Deceived? Distracted? Discouraged? Lessons from Nehemiah
It’s summer! There are so many fun things to do. How do we know what to do each day? What is most purposeful?
One thing I like to do in the summer is to read. Stories often captivate and bring me fresh perspective, especially when I am having a tough time in life.
The other day our daughter pulled a story off the shelf. It was one about Nehemiah and how he re-builds the wall around Jerusalem. She affectionately named it, “Me and Maya!” For a helpful synopsis of the story, click here.
As I re-read this children’s story, I could see that Nehemiah encountered, deception, distraction, and discouragement. This isn’t a modern phenomenon! I was refreshed and strengthened by three new insights that I gained from this story. I hope they help you.
Starting a new thing– Nehemiah is prudent when he started a new thing. Before he goes to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem, he prays first for guidance! His prayers show him that this isn’t just about restoring the city physically, but rejuvenating the people of Jerusalem spiritually. No doubt, he needs this bigger perspective for such a tough job. It makes sense that Nehemiah’s efforts begin with meekness. I believe that this quality of meekness keeps him from later submitting to deception, distraction and discouragement from his opponents.
In our lives, we often have a good idea about a start-up business, a project to complete at home, a blog post to write, or a new program to help our community. But it’s sad, we give up so easily. We are easily deterred when we encounter red-tape, run out of funds, or let unrelated endeavors crowd out our initial focus. Instead of feeling defeated, we can turn back to a spiritual sense of purpose- which is often simple, genuine and altruistic. For me, I use the basic teachings of Christ to gauge my purpose- to Love God and to love my neighbor. I ask myself constantly, “Does this activity- thought- approach help other people? Does it magnify God or me?” Where the purpose is pure the project has a way of moving forward.
Continuing this idea of starting a new idea with discretion, I found it unusual that Nehemiah appeals to King Artaxerxes for resources without explicitly stating it is Jerusalem that he wants to save. Why was Nehemiah so sneaky? One scholar explains, “He may have known that Artaxerxes had stopped the rebuilding of Jerusalem because of the charge that it had been a notoriously rebellious city.” (The New Interpreter’s Bible vol. 3 pg. 756) Nehemiah isn’t sure if the king was friend or foe. To me, it seems Nehemiah wants to protect the building project until it gets going. When you start something new it’s easy for people to give their opinions, voice concerns, or weigh-in on what you are doing. Sometimes input is helpful but sometimes it’s good to let the idea or the project take root before other people’s doubts can quash it.
Finally, on this topic of starting a new thing, I found it refreshing that Nehemiah goes out to assess Jerusalem’s wall in the night, without fanfare, campaigning, Tweeting, or a fundraising endeavor! He went privately. I’m reminded of the time when my husband and I were expecting our daughter. It was a happy but quiet time. We prayed daily to know her spiritually- with unlimited potential, purity, goodness, and health. Like Nehemiah, praying first has been foundational- a point of reference for us as parents in these early years.
Small people do BIG things– Regardless of your status or place in life, you can still make a BIG difference. Don’t let deception, distraction, or discouragement keep you from breaking through. Look at Nehemiah. He is a captive Jew in Shushan. Sure, he has a favorable post as a cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, but ultimately he is not free. What entitles a servant, like Nehemiah, to make such a big ask of the king? I think it’s divine conviction- divine authority that comes from Nehemiah’s prayers. It’s a holy feeling like, “Wow! This is a big project but you’re right on track!” Nehemiah was first asking God and then the king. I guess it’s important to evaluate who we are asking for help.
Some days, you might feel like Nehemiah, a little fish in a big pond looking for a job, deciding to homeschool your children, going to a new job, graduating college, or moving to a new neighborhood. You might be the minority in this big world, but you can still do big and wonderful things- especially when you recognize that of course this is bigger than you!
What helped Nehemiah? Again, it was prayer. Developing a practice of prayer is what I’ve learned to do when I feel small. Nehemiah prays when things are tough and he prays when things are good. Talking through the story with my daughter we asked ourselves, “When is a good time pray?” Always!
Day and Night- When Nehemiah faces threats, he doesn’t throw in the towel. He works harder and so do the other builders with some encouragement. I’m asking myself, “When the going gets tough, do I give up or give it over to God?” This commentary of Proverbs 16:3 puts it plainly; “Roll the burden of thy care upon God, and leave it with him, by faith and dependence on him.” (Henry, Matthew. Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible. London, 1706) When I know that the burden is on God and not me, I feel lighter and more trusting.
In the end, I was glad for the reminders to:
Be mart about starting a new thing- keep it sacred
Be sincere and acknowledge our spiritual GIGANTICNESS-we can all make a difference
Keep at it day and night because the responsibility is on God- not us.
When the task at hand is big, press on! Deceiving, distracting, and discouraging thoughts can feel relentless, but we can return to our purest, simplest, and most honest motive for doing something to help us move forward.
Why does Nehemiah’s story matter? When we persist from a sacred place we are winning. When we start from a place of self-interest like, “How will this look on my resume? What’s in it for me?” -we hit a wall.
Spiritual practice in the face of opposition, shows me that we aren’t slaves. It would be insincere to say that life is easy if you only pray and follow God, but at least prayer and spiritual retreat give you that God calibration that is needed.
We can move forward from dark thoughts to light. This story helped me to see that our spiritual heritage shows us that we are worthy- not lowly. Like Nehemiah who preserved the wall, the city, and ultimately the people’s faith, God is keeping us on track. Keep with it.