Just when you were gaining ground they arrived. You know who “they” are. They are the ones who grumble and gripe. They have a dozen reasons for why something won’t work or can’t be done. You dread seeing them coming, despise hearing their droning, and are deflated when they finally move on to frustrate someone else. This type of folks has always been around. A textbook example of these cranky critics and how to overcome them is found in the Book of Nehemiah.
The theme of the book is Nehemiah’s work to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. The book is brief, but has a bounty of lessons about life, faith, work, attitudes, and leadership. It is one of the most practical and applicable books in the Bible.
In the first two chapters we see how Nehemiah’s work and service to God began. Nehemiah had heard that Jerusalem was in great disrepair. He responded to this news by mourning for days. He then fasted, prayed, and asked God to clear the path for him to go and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Soon after, while doing his ho-hum job of being the cupbearer for King Artaxerxes, Nehemiah had the opportunity to gain the king’s approval to go and rebuild the walls. As a further answer to Nehemiah’s prayer King Artaxerxes even provided a letter of protection as well as the supplies for the work! A lesson here is that while you are faithful in your mundane, day-to-day role be sure to watch for God to do something astonishing. The “small” role that Nehemiah had worked in for years became the springboard for a big assignment.
As soon as God had granted Nehemiah initial, and visible, success … trouble began. Enter the professional troublemakers: Sanballat (wasn’t that the name of an 80’s pop band?) and Tobiah (the translation of that Aramaic name is “kid who never got picked for dodgeball because of his dopey name). Those two didn’t want Jerusalem restored or for Nehemiah to prosper. So they began expressing themselves as a means of depressing others. Nehemiah chapter two concludes with this passage:
“Then I (Nehemiah) said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.” 18 And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work. 19 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they jeered at us and despised us and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” 20 Then I replied to them, “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 2:17-20
Some quick take-home, or take-to-work, application points for us:
- Nehemiah inspired those that he would led. He encouraged them, told them what they should do, and why they should do it. Good leaders share the “why” along with the “what, and in the process lift others up rather than tearing them down.
- At the first sign of success the nay-sayers unleashed a barrage of finger-pointing and fault-finding. Those remain the tools of the trade used by cynics today. Learning to spot these will aid you in setting your feet and standing up to scoffers. It is worth considering that sometimes the loudest and most critical doubter you hear resides within you. Recognize that self-doubt — especially if it’s constant and contrarian — is the work of your sin nature or the enemy; it’s not from God. God desires us to keep moving ahead despite doubters, both external and internal ones.
- Nehemiah overcame the scoffers in a becoming yet bold manner: God is with us, we will keep working, and this is none of your business. A sanctified smackdown (check out the Archives for the June 5 post Words of Grace, and Granite for more on santified smart-aleckry). It’s a rousing response for your critics: God’s in it and keep your nose out of it.
As you go about your life and work please remember Nehemiah’s example of faithfulness and watchfulness while his work began and his strength and savvy that kept the work going. Take some time this week and walk through the Book of Nehemiah. God will use it to instruct and inspire you. He might even show you how His great work flows through your daily grind…