Every now and again I enjoy reading through the Old Testament books that describe the life and times of Israel. I do not get very far into the story before I begin to get a little irritated with the whole group of them. They rode an emotional rollercoaster that could rival the amusement park’s best! I find myself becoming critical of them and thinking “Well, it is a good thing that I am not like that!”
Then God dropped me off in the middle of nowhere in Africa, and I faced changes and challenges like I have never faced before. To say I was riding an emotional rollercoaster, powered by circumstances, would be the understatement of the year! All of the sudden I began to truly empathize with those complaining, spiritually schizophrenic Israelites. In and out of captivity they went, due to their ‘stiff-necked’ natures. In and out of fellowship with my Heavenly Father I went, as I battled through difficult circumstances, both physical and spiritual. All I can do is take refuge in Paul’s words in Romans 7 and 8: “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord…through Him we are more than conquerors.”
I have to give a lot of credit, though, to those Old Testament guys who stood against the ‘flow’ and walked faithfully with their God in the midst of those wavering Israelites. They were often visionary leaders with a powerful prayer life and a deep relationship with God. Nehemiah was one of those visionary leaders who had a heart to seek after and serve the Lord. As the cupbearer to the king, I have to assume that he was a courageous man—I am not sure that I would like to risk my life daily taste-testing the king’s wine! God used his courage and vision to bring the captive tribe of Israel back to Jerusalem to rebuild the city.
The Israelites’ work was not without obstacles, however. No sooner had they begun to work steadily but the threats began! Here they were, doing a work ‘for God,’ rebuilding ‘His city,’ and yet they were facing ongoing pressure from their enemies surrounding them. (Do you ever feel that way? We should have smooth sailing because after all, we are doing this ‘for God,’ and ‘Look at all we have given up!’ God should just pave the way, not add more pot holes! I have to admit that those thoughts have crossed this brain a few times!)
This construction crew had a few options to choose from. The first, and most obvious one, would be to return home—no one was twisting their arm to be there. They could just abandon the work, pack their bags, and head for home.
Another option would have been to quit working and just be on guard. ‘Crisis-oriented’ would be the words we would use today to describe this option. They had received ‘credible threats’ (in today’s world, we understand what that means!). Taking on this mindset, they would be ready for anything, but at the same time the work would not have moved forward. Their reason for returning would not be fulfilled, their goal not met. They did not journey all the way back to Jerusalem just to stand there and guard their broken-down city.
Of course they could have done the opposite as well, pretending that life was fine and ignoring the threats of imminent danger. How strong could these armies of hundreds of thousands be? They are probably all bark and no bite! The work would have gotten done quickly, but at what cost? At anytime they could be ransacked and taken out of service, and then where would the construction of the wall be?
Finally, they decided on the wisest course. Instead of working without guarding or guarding without working, they combined the two. With one hand they held a trowel and with the other a sword. They worked diligently but vigilantly, always prepared and on the alert for any attacks. Yes, this took more time. Having two hands with which to work is better than just one, but this strategy worked out well for them. God rewarded their faithfulness by protecting them and helping them to finish the job in record time. They were prepared, but they let God be God!
When I first read this account, my mind went directly to the challenges we face here among the Moniga people of Mozambique. We are one of the first ever evangelical global workers to work among these resistant peoples. We live alone in a village of thousands where we are the only light in the darkness. The threat of the enemy is real. We are working on building relationships, not city walls, but the job is long and intensive. We are encroaching on territory long held by the adversary! We would be foolish to just work and push on, ignorant of the fact that a spiritual battle is looming and that the risk for both physical and spiritual danger is genuine. So, like the children of Israel, we work with one hand and guard with the other. Our weapons may not be as visible as the Israelite’s swords, but we have the ‘armor of God.’ We have the power of prayer, His word, and His Spirit. Yet we cannot simply remain on guard, in constant prayer and in the Word 24/7. We have a job to do—language and culture to learn, relationships to build, and the just plain living out there, which takes a lot of out of us!
As we continue to work toward our goal of a functioning New Testament Church bringing glory to the one and only true God, the battles will not become easier. There may be days where we might be more ‘on guard,’ while on other days we may be able to work unencumbered. Yet, like Nehemiah and his followers in Jerusalem, may we say “Remember the LORD, your God, great and awesome… Our God will fight for us.” It is His work and His battle; we are merely His ambassadors, soldiers, and builders.