When Ordinary Men and Women do Extraordinary Work
We've been studying a portion of the lives of Ezra and Nehemiah as well as other leaders that God raised up in order to guide a remnant of the Jewish nation that had been held in exile in a foreign land for 70 years. While there, many abandoned the idolatry that had initially caused the destruction of their nation and Temple. They also drew closer together and maintained their cultural and religious integrity by not taking foreign spouses. For these reasons, when God called them to return, there remained culturally pure Jews along with priests and Levites able to rebuild the Jewish society and religion, and complete the task of bringing the Messiah to mankind.
In our final lesson I would like to describe the things that we, as God's people today, can expect when He calls us to take on a great work.
What to Expect
What's interesting about Nehemiah's story is that once he accepted the call of God to serve, he was fully confident that God would provide, he never doubted. We need to understand that when God calls us to build, and we accept that call, we can expect certain things:
1. Expect – Resources
When God gives you a job to do, He doesn't send you out empty handed – He will provide the resources you need to finish the job. Now, most people believe and understand this, but get tripped up in the way God provides.
A. He provides from His sources not just yours.
Nehemiah was a slave, an important slave, a well-positioned slave, but a slave nonetheless – he had no freedom to leave or gather wealth. To give him the job of rebuilding the wall seemed illogical because he had no resources. God, however, provided the key resources for the job through the King of Persia, Nehemiah's master, and a pagan at that!
God demonstrated that the work was His to commission and all the resources belonged to Him as well, even the resources controlled by a pagan king. We sometimes get discouraged because our strength, our experience, our money or our numbers are not equal to the job, but God is not limited by our personal resources. He provides from His resources. And we are always amazed and humbled when we see where He finds what we need to do the job.
B. He provides at His pace.
Nehemiah first received permission to go, then a letter permitting him to use the king's forest for wood. He began the job with the basics and as he moved from stage to stage in the building process, God would supply his needs at every step. Sometimes what he needed were the words to inspire His people who were afraid and ready to quit, and God supplied these as well.
We always want all the money up front; we always want assurances on the table that everything will go smoothly before we take on the job that God gives us to do. It's not that God is slow or cheap or possessive with His resources, it's that He uses them to build our faith. The goal wasn't just building a wall to protect the Jews, it was to build their faith in God Who, in the end, was the only One who could truly protect them.
C. He provides the full amount.
Study each person that God called upon to do a job; Noah, Moses, Solomon, the Apostles, each one had enough to finish the task. God provides from unexpected and unusual sources at times.
- The angel wipes out the Assyrian army without a single Jewish soldier lost in Hezekiah's story.
- 300 men defeat 300,000 in the story of Gideon.
- Joseph provides for his long-lost family in Egypt.
- Jesus multiplies the bread and fish for thousands.
- The early church sells its personal property to provide for the poor.
God does not dishonor Himself by giving us a job to do and not providing enough resources. The resources are always there but we have to open our eyes and hearts in order to recognize them at times.
2. Expect – Opposition
Just because it is God that gives the job and the objective is to honor Him, this doesn't mean that it will be easy. Nehemiah continually faced opposition to his plan from everyone, the neighboring kings, as well as his own people. I used to complain to God about these types of problems, when trying to accomplish things.
- "Why don't You just let me do it?"
- "Why all this trouble, it's for You isn't it? It's right, isn't it? It will accomplish good, won't it?"
- "Why all the hassle?"
Then I realized, God doesn't cause the hassle, Satan causes the hassle, because when God gives a person a job to do, Satan will be there to frustrate his plans in every conceivable way.
- He uses the outside influences of evil men.
- He uses the inside influences of our weaknesses to sin.
- He uses division, indifference, laziness, lies, and discouragement to thwart any plan that will honor God.
That's what it's all about. Any job you get from God is an opportunity to honor Him in some way and Satan is determined not to let that happen. So, if God gives us a job you can be sure that the snake will be there also, causing trouble from the word go.
3. Expect – Victory
Nehemiah used resources and withstood the enemy, the threats, the internal divisions, the fatigue, and the discouragement and in 52 days he built the wall! When God gives a job, He provides the resources, sustains through trouble, and He expects victory, so should we! Nehemiah's victory was dramatic, inspiring, and had the advantage of happening in a short amount of time, but in the work of the Lord the victory is not always accomplished in 52 days or even in 52 years.
- Abraham died never seeing the nation.
- Moses died never entering the Promised Land.
- David died never seeing the temple.
- Paul died never seeing Christianity becoming the religion of the Empire.
Sometimes the job is a long term one and you may not see the victory in your own lifetime, but if God calls on you to rise up and build, expect the victory sooner or later because if it comes from the Lord, nothing will be able to stop the victory – nothing.
Summary/Exhortation – I
Zerubbabel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and others took on the task of rebuilding the city and temple and wall for an ultimate purpose they were not aware of – the coming of Jesus Christ some 400 years later! That was part of the job that no one but God knew at the time. All that work and effort to protect a group of people who would later produce the Savior from their midst.
Today we are charged with preaching the gospel to the entire world, to grow the kingdom, and be a constant witness to all for the return of Jesus Christ who will judge the world and exalt the church at the end of time. Our task today points to this ultimate purpose. Our advantage today is that we have not only been called on to build the kingdom on Earth, but we also know why God has asked us to do this.
There is not much left of what Nehemiah and the others built. Only a small portion of one wall remains near where the temple once stood. They call it the Western Wall, or the Wailing Wall. It's a place where tourists visit and Jews go to pray and weep, remembering the glory of a past era.
We, on the other hand, are building to eternity because the job we've been given to do is to build the kingdom that will last forever. Let us, therefore, arise and build that kingdom in whatever place and time the Lord has called on us and do so remembering that:
- He will provide the resources.
- He will provide the power to overcome opposition.
- He will grant us the victory to His honor and glory forever, Amen.
One last point and this lesson and series will be yours. This is a bit of harsh wisdom for those who feel they have been called to build – whatever that may be. The following ideas contain the simple truths necessary if you are to complete any great work for the Lord. I refer to them collectively as, "The art of finishing".
The Art of Finishing – Summary 2
If you, as an individual or a group, want to finish what you start, you must:
1. Understand that finishing is always harder than starting.
So many of life's great ideas, projects, plans, businesses, careers, relationships, missions – have been left unfinished because people didn't understand this simple but import truth. The first wave of people returning to Jerusalem were excited to get things going but they quickly abandoned the work at the first sign of opposition. So many people don't realize that the "rush" and enthusiasm that accompanies the beginning of a project, rarely lasts until the end.
People are propelled along with that first flush of excitement when they begin but when their jets cool down so do their dedication and commitment. With time, most of their energy is spent looking for a way out of the project instead of a way to finish the project.
A testimony to this fact is that there are a lot more unfinished projects and neglected causes in the world than completed ones. A great "modern" example of this phenomenon of this is the marathon run. We have one in Montreal every summer. 10,000 runners from all over the world start the 26-mile race on the Jacques Cartier bridge (which is shut down for the event). The TV cameras always show how charged up everyone is at the starting line. Loosening, smiling, high-fives, stretching, etc. But what a difference at the halfway and three-quarter way mark.
- Gray faces
- Falling from exhaustion
Then look at the few hundred that manage to complete the race.
- Eyes glazing
- Legs like two dead weights
- Total burn-out of the lungs.
The ones who crossed the finish line knew from the beginning that the end was going to be much, much harder than the start. This is one of the reasons Nehemiah succeeded. His starting line was the wall, and it was a 52-day adrenaline rush. But read chapters 7-13 in his book and you'll see that his task was far from over when the wall was done – that was the beginning. He had to persevere through:
- The reorganization of that society.
- The re-establishment of their feasts and covenant to obey God.
- Re-instate the collection of tithes to support the service of the temple.
- Organize a national feast day to dedicate the wall.
- He even had to return for a time to rebuke the people for their backsliding and unfaithfulness.
Nehemiah was as fervent for the task God had given him at the beginning as he was at the end. When we begin something with the understanding that it will be harder to finish than to start – we have a much better chance of reaching our goal because we go in with our eyes wide open.
2. You must resolve that nothing will stop you from finishing.
Finishers keep trying every day until the job is done. Whatever the challenges, task, or struggle:
- Training to master a sport or making the team,
- Breaking a sinful habit,
- Building a relationship, wall, or a congregation...
No matter the obstacles you are not going to quit. Thomas Edison examined over 1500 formulas and experiments before getting his invention of the light bulb to work. The difference between failure and success is not just strength, wealth or talent, the real difference between individuals is the resolution not to quit under any circumstances. Oh, yes, God provides the resources, the direction and the victory, but we are the ones that decide if we are going to persevere or not.
Actually, the true point of victory happens at the moment you decide not to quit, no matter the what the cost. People can treat you unfairly, make life difficult; circumstances can work against you, but only you remain in control of the decision to quit or not.
3. Remember that rewards are only given to finishers, not starters.
Quitters have stories, excuses, complaints – but the prizes go to those who finish. Examples:
- Salespeople get a commission if they close the deal, not just show the product.
- Marathoners get to say, "I ran the Montreal Marathon" only if they cross the finish line.
- God preserved the history of Nehemiah's ministry because he finished his task, otherwise the book would be about someone else.
Of course, the consummate finisher was our Lord Jesus Christ. When he began His ministry, the crowds were with Him, they tried to make Him king because they saw His miracles and heard His wisdom. At the end of His life, however, He was alone, beaten, humiliated, totally rejected, and was nailed to a Roman cross. And yet, He was able to say, "It is Finished" (John 19:30). He began gloriously, struggled though the obstacles, and finished on a bloody tree, all done to receive His reward. His reward was not His resurrection; His resurrection was never in doubt because He was without sin. No, His reward was the possibility of our resurrection through His sacrifice on that cross (1 Peter 1:3). Jesus finished His difficult course in this life, so that all of us would have this opportunity to obtain resurrection into the next life.
24Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 25Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
- I Corinthians 9:24-25
No matter what you are building in the name of the Lord, I pray that you will, with God's grace and mercy, complete the task and receive the imperishable crown of life as you cross the finish line.
Thank you and God bless you with every good thing in Christ.