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“And I said to them, ‘Do not let the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun is hot; and while they stand guard, let them shut and bar the doors; and appoint guards from among the inhabitants of Jerusalem, one at his watch station and another in front of his own house.’” Nehemiah 7:3

Once the wall was complete and the gates set, a watch needed to be assigned to the gates and someone needed to be put in charge of the watch. It appears from Nehemiah’s instructions that two watchers were set for each gate, from those that lived near the gate. One was to stand watch at the gate and the other was to stand watch at his home.

In Nehemiah chapter three, where Nehemiah listed the workers and the sections of wall that were assigned for them to rebuild, there were listed nine separate gates. Assuming that the gates named were all the gates, there needed to be nine sets of watchers on duty at any given time. With two watchers per gate that would be eighteen people standing watch.

Many would find the task of standing watch a tiresome and tedious task but if a faithful guard isn’t set the walls may as well have not been built. It would be like installing a security system on your house and not turning it on. Or it would be like getting a watch dog and then chaining it up and muzzling it. If every step necessary for ensuring security isn’t taken then all the steps you have taken are to no avail. Walls and gates aren’t enough on their own; you need a guard.

But security is only one example we could site of the waste and futility of doing things only part way. A sales person needs to sell his or her product. If they only give information about their products features but don’t ever ask people to buy they’re not being a sales person. A mechanic has the job a repairing and maintaining machinery but if all they do is collect and maintain their tools and study about machinery they’re not doing their job.

Christ, as he was preparing to end his earthly ministry and return to heaven, set his disciples over his fledgling church and commanded them to go into all the world and preach the gospel. Additionally, he promised that he would give them the Holy Spirit so that they would have power to be his witnesses as they took his gospel to the world.

Somehow, over the centuries, a lot of church members have gotten the idea that church is all about singing, and praying, and studying, and worshipping and that the call of Jesus to his disciples to go no longer applies to his followers today.

So week after week, sabbath after sabbath, the faithful come to the church and sit, and stand, and pray, and sing, and teach, and preach, and discuss the words of scripture and when it’s all over they go home and that’s all there is.

Friends, Jesus’ call to is church, to us, is that we should “go.” If we don’t go, if we’re not being witnesses, we’re no being the church he called us to be. It could even be asked if we’re part of his church at all.

“So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of Elul, in fifty-two days. And it happened, when all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations around us saw these things, that they were very disheartened in their own eyes; for they perceived that this work was done by our God.” Nehemiah 6:15-16

The wall is complete. It stands at it’s full height. There’s not a brick missing in it’s full length. Each gate is hung and every latch is in place.

No doubt the people of Israel, who’d labored long and hard to see it once again whole, are jubilant but it’s not their response to the work’s successful completion that’s recorded for us to read. Rather, it’s the emotions of Israel’s enemies, the response of all those that had plagued Nehemiah and the rest of the workers as they’d each done the work God had called them do, that Nehemiah makes note of. And “disheartened” is the word Nehemiah uses to describe their response.

It’s also important that we note the reason for their being disheartened. It’s not merely because the wall is completed. The reason Israel’s enemies are disheartened is because of how rapidly the people were able to complete the work and what that rapidity of labor meant to them.

All three miles of wall, every gate, and each door was set in fifty-two days.

FIFTY-TWO DAYS!!

Even today, with all our modern machinery, we’d be hard put to see such a task organized and executed in such a short time table.

This meant that nothing cropped up to delay the progress of the work. Fear of attack had not slowed the work in spite of Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem doing their best to intimidate the people. The people had not been lured away by personal projects and private concerns leaving the work to languish in their absence. None of the necessary materials required to keep the working moving forward had been delayed in being delivered on time and when needed.

When you think about all the things that could have happened that would have set things back and considered that not one of those potential circumstances that could have created a delay became a reality; and when you consider the scale of the project, the number of workers, and the volume of resources needed the fact that there were no significant delays is nothing short of miraculous.

God has a work for us to do. He’s called us to love the people of this world and to work for their salvation in the same way he does. We’re his voice speaking words of instruction and comfort. We’re his feet going to wherever the need is present. We’re is hands doing whatever task needs to be done.

If we, like the people led by Nehemiah, work together faithfully and unitedly, Jesus says it will show the world that we belong to God and that he loves them and sent Jesus to save them (see John 17:21-23). Like Israel’s neighbors they’ll see that work we’ve done has been done by our God.

“And I said, ‘Should such a man as I flee? And who is there such as I who would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in!’” Nehemiah 6:11

Things are going well, very well.

After months of praying doors have been opened for Nehemiah to leave his work in the palace and go to Jerusalem to assist in the rebuilding of the city walls. In addition to permission to leave he’s also been given letters of permission from the king to obtain the materials he’ll need for the work.

Wary that if anyone knew what his plans were prematurely that it would create an opportunity for opposition to create road blocks Nehemiah kept his reason for coming to Jerusalem a secret. When the day came for Nehemiah to make the call to rise up and rebuild the response was outstanding. People came from far and wide and worked tirelessly and in an amazingly short period of time the walls were re-erected and the gates were ready to be put in place.

But not everything had been smooth sailing. Opposition had threatened to attack on many occasions and Nehemiah and the builders had had to take measures to ensure security and still keep the work moving forward.

Threats had also been made against Nehemiah personally. On one such occasion Nehemiah was in the house of a man named Shemaiah who begged Nehemiah to hide in the Temple because enemies were planning to ambush and kill him during the night.

Nehemiah’s answer is found in Nehemiah 6:11, our focus text for today. I love the first question he asks in his response, “Should such a man as I flee?”

Men and women of faith don’t do anything on the basis of fear. There will be times when we are afraid. Fear like other emotions comes in response to something real or perceived. In the case of fear the stimulus is danger. There was in Nehemiah’s life very real reasons to believe that he was in danger. Nehemiah, no doubt, was experiencing his own set of fears regarding these dangers but he chooses to respond from faith and not fear.

“Should such a man as I…?”

Nehemiah was a man of faith. What kind of person are you?

Nehemiah showed who he was by the choices he made and the actions he took. What do your choices and actions say about you?

There will always be reasonable reasons for us to excuse ourselves from pursuing the course of faith but doing so will result in our not accomplishing our purpose for being here. The only way to be able to finish what God’s called us to do is to refuse to act according to the emotions that may be afflicting us and to consistently choose to act according to faith.

“So I sent messengers to them, saying, ‘I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?’ ” Nehemiah 6:3

The wall of Jerusalem is complete to its full height and there are no gaps anywhere in its entire length, though the gates have yet to be hung.

You’d think that seeing the project nearly completed that Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem would have given up on trying to stop the work but they haven’t. Once again they’ve changed tactics and this time their objective is to get Nehemiah off by himself so that they can harm him. To this end they send him messages asking to meet with him at a village nearly 40 miles from Jerusalem. Four times they send him these messages and each time he refuses so they attempt to bully him into coming away by accusing him of planning to set himself up as king.

Nehemiah’s response is to tell them that the only place where such plans exist is in their evil imaginations and that he will not go down.

I feel that God’s blessed me in that I’ve never lived or work in a place where I’ve had to be on my guard against personal danger because of the work I do. Yes, Satan does do everything he can to disrupt and distract the work of the church but to my knowledge no one has ever made any plans to personally harm me or my family.

At the same time, Nehemiah’s experience reminds me that, as leaders in God’s church, we’re important targets for Satan to set his sights on because if we’re removed from the work the work as a whole will be delayed for a time.

It’s not that leaders aren’t replaceable. No one does a work that others couldn’t do but it takes time to get new leaders to fill the vacancies and in the mean time the work languishes and souls are lost.

Brothers and sisters, whether we see ourselves as leaders or not, we need to prayerfully guard ourselves against being drawn away of the work God has called us to. Nehemiah’s consciousness of his calling and his unwillingness to be distracted by anything else were a part of God’s plan of defense for him.

But there is more that we need to do to shelter church leaders. Church members need to lift up their leaders in prayer, petitioning heaven to plant a hedge of protection around around them so that they will be shielded from attack and kept effective in their work of leading the church and building up the body of Christ.

“Moreover, from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year until the thirty-second year of King Artaxerxes, twelve years, neither I nor my brothers ate the governor’s provisions.” Nehemiah 5:14

I remember hearing an interview with the late H.M.S Richard, Jr., in which he was telling about how his father, H.M.S Richards, Sr., who was the founder and first speaker for The voice of Prophecy radio ministry, had been approached by R.K.O Radio and offered a generous contract to work for them. They loved his voice.

Pastor Richards told them, “No.”

Some people, including then teenage son Harold, thought Pastor Richards was crazy to turn down a big opportunity, and paycheck, like that to keep carrying heavy responsibilities for comparatively little pay. But Pastor Richards knew what God had called him to do and fulfilling that calling was the only thing he wanted to do. In the end this resolve was the secret of Pastor Richards’ success

I believe Nehemiah felt the same.

During all the years that Nehemiah served as governor over Judea neither he nor his brothers ate the governors provisions from the food stores. He provided for his table from his own treasury. And providing for his table was no small task. Daily there were more than one hundred and fifty people eating from Nehemiah table, including many government visitors from the neighboring territories. The shopping list for providing for this crowd was substantial.

Previous governors, and their servants, had drawn heavily upon the resources of the people to provide for their wants and needs but Nehemiah did not.

Nehemiah knew that God had called him to lead in rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem and in building up the people of Israel and he could neither well if he was also laying additional heavy burdens on already over burdened people. He wasn’t here to please himself and those that served with him. He was here to do the work of God.

Why are you here doing what you’re doing? What is it that God has uniquely qualified you to do and is calling you to accomplish for him?

No one is here on planet earth to live for themselves alone. God’s kingdom doesn’t work that way. The people of God’s kingdom look out for the interests of other people just as much as they look out for their own. (See Philippians 2:4)

Nehemiah knew this and he knew what God was calling him to do and he didn’t let anything hinder him from fulfilling God’s will for his life. This was the heart of Nehemiah success and it can be ours as well.

“After serious thought, I rebuked the nobles and rulers, and said to them, “Each of you is exacting usury from his brother.” So I called a great assembly against them.” Nehemiah 5:7

As if leading hundreds of people in the work of rebuilding approximately three miles city wall and having to defend it against those that wanted to stop the work wasn’t enough, there were other problems that Nehemiah had to deal with.

God had given explicit instructions and laws to his people in regards to the way they were to treat one another but the people were either ignorant of those laws or were ignoring them.

One law was that they weren’t to charge interest on money that they loaned to other Jews. They were family, literally all descendants from one man, Abraham, and they could not be strong and prosperous as a nation if they were all taking advantage of one another. Additionally, God wanted them to care for one another in their need and profiting from your neighbors need isn’t showing anyone you care about anyone but yourself.

They were also not to in-debt or enslave themselves to the people of other nations. Sometimes circumstances might drive you to deeply in-debt yourself to another. Other times you might decide to sell yourself to work for someone else so that they would provide food and shelter for you. If either of these was to happen it was to only be between fellow Jews.

Also, there were several laws instructing the people in how they were to provide for the needs of the poor.

Midway through the rebuilding of the wall Nehemiah had to leave the work and deal with a situation in which a number of the Jewish nobles had lent money, for profit, to other Jews, in a time of famine, and even taken their land and had their families enslaved when they could not repay. Still others had been forced to borrow money from people of other nations and the result had been similar only worse because idolaters were the ones taking the land and enslaving the people.

Nehemiah was furious when he heard what was happening and rebuked the nobles for the actions they’d taken and, to their credit, the nobles returned the money, and property, and set the people free.

It would be really nice if life were neat and tidy and we only had to deal with one major thing at a time but it just doesn’t work that way. In life we have to expect that issues unrelated to what we’re trying to accomplish are going to come up and we’ll have to deal with them. Life’s messy and God’s work is accomplished in the middle of people living their lives. Thankfully God’s blessed us with principles and guidelines for navigating the obstacles we meet in life.

Nehemiah followed God’s directions with wonderful results. We’ll all be blessed if we follow God’s directions as well.

“Nevertheless we made our prayer to our God, and because of them we set a watch against them day and night.” Nehemiah 4:9

Sanballat, and Tobiah, and Geshem, and the people that followed them are ready to do more that call names, shout and bluster.

It often gets that way when the object of an intimidators attention refuses to be intimidated. If words aren’t enough to get people to fall in line then more direct action is required.

I remember being told as a boy that bullies will back down if you stand up to them and generally I’ve found this to be true but not always. Sometimes the bully is willing to take it to the next level and fight for his demands knowing that the more people know that they’ll have to pay for any resistance they offer the less likely they’ll be to resist. And sometimes there are people that actually like to fight and physically hurt people.

Why do I say this? Because I think it’s best if we have realistic expectations so that we’re prepared for when we have to takes steps as situations begin to move beyond just words.

What was Nehemiah’s response? As always he prays but this time it’s not just Nehemiah that’s praying. Our focus text says, “WE made our prayer to God…” The passage doesn’t clarify exactly who the “we” included but it does tells us that Nehemiah is now drawing in others as he’s pressing his petitions and concerns to the throne of heaven.

There are some burdens that must be taken to God in a solitary way. Perhaps they’re too personal, too explosive, too apt to cause trouble and pain for other, too liable to give opportunity for others to cause trouble. But most burdens are best carried if they’re shared. Nehemiah knows this so he’s gathered around himself others who will pray together with him.

But they do more than pray. They set a watch to guard the people day and night. Additionally, they instruct the all workers to arm themselves. Some men go to work with their swords hanging at their sides, still others going to work holding a weapon in one hand and a tool in the other.

The watchmen were given trumpets so that if they were attacked they could signal and others from other parts of the wall could come to fight with them.

Because of their preparedness the fight never progresses beyond threats but later it will in other ways.

Friends, prayer needs to saturate and direct every part of our lives but we need to be ready to do more than pray. In the book Steps to Christ, Ellen White says, “He who does nothing but pray will soon cease to pray…” Prayer is most often preparatory to the actions we will take and we need to be ready to act.

Nehemiah was a person of action as well as prayer. Are you?

“But it so happened, when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, that he was furious and very indignant, and mocked the Jews. And he spoke before his brethren and the army of Samaria, and said, ‘What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they fortify themselves? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they complete it in a day? Will they revive the stones from the heaps of rubbish—stones that are burned?’ ” Nehemiah 4:1-2

I have a very strong aversion to having people unhappy with me. I will do almost anything to avoid it and it gives me a great deal of anxiety and stress when there’s nothing I can do to steer clear of it.

But here’s the thing, you can’t possibly make everybody happy.

People have competing desires so almost without fail if you make one person happy someone else will be put out with you.

Some people, also seem to not want to be happy with anything anyone does. It’s like they think their not properly fulfilling their function in the world if they’re not finding fault or getting upset about something so you can never satisfy them no matter what.

But probably the biggest factor for a God fearing person is the fact that you’re living to love and please God and there are several billion people in the world that are not God, that don’t have his values, and have very different opinions on what God ought to want and be like.

Nehemiah has further garnered to himself the displeasure of Sanballat and his cronies and they take turns publicly mocking and venting invective regarding the rebuilding activities of the Jews as they restore Jerusalem’s walls.

Sanballat’s diatribe is included as our focus text for today’s post. I’ve included it so you can get an idea of what to expect when you too come to cross purposes with someone else in your service to God. If you want to read what Tobiah wrote take a look at the verse three of Nehemiah chapter four.

Now we turn to Nehemiah’s response. He didn’t respond to the opposition. Most of the time responding to detractors is a waste of time and sometimes it’s worse. It’s like adding fuel to the fire. Far better to do what Nehemiah did. He gave them to God.

Specifically he called to God asking that he take notice of their words and to turn their reproach back upon them. He then goes on to request that God take care of punishing those that would set out to discourage those that were engaged in doing the work of God.

To often we argue with our detractors; far better to do what Nehemiah did and give them to God.

“And next to him was Shallum the son of Hallohesh, leader of half the district of Jerusalem; he and his daughters made repairs.” Nehemiah 3:12

In answer to the call of Nehemiah the people set to work. They swarmed in from the surrounding regions, each community or family taking a section, they began by clearing the rubble and then rebuilding the wall.

Verse thirteen, of chapter three, gives us an indication of how big each section of wall might have been. One leader, a man named Hanun, together with other members of the region he was from, rebuilt a gate and an adjoining section of wall that was 1000 cubits long. If they were using the shorter, common, cubit that would be about 1800 feet of wall.

God had worked a miracle, the people, nearly every single Jewish man, woman, and child were mobilized to take part in the work.

But no one was compelled to participate. While it appears that most came and presented their labor as a offering to God there were some who refused. Verse five tells us that the nobles from the region of Tekoa, a community not far from Bethlehem, refused to take part. But the people under their leadership didn’t follow their example. Instead, chapter three records that the citizens of Tekoa rebuilt not one, but two sections of wall.

For our focus text I used Nehemiah 3:12. I used this passage because generally in scripture it’s the men who get credit for the work they and their families do. The reason for this is because usually they and their sons were the ones doing the work away from home. Their wives and daughters were generally engaged in the substantial work required to keep a household running and their families fed. Verse twelve, however, tells us that when it came to the rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall the women weren’t going to be left out. One man, Shallum the son of Hallohesh, together with his daughters, led the work in rebuilding another section of the wall.

How I wish that when a call went out to do the work of God for his church that the response would be this enthusiastic. Generally, you can count on only about a quarter of the church membership to care for the needs of their church and in many cases the day to day needs are seen to by an even smaller percentage of the church body. Most beg off or flatly refuse presenting some specious excuse as the reason for their absence or inability. When it comes to out reach participation gets even thinner.

Friends, like the Jews of Nehemiah’s day we have a work to do that is daunting in its scale. God has called a people of just 20 million to reach a planet of more than 7 billion, and the world population grows at a much more rapid rate than the church membership does.

Jesus is coming soon. The work of reaching the world with the present truth of the gospel message is even more vital than the work of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem was to the Jews. We need every person to arise and join in the work. It would be wonderful if we could turn in evangelistic reports similar to the reports of work in Nehemiah 3. This man, and his family, and his sabbath school class, did the work in this section; until all the work was covered.

“But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they laughed at us and despised us, and said, ‘What is this thing that you are doing? Will you rebel against the king?’ So I answered them, and said to them, ‘The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no heritage or right or memorial in Jerusalem.’ ” Nehemiah 2:19-20

We’ve already talked about expecting opposition when we set out to do God’s work. One of He things we see in the story of Nehemiah’s work in rebuilding Jerusalem is that the main players in the opposition were always the same: Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem. These three would be the driving force behind every strategy to disrupt, sabotage, or slow down the accomplishment of God’s work.

It seems in every locale the same can be expected. Consistently, if trouble is going to be made or opposition is going to be mounted you can count on the same few people to be at the center of the mess.

An early strategy, by the opposition, is also to refer to whoever’s in authority to try and strike fear and uncertainty in the hearts of as many who would help do God’s work as possible. If you can make timid and uncertain people afraid to even begin working they’ll never bring the work to completion.

Nehemiah doesn’t waste a lot of time trying to convince the opposition to stop obstructing. When people are dead set on being against you there’s often nothing you can do that will do anything but make hem become more creative and resourceful in their efforts; so why waste time? Nehemiah’s response instead appears to be calculated to bolster the courage of any of the Israelites who may have been present and overheard the threats and ridicule.

Nehemiah responds with faith. “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build.”

Nehemiah has already recounted to the Israelites how God had called him to come to Jerusalem and prepared the heart of the king to not only give him leave to go but also provided material and funds to move the work forward. What God’s people need to remember is that God is leading the work. Our God is strong. Our God is sovereign over every earthly power. Our God will accomplish whatever he sets out to do. We are his servants. We will follow.

Next Nehemiah reminds Sanballat and his friends that they have no “heritage or right or memorial in Jerusalem.”

It’s the God of heaven who has claimed this city as his own and it’s his people, his followers, that have a right to claim anything in regards to his city. Friends, we like the majority of the Israelites in Nehemiah’s day must respond by keeping and strengthening our faith and not, because of opposition, walk away from our inheritance in the city of God.

“Then I said to them, ‘You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.’  And I told them of the hand of my God which had been good upon me, and also of the king’s words that he had spoken to me. So they said, “Let us rise up and build.” Then they set their hands to this good work.” Nehemiah 2:17-18

Alone Nehemiah had prayed. Alone Nehemiah had, led by the Spirit of God, planned, step by step, the work that would be done in Jerusalem to rebuild the wall and remove the reproach from Israel and the name of God.

Now the time of solitary effort is past. It’s now time to take up the tools and set to the work and Nehemiah does not begin it alone.

Nehemiah’s work is not to rebuild the wall by himself. Nehemiah has been called by God to lead the people in accomplishing this work of restoration. All who are willing are to have a part so that all who are willing may receive the reward that can only come when you’ve been a participant in what God has done.

Too many times leaders, anxious to see progress in the work of the church, set to work alone when there are others who ought to be, and need to be, taking part in the work.

They justify their solitary labors by saying that God wants the work to be done and that they’re setting an example for others to follow.

Friends, the sinful heart of man is such that rarely have I ever seen this tactic work. We all, like Nehemiah, need to carefully consider as part of the steps of the appointed work, the recruitment of the workers that will set their hands to the work.

Here in Pennsylvania, where I’m a pastor, the conference leadership has accepted the task of reaching every community in the state. A big part of the work is recruiting, and training the leaders and volunteers for the work that needs to be done. There’re too many people and too much territory to cover for a few hundred, or even a few thousand, to do it as quickly as we feel the urgency to move forward. We can’t move forward alone.

But like it was with Nehemiah it’s true with us as well. God’s not calling us to a solitary labor. God can only accomplish what he desires when he labors together with all of us. Part of what’s accomplished will be readily seen on the outside; walls instead of rubble, more churches and a multiplied attendance. But an equally vital part of what’s accomplished is on the inside and is the result of our stepping to the work line with Jesus and working side by side with him.

There’s a work to be done. God and the Nehemiah’s of our generation, are calling for workers. Will you come and be part of the blessing?

“Then I went on to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but there was no room for the animal under me to pass.” Nehemiah 2:14

Nehemiah is surveying the ruin of the city wall of Jerusalem. He’s gone out at night secretly because he’s keeping his purpose for coming to Jerusalem a secret until he’s fully ready, and part of his being ready means that he needs to have first hand knowledge of the actual condition of the wall.

He makes his night time examination of the situation on horse or donkey back, scripture doesn’t specify which, because there’s a lot of wall to look at. Archeologists believe that the the wall extending around the circumference of the city was about three miles long and in some places the rubble was so thick it was impossible for Nehemiah to ride his animal along the route of the wall.

It occurs to me that perhaps the situation was worse than Nehemiah had hoped it would be. The task of merely clearing the broken down rubble away so that the foundation could be exposed and the rebuilding could begin was of itself daunting.

I remember when Cheryl and I moved into our first house after becoming a pastor in upstate New York. My father and I had unloaded the truck the afternoon before and we’d stayed the night in a hotel. In the morning my father left to visit my grandparents and Cheryl and I went back to the house to begin settling in.

Every room was piled at least half way to the ceiling with boxes and furniture. It was so overwhelming to our already tired bodies and minds that we decided that we were going to leave it and go a day early to work at camp meeting. We’d start taking care of it in ten days.

Maybe Nehemiah had some of the same feelings of being overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task he had before him, and his task was a hundred times more complicated than ours had been. But Nehemiah now knows what he needs to know and he hasn’t let any of the already downtrodden people he needs to inspire to correct the mess see him at any times when doubt may have crossed his face. There was time to think and pray before engaging with the people.

I’ve learned that it’s best to expect things to be more complicated and difficult that you imagine they’ll be. Expect the unexpected. This means that after you’ve made your plans and calculated for any contingencies that you soberly turn to God and ask him to provide for everything that you can’t see or imagine. God sees and knows everything, he may not reveal everything you’ve missed to you, but he will prepare you to meet every challenge if you’ll let him.

“So I came to Jerusalem and was there three days. Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me; I told no one what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem…” Nehemiah 2:11-12

There are two phrases, frequently spoken by church members and most often despised by preachers, that are the enemy of positive change in a church: “We’ve never done it that way before.” And, “We’ve always done it this way.”

There’s another phrase, this one generally liked by preachers and appreciated by church members, and usually attributed to Albert Einstein, “Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.”

People get stuck in a rut and if they’ve been in that rut long enough they get comfortable there and after a while that rut becomes their place of security, their home. Many times they’ll fight, either actively or passively, any kind of change that comes into their lives that threatens to solve their problems, remove their difficulties, and give them the resources and guidance required to get them out of their rut. It’s crazy but most people would rather keep old familiar problems than embrace new and unknown blessings.

Nehemiah must have known this. Perhaps, as cupbearer to the king, he’d had opportunity to observe this reality enacted as various parties came to do business with the king. However he came by the knowledge, Nehemiah, when it came to rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall, made sure that he didn’t do anything that would engage the opposition until the time was right and he had the information he needed.

Premature advertising of what you’re planning to do gives opportunity for others to erect road blocks before you ever get a chance to even get going. Far better to quietly and prayerfully mature your plans without letting everyone know what you’re doing.

Knowing that most people’s reaction will be to embrace doubt and resist change, keep them unaware that change is coming. Only when God’s given you a plan to build their faith, so that together you can set things right, do you reveal what God’s laid on your heart.

Understand, you’ll never be able to avoid all the forces of opposition, Nehemiah with all his careful planning and skillful execution couldn’t, but he was able to inspire and mobilize the vast majority and that’s what he needed to do.

Friends, faith needs a chance to take root and grow if it’s going to flourish. Don’t give those that will oppose you as you follow God’s leading in your life more of a heads up than you have to.

Repeatedly, Solomon, the wisest man to ever live, advises us to keep our silence and make our words few. When we do this we give others less of a chance to get in the way of our getting to where God is leading us.

“When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard of it, they were deeply disturbed that a man had come to seek the well-being of the children of Israel.” Nehemiah 2:10

A fellow Pastor friend of mine once observed that during the course of nearly every evangelistic initiative he’d ever been a part of there had been some kind of major or semi-major catastrophe occur. Hearing him say this caused me to pay attention as events have unfolded in my own ministry and I too have observed that trouble seems to attend you when you set out to win souls to Christ and expand the kingdom of God.

One thing that should be noted is that sinful people, and that’s all of us, are doing bad things all the time and sometimes those bad things result in some very bad consequences. Because of this universal reality regarding human nature we can always expect some degree of difficulty no matter what we’re doing. That being said, most difficulties and challenges we encounter day to day, week to week, fall inside a range of events that we would consider ordinary or common. But when it comes to doing God’s work of evangelism it seems as if someone working behind the scenes is exercising more than the usual creativity and intentionality in an effort to to turn the lives of the people involved upside down.

The reason why it seems that way is because there is somebody working to upset things.

Nehemiah, as he gets to Jerusalem, becomes the focus of some men who have a vested interest in keeping the Jewish people unsettled and oppressed. We will see as the story unfolds the different strategies they use to disrupt Nehemiah in doing God’s work.

But there’s another involved that’s never mentioned in Nehemiah’s narrative. Someone whose hands are always dirty when it comes to mucking up the works of our service to God.

1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”

2 Timothy 3:12 says, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”

When you work for God can count on the devil to do what he can to disrupt and disturb.

The Pastor that warned us that trouble would attend our efforts to serve God did so to impress on us the need for unfaltering dedication to prioritizing time in prayer. Nehemiah was never thrown off balance by the attacks of Israel’s enemies because in everything he was always first in prayer and only after that did he act.

As children of God we need to expect trouble and spend much time in prayer.

“Furthermore I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given to me for the governors of the region beyond the River, that they must permit me to pass through till I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he must give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel which pertains to the temple, for the city wall, and for the house that I will occupy.” And the king granted them to me according to the good hand of my God upon me.” Nehemiah 2:7-8

When God has placed big plans on your heart, plans much bigger than you’ll ever be able to afford, who do you ask for help?

First we go to the obvious sources: friends, family, and people whose beliefs and values are similar to our own. We also repeatedly bring the need to God asking him to supply the necessary resources.

The challenge comes when we consider asking people outside the circle of our faith, family and experience. The lesson that comes to us from Nehemiah’s experience, in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, is that we need to not be afraid to follow God’s leading when he opens the door for us to ask people that we might ordinarily pass over as highly improbable. Many times God has already prepared the person to be favorable to his cause; the only thing remaining to close the deal is for one of God’s servants to ask for what is needed.

I remember my father telling me about how his church was looking for property so that they could build a new church and school building. Already God had provided three and a half million dollars for the project so all they needed was land to move forward.

Someone in the church new about a non-christian developer that had some vacant property in a very good location so a couple board members went to him to see if they could arrange to acquire it.

Apparently there wasn’t much time for a long conversation just enough for them to tell him what they wanted and for him to tell them that he could give it to them. And by give, he meant give. There was no charge for the property.

God had in his providence provided for his church through unbelieving people.

In Ecclesiastes 2:26 scripture says, “For God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy to a man who is good in His sight; but to the sinner He gives the work of gathering and collecting, that he may give to him who is good before God.”

In the coffers of wealthy persons, who may never have a single thought for God, his work, or his people, God has stored away treasure so that he may provide for his work. The question is will God’s work go forward cash poor or will we stop being faithless and ask God’s warehouse keeper for what he’s stored away.

“And I said to the king, ‘If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.’ ” Nehemiah 2:5

The bigger the project the more preparation is required.

There’s a vision for the project that has to be defined and communicated. There’re plans, specific plans, to be made: what materials are needed, where will it all be sourced from, who will transport the materials, how many workers are needed, what skills do they need to have, where will the workers lodge during the project, where will the food necessary to feed everyone come from and who will prepare it, is security needed and how much security is required, etc., etc.

Depending on the project, the list of required things that need to be planned for can become enormous. But there’s one part of the whole process upon which the entire project rises and falls that hasn’t been mentioned.

Every project needs a leader that can win the support of all the people required to get it completed.

As a Pastor, I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how great an idea is. It doesn’t matter how much of a benefit and blessing some task, activity, or program could be. If you don’t have a committed leader to faithfully and passionately guide it across the finish line you may as well not even try because without that person to keep everyone and everything coordinated and on task you’re asking for nothing but frustration and failure. And if it’s hard to get something new going in the first place it’s even harder to generate enthusiasm for a project if you’ve already tried it and failed. And the surest way to ensure failure is to have no one leading in the first place.

God began the work of rebuilding both Jerusalem and the people of Israel as a nation by calling a man, Nehemiah, to be their leader. The preparation of Nehemiah and the clearing of the way for him to be free to do the task set before him was the most important part of the whole process. Many things could proceed in a variety of ways and the end would be basically the same but if you change the leader, potentially you change the vision of the outcome and you change the entire project. Nehemiah, as a God called, God prepared, God centered leader was the key to success.

It may be that God’s called, or is in the process of calling, you to be a leader for him. There’s something that needs to be done for which, at least in part, or for a season, he’s prepared you to be his leader.

You may see all the resources required and the challenges to be overcome and be tempted to give up before you even begin but consider this: the most essential part has already been taken care of. He’s already found the leader he needs. He’s found you. Will you prayerfully say yes, and with much prayer do what he’s calling you to do?

“Then the king said to me, ‘What do you request?’ So I prayed to the God of heaven.” Nehemiah 2:4

For the better part of four months you’re heart’s been heavy carrying a burden of care, concern and guilt. During hours of solitude you’ve pour out your heart to God; confessing your sins and the sins of God’s people, pleading with God to shelter his people from the oppression of their enemies, begging him to provide leaders that will guide them through the process of becoming a holy nation, a people devoted to God once again.

Many times days would pass without any food being eaten as you’ve fasted in combination with your prayers. Sleepless nights have been fill with weeping as you’ve sobbed out your souls desperation for God’s intervention and mercy.

As the days pass into weeks, slowly God begins to lay upon you heart the conviction that you’re part of his plan for solving his peoples problems and for providing them with stronger leadership, possessing a vision for a more complete restoration.

As the conviction grows stronger it adds even greater intensity to the desperation of your prayers. How will you ever break free from the commitments of work and home to do what God is telling you to do? Why would anyone listen to you? You have no experience. You’ve never been a leader. You’ve only ever done what others have told you to do.

But the longer you pray the stronger the conviction becomes and the clearer the path ahead becomes until the message of your prayer is only, “Open the way before me Father. Give me mercy before the man who has power over my life.”

And then one day the Lord opens the way before you. Your king notices that today you’re burdened with sadness and care and he asks about the griefs that shadow your heart. So you tell him about the afflictions of your people and the condition of the temple and the city of your fathers and he asks, “What would you have me do?”

And before you do or say anything more YOU PRAY.

Too often we pray too little.

There’s a saying, “Look before you leap.” Well God’s people need to pray before they speak. Pray before the act. Pray instead of react. Pray before, during, and following any planning. Pray for strength. Pray for wisdom. Pray for knowledge. Pray for courage. Pray for patience, faith and love. Pray, pray, pray.

Nehemiah sets a grand example for each of us. Before you do anything, pray.

“And it came to pass in the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, that I took the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had never been sad in his presence before.” Nehemiah 2:1

I know there are some people who, through a combination of convincing acting abilities and a natural tendency to always have their facial expression the same, are able to hide their emotions. Usually they end up having a perpetually pleasant, but passive, look on their face, broken only from time to time by a beautiful but rare smile.

Most people, even of those that are in the habit of shielding themselves from making emotional displays, are not able to do this for extended periods of time. Emotions tend to be like a weight to the spirit of a person and eventually that internal weight makes itself known on the outside.

Understanding the effect emotions have on a person, it amazes me, every time I consider this part of Nehemiah’s story, that he was able to carry the burden of his grief for as long as he had.

How long did Nehemiah grieve? Chapter one tells us that Nehemiah’s grieving began in the Jewish month of Chislev and our focus text, in the first verse of chapter two, reveals that he was confronted by King Artaxerxes in the month of Nisan. I know most of my readers don’t have the Hebrew calendar memorized so I’ll just tell you how much time has past for Nehemiah. Nehemiah has been grieving for about four months. That’s right, sixteen weeks or one hundred and twenty days. However you want to think about it.

Most of us would have moved on long before this amount of time had elapsed. Our attention spans are just too short to focus that long on something we’re incapable of affecting ourselves. We become bored or distracted and we turn our focus to other more immediate and actionable concerns.

But Nehemiah has not abandoned his petitions to God for the people of Israel, the restoration of the God’s city, Jerusalem, and the removal of this scar from the face of the honor of God.

Nehemiah’s dedication and perseverance in pressing his prayers to God are an example of how our prayers ought to be. Nehemiah continued until he received the answer to his prayer.

I believe that if it had been required he would have continued much, much longer.

Why do we need to persist in our praying? Because there appear to be things that God won’t do unless he has a request or perhaps even permission from us. Whatever the reason, it’s obvious that prayers, our prayers, open doors for God. Some requests take longer than others to fulfill so we need to nor lose heart as we continue to press our requests forward to the throne of God. Faith, unfaltering faith, takes hold of the hand of God and trusts in his love, his wisdom, his strength and his power to give the answer we’re looking for.

“O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” For I was the king’s cupbearer.” Nehemiah 1:11

Who are the people that most directly influence your life?

We quickly begin to list family members: husband, wife, parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, children and so on. After we’ve exhausted enumerating how our families have influenced our lives we might go on to name specific teachers, or pastors. It’s only toward the bottom of the list that we begin to think about and add to the list employers and supervisors at work but it occurs to me that, on a day to day basis, there are few people who have the ability to directly impact a person’s life more than your boss.

Your boss has tremendous influence in setting the atmosphere of your work environment. Your boss has final say over when you’re scheduled to work and the specific tasks you’ll perform. Your boss determines what the standard is for the evaluation of your work, the frequency with which you’ll be evaluated, and the spirit with which the evaluations will be conducted. Usually your boss has discretionary powers to decide whether or not you’ll continue as an employee.

Certainly you boss isn’t the only factor influencing your day to day life but it’s completely fair to say that he or she is consistently one of the stronger influences.

Nehemiah’s boss, when compared to most of ours, had even greater influence. Nehemiah directly served the king of Persia as his cupbearer. His responsibility was to prepared, serve, and ensure the safety of whatever the king drank. Sometimes this meant taste testing potentially contaminated beverages.

But now God’s laying on Nehemiah’s heart the desire to do something to change the situation in far away Jerusalem and the only way forward requires that his boss, the king, agree to allowing Nehemiah to leave his duties at the court. Nehemiah has no way of anticipating how such a request might be taken. Things could go well, things might turn disastrous.

So Nehemiah added to his prayer of confession a prayer for God to influence and prepare the heart of the king to receive his request and grant him permission to leave.

Do you pray for your boss? He or she might not be king of an empire but they certainly have a great deal of power in your life. Their influence will extend to affect you home and family. Their influence will extend into your work for God and the church. To a great degree your day to day happiness is influenced by your boss. You should pray for them.

Pray that their work would go well, that their homes would be harmonious, that their health would be good, and that their employees would be industrious. Like Nehemiah, pray that they”ll be merciful and that they’ll cooperate as you strive to follow both their wishes and the directives of God.

“Now these are Your servants and Your people, whom You have redeemed by Your great power, and by Your strong hand.” Nehemiah 1:10

I think I’ve told you all before that my parents were Seventh-day Adventist Church School teachers. Part of what this meant was that when I went to school, for the first eight years of my formal education, Mom and Dad were my teachers.

When I’ve told people this many times the response has been, “I’m so glad my parents weren’t my teachers.” Well, the more I think about it, while I understand at least some of the reasons why a person might want teachers other than their parents, my parents were wonderful teachers and I’m very grateful to have had them as my teachers.

That being said, not every part of the being in their classroom was ideal. I think it would be hard for a teacher-parent to make sure that they were totally fair in their treatment of their own children when they were part of their classroom. My father especially seemed to exhibit some small inclination to prioritize the needs of other students before those of his children. Just to be clear, my father was very careful to not play favorites with any of his students but when it came to myself and my brothers, when we were his students, at times it seemed that it was much easier for other students to get his attention than it was for us.

So we developed a technique for breaking through the barriers that had caused him to not hear the voices of his own children. We called him Mr. Clayburn.

The response was actually quite funny. It seems that the sound of our familiar, and much loved, voices, addressing him in such formal and distant terms was a slight shock to his system. He would look at us with incredulity, his mouth would hang open, his breath would come out in time gasps, and for several seconds as he would make sure that we were actually his child and not one of his other students, and then he would say, “I’m not Mr. Clayburn to you. You call me Dad.”

To this we’d usually say, “I’ve been standing right beside you for the last two minutes saying that and you never answered. When I called you Mr. Clayburn you answered the first time.”

Sometimes, in the classroom, my father needed to be reminded that his boys, just like all the other kids, were his students too. Sometimes it was good to remind ourselves of that fact as well

In our praying, sometimes the right thing to do is to remind God who we are to him. It’s not that he’s forgotten; God never forgets. Sometimes it’s we who need to be reminded and when we tell God it affirms to us who we are to him. And sometimes, for reasons scripture never explains, our verbalizing things to God, that we know he already knows, open doors with God that would have otherwise remained closed.

Nehemiah, in his prayer, reminded God that the children of Israel were his servants, his people, the objects of his redemption, the recipients of his power. The implications of these reality must have echoed and re-echoed in his own heart. We need to follow Nehemiah’s example and remind God, and ourselves, who we are to him. Like Nehemiah we might find the response miraculous.