One of my favorite verses is the second half of Psalm 23:3, “He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” I have used this verse as a prayer thousands of times. I find great comfort in knowing that there is a “path” that has been set out for me; that I am not merely walking along in life doing the best I can with my circumstances but that my steps are ordered, my path is established and that it is wrapped in righteousness. Where this verse becomes truly powerful is when we see what was written immediately after it, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me;”. These two statements must be read together: “He leads me in paths of righteousness . . . I walk through the valley of the shadow of death”. Our hearts would lead us to believe that a difficult path must be a wrong one, but David, through the anointing and leading of the Holy Spirit is trying to encourage and strengthen us in the truth that paths of righteousness may be difficult, but they will never be lonely. In most of our situations we are not slowed by obstacles nearly as much as we are slowed by our reaction to them. We have the opportunity to be so sure that God has set our path that we meet each obstacle and stumbling block as an opportunity for faith rather than a possibility for failure.
I am terribly afraid of snakes, always have been. I don’t ever remember a time in which I thought they were interesting in any way. Once when I six or seven years old I remember my Mom telling my Dad that there was a large snake behind our garage. Because of this I decided that the back of the garage was no place for me to be, possibly ever again. I remember my Dad telling me, “It was just a black snake, it won’t hurt you, but if you are afraid of it, it can make you hurt yourself.” His point was that the snake was not poisonous, it could not really harm you, but your reaction to it could make you hurt yourself. There are obstacles and oppositions in our lives that are exactly the same, they can’t truly harm us, but in our reaction to them we can harm ourselves.
Nehemiah had received a specific assignment from God, to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. This task was pretty far fetched. Nehemiah was just a cup bearer to the king, he had no wall building experience. He was a captive, not even in his home of Judah, certainly there were many others more qualified or even with just a better opportunity to accomplish this task. And yet this was the “path of righteousness” that was chosen for Nehemiah. At each point where obstacles seemed to be ready to appear God moved. Nehemiah prayed and fasted and faith replaced his fear and he presented himself to God for the task. God moved the heart of the king freeing Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem and even providing the resources necessary for the journey and the assignment. When he arrived in Jerusalem, the task was even greater than he had expected, but rather than submit to disappointment he prayed his way to faith and all of Jerusalem joined in with faith for the task. Nehemiah could have used any of these things as a reason to stop, a reason to decide that he was wrong, that God had not spoken or that someone else should do the work. At each obstacle he chose to pray and let God increase his faith rather than worry, complain and let anxiety steal it. How we face obstacles will often determine the power that they have in our lives. If we face difficulty with fear, with worry, with doubt and selfishness then we will often reap our own thoughts, we will often reap the weakness of our imaginations. We have the ability to believe that obstacles in life are opportunities for faith. They are opportunities for God to be glorified and for me to become more than I have ever been before.
I believe that how we face obstacles and difficulties teaches us a lot about what we truly believe about God. David was able to say that he was sure that even if he walked through the “valley of the shadow of death” that God was with him. What do we believe? Do obstacles make you question God’s presence or depend upon it? Do difficulties make you trust Him more or look for another route? When Nehemiah announced the plan to rebuild the walls he was immediately met with taunts of opposition. There was a group of men that questioned, doubted, even mocked and teased him. Nehemiah prayed immediately and stayed on course. As they started the work, the opposition became greater, now it went from simple taunting to blasphemy and contempt. Again, Nehemiah prayed and continued with the assignment at hand. When the wall was half built the opposition escalated, multiple regions joined together and planned to attack Jerusalem to stop the building of the walls. Nehemiah could have decided that this was too much, that they needed to stop working, to protect themselves, to wait until the opposition passed, but that was not what he was called to do, Instead, he prayed, again. From his prayers he made a plan that would provide protection from the enemy and the work to continue, even to increase. The amazing thing is that the threats never came to pass but the task was completed. The walls of Jerusalem had been reduced to a pile of “rubbish” for nearly 140 years and in 52 days of working, praying and believing they were rebuilt. The truth is, how we respond to obstacles and opposition will determine whether or not we ever fulfill our purpose.
Those that opposed Nehemiah and Jerusalem never had the power to defeat them! God was their protector, God was their provider and God was their watchman. Your enemy, your flesh, your obstacles and your opposition only have the power that you give them. I am not saying that they are not real, they are real and they are present. My belief is that these things can not stop the plan of God in our lives, but we can. We can give in to temptation, we can run in fear, we can quit in disappointment, we can choose bitterness, we can embrace pride but those are not about the obstacles and opposition; they are our reactions to them. I hope I can encourage you today to press forward, to let prayer become your chief reaction and the Word of God to be your weapon when facing difficulty. Jesus told His disciples, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” You will face no difficulty that Jesus has not overcome. You will face no opposition that God has not endured and defeated. You will face no circumstance that God did not know of and prepare to win victory through. The “path of righteousness” is not where we go when we finally have faith, it is the road that creates it. Dark valleys produce the greatest mountain top experiences. Loud opposition creates the most wonderful concerts of praise. Large obstacles give way to the most joyful accomplishments. These things are not unknown chinks in the armor, they are planned battles to produce greater victories than we could have ever imagined.