Cruising Route 66
“Real Faith in Action”
In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before; so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.” I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” Nehemiah 2:1-5
Nehemiah is the cupbearer of king Artaxerxes. He held a position of great trust as a confidant and advisor to the king. The length of his career was solely dependent upon the faith the king had in him, and how much he was valued.
Nehemiah enjoyed the luxury of the palace, but he was a Hebrew in Persia, and his heart was in Jerusalem. When he heard that there were those who were attempting to reconstruct the Temple he grew concerned because he knew there was no wall to protect it.
The first thing Nehemiah did was go to God, and God answered his prayer by softening the heart of king Artaxerxes. The king not only gave his blessing and released Nehemiah from his duties, he also provided resources to help rebuild the wall. The Book of Nehemiah is a story that tells of the practical, everyday side of our faith in God.
I also said to him, “If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah? And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the king’s forest, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?” And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests. Nehemiah 2:7-8
Here is the guy who, although he lived in the palace, had befriended the king, and held a position of power, was still afraid to express his concerns. Only after his distress weighed him down so heavily that it began to show on his countenance, and no doubt his attitude, was it brought to light.
Where Ezra, in the last book, had led a spiritual renewal, Nehemiah challenges the people to show their faith through their works. Nehemiah was the James of the Old Testament.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. James 2:14
There is one thing that always rises up and confronts Christians. It always has, and it always will, and that’s criticism. It can defeat us if we dwell upon it, and allow it to distract us from stepping out and fulfilling what we know God has called us to. Nehemiah was no stranger to criticism, but you will find no better role model on how to handle it.
When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “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–if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!” Nehemiah 4:1-5
One of the hazards of being in the lead or trying something new is receiving criticism (not all of it constructive, by the way). It doesn’t matter what you’re doing or in what capacity you are leading, you can pretty much plan on taking a hit.
In the face of criticism, there’s a strong temptation to throw in the towel, bail out, or cut and run. You wouldn’t be the first. Many have stepped away from taking the lead because of disapproval, condemnation, or receiving a poor assessment.
The world would be a much better place if those who confess Christ saw God’s calling more important than public approval. I firmly believe that the person who does anything that is different or worthwhile or visionary can count on not always being well received.
How many dreams never become more than a fantasy and get tucked away into the drawer of wishful thinking because of the fear of the battles that lay before them? How many wonderful ideas never come to anything because someone expressed some fault with it?
Nehemiah was openly criticized, and falsely accused. It was imputed that he allowed shoddy workmanship and in chapter 2 he was charged with being power-hungry. Yet each time he kept his cool . . . rolled with the punches . . . refused to get discouraged . . . he went to God in prayer . . . and he never stopped building the wall.
So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart. But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the men of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat. Nehemiah 4:6–9
How often have Christians experienced some form of resistance and taken it as some kind of sign from God that they weren’t supposed to do what they had originally believed they were called to? The resistance or criticism may be from God, but not to stop you but rather to instruct you.
Also our enemies said, “Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.” Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.” 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. Nehemiah 4:11-13
No one who takes the lead can continue effectively if they are not willing or able to sift through the criticism and find the truth. Foolishness responds angrily to every criticism. Who knows, God may be using those words to teach us some essential lessons, painful though they may be.
Nehemiah listened and learned and saw his weakness and made changes for victory. He was a practical man with a dream. It is true that “dreamers” don’t always mix well with “pragmatists.” They tend to irritate each other when they’re rubbed together. Yet both are necessary.
Take away the dreamer and you’ve got constancy and steadfastness, yet the potential of stagnation, and predictability with a dull result. Remove the pragmatists and you’ve got creative ideas without wheels, and slick visions without handles. The Bible is full of men and women who dreamed dreams and saw visions, but they didn’t stop there. Dreams are great, but in the final analysis, when the bills come due, they’ll be paid by hard work forged in the furnace of practicality.
“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt
We are doomed to live in the twilight of life if we allow the fear of failure or the reproach of critics to direct our lives.
Until next time…