The decision to make a significant life-style change is important, but not nearly as important as the plan for change and the resolve to continue following that plan when it becomes a grind. The story of Nehemiah is both insightful and encouraging for all of us who find ourselves stuck in the recovery process.
Under the wise direction of Nehemiah, the Israelites had organized a Herculean effort to rebuild the walls of their beloved city. The city wall, which was the primary defense against marauding bands of thieves, had lain in ruins for a generation. Solomon, in Proverbs 25:28, likens broken down city walls to a lack of self-discipline — ‘Like a city whose walls are broken down, is a man who lacks self-control.’
Our story begins sometime after the reconstruction efforts had begun. Nehemiah lists in detail the various sections of the wall with the names of the families who worked on them. The people worked hard and rejoiced as a new wall arose from the rubble: ‘So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.’ (Nehemiah 4:6).
But suddenly a series of events threatened to frustrate their efforts. Local warlords were unhappy with the project and plotted to attack the city. There was also a serious problem that surfaced among the people: Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.” (Nehemiah 4:10).
The efforts to rebuild our lives resemble Jerusalem, a city knee-deep in rubble. Restoring the walls invariably involves the hard work of organizing and sifting through the rubble. Much of which will be used in re-building the walls of self-control.
Here are 4 things we can learn from Nehemiah as he helped the Israelites address their threats from without, as well as their struggles from within.
- Acknowledge our fears and our feelings.
Don’t minimize or ignore the sense of being overwhelmed or the feelings of futility and hopelessness. The enemy will whisper his potent lies in the privacy of our thoughts. How we address those lies will determine if we will continue to build or give up. We need to listen to the members of our support group, our family and friends who express concerns about our emotional withdrawal, our anger, or about our return to harmful patterns. They speak with loving concern. Seeing our pre-occupation with the addictive behavior as a cry from our heart for help can also help us refuse to accept the debilitating messages of shame and guilt.
- Take steps to address the threats.
Nehemiah organized the people to address the danger posed by those who opposed his efforts. ‘Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.” Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows.‘ (Nehemiah 4:12-13). When we feel the resolve to continue our recovery weakening, we need to review our plan. What modifications are needed to ensure our success? Do we need to speak with our accountability partner, pastor, or counselor? Are we committed to doing whatever it takes?
- Don’t think success rests on our own strength.
‘After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome,” ‘ (Nehemiah 4:14). Through the prophet Zechariah, God addressed the same situation in this manner: ‘Not by might, nor by power but by my Spirit’ says the Lord Almighty.’ (Zechariah 4:6b). God is awesome and almighty! Through our weakness He allows us to experience His faithfulness and His power. Prayer, worship, fellowship and meditation on God’s word are invaluable and irreplaceable power boosters for all of us in our times of trial! Remember and resolve to stand on His promise that no temptation will come upon us that we can’t meet with His help.
- Remember our vision for sobriety and all those who will benefit by our changes.
One of Satan’s deadliest lies is that our struggles and efforts don’t matter. God’s purpose for godliness (God-likeness) is that we reflect His character to a lost world, especially those who are closest to us and have been most affected by our actions.
Satan’s invitation to partake in old, destructive habits is powerful, but not as powerful as the One who lives within us and calls us His children. To the world, our broken walls might appear as worthless rubble — undeserving of the efforts it will take to change. But God has called our heart ‘holy ground’. No one but Him can imagine the glory our life will reflect by the time He returns to bring us to heaven!