“Who stands fast? Only the man whose final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, or his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all this when he is called to obedient and responsible action in faith and in exclusive allegiance to God- the responsible man, who tries to make his whole life an answer to the question and call of God.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple. Let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you. They are coming to kill you by night.” But I said, “Should such a man as I run away? And what man such as I could go into the temple and live? I will not go in.” (Nehemiah 6:10-11)
When you attempt to do something great for God, it is only a matter of time before you will face opposition. If we fight real spiritual enemies that are long entrenched and used to ruling without opposition, they will not give up ground without a fight. When in that kind of conflict, God’s soldiers have been greatly encouraged by the story of Nehemiah. I know I have.
Remember the task set before him. The nation of Israel had been carried off into exile. The city of Jerusalem had been ransacked and burned. Much of the walls of the city had been torn down, leaving the remnant in Jerusalem at the mercy of their enemies. The essence of a city in that day was found in its wall. Without a wall, a city lacked integrity and its people lived in constant fear and disgrace. There had been two movements of Jews who made their way back to the city, but neither had managed to restore the wall.
Nehemiah, like Daniel, had found favor with the rulers of their exile. Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the Persian King, Artaxerxes. As the cupbearer, he was one of the most important men in the empire. But, he still worshipped Jehovah and loved the city of God, Jerusalem. So, when he heard a report that the walls of the city were still in rubble, he was deeply grieved. His first response was to fast and pray. In prayer, He reminded God of his promises to restore His people to their land. Clearly, in the moment, although not explicitly stated, he was being given a vision, or perhaps a better description, a call by God.
Because of this inner conviction, he determines to undertake something very great and dangerous. Between the lines we can surmise that he sees the glory of God and the restoration of Jerusalem as bound together (1:11). That is why he refers to God’s promises. That is why he prays to God. The vision must be God given or it is a fool’s errand bound to fail. The distance is too far. The resources are too few. And the enemies are too furious.
After prayer, Artaxerxes gives him permission and provisions for the trip. Upon arrival in Jerusalem, he finds the city in rubble and the people discouraged. He also discovers that he and his mission are not welcomed by the non-Jewish nobles. They will be his avowed enemies throughout his mission. Led by Sanballat and Tobiah, these enemies will use every trick they can muster to stop Nehemiah: lies, rumors, threats, traps and even murder are all weapons in the hands of his adversaries. How can he possibly succeed against such determined and resourceful enemies? What were his weapons? Let’s see.
First, he prayed. He prayed when he heard the bad report (1:4). He prayed before he made his request to the king. (2:4) He prayed when Sanballat and Tobiah, the leaders ridiculed the work. (4:4) He prayed when the enemies spread false rumors about him. (6:15) He prayed after he discovered a plot to intimidate him and discredit him. (6:14f.) Every threat and scheme was countered with prayer.
Second, he never lost sight of whose mission he was on. It was the Lord’s. It was God who put the plan in his heart. (2:12) The goal was not ultimately about building walls or restoring a city but about revering the Lord’s name. (1:11) When the Israelites were afraid, he reminded them that the Lord who is great and awesome was on their side. (4:14) This was his God-given task and no man or enemy would distract him from completing it. So, when his enemies would propose a meeting to discuss their differences, he replied, “I am carrying on a great work and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you.” When you are doing something great, you don’t stop the work for anything.
Third, he knew that God had called him to the task before him. He was set apart. He was chosen. He was God’s man. When Shemaiah, the false prophet, sought to scare him into hiding in the temple, Nehemiah made this awesome response: “Should a man like me go into the temple to save his life? I will not go.” I love it! He knew who he was, or better, he knew whose he was. He was confident. He was bold. He was a leader. He could not be intimidated, distracted, compromised or shaken.
We are in the midst of battle here in Malawi. We are seeing great answers to prayer and seeing the Light pushing back darkness. But, the enemy is not laying down or giving up. He is too proud and obstinate for that. He is always scheming and planning. If one thing doesn’t work, he tries another. Sometimes the attacks come from the outside. We have been faced with pitfalls arising from the politics that surrounds us. We have had to deal with gossip and rumors that cast aspersion on our motives and our leadership. Critics arise, from church leaders, who claim to know how to do it better than you. And, sometimes he turns to his most destructive tactic. He attempts to divide and destroy the unity of the team.
When faced with such problems, my first reactions are human ones. I think, “Is this thing bigger than me?” or, “How can I ever resolve such a huge problem?” or, “Maybe it is time to go.” “Maybe it’s time to retire.” Then I turn to the Word of God for help and I find the story of Nehemiah. As Paul so aptly wrote: “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us so that through endurance and the encouragement of Scriptures, we may have hope.” (Romans 15:4)
There, I was reminded to pray. To take every issue to the One who called me, sent me, appointed me and stationed me. There, I was reminded that what we are doing here is a great work of God. He will provide the resources. He will provide the wisdom. He will win the battles. These problems are smaller than mosquitoes in his eyes. So, I will not be distracted or come down. I have a job to do and I will do my best to complete it, by God’s grace. Finally, I am reminded that God’s call and God’s sending and God’s commissioning has made me different, or dare I say, “special”? God has prepared me for this moment. I believe, all of my life has been a preparation for such a time as this. So, with Nehemiah I say, “Shall such a man like me run away? I will not!” I will depend on him; I will honor his name; I will complete my task; for the good of this people, for the glory of His name, and for my eternal joy.