BLOG: (July 18-24) Ezra and Nehemiah, "I am doing a great work, and cannot come down"
Have you ever noticed that the more important something is, the more Satan fights against it? And he fights dirty - he uses outward forces at times but he also uses our thoughts against us through distraction, discouragement, self-doubt, and fear. We have to be on our guard continually to keep from being led away from Christ and the work He has called us to do.
Opposition is not new. There was opposition to Heavenly Father’s plan, even in Heaven! Satan, the father of lies, won the hearts of a third of Heavenly Father’s children, probably at least partially through many of these same tactics. And his opposition to Heavenly Father’s work has continued on into this mortal experience.
Counterintuitively, the scriptures teach us that opposition is actually necessary to our growth and progress. Nephi put it this way:
For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility. (2 Nephi 2:11)
In other words, we couldn't choose righteousness without there being an option to choose something else. In physics we learn that an object at rest tends to stay at rest unless it is acted upon by an outside force. We literally cannot move forward unless we have something outside of ourselves to push against. This is also true in our spiritual life. We need opposition - something to push against - in order for us to be able to move forward.
Nehemiah certainly faced opposition in his efforts to do good and move forward. Having obtained permission from the king of Persia to rebuild the wall around his beloved city of Jerusalem, Nehemiah enlisted help and got to work, only to hit a figurative “wall” of opposition on every side. He and his fellow workers were under such constant attack that “every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon." (Nehemiah 4:17) They had to be ready at any moment to drop what they were doing and rush to the aid of any fellow worker who needed their help. And that consistent vigilance wasn’t only necessary while they were actively working on the wall; when they weren’t at work, they were on guard duty.
There were other adversarial forces at play, too. Nehemiah himself faced intrigue and deception from those who pretended to be on his side. They sent for him several times, thinking “to do [him] mischief.” But Nehemiah could not be swayed from his purpose.
And I sent messengers unto them, saying, I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you? (Nehemiah 6:2-3)
Despite all their adversaries’ efforts, Nehemiah and the other workers finished rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem in only 52 days. The opposition against them was intense and relentless, but could not keep them from accomplishing their “great work.”
We have also been called to do a great work. It is the gathering of Israel. President Nelson has said that the gathering of Israel “is the most important thing taking place on earth today.” What does that look like in our everyday lives? According to President Nelson,
Anytime you do anything that helps anyone—on either side of the veil—take a step toward making covenants with God and receiving their essential baptismal and temple ordinances, you are helping to gather Israel. It is as simple as that. (Source)
The specific work we do to help gather Israel will vary from person to person and will change over time . Whether you are a primary teacher, a full-time missionary, a grandparent, a ministering brother or sister, or a friend, you have a crucial and dynamic part to play in this work. As a mom of seven precious children who are all still at home, I believe my most important contribution to the gathering of Israel right now is to love and guide my children and prepare them for their life’s missions. I have other contributions too, of course, and as my life progresses my roles will evolve, but for right now both my work and the opposition I deal with related to it are both intense and relentless.
On a daily basis, my work to gather Israel looks like choosing to make time each day for connection and positive interactions with all of my children. It’s reading to my little ones and nourishing their spirits with hugs, smiles, and laughter. It’s choosing to ignore my teenagers’ occasional negativity bias, and encouraging, loving, and supporting them through all the ups and downs of their young lives. It includes being vigilant about what influences come into our home, and guarding against that which would harm those I love. It involves lots of difficult conversations, listening and teaching, heartfelt prayers, patience, and faith. I feel responsible to do all I can to qualify for the guidance of the Spirit, and to follow the promptings I receive. This is truly a great work, and I cannot do it alone - I need all the help I can get!
Like Nehemiah’s work, my work also comes with lots of opposition. I too have an adversary who is actively trying to get me to “come down.” If Satan can get me to parent from a place of fear instead of a place of faith, he can cut me off from much-needed Heavenly help. How can we avoid Satan's deception? In a message given at Ensign College, Loren Dalton shared ways we can discern between inspiration from God, temptations of Satan, and our own thoughts. (Please read or listen to his talk - it is so helpful!) Brother Dalton said this:
Of course, God can talk to us any way that he wants. He can appear to us, he can send an angel, he can make us hear a voice. But, we learn from Alma 37:6, that the Lord works by small and simple means. So, God will usually work in the simplest way possible when he's going to talk to us.
So, in order to understand how this works, we have to remember that the Holy Ghost is a spirit. And, when he talks to us, it is one spirit (the Holy Ghost) talking to our spirit. The problem is we've been in these earthly tabernacles, these physical bodies for so long that we get a little bit confused and we don’t really relate to things as we should. So, we need to understand it in a PHYSICAL way - the spiritual event, the spiritual communication. In a physical way it appears to us like a positive thought that will just pop into our heads………..BING!! And that is revelation. That's the Holy Ghost talking to us.
“Any positive thought to say or do something is a prompting from God until proven otherwise. Just act on it!”
Now, one thing that we need to remember is that the adversary is also a spirit. And as such, he talks to us in the very same way. We will get BINGS that will pop into our head from him.
Brothers and sisters, it is VERY important that we work to become expert at recognizing the promptings of the adversary so we can kick them out and never act on them. (Source)
Satan actively works against our best efforts, and often that work is done through our thoughts. It is so important to be able to see through his temptations and to keep our focus on the work we are doing. Like Nehemiah and those who worked with him, we essentially have to keep our sword (of faith) in one hand to fight off the adversary while we do our work with the other. We have to be on our guard day and night. Like them, we will also find strength and protection in numbers. We must be ready and willing to reach out for help when we need it, and to rush to the aid of a friend when they do. None of us can do this alone. We need the protection of the Lord and His angels, and we need the strength and support of a network of others who are doing this great work alongside us. And we have it.
So on days when the important work you are doing feels like a losing battle, when you are overwhelmed and discouraged, remember you are not alone. You have the same access to Heavenly help that Nehemiah had, and there are so many others fighting the good fight all around you. Call out for help, reach out in love, and let us lift and strengthen one another. We are doing a great work, and cannot come down.