Perhaps the hardest part of any project is the halfway point. When a new ministry is started there’s a lot of enthusiasm. People are attracted by the “new project smell.” There’s the excitement, the novelty, the belief that this is going to break new ground. Then you get to the halfway point.
The novelty has worn off. Enthusiasm has given way to the mundane. Excitement has turned into drudgery. There’s even opposition. That’s where Nehemiah found his wall-rebuilding project in Nehemiah chapter 4. They were at the halfway point when a project manager from the tribe of Judah came up to him and said:
And Judah said, “The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed, and there is much rubbish; so that we are not able to build the wall.” (Nehemiah 4:10).
On top of that, Nehemiah’s enemies were using on the social media of their day speaking of attack. They said: “They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work” (Nehemiah 4:11, ESV). I suppose the most difficult opposition came from the Jews themselves, people who meant well but whose words were disheartening:
At that time the Jews who lived near them came from all directions and said to us ten times, “You must return to us” (Nehemiah 4:12).
These “Jews who lived near them” were Jews who had not been taken captive. They had been left behind in the outlying areas and lived amongst the people of the land. The opposition to the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls consisted of the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites, headed up by Sanballat and Tobiah. (See Nehemiah 4:7) Their threats were very real. Thankfully, their arrogance did them in because they freely talked amongst themselves about how they were going to ambush Nehemiah and his workers and literally kill the effort. Though coming to him ten times with this bad news had to be discouraging, the Jews “living in the ‘hood” at least kept Nehemiah informed.
Rather than let discouragement overtake him and his people, Nehemiah encouraged the people and made them look past their circumstances and to their God:
(13) So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows.
(14) And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.”
I like watching documentaries about America’s great battles and when those documentaries feature interviews with soldiers who fought in those battles, one thing I hear time and again is: “I wasn’t fighting for the flag or for glory. I was fighting for the guy next to me. I was counting on him and he was counting on me. I didn’t want to let them down.” There’s no shame in that. It’s human nature. Sometimes to keep the drive alive, you have to consider who you’re doing what you’re doing for. Nehemiah understood this. Yes, his people were rebuilding the wall for the glory of God, but they were also doing this for their families, the people who were counting on them to do their job.
Much of what we hope to gain in the “sweet by and by” happens shoulder to shoulder alongside God’s people in the “nasty now and now.” It isn’t always the glory jobs that accomplish the will of God. A lot of it is being faithful in the mundane, everyday tasks of ministry. Sometimes it really is dealing with the rubbish. Who wants to go to a church where the grounds look like junk, where it seems like the people just don’t care? The kingdom of God is advanced by people being faithful in the mundane.
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