What’s one thing that’s sure to come whenever you try to build something meaningful? Discouragement. It may come internally or externally. It might be the memories of times in the past when you’ve failed; it might be from others who are only too glad to see you fail. But anyone who seeks to do something meaningful will, eventually, face discouragement.
When that happens, read Nehemiah 4, where Nehemiah’s example provides wisdom for such moments. He and his bedraggled fellow Jews are working to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem — which brings out the nay-sayers. And here’s the thing: some of their nay-saying is true. “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore things? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish up in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that?” (verse 2, RSV)
They were feeble. Their work won’t fully restore things to their former glory. Things won’t be what they once were, it’s true. But it’s also true that things won’t be what they’ve been. Through Nehemiah’s leadership, and the people’s commitment, they took what they had and made something new. To make something new — even from the rubble — they had to have a mind to work, and keep at it (verse 6). Nehemiah and his people buckled down and worked, not letting the discouragement keep them from the task at hand. If you want to build something meaningful, you’re going to have to keep at it, even when — especially when — things get difficult.
Even so, your diligence likely won’t mean your opponents back down. In fact, they’re just as likely to press harder. Nehemiah 4.9 encourages us to pray in such times — and protect what we’ve done. Trusting God doesn’t mean we ignore the possibility that destruction can undo what has been accomplished. We pray AND we guard the good work we’ve done. This is why churches have elders (shepherds to protect the flock), schools have administrators, and healthy families have strong leaders — so that what is vital is cared for, and protected.
Verse 10 reminds us that there will be rubbish; even good work has to plow through debris — and sometimes good work creates it. Don’t be surprised when you do something good to find that there are things that fall by the wayside. Use wisdom and prayer, but if it needs to go — discard it!
Keep your eyes on the Lord, not on what stands against you (verse 14). If you’re a leader, stand behind — and with — those who are doing the work (verse 16). Finally, don’t let down your guard — a principle we see all through Nehemiah 4.
In the end, Nehemiah and his kinsmen accomplished what some mocked and opposed. It was good and holy work, so they kept at it — and they finished the job.
What work are you doing that is good and godly — where you need tenacity, commitment, and a clear sense of your calling? Let Nehemiah 4 be your guide, and keep building!