Staying Focused When Mud Flies

By virtue of the ministry I’ve been allowed to have, I often interact with ministry leaders who are facing intense ministry and personal challenges where they serve. It is not an easy day in which to serve the Lord, that’s for sure, but when has it ever been such? I suppose the difficulties in our day sometimes seem larger because of the magnifying glass called the internet. One person can sound like a thousand. A problem is broadcast around the world in minutes and remains on the cyber-shelf for all to see long after it has been resolved. Accusations can be flung with limited consequences and an incredibly low standard for proof.

It is the world we live in and it is probably not going to get any better, so all who aspire to leadership better accept the fact that it will happen and learn how to respond productively to it. There is a lot that could be said about productively responding, but in this post I want focus on one—don’t let it derail your ministry! Perhaps the only thing sadder than ungodly attacks is when those being attacked allow their attackers to set the agenda and redirect them away from fruitful ministry.

Thinking about some folks getting hammered recently, I was reminded of Nehemiah’s steadfast leadership in the face of much struggle and opposition. Nehemiah 6 records how he faced three serious challenges, yet remained focused on his purpose and ministry.

He faced the challenge of distractions (vv. 1-4). Two men, opposed to his work, invited him to a summit meeting—in fact, they sent him four invitations (v. 4). Rather than get caught up in their distraction, Nehemiah firmly replied, “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?” (v. 3). Because their invitation had nothing to do with his mission, he refused to get distracted by it.

He faced the challenge of distortions—people said things about him that were not true (vv. 5-9). Those who did not like the work that Nehemiah was doing tried to discourage and intimidate him by spreading unfounded and baseless accusations. They accused him of promoting himself and of seeking an agenda of rebellion. Few things take the wind out of someone’s sails like these kinds of distortions. But rather than get discouraged and quit, Nehemiah rebuffed their accusation and remained steadfast in his mission. He prayed and pressed on!

He faced the challenge of deception (vv. 10-14). Next, Nehemiah faced a challenge from an unexpected source—an acquaintance, someone he thought to be on his side. Shemaiah attempted to trick Nehemiah into acting wrongly by fleeing into the temple in self-preservation. Its seems that the plot was designed to cause Nehemiah to panic and act cowardly. If he fell for it, then the leader would be discredited and the people would be disheartened. Instead of turning to hide, Nehemiah “perceived that surely God had not sent him” (v. 12) and he kept pressing on.

Distractions. Distortions. Deceptions. I believe that anyone seeking to do something for the Lord will face these challenges. Like Nehemiah, if we are walking in obedience to the Lord (cf. 2:12), we must not allow them to stop us. The answer to the distractions, distortions, and deceptions was Nehemiah’s intensity, integrity, and insight. He was completely committed to doing what God put in his heart to do. He was focused on the work, not himself, so he refused to engage with character assassins. He would not violate God’s Word in order to protect himself and he knew that anybody asking him to disobey God was not acting on God’s behalf.

Ministry leaders can’t afford to mistakenly think that the echo chamber of a Facebook page or internet forum actually represents a “multitude” of concerned voices. A vocal minority should never be allowed control of the agenda simply because they can scream louder, fight dirtier, and use the internet to bully their way forward. Nehemiah understood that there is nothing to be gained by trying to pacify people whose sole ambition is to harm the work. His words should be ours, “Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” (v. 3)

Friend, don’t become weary in doing well. Don’t let struggle and opposition sidetrack you from God’s will. Don’t get sucked into a squabble which is designed to derail and destroy the work. Keep praying and keep pressing on for the Lord’s glory!

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