There was a very long season for me in ministry when I rarely went a week without some level of significant resistance from another human being. It was maddening and discouraging on some days, but on other days I found myself stirred for the fight. Looking back, none of it felt holy because the conflict was almost always involving another believer. I learned to hate fighting with Christians. By God’s grace, I both shrunk and grew during that prolonged season of criticism and resistance. My pride shrunk and my dependence grew. Looking back, I needed to be broken on deeper levels after previous years of being blessed consistently by God in most of my ministry endeavors.
God was not looking to teach me never to fight; He wanted to teach me how to properly fight and, ultimately, when to exit a fight. That season of learning was extended and painful, but I would not undo it for anything.
“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?” – Nehemiah 6:3
The words above come from the mouth of Nehemiah, a hardworking, Type-A visionary in our Old Testament. God had given Nehemiah an assignment, and there were many who hated the idea of that assignment becoming a finished task. So they made it their mission to oppose him daily. They utilized several tactics to derail Nehemiah. They primarily used their words to discourage, intimidate, accuse, and undermine him as he tenaciously sought to finish the assignment which God had given him. The words above from chapter 6, verse 3 conveyed his response at a critical moment. His opposition would simply not leave him alone, and Nehemiah knew that he was at a crossroads:
Would he continue to give time and energy to his opposition, or would he step away from the intrusive interruptions to fixate on the one thing given him by God to do?
Nehemiah chose to let his enemies be wrong. He let them continue their undermining activity. He let them run their mouths, write their letters, assail his reputation and threaten his future. With those two statements in Nehemiah 6:3, he let them know that he had much more noble things to do than to continue to listen to them. He first told them that his calling from God was very important and that he would not be stopping it. He then added that his opponents were less important than his assignment was, and that they had become unworthy of his further attention. Yes, Nehemiah eventually blew off his detractors and refocused on his own assignment.
So should you.
When you are misunderstood, misrepresented, mistreated and maligned, you have the God-given right to ignore your opposition. At some point, if your enemy is tenaciously committed to resisting you, it will become necessary for you to ignore them completely. You don’t return their calls. You don’t answer their emails. You may have to delete their voicemails before even listening to them. You actually have the right to say to them, “I only have twenty-four hours in my day, and you have proven yourself an utterly unprofitable investment of any more of my time. I am doing a good thing with my life, and I can no longer stoop down to listen to you. I have nothing more to say.”
That’s exactly what Nehemiah did. I am grateful for his example in Scripture.
If that sounds un-Christian to you, think again. A careful reading will reveal that many of our heroes of the faith would simply let people walk. Jesus, as the prime example, stared down more than one person without answering a word. Paul taught the church to ignore and dismiss divisive personalities in the church (Titus 3:10; Romans 16:17). The seemingly sweet disciple, John, declared that there comes a time when you should not even let certain types of people under your roof (2 John 1:10). Political correctness and an unbiblical view of “kindness” will lead you to believe that you must be diplomatic with everyone, no matter who they are or what they are saying. That idea, friends, is a patently untrue, unbiblical and unreasonable. Sometimes the holiest thing you can do is to put on the mantle of Nehemiah and say to those who have proven themselves to be an intentional thorn in your side,
“Please take note sir/madam: you and I will not be speaking anymore. I cannot be who God has called me to be while wasting any further time with you. I cannot keep you from speaking, but you cannot force me to continue to make time to listen. Respectfully, step off. I am done.”
Nehemiah teaches us that, to be a person of grace, we need not assume that we cannot also be a person with grit.