Last week we saw how the prophet Jeremiah told God’s people they were going to spend 70+ years of exile in Babylon. Afterward, there was promise of their welfare (shalom) and return home to Jerusalem. When they returned they had to rebuild. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah describe the revitalization process.
Specifically, the book of Nehemiah is a about the people of God pulling together around a vision – of God and of His mission. It’s also a practical book; giving insight on handling criticism in a godly manner, balancing faith with action, developing effective plans, and understanding the nature of discouragement. It’s a book for everyone, especially for members of a church seeking God’s vision for their future.
Nehemiah 1:3-4 “[It was said to Nehemiah], The remnant there in the province [of Jerusalem] who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.”
Nehemiah 2:3, 5 “[So Nehemiah said to the king] Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire? … And I said to the king, ‘If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.”
Nehemiah had a great task of rebuilding the walls around the city. His heart was broken for the city for there were people who needed help and hope. Likewise, we too should have a heart for our own city. We should pray God breaks our heart as Nehemiah wept, fasted and prayed for God to use him in restoring the city. In reading the book of Nehemiah you can see 4 principles of a great task in restoring the city:
When the task is great expect opposition (4:1-3).
As Nehemiah and the Jews were rebuilding the wall they experienced opposition. Sanballat and Tobiah were neighboring government officials in Samaria. Sanballat became angry and began jeering at the Jews. They sought to distract and destroy the work of God’s people. They feared Israel. If Nehemiah could rebuild the city walls then perhaps Israel could rise back to power and overthrow Persian rule. Sanballat also feared Israel’s God. If Israel could rebuild the temple and its nation to following after Yahweh, then disaster and ruin laid ahead for those who did not follow Yahweh. Opposition was inevitable if Israel wanted to accomplish something great for God.
Nehemiah’s critics attacked their
Character – “What are those feeble (pathetic, powerless) Jews doing?
Convictions (Dreams) – “Will they restore their wall [implied “no way”]? Will they offer sacrifices?
Commitment – “Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble?”
Competency –Tobiah said, What they are building-if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones.”
With any great task there is always opposition. If you have been married for any amount of time you know marriage is great but so are its battles! If you own a business or are a leader in an organization you know that behind every success there has been struggle. The same is true for students who want to accomplish a great task, trials and temptation lurk behind every corner to distract and discourage you. We have all had dreams and goals shot down and criticized by others, how should we respond?
- Remember, opposition clarifies your vision. Sometimes it confirms you are on target and sometimes it confirms your ignorance if your critics are correct! Realize that opposition are obstacles waiting to be overcome.
- Remember before you oppose – to be aware of who & what you are criticizing. Tobiah saw the project with human eyes failing to realize it was God’s wall for God’s people for God’s purposes. Is your critique/criticism a reflection of personal insecurity or is it meant for further construction of God’s purposes?
- Remember, opposition and judgment belongs to God alone. Don’t allow someone else the power to control and define your life. You may not be able to control someone’s actions but you can control your response.
“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if you enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:19-21
When the task is great trust God (4:4-6a, 9, 14-17).
As Nehemiah endured opposition, his response was quite appropriate. Rather than responding in anger, shouting louder, continuing the debate, he gave his troubles over to God. He exemplified
Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Throughout the book of Nehemiah you see that he fights his battles through prayer. However to note, prayer did not mean inactivity; Nehemiah’s prayers led him to take immediate actions with a new rebuilding strategy. Rather than having everyone construct the wall, Nehemiah split the group for half to build and the other half to defend against enemies.
Often people forget that God can be trusted, regardless if the task is great or small. People forget just how BIG God really is and how much he cares about you and wants to be involved in your life.
Scientists estimate there are over 200 Billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy, which is one of billions of other galaxies, which make up a universe, which may be one of a very large number (if not infinite) of other universes… YET, the Bible says,
God knows each star in creation.
Isaiah 40:25-26 “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal? Says the Holy One. Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.”
There are over 6 Billion people in the world. YET, the Bible says,
God knows each person in creation.
Psalm 139:1-3, 13-14 “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways…For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
To remember concerning trusting God:
- Trust implies patience; having a long-term perspective of God working all things together for good (Rom 8:28-29). Worry, whining or revenge only have a short-term perspective and neglect faith in God (Mat 6:33-34, Php 2:14-15).
- Trust implies prayer. As water is to a fish, so prayer is to a Christian. You can do nothing without prayer. But, prayer is no substitute for making wise decisions & hard work.
When the task is great work wholeheartedly (4:6b, 16-23).
No one could ever accuse Nehemiah for not being a hard worker. He led by example and always stayed on task by being faithful in his work. In fact, his work ethic must have been contagious as he says, “for the people worked with all their heart… [he further describes their work and says] we continued the work with half the men holding spears, from the first light of dawn till the stars came out.” Imagine that, they not only gave their best effort but they worked continuously from sun up until sun down. Nehemiah and the people knew if the task was to be accomplished it would take focus, prayer and wholehearted work of many people.
Blaise Pascal: “Lord, help me to do great things as though they were little, since I do them with your power; and little things as though they were great, since I do them in your name.”
To remember concerning working wholeheartedly:
- God is worthy of excellence.
Colossians 3:17 “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus…”
- No act of service is insignificant. Nehemiah built a wall, how spiritual was that? Very, when you have the proper perspective!
- Serving God with the wrong attitude is not doing anyone any good. If this resembles you, take a break, quit or change your attitude.
- Working wholeheartedly does not mean doing everything. You may need to say “no” to some things in order to give excellence.
Nehemiah 6:3b “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down [be distracted].”
When the task is great prioritize resources (4:10-23).
The people had become discouraged over the daunting task of rebuilding the wall. The wall was filled with rubble and seemed like an impossible rebuilding project. Their critics turned into enemies ready to attack and kill. Nehemiah responded with great wisdom and leadership. He knew the work was “extensive and spread out” so he focused their efforts in working together and prioritizing their resources to accomplish more. He organized the people by families and equipped them with the resources needed for both building and protection. Nehemiah also gave orders that if at any time the trumpet was sounded the people were to respond in unison.
The church can learn a lot from this principle. Their ministries and resources are “extensive and spread out” which means there is lots of activity but little effectiveness. If the church is to be effective it must focus and prioritize resources in order to have lasting impact.
Imagine an owner of a baseball team spends millions of dollars on a stadium. The stadium is top of the line, not a bad seat in the place, television monitors everywhere, club seating; the works! However, when the season starts, the owner tells the players they each will be on a rotation system between playing in the game and selling concessions. Of course, this sounds ludicrous because any good owner knows that he must focus the players’ resources into their giftedness.
To remember concerning prioritizing resources:
- Prioritizing resources is a sign of wisdom; “work smart not hard”.
- Prioritizing resources reduces complexity by valuing quality. Truett Cathy said, “If we get better, people will demand we get bigger.”
- Prioritizing resources promotes unity.
ð 2011 working with C.C., Deacons & Church on structuring our ministry through philosophy of Simple Church. It will involve some changes in our ministry leadership structure, church documents and above all, require your involvement. Is it necessary? The answer to that question depends on our desired effectiveness both personally as a disciple of Jesus and also corporately as a member of SPBC. Do you want intentional personal spiritual growth? Do you want to see our church grow both spiritually and numerically? Becoming a “Simple Church” is not a change of doctrine (vision still the same to “build a wall” [life] for God’s glory), it’s not because its trendy (most churches don’t rock the boat), nor is it promising ease (ministry and life are not easy). The purpose is to identify our target and pool as much resources (people, time, effort, finances, property, etc.) toward reaching that target.
“To have a simple church, you must design a simple discipleship process. This process must be clear. It must move people toward maturity. It must be integrated fully into your church and you must get rid of the clutter around it…A simple church is a congregation designed around a straight forward and strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth. The leadership and the church are clear about the process (clarity) and are committed to executing it. The process flows logically (movement) and is implemented in each area of the church (alignment). The church abandons everything that is not in the process (focus).”
µ What great task are you facing? Are you trusting God in patience, prayer, prioritizing?
µ The greatest task you face is that your life contains sin: heart, character, attitudes, thoughts, actions. There’s only One whom has built a wall for your defense and that is the greater Nehemiah – the Lord Jesus! God’s wall of defense is the gospel and you must build it into your life by grace through faith. Perhaps your gospel wall needs rebuilt, that happens through repentance and turning toward Christ.
µ Ask God to show you how to overcome your great task?
– What “great task” are you facing? What life change are you approaching?
– How do you respond when faced with opposition? How does this compare to Nehemiah & Sanballat (Nehemiah 4)?
– Are you opposed to any great tasks of others? After biblical evaluation, should you still be in opposition to it?
– How does knowing God is bigger than any problem or task you will ever face help you in your life?
– Why does prayer and waiting go hand in hand?
– What does it mean to do something “wholeheartedly”?
– Why should Christians do everything wholeheartedly (Colossians 3:17; Nehemiah 6:3b)?
– Do you see “getting help” as a weakness or strength? Why?
– Why is it necessary to prioritize resources? What are the benefits? Are there any negatives?
– What in your life is “extensive and spread out” and needs prioritized? In the life of our church?
– The greatest task in life is a person’s choice to trust or reject God. God has done everything in his power in order for you to trust him; by dying on the cross for your sin, protecting your life, placing people in your life who want you to know God. What are you doing to help make your decision to trust or reject God in your life?