© 2015 Lynn Abbott
Into every life a little…Pye must fall. Josie Pye. If you are fan of L.M. Montgomery’s classic Anne series, you know exactly what I’m talking about. But even if you haven’t read Anne of Green Gables, you certainly have encountered a few naysayers in this life.
I don’t think anyone gets by without meeting a few.
Laura Ingalls had her Nellie Oleson. Anne had her Josie. Charlie Brown faced his Lucy. And Lucy and Edmund patiently endured Eustace Scrubb’s complaints about their beloved Narnia.
In fact, the naysayers are frequently a part of our daily circle. It seems we’re stuck with them.
Just as Anne couldn’t escape Josie’s vitriol, you and I find ourselves sharing the lunchroom with Negative Nellie. Or perhaps Raincloud Raymond rules the PTA. Or heaven forbid, Eustace takes over the church business meeting.
Indeed, it seems the Pyes of this world make it their mission to ridicule, discourage and dishearten. They certainly attempt to humiliate others. Whenever she found opportunity, Josie definitely taunted Anne.
On one occasion, at an end of school party, Josie dared Anne to walk the ridge-pole of a roof. I can so relate to Anne’s response. When “Josie” says I can’t do something, I wish to prove her wrong even though the attempt is a huge risk. Nevertheless, “Josie” rattles me. And Anne and I walk the perilous ridge-pole.
Yes, through Anne’s interactions with Josie, Montgomery depicts a universal human experience. If there is a parade, you can be sure naysayers will rain on it.
Nehemiah certainly could testify to this truth. And as is usually the case with most of us, he began his endeavor with high hopes. But the rain clouds rolled in swiftly.
Nehemiah gives us a taste of his experience in his book. He personally had job security, but many of his countrymen suffered. And Nehemiah was a compassionate man.
Of course, much of the trouble stemmed from the fact that Israel had been taken into captivity by the Persians. Nehemiah himself served in the Persian court.
However, a remnant of Israelis had been left in Jerusalem. And as was typical in B.C., conquered cities were often sacked and looted. Repeatedly.
For this reason, a wall around a city was a necessity rather than a quaint, architectural luxury. The destruction of Jerusalem’s walls and the burning of its gates made the people vulnerable to a great many atrocities. And Nehemiah’s brother had recently arrived in Susa to relay this tale of woe.
Nehemiah grieved for his people, and anxiously prayed about the situation. He personally must have felt helpless; nevertheless, he knew his God.
God had already anticipated Nehemiah’s prayers and had uniquely placed his child in a position of influence. In fact, as official cupbearer to the Persian rule Artaxerxes, Nehemiah daily protected Artaxerxes life. In fact, he put his own life on the line as he tasted all the king’s food to insure that the king was not poisoned by a rival.
One day after his brother’s arrival, though, Nehemiah’s low spirits must have been apparent because Artaxerxes questioned him.
I expect the king may have initially wondered if Nehemiah’s appearance signaled the presence of poison. But since Nehemiah continued to work, the king obviously reassessed matters.
And Nehemiah admits, “Then I was very much afraid.”
Opportunity had presented itself. But it was a huge risk to talk to Artaxerxes about it. So, Nehemiah prayed and took the plunge.
God obviously was at work because Artaxerxes actually offered to help. Soon, Nehemiah traveled to Jerusalem with written permission to rebuild the city’s walls. God had answered His child’s prayers. Purpose replaced anxiety.
Nehemiah’s hopes probably soared as he began his journey to Jerusalem.
But he had no way of knowing that Sanballat and Tobiah awaited him.
It didn’t take long, though, for Nehemiah to size up the situation. Not long after he arrived in Jerusalem, Sanballat and his lackey Tobiah made their first appearance.
In chapter four, Nehemiah records, “Now it came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews. And he spoke in the presence of his brothers and the wealthy men of Samaria and said,’ What are these feeble Jews doing? Are they going to restore it for themselves? Can they offer sacrifices? Can they finish in a day? Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones?'”
And then, Tobiah jumped in with his two cents,”‘Even what they are building–if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down!'” (Nehemiah 4:3).
Talk about ridicule…
You can’t do it, they said. You’re weak, they sneered. Your efforts are pointless, they claimed. God has forgotten you, they blustered.
Undoubtedly, Sanballat and Tobiah had perfected the art of naysaying. They persistently pushed all of Nehemiah’s buttons.
But although Nehemiah and his team were undoubtedly discouraged, Nehemiah turned to the God of Grace. And he prayed, “Hear O our God, how we are despised!”
When he faced opposition, Nehemiah told his heavenly Father all about it. He asked Abba to shut down Sanballat’s and Tobiah’s demoralizing squad, (Nehemiah 4:4-5)
Had it been me, I probably would have skipped the prayers and just let ’em have it. At the very least, Sanballat and Tobiah would have had an earful.
Argument and dispute, however, generally accomplish little. And as a result, my intervention would have been more hindrance than help. The rebuilding of the wall would have stalled under my direction.
But not so with Nehemiah. Nehemiah responded wisely. Instead of being drawn into an argument with naysayers, Nehemiah ran to God. He poured out all his anxieties before his loving and compassionate Savior.
And then? Nehemiah and the people continued to build; they persevered.
Obviously, this was not the response that Sanballat desired. So, he devised a new and more aggressive plan.
“And all of them conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause a disturbance in it,” Nehemiah wrote.
I would have prepared for battle. But again, Nehemiah’s first thought was to pray. Actually, as I look at the entirety of the book of Nehemiah, I see prayer as an ongoing theme. Nehemiah prayed about everything, start to finish.
Obviously, God wants me to know that prayer covers me. He devoted an entire book to it.
True, even when I pray, the obstacles often remain. After all, Nehemiah definitely prayed and followed God’s calling, and he still encountered trouble. His task wasn’t easy. Sanballat and Tobiah thundered.
Yes, there are plenty of Pyes along the way. But Abba daily provides what we need to move forward. Like Nehemiah, we can run into Abba’s throne room to find His grace in our time of need, (Hebrews 4:16).
We can be sure of Abba’s promise: “And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness,'” (2 Corinthians 12:9a).
Of course, the Sanballats and Tobiahs of this world are easy to spot.
But sometimes, the naysaying enters our lives through more insidious means. Let’s face it. There’s a naysayer more intelligent and sophisticated than Sanballat, an enemy more cunning and ruthless than all of humanity.
C.S. Lewis notes in his Screwtape Letters that the enemy has been studying human psychology for thousands of years.
As a result of long-term research, Satan knows just the right buttons to push. He pushes persistently. He continually seeks to stir up a maelstrom of trouble.
In a way, his work reminds me of a toy that one of my friends had when we were young children. It was an old, metal top. Its design depended upon a turned rod that ran through the core of the toy.
In addition, the top sported a small button-like handle which, when pushed repeatedly, caused the toy to rotate faster and faster. When we finally let go of the button, the top would spin out of control and, much to our delight, it covered a wide range.
Sometimes, I think I’m a little like that top. Satan pushes that button again and again. And it winds up my core until I independently spin out of control.
Actually, it occurs to me that, perhaps, Josie and Nellie are also responding to pushed buttons. And just as I do sometimes, they spin. I can understand that. And it gives me hope. God’s grace and forgiveness certainly covers all that we say and do.
Abba transforms our hearts.
In Montgomery’s novels, Anne learned to pray and control her temper. Josie eventually showed a tender side. Ingall’s nemesis, Nellie Oleson, grew up and matured. The adventure in Narnia softened Eustace.
But one formidable enemy always remains. His deadly goal never changes.
Peter tells us, “…Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour,” (1 Peter 5:8b).
You will fail, he says. You deserve to fail, he accuses. God cannot trust you, he sneers. The task is too big, he claims. God has forgotten you, he blusters.
Yet, if I have learned anything from Nehemiah, it is this: when the ultimate naysayer ridicules Abba’s child, it is time to run into Abba’s throne room.
At the conclusion of his description of the armor of God, Paul exhorts us, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance ad petition for all the saints,” (Ephesians 6: 18).
I’m sure Nehemiah would agree, and encourage me don the armor of God. He would say, “When the enemy plans a direct attack, set a guard.”
Ephesians 6: 17 describes our weapon of defense. Scripture deflects and defeats Satan’s lies…
When the enemy says I will fail, Scripture guarantees that God is for me, (Romans 8:31).
When Satan accuses, God declares that there is no condemnation for those in Christ (Romans 8:1).
2 Timothy 2:13 assures us that God is faithful even when we are faithless.
And the God who created all things has promised that He will never leave or forsake us, (Hebrews 13:5b).
With Scripture, we set a guard around our hearts and minds. When the enemy bombards us with demoralizing lies, you and I embrace God’s truth.
When the ultimate naysayer lurks, we pray our way through God’s Word. David cries out to Abba in the Psalms; we read those prayers as our own. We adopt David’s petitions when we don’t know how to pray. Or we can even tag the prayers of Nehemiah, Moses, or Paul.
When Abba places a task before you or me, He does not leave us without the grace to accomplish it. Faithful is He who has called us, (I Thessalonians 5:24).
The rain falls, but God walks with us. In fact, after the rain, you and I will pray with Jeremiah, “This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. The LORD’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Thy faithfulness,” (Lamentations 3:21-23).
And morning dawns bright and clear.
“For Thou dost light my lamp; The LORD my God illumines my darkness. For by Thee I can run upon a troop; And by my God I can leap over a wall. As for God His way is blameless; The word of the LORD is tried; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him,” ~Psalm 18:28-30.