Summary: Do you have any unfinished projects lying around collecting dust? It’s so easy to get sidetracked isn’t it? It takes tenacity to finish what we start because there are always so many competing distractions.
Dealing with Distractions
Do you have any unfinished projects lying around collecting dust? It’s so easy to get sidetracked isn’t it? It takes tenacity to finish what we start because there are always so many competing distractions.
One thing that clearly emerges from our study in the Book of Nehemiah is that life is a battle from beginning to end. In Ephesians 6:12 the Apostle Paul warns, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood…but against the powers of this dark world.” We meet these powers of darkness in our text today.
Here in Nehemiah 6, as in many other places in Scripture, we learn that the devil has two main ways of working. The first tactic is fear. Satan is prowling around, as Peter says in 1 Peter 5:8, “like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
But he has another battle plan as well. He not only uses fear, he also utilizes flattery. 2 Corinthians 11:14 reveals that Satan “masquerades as an angel of light.” He comes with enticing promises and flattering words, assuring us that what he proposes will cost us nothing.
Whatever method the evil one employs, whether it be fear or flattery, his aim is to distract and destroy us. We need to be on guard against each of these approaches. That is why Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2:11 that “We are not unaware of his schemes.” We need to be on guard because Satan is both a lion that devours and a serpent that deceives.
Let me give you a simple outline of chapter 6 that will help us get a better handle on how to deal with distractions:
The Intrigue (1-4)
The Innuendo (5-9)
The Intimidation (10-19)
The Intrigue (1-4)
Since Sanballat and his sinister buddies failed in their attempts to stop the wall builders, they decide now to concentrate their attacks on Nehemiah himself by changing their tactics and resorting to subtle persuasion. We might call this political softball. You will experience this as well when you try to correct some things in your life. Many people today are faltering in their Christian pilgrimage because they listen to the advice and temptations of those closest to them.
Let’s take a look at verses 1-4: “When word came to Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall and not a gap was left in it -- though up to that time I had not set the doors in the gates -- Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: ‘Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.’ But they were scheming to harm me; so I sent messengers to them with this reply: ‘I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?’ Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer.”
These enemies suddenly become Nehemiah’s friends and invite him to a conference down on the plain of Ono. The first four verses look like a political concession speech they want to meet with Nehemiah and cut their losses or so it seems. Ono is located on the seacoast near the Gaza strip. It was a beautiful resort area. But Nehemiah senses danger: “they were scheming to harm me.” 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 firmly declines, saying, “I am carrying on a great project, and I cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?”
That is a great answer even though it sounds rather blunt. But Nehemiah sees through their scheme by refusing their invitation four different times. You, too, may experience continuing pressure to change your mind and go along with something that is wrong. Some of us give in to repeated pressure. We might decline the first invitation but find our defenses weakened as the enticements continue. But Nehemiah persists 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.”
Sometimes these distractions come disguised as harmless options or even good things. In staff meeting this week we were discussing this passage and Geoff and I mentioned that we both recently turned down speaking engagements elsewhere because of the work we’re involved with here. Those speaking opportunities were good, but they could have become distractions. As we discussed during our meeting, there are many things that distract us from what’s really important things like meetings, TV, sports, reading, and even email.