying they're hopeless, they're lifeless, they have no chance of rebuilding these walls.
What are these feeble Jews doing? Then he says, "Will they rebuild and restore the wall? Will they ever offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heap of rubble, burned as they are"? Then Tobiah, the Ammonite, joins into the berating party. Tobiah, who was at his side, says, "What are they building? Even a fox can climb up on it, and would break down their walls of stones". What do we see? When the work starts to go down, the opposition shows up. And unfortunately, this is true for some of you.
Who knows, perhaps in the last few weeks, you were moved in a direction of doing something to make a difference. And all the sudden, you had opposition. It could be as simple as you decided to come back to church for the first time in a long time, and so on the way there, you got in the worst fight ever, and you cussed all the way to go and worship God in the house of God, right? It could be that you're trying to get out of debt, and you've said, we are gonna pay off these bills. And the moment you declare it, your car breaks down, and suddenly you have a $700 repair. It could be that you start serving in the two-year-olds ministry for the first time. We finally are honoring God, and it happens to be the day where a two-year-old is sick and throws up Froot Loops all over your lap, and it's just disgusting.
It could be that you wanna do something, and so you tell somebody close to you. This is what I believe God is calling me to do, and the first thing they say is, who do you think you are? That's stupid, you don't have what it takes. Why are you trying to do this? And someone that you love shoots down your idea. What I hope you'll understand is this. Don't be surprised when you face opposition. Don't ever be surprised when you take a step of faith, and you see your enemy push back, because advancement invites opposition. What do we know about our enemy, the devil? He doesn't bother those who are not a threat. If you're walking his way, doing his will, he's gonna leave you alone completely, but the moment you step out, and try to honor God, flags go up all over hell, and demons are released to go and stop you from doing what you know God put in your heart.
Expect spiritual opposition when you do the will of God, Satan tries to oppose the work of God. If you don't want any opposition, if you wanna have a really easy life, I'll tell you how to do it. What I would recommend is that you just coast along. You do your comfortable thing. Live a comfy life. Create the perfect little environment for your safe life where you can make little, you know, the perfect selfies, you know, #blessed, show everybody the life you want them to see. Go to church if you want, but whatever you do, don't engage, don't you dare pray, don't serve, don't give, don't care about the things of God. You can do some spiritual things, enough to make you feel good, but not enough to make a real difference. Because the moment you step out of your comfort zone, and seek the God of heaven, and try to represent his love and do something significant, the problem is, when you step out, the devil tries to step in to stop you from doing the work of God.
You don't want any opposition, just stay out of the game, live a self-centered life, and you're probably gonna be left out of the trouble. Here's what I'll help you understand. God is calling some of you to step up. To serve, to tithe, to pray, to invite, to show love, not just in the church, but as the church in the world. And the moment you do, you will face opposition. You will have critics, critics, and haters, critics and haters. I always say, the loudest boos come from the cheapest seats. But that's just my opinion.
Nehemiah steps up, and Sanballat and Tobiah come and try to tear him down. How do you respond to critics? How do you respond to haters, to naysayers, and to doubters? The answer is, most of the time, you don't. Let me be very clear, most of the time, you don't. Notice what Nehemiah doesn't do. He doesn't respond, he doesn't answer, and he doesn't defend. In fact, what I hope you'll understand is your response isn't going to convert your critics. The only thing a response does is it validates the critics. I always say this, when you acknowledge your critics, you actually give them power. They're not really that important if you don't respond. You ignore them, and you keep on doing the work of God. How do you respond, you don't.
In fact, how many times have you heard, maybe our church criticized, me criticized? Don't raise your hand, 'cause everyone time everyone raises your hand, it feels really discouraging to me. How often do you see me defending? Almost never. My goal is not to change critics. My goal is to do the will of God. We're gonna stay above what they say, what they say. Who are they, I don't know, they, they, them, them! Everybody, who's everybody, I don't know, them, they, they, they, them! Somebody sitting in his basement typing away. They, they, them, them! We're gonna stay above, and we're gonna do the will of God.
And let me just say, it's not easy when you step out, and people start criticizing you. It's never ever easy to deal with haters. But it's even more difficult to deal from doubt from the people that you love. From those who are closest to you, who sometimes don't believe in what you're called to do. And this is what will happen for some of you. You're gonna feel called by God to do something, to take a step of faith, and someone you love, someone that you trust, someone that loves you, is gonna step in with strong words of discouragement. Who do you think you are? You're not prepared for that. Don't sell yourself short. You should do something different, don't be stupid. Who do you think you are?
In fact, if we can go back in time to when I was in college, and not a Christian, and living a very wild life, you could say it this way. I was building my testimony. Okay. That was that guy, I was building my testimony, and when I got radically transformed by Jesus, I felt immediately called to ministry. I didn't know what that meant, but I just felt like that's what I wanted to do. And because I'd grown up in church, but wasn't a Christian, for some reason, I just fell in love with the church. I want to serve God in the church to help people meet Jesus. The problem was, I was a business major, I was already a business major, I never thought to change my major. So I graduated, and then I said, I feel called to be a pastor in church.
Let me tell you what the vast majority of almost everybody close to me said. Why would you waste your life doing that? You were so good in business, you were high in your class. Don't be a pastor of some stupid church. There's more in you than that. Virtually everybody, almost, not every, almost everybody who loved me in my inner circle, my friends, some family members, don't waste your life doing that. Oh, it's hard when haters hate on you. It's even more difficult when the people closest to you don't believe in you doing what you're called to do.
Here's what's gonna happen. You're gonna feel called to something. Maybe it's to foster. And someone's gonna say, you barely handle those kids you've already got, who are you to do that? You're gonna start a life group. Who, you don't even know where the Book of Leviticus is, you know, you can't do that. Whatever it is, you're too old, you're too young. You're too uneducated, you're overeducated, you're too this. I wanted to say to somebody, you're too negative, you don't know my God! When you step out, opposition steps in.
That's why, this is really important in any form of leadership, any form of influence, any form of ministry, I always try to tell myself, I'm not gonna be moved by praise or criticism. I'm not gonna be moved by praise or criticism. I'm not gonna let praise get into my head. I'm not gonna let criticism get into my heart. I'm not gonna be moved by what people think, I'm trying to be moved by what God thinks. Here's what Nehemiah knows. He knows that he doesn't answer to his critics. He understands that he answers to God. And so instead of engaging on a lower level, he turns to a higher power, and once again, we see Nehemiah pray.
Here's what he prays, and watch this. The power of this prayer. He says, "Hear us, our God, for we are despised". In other words, we've got haters that are coming onto us. Now watch what he prays. This is not what Jesus taught us to pray. Just want you to know. He could learn from Jesus. This is the kind of prayer I've been known to pray. Watch what he prays. He says, "Turns their insults back on their own heads". I like that prayer! I'm not telling you that's how to pray, but that's right there, that's what he prayed. He obviously needed some maturing. It hadn't been written to turn the other cheek yet, so right now, sic 'em, God! Get 'em, get 'em God! Turn back their insults on their own heads. Give them over as a plunder in the land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight. Sin them to hell where the worm never dies. There's weeping and gnashing of teeth, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders. They're insulting the people that are doing your work, God, verse six.
So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, why? For the people worked with all their heart. What did Nehemiah do in the face of opposition? Watch what he did. He prayed to God, and he got back to work. He sought the heart of God, and then he went back to work. And the wall continued to go up, why? Because the people worked with all their heart. There wasn't room for the critics to get up there in their heart, 'cause they were doing the work of God. They weren't lowering themselves down to fight those who are arguing about petty things, 'cause they had a higher calling doing the will of God. They went to God in prayer, and then they got back to doing the work of God.
What I love about Nehemiah is you see this over and over and over again. He was both spiritual and practical. He would pray as if everything depended on God, and then he would work as if everything depended on him. I think there are some people who need to be a little less practical, and a little more spiritual, and some people who need to be a little less of one, and a little more of the other. We are all spiritual and all practical. We need you God, you guide our steps, and we show up to work. We need your direction, and yet we roll up our sleeves. We need your power, yet we take out our shovels. We need your grace, and yet we're willing to do what you call us to do.
We take a moment to pray, and then we show back up to work. Verse 10, what did we see? Meanwhile, in the middle of all this criticism, the people in Judah said this. These are Nehemiah's people. They said, "The strength of the laborers is giving out. And there's so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall". Last week, we saw progress. This week, we see discouragement. And this is exactly what happens so often when we step into doing what we believe is the will of God. We see a little bit of progress, and then we see a little bit of opposition. Then verse 11, this is what scripture says. Also, our enemies said, "Before they know it or see us, we'll be right there among them, and will kill them, and put an end to the work".
Our enemies, they're gonna kill us, and they're gonna end the work of God. Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, "Wherever you turn, they will attack". What do we see? We see Nehemiah's friends, his people, the people of Judah, starting to doubt. They're not just doubting what others are gonna do. They're actually doubting their own ability to get the job done. I don't know about you. But at every type of opposition, spiritual opposition, external opposition from haters, opposition from people that love me, the one that's the most difficult is whenever it's internal opposition. It's when my own insecurities raise their ugly head, and say, who do you think you are?
You don't have what it takes. I don't know who this might speak to, but there's someone here who are listening more to your inner insecurities than you are to the truth of who God says you are. If I can be this gut-level honest with you, that the most difficult battle I face is the voice in my head that tells me again and again, you will never be enough. No matter how hard you try, you're always gonna be inadequate. And that voice echos, haunts my soul. You can never get it done, you can never be good enough. You will never ever, ever measure up. Here's what I've learned. The external opposition will only be as loud as my internal insecurities allow them to be.
Let me say it again. The external opposition, whatever they say, they say, they say, they say, will only be as loud as my internal insecurities allow them to be. That's why we rise above it. That's why we keep our eyes focused on Jesus, the author and the perfecter of our faith. That's why we don't look to the left, or look to the right, or listen to what the lower would say. We keep our hearts higher. And this is exactly what Nehemiah does. Watch in verse 14, as Nehemiah hears the people, they're discouraged, they're giving up, they're giving out, they don't think it can be done.
Nehemiah says, after I looked things over again, the leader in him is surveying the lay of the land, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials, and the rest of the people, don't be afraid of them. Don't be afraid of the enemies. Don't be afraid of Sanballat, and Tobiah, and all the evil voices, don't be afraid of what they say, why? Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome. What does Nehemiah do? He takes the focus off of himself, and he puts it on God. He takes the focus off of the naysayers, and he puts the focus back on God. And he's saying, this isn't our battle. This battle belongs to the Lord. Our God is with us, our God is for us. He will never leave us. Yeah! He will never forsake us. We believe that all things are possible with our God. Greater is he that is in us, than he that is in this world. We know that when we walk in, the power of our God walks in with us.
My focus is not on what they say. I remember the hand of my God. I remember, when I prayed for months and months and months, and God granted the king favor and turned his heart and let me go. I remember when the king provided both protection and provision. I remember what he blessed me to go out. I remember when God gave me favor with the people. I remember when there was nothing, and the walls started going up. I remember that God provided it all. But God made it all possible. He said, remember the Lord your God. Can you imagine him, standing up before the nobles, and preaching some version of a sermon. Remember the goodness of our God. Remember when our ancestors were in Egyptian bondage, and our God split the Red Sea, and the people walked out on dry land. And when the enemies pursued, God closed up the sea, and washed the enemies away.
Do you remember when God led our people with fire by night, and fed us with manna from heaven? Do you remember the goodness, the faithfulness or our God? What I'll do in my own life, when the voice says you're not good enough, when I'm about to preach and my faith is not very high, I'll remember who I was before trust. I'll remember the brokenness, the guilt, the shame, the sin. But as hard as I try, I couldn't pray. And I remember receiving a little green New Testament, and reading in the King James Version, which is hard to read! The thees and thous, tha la la. And I remember reading, for by grace are you saved through faith. Not by works. Amen. Amen. Amen.
And I remember praying probably the most inappropriate, non-Biblical prayer of salvation ever prayed in the history of the world. 'Cause nobody told me how to pray it. But it was from the heart. And I knelt down in a softball field one person, and I stood up different. Different. And I remember miracles, when God healed people that we prayed for. And when God provided, we had nothing. And when God answered my prayer, and brought me an equally weird Jesus follower who happened to be cute. And I remember us praying that God would open the door to start a church. It started in a little two-car garage, then an elementary school. Then we got kicked out of an elementary school. I had no where to go on a Sunday, no where to go, and we prayed. And on a Tuesday on a handshake, someone invited us to move into a bike factory.
We stayed for, I remember God showing up, and bringing the right people. He brought the right gifts, and the right encouragement. I remember miracle after miracle after miracle after miracle, so when I tell you our God can, it's because I've seen our God do. And if he's done it before somebody, he can do it again. If he's done it for me, I know he'll do it for you. Remember the Lord our God. 'Cause when it gets tough, and I promise you it will, you're gonna need to think about something, and I know our God would rather you think about his power, than those who hate his will. Remember the Lord our God. The greater the opposition, the greater the opportunity for our God to fight for you. Someone you got a bad report right now, and you don't think there's any way. The greater the opposition, the greater the opportunity for our God to fight for you. The worse the report, the better the testimony, and God shows up and shows off.
Remember the Lord our God. Nehemiah says this in verse 14. Don't be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome. Fight, people, fight! Stand up for what we believe in the goodness of our God! Fight for your families, he says. Your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes. Somebody here needs to hear it. Remember the Lord your God, and continue to fight for healing! Remember the Lord your God, and continue to believe that he can get you out of debt. Remember the Lord your God, and still fight for your marriage. Remember the Lord your God, and fight for your children to find freedom in Christ.
Keep on fighting for that one child that needs a family. Keep on fighting for the unborn that can't fight for themselves. Keep on fighting for the victims that need healing and grace and hope, and treat them with dignity and honor and respect in a way they may never have had before. Keep fighting for the lost who need to find hope in Christ. Whenever you do something that matters, there will be a battle. You will always face opposition. I tell myself all the time, if I'm not ready to face opposition for my obedience to God, I'm not ready to be used by God. God, make me ready. God, help me know your calling. God, help me do what you've called me to do. I don't have to be chosen by people when I'm called by God. Step into his will.
Remember the Lord, and fight. What do you do when there's something in the world that doesn't sit right with you on behalf of God? You sit down to cry, you kneel down to pray, and you stand up to act. Then with God directing your steps, what do you do? You seek God faithfully. You define the vision clearly. You make plans carefully, and you inspire people passionate. And when your enemy shows up to try to slow you down, you remember the Lord your God, and you fight for what God called you to fight for. You don't give up. You don't grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time, you will reap a harvest if you do not give up. Keep on building, one stone at a time, one brick at a time. One moment of faithfulness after another, day after day, week after week, by the power of God, and to the grace of his people. You can rebuild that wall. You can be used by God, and you won't let the voice or the power of any opposition stop you, slow you, deter you, or distract you because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. Step into it. You have the power of Christ.
So Father, today, we pray, God, that you would stir our hearts. Move us, God, to do your will, to have faith in you.
As you pray today at all of our different churches, I'm guessing that many of you in some form, some area of your life, you're facing opposition. Internal doubts, external opposition. Struggles in your marriage, setbacks financially. Your kids doing things that scare you, and you don't know how to change their direction. Internal fears. Insecurities, pressure, challenges, stress, fatigue, doubts, some form of opposition. I believe God brought you here today to take your eyes off of the obstacle and to recognize this is an opportunity for our God to be strong whenever you are weak. In our weakness, God's strength is made perfect. At all of our different churches, those of you, you're facing some form of opposition, and you need the help, the presence, the power of God, would you lift up your hands right now. Just lift them up, just lift them up.
God, in a strange way, I thank you that we do have opposition, because we know that when we're doing your will, the enemy tries to stop the work of God. So we find comfort in knowing that not only is there an enemy that's opposing us, but God, you are with us, strengthening us, and empowering us. Greater are you, greater, God, are you, that dwell within us, than the opposing power in this world. Give us faith, God. I pray for miracles, I pray for spiritual breakthrough. I pray for supernatural healing, God. I pray for provision from heaven. I pray, God, that you would take a little bitty, eensy, weensy, tiny seed of faith, when we feel overwhelmed and overcome with doubt, just whatever faith there is, God, and use that faith to move mountains. God, wherever the enemy opposes, would you give us the strength to stand strong in the face of opposition, knowing that the greater power of your risen Son dwells within us. God, we know in this world, we will have trouble, but we can take heart, God, because of the resurrected Christ, you have overcome this world. Strengthen us, God, in the face of opposition.
As you keep praying today, nobody looking around, this is incredibly important. There are some of you that if we had a, just kind of like a personal one-on-one conversation about your faith, status, where you stand spiritually, you might be what I'd call like almost a follower. You look like one, maybe. You're watching a church message, or listening to a church message, or in a church building. You may know some of the answers, you might know some people that are followers, you kinda look like a follower. Some people think you're a follower. But you know that you're not actively following Jesus. You don't have a supernatural peace knowing that you actually belong to him. I believe that you're here by the providence, and because of the love of God, and you have a decision to make.
There's a lot that hangs in this moment and on this decision. And there will be spiritual opposition immediately. A voice will tell you, don't be stupid, don't be emotional, don't believe that stuff. It's gonna be, it's up to you. You don't need that. You don't wanna do that. But deep down, you know there's something missing. Deep down, you know there's something more. There is, it's the goodness of God, his grace. A grace that covers your sin. A grace that brings a peace that goes beyond what this world ever could even explain. His name is Jesus, and remember who he is, remember what he did. He is the Son of God who shed his innocent blood that we could live. He gave his life. God raised him from the dead so that anyone, and this includes you, who calls on his name will be saved, will be forgiven. It's your moment, it's your time. This is your moment, this is your time to say yes to him. Get ready, the opposition's gonna tell you don't. You got a choice, give in, or stand up for him.
All of our different churches, those who say I want Jesus, I want his grace, I need his power, I turn from my sin, I give my life to him, that's your prayer today, fight off the opposition, surrender to Christ and say, yes, I give my life to him. That's your prayer, lift your head high now, all over the place, saying yes, Jesus. Lift your hands up and say, I surrender my life to him. We have hands going up at all of our different churches right now, people coming to faith in Christ, because of his grace. Would you just pray today with those around you, just pray aloud, pray:
Heavenly Father, forgive me for all my sins. Today, I give you my life, all of it: my past mistakes, My present heartbreaks, all of my future I surrender to you. Fill me with your spirit. Jesus, empower my steps. Teach me to love people. Teach me to love people and to do your will. My life is not my own. Use me to do the good work, to do your will on earth as it is in heaven. I give my life to you. In Jesus' name I pray.