Nehemiah and the Work of the Ministry

by Eric S. Love
podcast available: September 18, 2011

Nehemiah: Building Together

We talk often about the work of the ministry. We look at it from practical and supernatural perspectives. We’ve shared with each other how we do the work of the ministry in our own lives. We’ve encouraged each other by saying how we see each other doing the work of the ministry in daily life.

Still, it’s easy to settle into the mindset that the work of the ministry is either a.) something for those in “high” positions or leadership positions (basically, for those who have titles in the church), b.) something we just don’t have time to do because life has us saddled and running like we are a horse in a derby, c.) something we can’t possibly do because no one will give us a position in which to do it, or d.) something we have no idea how to do.

The truth is all of us are either doing the work of the ministry or we’re not. Life IS the work. The only thing we need to do it is the place we are currently standing in. That’s where we are called to the do the work. Even if you are in a terrible job and you are looking for the nearest exit through which to bolt, while you are there, there is work for the Kingdom to be done. You may be studying in college or high school and know that your place right now is one of transition. So be it, but for now there’s work to be done. You may be unemployed, taking care of home, kids, grandkids... yep - there’s work for the Kingdom that needs to be done right there.

No matter where we are, that’s where we are called to do the work. It’s not about how long we are there. It’s about the fact that we are there right now.

Often the most crucial moments in our lives take place when we least expect it. Not at a conference or in a workshop, but in daily life. That’s where the rubber meets the road. That’s where reality lives. That’s why it’s there that we must meet people. There’s soil there for experiences with God to take root - the soil of our real world.

Talent does not determine whether we can have a powerful ministry. Heart does. character. Like someone hearing me sing a four minute song at my grandmother’s funeral and knowing immediately what my purpose in life is. Or people hearing me sing and knowing that I’d be great for the music ministry having no idea that I had a huge temper and a love for offending stupid people.

So all of this should not be news to us, but it is something that we may still need to be reminded of. In my line of work, it’s easy to see an “eternal significance” to what I do, especially if you are on the outside looking in. “What a great work you guys are doing,” people often say. Yeah well it doesn’t always feel great. It’s weary work, like trying to build a house and every time you put up one board another one, sometimes two, un-nails themselves. Like downloading files onto a hard drive. Every time you get one on there, another one somewhere else deletes itself. You get the idea. So how do we keep doing it?

By focusing on the fruit we can see and remembering that it’s an ongoing process. We often say we work in a “living laboratory,” unlike other organizations that study statistics and data - we work daily with living specimen. (That sounds dryly clinical, does it not?) But we love these guys. We know them. They care about us, too. It becomes a family. And this is what I’ve learned in the last ten years: working with these boys is like carving away at a stone face (often, that stone is their heart) with a little hammer and chisel. What good does that do? Given enough time, something breaks. Something shifts. Something changes.

That’s a pretty good picture of Kingdom work.

It’s not glamorous. It’s not easy. There are no cheep thrills. It’s just as monotonous as daily life - because it is. But the view is spectacular when you stop to look at it. Look back over where you’ve been. Take it in. See it. Really see it. It will take your breath away.

That’s a pretty good picture of Kingdom work.

So today we are going to look at yet another perspective of doing the work of the ministry. We are going to look at the book of Nehemiah.

Background:
The first two groups of exiles have returned to Jerusalem, the last under the leadership of Ezra. That’s been about 14 years past now. But there are problems. The wall of Jerusalem was broken down and the gates burned with fire.

Two things to think about:
It’s been about 71 years since the first exiles rebuilt the temple (around 90 since they first returned). In all that time they never rebuilt the wall of the city. Why? They lost heart.
The people living in the city are not bound together as a nation. They have jobs, families, all the things we would think people living normal lives would have, but they are in “great trouble and distress” because of the broken wall.

The temple represented the spiritual element, which they were quick to rebuild. But the practical part, rebuilding the wall which was their security and defense, was not done.

Nehemiah hears about the problems and prays. God gives him favor with King Artixerxes, to whom he is cup bearer, and is granted permission to rebuild the walls and gates with an armed escort and provision from the King’s forest.

There is of course opposition, both from within and without. There are Samaritans who threaten, lie and badger to stop the work. There are nobles within the city who extort the people and refuse to work. The people themselves from time to time grow weary and heavy hearted. But they succeed in the end. How?

Neh 2:17-18: Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” ... They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.”

They recognized their responsibility and did it. They saw the work before them and chose to focus on what could be done rather than what had been lost. If you read the account, you’ll find that everyone pretty much helped with the work. Men. Women. Children. They weren’t construction workers. They were craftsmen and perfume makers. Normal people, in other words. The only ones who didn’t work were the nobles: the ones who believed their title entitled them to not participate. (These were also the ones extorting the people.)

The people rebuilt where they were.

This is what I mean. The wall stretched all around them. They simply went to the spot closest to them and started building. They used the burned out stone that lay in ruins all around them. They used what they had where they had it. That’s a great idea!

Neh 4:13-23: 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.

Rather than criticizing and exposing the week places, they covered them. This is another great idea. They stood together as families to protect the integrity of the wall. Because if there was one week place in the wall, the entire wall was week. It was the security of the entire city. Criticizing weakness only made them more vulnerable to attack. So they themselves became the wall, filling in the gaps.

Neh 4:13-23: From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor... Those who carried the materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. But the man who sounded the trumpet stayed with me... “Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us!”

You see two things here. First, the warfare and the work went hand-in-hand. We often think of the warfare we are engaged in as being so spiritual it is detached from regular life, except when it spills over and we have a flat tire or need a new carburetor. And our normal lives are just that: normal and not at all spiritual. But these two things are linked.

You will find no spiritual significance by segregating it from your real life. If you separate yourself away like monks in an abbey, you may find spiritual enlightenment - but you’ll have no one to share it with. And sharing it is the point. In one hand we hold the sword - engaged in the spiritual battle all around us - and in the other we hold a shovel - doing the work we are here to do where we are, school, job, home, community. That’s the work of the ministry.

The second thing to see is that wherever help was needed, that’s where everyone went. No one said, “That’s not my job.” They didn’t go build that section for the people who were struggling, but they did go defend it long enough for those who were there to get ahead.

Those doing the accusing and complaining were never the ones getting the work done.

I recently read a word by Doug Addison. In it he said this: “I have had several dreams and spiritual experiences of being in a spiritual courtroom. I often see the ‘Courtroom of heaven’ and Christians are jammering in to accuse one another.”

One of the titles os satan in the accuser of the brethren (Rev 12:10). It is so important for us not to accuse other Christians or people, or we too will fall under this title.

Luke 6:37 says “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you shall be forgiven.”

God would much rather have us settle our differences “out of court,” so to speak, than to have us accuse one another. Forgiveness is a key to operating in this new move coming from God.

What gave those people living in Jerusalem security and made them productive in their work is that they did it together. And they didn’t separate the spiritual work from the natural. They can’t be separated. These two things coexist because we coexist in both places: spirit and natural. That’s where the work of the ministry is done.

Eric Love, 9/25/2011