Today’s post would benefit from a bit of context. I encourage you to read Nehemiah 2:11-20 and Nehemiah 6. I also encourage you to read this post from Michael Nichols. I’ll bring that all together in my post…
Read all that material? Great! Let’s go…
The post that Michael Nichols wrote about getting knocked off course resonated with me. How many times has our family set our intentions on doing a good thing but wound up distracted? In all honesty, how many times have I set my personal goals and gotten derailed along the way? I think this is a situation that we are all familiar with. His question, “Why did you walk away?” is a one that most of us have to examine.
When dealing with distraction I often wind up looking at Nehemiah. The account of events begins in Nehemiah 1:2-4 when Nehemiah asks one of his countrymen about the fate of those who remained in captivity in Jerusalem. The report of the great city in utter destruction and a people, God’s chosen people, decimated caused Nehemiah to sit down and weep and mourn for many days. He was positioned in life to make a difference and set his heart on returning to Jerusalem and restoring the city and God’s people, no matter the cost.
In Nehemiah 2:11 we can read about his return to the homeland and the impact a visual inspection of the devastation had on him. Even though the situation was dire (v17) he inspires those who are around him to join him in rebuilding the city so they are not a reproach to God.
Many of us are motivated by similar realizations when we seek to change things in our life. We might change our diet because we recognize what it has done to our health and our body. Of even more importance we might change priorities in our families when we recognize the spiritual wasteland our homes have become. Perhaps church leaders set out on the challenging task of rebuilding the body when a lack of vision has had its final consequence. Our good and sincere efforts for improvement are often met with challenges and even attack.
From the very beginning of this effort, Nehemiah had his enemies. In 2:19 we read that Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem “jeered” and “despised” the efforts of Nehemiah and the Jews. The critics asked, “What is this thing you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” Nehemiah replied, “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.”
Nehemiah 3 details how the people rise up and get to work rebuilding. It might seem like a lot of pointless detail but this portion of the text allows us to see how far spread the rebuilding effort had become. The same people detailed in chapter 3 had lived in this destruction for years and had never bothered to improve their situation.
Their progress drew insult and threat from their critics in Nehemiah 4. Sanballat along with Tobiah issue insult and threat. They were bullies. The one thing that enrages a bully is being ignored. Nehemiah ignored their threats by calling on God to turn their taunts back upon them. The taunts of their critics drove the Jews to build with even greater fervor. In v6 we read that the people “had a mind to work.”
Sanballat and Tobiah were enraged when their insults were met with silence and focused progress by the Jews. The people recognized the threat and instead of stopping they prepared themselves for defense as they worked to complete the wall. They didn’t bother with hurling insults or threats back and forth, they kept their focus and prepared for any attack that might come.
The people of God stayed busy and completed the wall while their enemies continued to cause trouble from afar. Four times Sanballat and Geshem sent message to Nehemiah saying, “Come and let us meet together at Kakkephirim in the plain of Ono.” (To bad they didn’t have Starbuck’s back then.) These men never had good intentions at heart so Nehemiah clearly knew that they meant to cause him harm and derail the task at hand. Four times he responded, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” I personally believe this is one of the most powerful statements in the Old Testament.
I think Nehemiah 6:5 is often overlooked. They sent an open letter (unsealed for all to read) to Nehemiah. The lies of their message were intended to stir up trouble and division…they were desperate and fishing. Sanballat, Geshem and Tobiah were the ultimate in passive-aggressive communication. Nehemiah’s response comes from a heart of focus and dedication – “No such things as you say have been done, for you are inventing them out of your own mind.” Nehemiah clearly saw that they were trying to disrupt the great work that was being done by spreading fear and lies.
The account isn’t finished yet. (Hang in there with me!) Even some people among his countrymen had been bought out by these critics. In 6:10-14 we read of those who attempted to derail Nehemiah from within the walls. Nehemiah’s focus and dedication allowed him to see that this was not a message from God but was simply another scare tactic.
The wall was finished quickly…in 52 days! One would easily think that the troubles were over for Nehemiah but the end of chapter 6 tells us that his enemies were persistent. Many of the nobles of Judah were bound to Tobiah by oath and continued to work on Nehemiah. The final verse of the chapter tells us that Tobiah continued to send letters in an effort to scare and distract him. Now safely inside the walls of Jerusalem I am sure these letters had little impact. Perhaps they were piled in a basket in the corner, unopened, to be used for kindling.
The last few weeks I have been focused on purpose and vision because that is where I am at in my professional and personal life. I am working with the leadership of our congregation to develop a specific goal and vision for the ministry that I am blessed to be a part of. I am working with my wife to reshape and examine the goals we have for our family. I am blessed to be a part of several organizations that are also undertaking this important and challenging task.
While all that continues there are still distractions aplenty. There are lots of good things that cry out for our attention but we must politely decline. There are those around us who have their focus set in the wrong place and seek to distract us as well. And there is always the constant temptation to simply lay down and take the easy route through life, letting precious time pass by till it is too late.
My friends, I am busy doing a great work and I encourage to join with me. I am dedicated to raising children who know and love God and see Him in my words and actions. I am pledged to my bride to stand by her through this life, encouraging and strengthening her in this walk we take together. I am in a covenant with God to seek and save the lost and share His hope with a world that needs it. To those who would try to distract, why should the great work I am involved in stop for you?
I hope today’s post has been encouraging and thought provoking for you. Too much of our time is wasted on things that don’t matter. I encourage you to have a spiritual conversation with your family today. Perhaps you’ll use the Dinnertime Devotionals series or perhaps it will be something more organic. Either way, I encourage you to give thanks to God, teach your children about Him, and model a Christ-like love for your family. Check out Dinnertime Devotionals 39.