I read on facebook a great line that said: “You will not be loved by everyone all of the time, you are not a pizza!”
The problem is we want to be friends with God and to fit into the world perfectly too, but as St. Paul says to his protégé Timothy that “anyone who wants to lead a Godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim.3.12). James reminds us that: “Friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (James 4:4).
The story of Nehemiah is more than a testimony of recognising God’s call and vocation (which is what we looked at yesterday) it is a tribute to obedience and faithful endurance under pressure, immense pressure and persecution.
It is easy to be courageous when our choices are popular, easy to give bold speeches to cheering crowds, talking with fighting talk when someone else is taking the flack but it is so much harder to be brave when your choices will be unpopular, the crowd is hostile and its our neck on the block.
Yet a brave choice often is rarely a one off moment but rather to have to hold a line and keep on building amid attack, indeed often as the work grows sadly often the attack increases.
Here we see in the story of Nehemiah his attempts to re-build the wall were initially met with scorn and mockery.
“But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us”…”What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?” Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!” (Neh.4.1-4)
In response to their ridicule they prayed that God’s work would not be thwarted and prayed that God would deal with his enemies. It reminded me of the book of Acts where the disciples were hauled before the authorities and told not to preach about Jesus again, the disciples went off and prayed for continued boldness (Acts 4:31) and they kept on preaching (even when it cost many of them their lives).
In the story of Nehemiah the mockery moved to threats of physical violence and attempts to kill them and destroy their work.
9 But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat. 13 Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows. 14 After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.”… Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, 18 and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked.
Notice that they prayed, armed themselves and continued to keep working, too often we neglect prayer and work as we focus on the fight, we pray and fight but stop actually being faithful to what we are called to do, or we fight and work and neglect to pray, but faithful Kingdom living involves a commitment to all three.
“So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days” (Neh.6.15).
So, what of us seeking to build the Kingdom of God, keep praying, remember you are in a spiritual battle and keep doing what you are called too.
Nehemiah is my favourite book of the Bible because he is such a great example of perseverance under pressure and persecution, someone who did not quit when the going got tough, kept going when life was not rosy and comfortable and was faithful and obedient to God’s call seeing it to completion.
It is my prayer that the Church of Jesus Christ has the some commitment as Nehemiah to building -and continuing to build- the Kingdom of God not matter what is thrown at us