There is not much you do today that doesn’t have some relationship to Thomas Edison. Edison’s 1,093 U.S. Patents and 2,332 patents worldwide are responsible for every item that uses electricity as well as lights and batteries. His creations stimulated the motion picture industry, the recording industry, the X-ray machine, and he even created the tattoo pen.
More importantly he is the father of modern corporate research & development. While Edison was a great inventor, he was an even better businessman and marketing genius, amassing $200 million (today’s dollars) in wealth and has forever changed the world.
You have probably heard the story that on a freezing December night in 1914, the building he was working in that contained much, if not all of his experiments and projects, burned in a ferocious fire. Eight different fire companies from surrounding towns tried to put out the fire but the heat was so intense and the water pressure too low that their work was futile, and everything was destroyed.
The family story is told that Thomas Edison called to his son, “Where’s Mom? Go get her and tell her to hurry up and bring friends. They’ll never see a fire like this again!” And early the next morning, long before dawn, with the fire barely under control, Edison called all his employees with the incredible announcement: “We’re rebuilding!” He told one man to lease all the machine shops in the area; another to obtain a wrecking crane from the Erie Railroad Company.
Edison is also reported as being asked and answered: “It seems most of your inventions are failures. Do you ever feel like giving up?… Responding: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work… Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
The biblical story of Nehemiah is like Thomas Edison. In spite of insurmountable odds, Nehemiah refused to be despair or quit.
EXAMINE Renovate with Clarified Purpose
Nehemiah was a man of prayer (Nehemiah 1:3-4; 2:4)
3 And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province 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.”
4 As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.
Nehemiah’s heart was broken for his ancestors and his home community. Likewise, we too should have a heart for our own community. We should pray God to grow our compassion and guide our activity to renovate what lays in ruins around us. In the following passages of Nehemiah, we will see 3 principles for following God’s purpose in our life.
When we follow God’s purpose, walk before we talk (Nehemiah 2:9-18).
Nehemiah had spent numerous years in a king’s palace, and now was being sent to the exiled ruins of Jerusalem. He arrived with a great entourage of army officers and horsemen. Nehemiah had only heard about the destruction, but now was preparing to see the debris and disrepair with his own eyes. He went out in the middle of the night by himself to inspect the broken-down walls and city gates. Nehemiah was gathering information so that he would not be driven by the emotion of the moment. He wanted a level head and a zeal with knowledge. Nehemiah wasn’t interested in starting something he couldn’t finish, and so he sought to discern the magnitude of the project to motivate production and perseverance. If Nehemiah didn’t do his homework, he was sure to falter when the testing arrived. In short, Nehemiah was not only a man of prayer but a man of planning, seeking to walk before he talked.
When God puts something in your heart, it’s best to start with prayer and planning. Our faith is built on facts. Yes, God can put a passion in our mind and fuel a fire inside our heart to accomplish a vision. Yes, many of God’s visions seem impossible and impractical to others. But God is also a God of order and not confusion.
- To walk before talking means we need to learn the discipline of solitude.
- Solitude is withdrawing with intention; spiritually speaking it’s spending time thinking about who God is, how God’s working in your life to grow your trust and obedience – your faith.
- If we do not “come away” with God then we will come apart by ourselves (Mark 6:31).
- Solitude means your agenda is submitted to God’s agenda.
- To walk before talking means we need to learn the discipline of study.
- Study to know the present reality; defining the present condition and problem (Prov 27:23).
- Study to know the future possibility; defining what must be done and how/when it will take place.
- Jesus said, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid the foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, “This person began to build and was not able to finish” (Lk 14:28-30).
> Where in your life do you need to walk before you talk?
Nehemiah 3: Nehemiah skillfully organized 45 construction sections and 10 gates with work crews and resources for the rebuild. Excavators have found Nehemiah’s wall was 8’ thick and perhaps 2+/- miles long (NAC). The verb “kahw-zaq” dominates the chapter (38x), meaning to repair, make firm, or renovate.
When we follow God’s purpose, jump the bumps (2:10; 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 Yahweh, then disaster and ruin lay ahead for those who did not follow Yahweh. Opposition was inevitable if God’s people were going to follow God’s purposes.
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!
- 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?
Nehemiah 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. Throughout the book of Nehemiah, you see that he fights his battles through prayer. In this case, Nehemiah prays his adversaries will fail based on the consequences of their actions. He’s motivated by God’s justice not personal bitterness. (cf. Ps 5:10)
- Remember, your opposition and judgment belong to God alone. Don’t allow someone else the power to 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
Further, realize Nehemiah didn’t just pray – he acted. Nehemiah’s prayer led him to a new building strategy. Rather than having everyone construct the wall, Nehemiah split the group for half to build and the other half to defend against enemies. He encouraged the people to have a tool in one hand to work and a weapon in the other hand for protection (Neh 4:17-18).
Nehemiah was willing to revise his approach. Likewise, we are to stay married to our foundational beliefs, but hold our strategy methods a bit looser.
- Jump the bumps and trust God. The same God who allows the circumstance into your life is the same God who has a plan to guide you through the other side.
When we follow God’s purpose, 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 God’s purpose 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.”
Further, Nehemiah knew “the work is great and widely spread, and we are separated on the wall, far from one another.” So, he had to prioritize the resources and focus their efforts. Nehemiah organized the half the people to protect with weapons and the other half to build with their tools (vv.16-21). Nehemiah also gave orders that if at any time the trumpet was sounded, the people were to respond and rally to the fight.
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.
- Prioritizing resources values quality of production over quantity of programs. Too often churches spread their volunteers, their finances, and their resources too thin over multiple ministries rather than focusing on a few ministries for greater effectiveness.
- Prioritizing resources promotes unity. It does not mean that other items or issues are not important, just that at this moment based on current resources, here is where our attention must focus.
- SPBC priorities: Gatherings. Groups. Everything else is gravy.
In Nehemiah 3-4 we see the church as living stones, a royal priesthood called out of darkness into marvelous light to proclaim the praises of God.
- men & women working
- old & young working
- priests & people working
- ruling class & working class jobs working together
- All people redeemed by the grace of God.
- All people united in the mission of God.
They have a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other; spears and shovels. These items represent the Christian life.
- Sword for protection. Our protection comes from the sword of God – the Scriptures. We must stay studied and sharp in God’s word.
- Trowels for building and renovation. Our work comes our spiritual gifts. We must discover our calling and deploy our capabilities with exhaustion day and night to the glory of God.
In Nehemiah, we see Jesus who took the hate and harm of God’s enemies. He was forsaken so that we can learn how to forgive and build a city that draws people into the grace of God. In Revelation 21, the walls around the New Jerusalem are built of 12 different kinds of colorful jewels, the gates were made of pearl, and the streets were made of pure gold… and the gates are never shut. The idea is that God’s city cannot wait to welcome people from every tribe and tongue, and nation.
- Church, let’s do our part to make that happen.
 For more on praying imprecatory (cursings), see: https://praypsalms.org/22-reasons-to-pray-the-cursing-psalms-b4a85ae40aa9; https://www.samstorms.org/all-articles/post/article-10-things-you-should-know-about-the-imprecatory-psalms
 Quoted in Bill and Kathy Peel, Discover Your Destiny (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1996), p. 215.