Focus: With God’s help, it can be done
Nehemiah is a lesser read book of the Old Testament. I feel it is relevant today. Everywhere we go people are talking. “What this church needs….!”, “I can’t believe our government officials.” “If I were there I would….” Gripers, complainers, self-proclaimed prophets and “armchair quarterbacks” abound! Just look on any social media platform and you will see everyone in “negative mode!” It’s easy to analyze, scrutinize, and talk about all the problems in the world. We can all see them. But what we really need are people who will not just complain about a situation but will actually go out and do something about it!
Nehemiah was just this kind of person. He saw a problem and he felt distressed just like we do. Instead of complaining or wallowing in self-pity and grief, he took action. Nehemiah traveled to Jerusalem. Giving up a comfortable and wealthy position in Persia, he returned to his homeland and rallied the people to rebuild Jerusalem’s wall. Let’s remember that Nehemiah wasn’t the first of the exiles to return to Jerusalem. Zerubbabel had led the first group back in 537 BC, more than 90 years earlier. Ezra followed with a second group in 458 BC. Nehemiah was ready to lead the third major wave to return to Jerusalem in 445 BC.
What Nehemiah found was an unorganized group of people and a defenseless city with no walls to protect it. He was deeply grieved, but he didn’t just brood about it. After his initial grief, he prayed, poring his heart out to God, and he looked for ways to improve the situation. Nehemiah used his knowledge, experience, and organization skills to determine what should be done. First and foremost, Nehemiah prayed. Heartfelt prayers like Nehemiah’s can help clarify any problem you may be facing.
Nehemiah knew that God wanted him to motivate the Jews to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. He organized the people into groups and assigned them to specific works to be done. The construction project was not without opposition, however. Opposition to the rebuilding had been going on for 90 years by those who settled in the area when the Jews were taken captive. Opposition is inevitable! When you attempt to do God’s work some will oppose you; some will even hope you fail. If you expect opposition, you will be prepared rather than surprised. 1 John 3:13 Version (NIV)” Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.”
Sanballat, Tobiah and others tried to halt the work with insults, ridicule, threats and sabotage. Some of the workers became fearful; others became weary, in each case, Nehemiah employed a strategy to frustrate the enemies — prayer, encouragement, guard duty, consolidation! Consolidation, in that they worked together on the wall. United in one ministry and to one Goal. A Goal that would benefit the whole of God’s people. The building of the wall would, in fact, benefit those who opposed the building of the wall.
Ridicule can cut deeply; it can cause discouragement and despair. Instead of trading insults Nehemiah prayed; and the work continued. All too often we pray without looking for what God wants us to do. What is God’s will and purpose in our situation? Don’t simply work to fulfill our own desires but rather working to glorify the father. Stay focused. Accomplishing any large task is tiring to say the least. There will be pressures that foster discouragement — the task may seem, at times, impossible, or too many factors are working against you. Avoid the distractions and deceptions of the evil one! It is this opposition that creates the fatigue and frustration. Godly focus should apply to every part of our lives. Nehemiah reminded the workers of their calling, their goal, and God’s protection.
If you are overwhelmed by an assignment, (whether that assignment is at church, at home, or at work) you may be tired, and discouraged. God is in the business of working through people to accomplish seemingly impossible tasks. God often shapes people with personality characteristics, experiences, and training that prepare them for his purposes. Sometimes these people have no idea what God has in store for them. God prepared and positioned Nehemiah to accomplish one of the Bible’s most “impossible” tasks. Rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem. Nehemiah led the entire construction project, but he also worked on the wall alongside the others. He was a leader who got involved in the day-to-day work. A good leader keeps in touch with the work to be done. Those who lead best lead by what they do as well as by what they say.
The wall was almost complete, and Sanballat and Tobiah’s efforts to stop its construction were failing. So, they tried a new approach, centering their attacks on Nehemiah’s character. They attacked him personally with rumors, deceit, and false reports. When you are doing good works, you may receive attacks on you character. When opposition builds up against you or God’s work, it is tempting to pray, “God get me out of this situation!” It is tempting to just throw your hands in the arm and give up. But Nehemiah prayed, “Now strengthen my hands.” He showed tremendous determination and character to remain steadfast in his responsibility. He knew that God is always in charge, is always present, and hears and answers every prayer. Nehemiah could confidently pray throughout the day because he had established an intimate relationship with God.
All good leaders are targets for attacks. Make it a practice to pray for those in authority. Request God give them strength to stand against personal attacks and temptation. Every leader needs God-given courage to overcome fear.
So the wall was completed on the 25 of Elul, in 52 days.
Nehemiah’s life is an example of leadership and organization. In the face of opposition, he used wise defense measure to care for the people and to keep the project moving. He had to overcome a great deal of opposition and persevere to accomplish more for the sake of God’s kingdom. We too must pray, persevere, and sacrifice, as did Nehemiah.
They said it couldn’t be done. The job was too big, and the problems were too great. But God’s men and women “joined together” for special tasks, can solve huge problems and accomplish great goals. Don’t let the size of a task or the length of time needed to accomplish it keep you from doing it.
So, Nehemiah, sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?”
With God’s help, it can be done. Stay focused.
(Bartlett-Tomes is pastor of the First Baptist Church.)