Read Nehemiah, Chapter 4
Jerusalem lay in ruins. Centuries earlier, the very people God had brought up out of slavery in Egypt and into a land of plenty, had begun to drift away from Him. Despite repeated warnings from God’s prophets, the drift had accelerated until it was a headlong flight. First the northern kingdom of Israel, and then the southern kingdom of Judah, had been conquered and most of the people deported to Babylon, leaving the country devastated.
Now Babylon itself had been conquered by the Persians. The Persian king had been prompted by God to allow the exiles to return to their own country. But they were a deeply discouraged lot when they saw the state of Jerusalem, its walls and gates destroyed.
Nehemiah, a Jew who was a close advisor to the Persian king, asked permission to return and restore the perimeter of Jerusalem, to re-establish its protection and dignity as the City of God. When he arrived, his first act was to survey the damage. His second was to encourage the people by sharing what God had brought about in sending him to carry out this mission, and a call for them all to share in rebuilding the wall.
And so they began working together, each family taking a section of the wall nearest them. As they were all actively engaged in the rebuilding, their work also constructed closer bonds between them. They were building more than a wall; they were building a community, and everyone was taking a part.
As the wall took shape, so did local opposition. Some officials of adjacent jurisdictions weren’t happy to see Jerusalem being restored, and did their best to bring the operation to a halt. One of them, Sanballat the Horonite, ridiculed the Jews, . . . “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble — burned as they are?”
Tobiah the ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building — even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!” (Neh 4:1-3)
When God presents us with a major undertaking, we can be assured that before long, Satan will show up to taunt us. He may use circumstances, people, or just a whisper in our ear that we imagine is our own thought. His objective will be to highlight our weakness, the enormity of what needs to be done, the amount of rubble that needs to be removed, the prospect of abject failure, the probability that all we’ve done or are doing will come tumbling down around us.
“You’re too feeble,” he’ll say. “The job is way too big; it’s overwhelming. You’ll never finish it. You’ve got too much garbage to deal with. It will never stand up.”
Nehemiah knew what to do with these taunts. He went straight to God with them, and then he carried on with the work God had given him. He and the people put their whole hearts into the work, and the entire wall around Jerusalem was restored to half its original height.
When the opposition heard that the gaps in the wall were being closed, they recruited others to help them stir up trouble. Again, Nehemiah’s response was to pray. He also “posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.”
As individuals and as a body of believers, we too have gaps the enemy wants to come through — areas he knows are vulnerable. When we do a close inspection and begin to close those gaps, Satan ups the ante, assigning more of his resources to stir the pot. Our response needs to be the same as Nehemiah’s: continue to be prayerful and careful; expect an attack and be ready for it.
It wasn’t just the threat from outside that had to be overcome, however. Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall. (4:9-10)
So often we start an undertaking with great enthusiasm and a sense of purpose that propels us forward. But as time goes on, the heavy lifting becomes more of a strain. Our energy and resolve start to flag. Negatives infiltrate our minds. We feel worn out as we look at all the rubble that still has to be cleared. That’s when the enemy moves in for the kill, instilling fear of failure –even through the well-meaning warnings of those on our side.
Nehemiah met this challenge by identifying the exposed places where the people were most vulnerable to attack, and increasing the guard there. He put families on guard — stronger as a unit than as individuals, and able to balance each other’s strengths and weaknesses. If they were under attack, they were to signal others to come and help them. He had them well equipped with weapons, and with this admonition: . . . “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes”. . . . “Our God will fight for us!” (4:14, 20) In other words, Nehemiah was saying: “Don’t focus on them and what they might do. Focus on God and what He will do!”
From that day on, half of my men did the work, and the other half were equipped with spears and shields, bows and armor . . . those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other. (4:16-17)
Be prepared to adjust. At some stages, you may have to spend as much time seeking God as you do working. Be prepared to “stand in the gap” for others who are under attack. And do it with the confidence that, as the great teacher Gamaliel said much later of Christ’s apostles, “. . . if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourself fighting against God.” (Acts 5:38-39)
So what should be our spiritual building code?
First, understand what it is God wants you to do. This comes from asking Him, and then listening for His answer. This may come in prayer, in reading Scripture, or be validated by another believer. Don’t try to rush God; His answer will come in His time, and not ours.
Second, share God’s leading with others in the community of faith, ;and encourage them to join in.
Third, expect attacks from the enemy; Satan hates to see God’s work moving forward. When trouble comes, take it to God, and carry on.
Fourth, know where your “low spots” are, and guard them carefully. When and where are you most vulnerable? Ask God for help you protect these areas, and enlist the help of others who can be trusted to hold you acountable.
Fifth, don’t think that doing God’s work makes you superhuman. You still need adequate nutrition, sleep and relaxation to keep going over the long haul. Call for help when you need it.
Finally, be prepared to adjust your approach and expectations as the work continues. Remember, If it’s God’s work, it will be accomplished. Just because the final product doesn’t look like you envisioned doesn’t mean it isn’t exactly what God had in mind. After all, part of what He accomplished was continuing the major project of building you!