Nehemiah was an impressive man with a singular focus. One of the things I most respect about him was his ability to discern truth from lies quickly and not to second-guess himself or God. In Nehemiah chapter 6 his enemies hatch a scheme to derail him while he leads the people of Jerusalem in their wall re-building efforts. The three schemers, Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem repeatedly send messengers asking Nehemiah to stop work to come and meet with them. When he refuses, they finally fabricate a lie to strike fear in him. They write and tell him there are rumors that he is planning a revolt and offer to “confer together” with him. I love Nehemiah’s response: “I sent him this reply: ‘Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head.’” (Nehemiah 6:8) Nehemiah goes on to explain: “They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.’ But I prayed, “Now strengthen my hands.’” (Nehemiah 6:9)
Nehemiah saw the lie for what it was and didn’t let it upset him. He didn’t lose his focus or spend time fretting over what other people might be thinking about him. He didn’t worry about politics because he knew he was doing the right thing and that he had the king’s support. His only response to their threat was to pray for strength and continue building.
Nehemiah’s story gives a great example for what Satan often does in our lives. Sometimes we are working steadily toward accomplishing God’s call for us when Satan slips in and sows seeds of deception to get us off track. Sometimes he uses other people, as he did with Nehemiah, and sometimes he uses our own doubts and insecurities.
We see a clear example of this in the New Testament in a conversation between Jesus and Peter:
“From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’ Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’” (Matthew 16:21-23)
Peter was one of Jesus’ closest friends, but Jesus recognized Satan was using him. Peter’s words were dissuading Him from carrying out the very purpose for which He came to earth: to suffer and die for the sins of all people. Although Peter didn’t understand his error, Jesus recognized that his friend’s “supportive” words were actually clouding His focus.
Jesus knew well that lies and deception came from one source. In an earlier exchange He has with a group of Jews who refuse to accept Him He says: “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)
Both Jesus and Nehemiah immediately recognized Satan’s attempts to distract them from God’s goals for them. Satan isn’t very creative and tends to grab from the same bag of tricks to derail us over and over again. The best way we can arm ourselves from falling for his lies is by knowing the truth of God’s word and having our gaze singularly focused on Him. Satan wants nothing more than to render us ineffective by succumbing to our weaknesses and insecurities. Lukewarm, complacent, insecure Christians rarely make an impact for the kingdom of God.
Our best defense against believing lies is being able to recognize God’s voice. This happens when we spend time with Him and in His word consistently. Jesus explains this using the metaphor of a shepherd (God) and His flock (us): “The gatekeeper [shepherd] opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” (John 10:3-5)
There are many times in my life when I haven’t stopped to think about the voices I’m hearing. Without God’s wisdom and discernment, I easily fall prey to Satan’s lies. One of the fastest ways he does this is by causing me to focus on myself. When I wallow in my feelings of inadequacy and insecurity I prevent myself from being used effectively for God’s purposes. When I find my confidence in Christ and focus on God and what He can do through me, He moves in my life in powerful ways. This can be as simple as taking my eyes off myself to smile at a stranger or as involved as saying “yes” to a ministry opportunity that is going to stretch me beyond my comfort zone.
A few years ago I attended a silent retreat sponsored through our church. Included in the materials was a handout called “Three Voices” that provided wisdom for discerning between God’s voice, Satan’s voice and the world’s voice. It has been like a spiritual and mental strainer for my mind. All the internal and external voices I hear throughout the day get filtered through it. I hold onto the voices containing God’s truth and discard the rest. Over time, I’ve added to the list through my own experiences and observations. I hope you’ll find it a useful tool as you learn to strain out truth and let the lies wash away.
God’s Tone of Voice is: soothing, quieting, peaceful, encouraging, invigorating, inspiring
Satan’s Tone of Voice is: insistent, demanding, mesmerizing, hurried, rash, accusing, discouraging, doubt-producing, pride-building, vengeful, selfish, self-centered, critical, negative, defeating
The World’s Tone of Voice: agrees with the world’s standards and attitudes, is driven to be accepted and acceptable, lets the culture set personal standards, compares self to others, believes we are what the world says, is fearful of what others think, seeks value in exterior and measurable qualities, constantly struggles to “measure up”
God’s Motives and Character: builds relationships, empowers us, give us courage, provides wisdom, gives peace, stretches and challenges us, reassures us, convicts us to bring positive and healthy changes, offers grace, understands, forgives
Satan’s Motives and Character: destroys, deceives, accuses, divides, isolates, turns people away form God, lies, makes us feel guilty, creates self-loathing, capitalizes on insecurities and doubts, exaggerates faults, magnifies misunderstandings
The World’s Motives and Character: to please people, to fit in, to satisfy self, to look out for self, to judge self and others, to compare self to others
As you ponder the voices in your own life, let the verses below encourage you:
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” –Romans 12:2
“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” –Philippians 1:9-11
Click on the link below to hear Jason Gray’s song “Remind Me Who I Am.” It’s a great encouragement to keep our minds fixed on God’s truth and not to believe the lies that assault us throughout the day.