Getting Back To Work
Now when our enemies heard that we knew about their plot against us, and that God had frustrated their plan, we all returned to the wall, each one to his work.
If the measure of a man is how much it takes to get him to quit, then Nehemiah would rank near the top of anyone’s list. Nothing could keep this guy down! He began with an almost impossible task, and his”staff members” were all demoralized. He had rallied them to get them started rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, but they soon encountered betrayal from their own ranks and opposition from outside.
At one point, some locals insulted the builders to discourage them. When that didn’t work, and the building continued, they plotted to attack Nehemiah’s builders. The people got wind of the impending danger, and they came close to panic. Nehemiah, though, coolly and calmly gave orders to deploy the people so that they felt responsible for those near them. “Don’t be afraid,” he told them. “Remember the greatness of God and fight for your families!”(Nehemiah 4:14)
Nehemiah’s leadership saved the day. He had kept them working through all the opposition until now, but at this critical moment, he told them to focus on defending their families from attack. The enemies found out that Nehemiah had put steel in the backbones of his people, so they gave up immediately. Nehemiah told the people to go back to work on the walls.
Couldn’t they take a break? How about a few days off to celebrate and regroup? No, Nehemiah knew that the best thing for them was to get back to work. They wouldn’t be safe until the walls were rebuilt, and they couldn’t afford to waste time.
As leaders, our first instinct shouldn’t be to take a break after success. Sometimes it’s appropriate, but often people need to get back to work so they can capitalize on their success.
The degree of hope you manifest by persevering through obstacles becomes a measure of your passion.
The people in our story today had overwhelming odds against them from the beginning of their endeavor. They had made the journey back from Babylon to find their city almost completely destroyed. The walls were broken down, the gates had been burned, the inhabitants were barely surviving and they were at the mercy of their enemies. Most people would have turned around and gone home, but these people had a vision. They saw beyond the destruction and devastation and pictured a future of a strong, safe city in which to live and to raise their families.
They set themselves to the work that God had given them opportunity to do. For them, it was a labor of love. With each shovel of debris removed and with each piece of reconstruction they could see more clearly their vision becoming a reality.
Like any group, they had in the ranks the negative naysayers who opposed the work. I suppose that as far as they were concerned, they were comfortable with status quo. It’s amazing what humans can get comfortable There were those who saw the work a futile. The walls were in such state of disrepair and they were few in number so they thought that the size of the task far outweighed the number of workers and even if they tried they couldn’t accomplish the work.
In addition to doubt, discouragement, and resistance from within, Nehemiah and the workers were also plagued with enemies from without. In truth the picture we see is this small group is battling on two fronts. There was a point that they held a trowel with which to build in one hand and a sword with which to defend in the other.
It would have been easy to give up the work, accept things as they were, and try to figure out how to exist. But something stirred their hearts and motivated them to work despite the odds against them. And that something is worth investigating.
As the book of Nehemiah opens, we find him in the kings palace in Babylon serving as the king’s cupbearer. This was a position of trust for his job was to taste the king’s wine to insure it contained no poison. One day he received some visitors from Jerusalem, his hometown. Upon asking about his fellow countrymen, he learned that they were in distress. Now he could have just shook his head in sorrow and shrugged it off and went back to his duties but but scriptures says that instead he set himself to fast and pray for God’s direction.
“Hanani, one of my brothers, and some men from Judah came; and I asked them about the surviving Jews who had escaped and survived the captivity, and about Jerusalem. They said to me, “The remnant there in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach; the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its [fortified] gates have been burned (destroyed) by fire.” Now it came about when I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying [constantly] before the God of heaven.”
Nehemiah 1: 2-4
We learn from this that vision begins with passion, a passion that births prayer. We may see what needs to be done and we may feel that it’s beyond our ability, but when our desire for that vision consumes us, we will give ourselves to seeking God for His plan to bring it to pass.
After some days, it came to the king’s attention and he inquired what was troubling Nehemiah. Because Nehemiah first approached the situation with prayer, God granted him favor with the king who equipped him for the journey and gave authorization for the journey. Our lesson from this is that it will always be God that moves whatever obstacles that hinders the God-given vision.
Although there were those who sought to hinder Nehemiah, the favor of God and the authority of the king overrode their resistance. After a few days in Jerusalem, Nehemiah upon observing the ruins, gathered together a group and spoke the vision to them. His enthusiasm coupled with his declaration of how God had thus far given him favor moved the group to the work. We learn from this that it takes us all to get the job done. The rebuilding of the city of God takes more than just a single person even if they’ve heard from God. For us that means that the pastor, church leaders, and congregation must embrace a God-given vision for the church. As we continue the story in the book of Nehemiah we see the necessity of this. The work itself requires as many active and engaged workers that are available. Jesus tells us that the harvest is plentiful but is restricted by the number of engaged workers. Truthfully church growth or lack of it is in direct proportion to the number of its members who are engaged in the harvest.
Along the way, Nehemiah and the workers encountered all kinds of opposition, within and without. But they chose to continue the work no matter the conditions around them. They suffered danger, ridicule, betrayal, accusations and blisters from the work itself. There were times when they became discouraged and weary.
“But when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious, completely enraged, and he ridiculed the Jews. They all conspired together to come and to fight against Jerusalem, and to cause a disturbance in it. But we prayed to our God, and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night. Then [the leaders of] Judah said,“The strength of the burden bearers is failing,And there is much rubble;We ourselves are unableTo rebuild the wall.” When I saw their fear, I stood and said to the nobles and officials and the rest of the people: “Do not be afraid of them; [confidently] remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and [with courage from Him] fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and for your homes.” Now when our enemies heard that we knew about their plot against us, and that God had frustrated their plan, we all returned to the wall, each one to his work.”
Nehemiah 4: 1, 8-10, 14-15
We may not have a Sanballat but there are things and people who work hard to prevent us from engaging in the work of God. We have experienced a pandemic that spawned numerous obstacles to the work of God. We have observed that the work of God has become less of a priority and many have chosen to separate themselves from gathering(some 40%). We are facing the giant of inflation and decreased charitable contributions at the same time. We are experiencing an aging out of the church in most congregations. Our enemies are truly strong but let us remember that the God within is is greater than any being in the world.
We can face and overcome every hindrance if we will choose to give ourselves to prayer and to the work of God. Let us rise and build again!
Dr. John Thompson