Don't Come Down.
Have you read the story of Nehemiah?
Today as I prepare to post this I realize how deeply I personally need the blessed reminder that the good work you and I are called to as disciples of Jesus may be plagued with adversity and challenge, but it will also be secured with ensured victory since it is ultimately the Lord's work through you, and God’s plans never fail.
While in the process to rebuild the wall that surrounded Jerusalem, Nehemiah received an invitation from his adversaries - to “Come Down” (Nehemiah 6:3).
Early in Nehemiah’s project opposition began first as distraction but it progressed into efforts to outright stop him and later, the conspiracy to murder him.
But Nehemiah remained hard at work, not satisfied with just getting the project going. He wanted to see his project through to completion and make sure the gates of the wall were fastened as well.
Nehemiah was there to see the project through, even when it meant laying bricks with one hand and holding a sword with the other.
At this point if you are not familiar with this story some of this might sound weird - so let me quickly recap Nehemiah’s tale.
Nehemiah was a Jewish man working for King Artaxerxes, a mighty and powerful king feared by many. His Father Xerxes has been fictionalized as a tyrant and a god to his people. It seems the truth of this man is not far off. Kings were often worshipped as gods in those days. Nehemiah held a powerful role as an advisor - one who would place his lips on the king's cup. He would have been wealthy, well revered and honored as cup bearer to the king. Early in his story, he is visited by some Jews from Jerusalem who reported that Jerusalem is in ruins - a mockery to surrounding cities - in particular, the walls were destroyed.
Why was this a big deal? Well, walls beyond fortification represented a lot of things. Think of some of the most famous places - take the White House for instance - places of great importance and value are typically fortified with some time of security perimeter.
For a city to be left without walls was the equivalent of someone being left in the nude - exposed and unprotected. This grieved Nehemiah to the point of tears. Moved with a burden he prayed and fasted, and God gives him the divine opportunity to rectify this, and re-establish glory in Jerusalem
Fast forward and we find Nehemiah in the process - working on this wall. Those opposed to it’s construction for fear of strengthening the Jewish people conspired against Nehemiah.
So now we are back, and Nehemiah is being taunted with the offer to stop construction and step down.
Had he taken the enemy up on his offer and been distracted, it would’ve led to disaster. When his enemy called to him, “Nehemiah come down to us”, Nehemiah responded:
“why should I come down to you and stop this great work”.
Nehemiah recognized his purpose, his call, and had a true vision to which he would not be distracted. He recognized for WHOM his work was for.
Who are, and what are the adversaries that might taunt you to step down from your good work?
For Nehemiah, Sanballat the governor of Samaria is most infamously credited with being Nehemiah’s nemesis, but in Nehemiah 4:9 we learn there were many in opposition to Nehemiah’s mission and work. Standing alongside Sanballat was a man named Tobiah. We are also told the entire community made up of “the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the people from the city of Ashdod” also spectated and became angry.
What can we learn from this?
Well, a simple closure could be an encouragement for you to ‘labor recognizing your purpose and your call and do not allow hardship or adversity to distract you’. That would be a simple conclusion, and there is nothing wrong with that. But when we peer deeper, a man like Nehemiah who risked his life had more than a simple introverted resilience or call.
He was a man determined, consumed with a passion and burden for God and Gods people. In fact, this wasn’t about him at all - he didn’t make it personal, he made it about the kingdom. We know this because at the beginning of Nehemiah we learn who he is. Had it been truly about him he would have never left his position as cupbearer to the king.
Forgive me, because we started in the middle of Nehemiah then worked backward, but in honesty, there is so much power in Nehemiah’s account that we could go over this story multiple times and not wear it out.
Let me share a few takeaways
1. What are your adversaries?
For Nehemiah his adversaries were a “WHO”, but because we have the luxury to read the New Testament we learn a deeper truth which Nehemiah may or may not have known - our struggle is really not with people. Most of our challenges are classified as “WHAT”.
12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
If we are going to overcome, we need to know what we are fighting and how to fight it. Maybe your adversary is discouragement, anger, lack of faith, a lack of patience, maybe a guilt that you cannot move past. Maybe your adversary appears to be a person? I say ‘appears’ because 1 Peter 5:8 tells us our true adversary is the Devil.
What did Nehemiah do in the face of his adversaries? He kept on working. What should we do? Keep going! Don't slow down, don't get distracted or lose motivation.
2. Forget the reward, keep the integrity
Forget about laboring with the hope of recognition or a plaque in the city square to commemorate your labor. Don’t focus on people telling you “good job” or “glad to see you”. Nehemiah, like Jesus, labored with a burning vision. For Nehemiah, it was the vision of what Jerusalem should be- a strong city fortified by mighty walls and no longer be a disgrace (Nehemiah 2:17). God sent Jesus because of what we could be through him. While we were sinners he loved us that we might pass from death to life.
I went back and forth with this. Was this about vision or about a reward? But I think this is one and the same. The reward is maintaining the vision, keeping the integrity.
I've been told that sailors would often gauge the strength of a ship and its seaworthiness by asking “how is the integrity of this ship”. That question was meant to assess the ships ability to maintain the course despite the condition of the sea - both its waves and its storms. The reward a sailor walks away with when he and his crew have passed thousands of miles of ocean, battered by the waves - suffering thirst, hunger, and sleeplessness, is stepping foot on dry ground. The reward is making it. It’s one thing to start off well, but keeping the course, maintaining the integrity and finishing the mission is where the true test and reward lies.
3. It’s not about you.
This is a hard pill to swallow, but ministry is not about you - fulfilling your dreams, goals or passions. It is not about making you the center, the star or anything apart from making Christ known. If his passion isn’t being communicated then your’s probably is, and in the kingdom of God - there’s not enough room for you and God. It’s either all Him or all you, but it cannot be both. Trust me when I say this isn’t like turning a light switch on and simply changing methods and motivations, I realize I have not mastered this, and I cannot say I know too many people who can really put this into practice, but I do believe that we have to be continually walking in the Spirit for this part of our life to be mastered.
Galatians 5:16 says:
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.”
As you walk more frequently in Gods spirit, you may find yourself walking far less in your own.
4. Lastly, Don’t quit.
You might have to fight each and every step of the way to lay bricks for a wall that will wrap around an entire city (that sounds exhausting just writing it). It might seem like a monotonous-endless task without end. You may feel like you are looking over your shoulder the entire time, but do not quit!
Not sure where the mentality or belief that serving God was a paved road of gold? After all even Dorothy faced all her trouble while on the yellow brick road on her way to her destination. Although the Wizard of OZ is fantasy, trouble doesn’t discriminate. Keep going!
If you have been feeling discouraged, weak, worthless, unworthy - just remember apart from Christ, that’s probably partially true.
Ouch! Maybe I'm wrong but sometimes I think the devil only lies partially to those who belong to Christ.
In fact the devil and I actually agreed on a few things in my life- before belonging to Christ.
I was lost. My life, which in Gods hands has great potential - was not achieving any potential. Apart from Christ’s Lordship, I was weak, broken empty. I was living as if I had no value. That’s what was being whispered in my ear until I submitted to Christ. Oh, those whispers sometimes return, but after committing to Christ, they no longer remain true.
I remember, apart from Christ, most of those bad things the devil was throwing at me were the reason for the cross.
For Nehemiah, before the cross, it was just the knowledge of Jerusalem’s potential.
Regardless of how you might feel about my closure here’s the stubborn truth: God sees potential not in you necessarily, but through you. He’s always looking for a vessel to make HIS strength known.
13 I can do all things through Him (Christ Jesus) who strengthens me.
Stay in Christ. Keep Going!