Nehemiah 2:19 But when Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian, heard it, they laughed us to scorn, and despised us, and said, What is this thing that ye do? will ye rebel against the king? 20 Then answered I them, and said unto them, The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build: but ye have no portion, nor right, nor memorial, in Jerusalem.
I recently began re-reading for the third time one of my favorite books, “When People are Big and God is Small” by Dr. Ed Welch. What makes this book a favorite is the description of what he calls “people pleasing”, or an addiction to the acceptance or love of others. Dr. Welch relates how the fact his wife HAD to agree with him was used by God to show how strong people pleasing had become.
When I was first married, I knew that Jesus loved me, but I also wanted my new wife to be absolutely, forever smitten with me. I NEEDED love from her. I could finally handle small amounts of rejection from other people, but I felt paralyzed if I didn’t have the love I needed from her. I needed UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. If she didn’t think I was a great husband, I would be crushed (and as you might guess, a little angry).“When People are Big and God is Small” Page. 13, emphasis added
While it’s not always that obvious, each one of us are born with a desire to be loved and accepted. The problem is instead of finding our identity in Christ we see ourselves as “empty cups” that need to be filled with the love of others. It’s not hard to see how this could lead to a demand of love from others.
Moving past the illustration of Dr. Welch, its actually a more serious problem, because many people want EVERYONE to agree with them.
Now of course this isn’t possible.
You will always disagree with others on certain issues…
we all experience occasional “relationship drama”…….
and different personality types are bound to frustrate one another
So instead many choose a passive form of life that is non-confrontational as possible. This way even those who don’t completely agree will like them.
But while this passive lifestyle does keep things calm, it cannot accomplish the work of God.
As we saw in Nehemiah 2:10 there will be enemies when you serve God. In 2:19 Sanballat and Tobiah Nehemiah’s enemies attack him verbally through mocking, and slander (saying he wanted to rebel against the king was a lie). It’s interesting that Nehemiah didn’t respond to their attacks with anger or hostility, he simply got to work.
This actually goes deeper than having thick skin, one of the challenges in 21:10. Nehemiah willingly accepted the rejection of these enemies,
In this way Nehemiah shows us an important truth. Not everybody will like you,
and thats okay
This of course doesn’t mean that was should go around trying to make people hate us. Also every effort should be exerted to reconcile broken relationships, especially when it is broken by our our sinful actions.
At the same time, we should not live our lives for the approval of others, but the acceptance of God.
Nehemiah in my opinion was laser-focused on finishing the work of God for his life (rebuilding the wall). Another way of saying this is he cared more about his relationship with the Lord, than the relationship with other people.
Again, this doesn’t mean Nehemiah went out of his way to be cruel towards others, but he was willing to face temporary rejection in order to finish the Lords work.
So how do we get to the point where rejection doesn’t bother us? Let me share three ideas (all coming from “when people are big and God is small.”
- Fear God more than man: Having a Biblical view of God’s Holiness, and Love will humble us
- Understand your real needs: We tend to focus on our psychological needs (feeling loved) when in reality our spiritual needs (closeness to Christ) are far more important. When we meet our spiritual needs, the psychological needs won’t matter much at all.
- Understand your Responsibility: Our responsibility is to love people, not be loved by people. As Dr. Welch describes it, “we must need people less, and love people more.” When we understand our calling is to share the Love of Christ to all instead of feeling loved, rejection isn’t as painful.
The bottom line is you can live a passive life without the pain of rejection. But its the life that sees the judgement of God as worse than the rejection of man that truly brings Him glory.