Nehemiah - Serving God

Background

Despite the fact that the returned exiles had been in Jerusalem for many years, the walls of the city remained unrepaired, leaving its people defenseless and vulnerable. Upon hearing this news, Nehemiah seeks permission from the Persian king to go to Jerusalem. Arriving in Jerusalem, he mobilizes the people to begin rebuilding the wall. Faced with opposition, both from without and from within, Nehemiah perseveres until the project is completed, and the city resettled.

When Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, he found more than just broken walls, he found broken lives. In response, Nehemiah gathers the people together to hear Ezra read God's Law. The people repent and promise to change their lives by obeying God's words.

Theme

(Nehemiah 5:16 NIV) I devoted myself to the work on this wall.

The book teaches us a great deal about serving God. We need to ask ourselves the following questions:


Do we feel burdened when we see that God's work is not being done?

In today's society, with the high demands of life, it is very difficult to get caught away with our life's worries. Career, children and spouse become the top priorities in life for most people, even Christians. How different was Nehemiah's attitude towards God's work. When he heard that God's work was being neglected, he was terribly upset.

(Nehemiah 1:3-4 NIV) They said to me, "Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire." {4} When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.

We need to ask ourselves what priority we place on serving God. How many hours per week do we spend serving God? There is something really wrong if we have enough time to work overtime, watch TV, sleep, play with our kids but no time to do God's work.

What would happen to us if we neglect God's work and only pursue our own life?

(Hag 1:5-11 NIV) Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: "Give careful thought to your ways. {6} You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it." {7} This is what the LORD Almighty says: "Give careful thought to your ways. {8} Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored," says the LORD. {9} "You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?" declares the LORD Almighty. "Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house. {10} Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. {11} I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the oil and whatever the ground produces, on men and cattle, and on the labor of your hands."

We think that by saving time on God's work, we can accumulate much more for ourselves. But God says that this will not happen. He will destroy our work if we do not do His work.

How many of us dislike doing God's work? What is our reaction when we are asked to do tracting or duty in church? What is our reaction when we are asked to do follow-up on a new Christian?

If we have negative attitudes with regards to doing God's work, most likely we have already been experiencing God's punishment as listed in the earlier verses?

Does that mean that we should never turn down God's work?

I am not saying that whatever is left undone in our church, we should endeavor to do it. We would certainly suffer from burnout if we do that. Furthermore, it is not God's will that we do everything. Each of us should know what our spiritual gifts are and learn to say no when we know that we are not "gifted" or called to serve in that area. But let this not be an excuse. If we are already serving God actively and stretching ourselves for God's service, we should indeed by selective when asked to take on more responsibilities especially if they are not in accordance with our gifts. But if we are not serving in church or doing minimal work, we should not give the excuse that everything is not in our area of calling and therefore should be done by someone else.


Do we get discouraged even when doing God's work?

Share about some discouragement we face when we do God's work.

There are several ways a Christian can get discouraged when doing God's work.

1. When he encounters problems

Some Christians believe that if they are serving God, they should not be encountering any opposition or obstacles. They therefore get very discouraged when they do encounter problems because they assume that that may be a sign that they are not in God's will. Not so. In fact, when things start to go wrong, we may be starting to do something right. The devil always wants to oppose God's work. Even in Nehemiah's days, he was active in opposing the rebuilding of the wall.

(Nehemiah 2:18-19 NIV) They replied, "Let us start rebuilding." So they began this good work. {19} But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. "What is this you are doing?" they asked. "Are you rebelling against the king?"

In fact there was a Christian book written that has this title, "When all hell breaks loose, you may be doing something right."

2. When we feel that our work is not appreciated

The Bible teaches that it is important for Christians to exhort one another to build each other up. Barnabas is a fine example of someone who never fails to encourage others. When we lack encouragement from the people we serve we often quickly lose heart.

We should bear in mind that even when people forget what we have done for them or for the church, God never forgets. The book of Nehemiah should dispel this doubt once and for all.

(Nehemiah 3:3-5 NIV) The Fish Gate was rebuilt by the sons of Hassenaah. They laid its beams and put its doors and bolts and bars in place. {4} Meremoth son of Uriah, the son of Hakkoz, repaired the next section. Next to him Meshullam son of Berekiah, the son of Meshezabel, made repairs, and next to him Zadok son of Baana also made repairs. {5} The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.

The verses above are only a small sample from the book and the Bible of what we call lists. Many chapters of the Bible are dedicated to these "mundane and boring" lists that we often wonder why God wants to bore us with the details. He does not mean to bore you. He wants you to know that what you do for Him He does not forget. The builders of the Fish Gate, the people who did repairs, their names are written in the Bible forever.

3. When other areas of our life collapse when we spend time doing God's work.

(Gal 6:9 NIV) Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

God promises that when we do His work, we will reap a harvest. The harvest would include not only His work being done but also the rewards that He has prepared for us. But some people expect instant rewards. If I put in extra time doing God's work this month, will God bless me extra this month? The problem with this reasoning is that different people can come up with different time frames. Someone may then say, "If I do God's work today, will God bless me today?". Yet God wants us to trust in His "proper time". We should not get discouraged if rewards do not come within our expected time frame.

Is it wrong to ask God for rewards?

What should be our motivation to do God's work?

Throw this question to the group and you will hear answers like love, compassion, wanting to see God's kingdom grow, etc. These are all noble tasks. But we should not forget something else which motivates. God's rewards to us - not just when we get to heaven but right here on earth. Nehemiah wasn't shy when he prayed that God would grant him rewards for his service.

(Nehemiah 5:19 NIV) Remember me with favor, O my God, for all I have done for these people.

How would you react if one day you see a man in the garden planting water melon seeds and you say to him, "So you would like to have water melon trees" and he replied "No, I don't want water melon trees; I'm just planting water melon seeds". Would you think this man is mad?

Yet we often think that it is wrong to "plant water melon seeds" expecting "water melon trees". God tells us time and again that if we serve Him, we would be rewarded.

(Matthew 6:33 NIV) But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

(Psalms 37:4 NIV) Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.

If it is wrong to be motivated by rewards, why does God motivate us be rewards?

Yet I believe that the highest motivation factor should not be rewards but our love for God.

(1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NIV) If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. {2} If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. {3} If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.


Tips on how to be an effective servant of God.


Do every piece of work wholeheartedly. Consider nothing too mundane.

When Nehemiah heard that the walls of Jerusalem were not being rebuilt, he was terribly upset and determined to undertake the task.

(Nehemiah 1:3-4 NIV) They said to me, "Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire." {4} When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.

How many of us would place so much importance to a task as menial as rebuilding the wall. Only two books ago, we saw the glamorous tasks undertaken by Zerubbabel, to rebuild God's temple, and Ezra, to set the spiritual condition of the people right, and we ask ourselves how important our ministry is. Are we really making a difference arranging the chairs in church on Sunday or ushering people to their seats. Yet God does not think any act of service for Him is unimportant.

The New Testament teaches that the Holy Spirit gives to believers many gifts and all are important for the building of the body of Christ.

(1 Corinthians 12:14-22 NIV) Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. {15} If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. {16} And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. {17} If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? {18} But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. {19} If they were all one part, where would the body be? {20} As it is, there are many parts, but one body. {21} The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" {22} On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,

Likewise God demonstrated this truth when He dedicated a whole book of the Bible to all those who serve in less spiritual and glamorous tasks such as repairing walls, building gates, etc.

Discussion : What are some areas of service in church which we cannot imagine ourselves doing? Why?

It is alright to turn down service in a particular area if we feel that we are already serving and can be better made use of by serving in an area according to our spiritual gifts. But turning down an area of service just because it is mundane or worse, looking down on others who are doing these mundane tasks are not correct.


Don't forget to serve men while serving God

Building the walls caused a labor shortage; farms were mortgaged, and high rates of interest were charged. Nehemiah said, "The thing you are doing is not good" (5:9 NRSV). He corrected the problem and even gave financial aid to those in need (ch. 5).

Serving men is another form of serving God

(Matthew 25:34-40 NIV) "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. {35} For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, {36} I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' {37} "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? {38} When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? {39} When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' {40} "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

Have you been too task oriented in your ministry such that we are not interested in the personal needs of our fellow Christians. If so, do take time to see how you can maintain a balance and show more interest in the needs of others.


Hold God responsible for our success

(Nehemiah 2:20 NIV) I answered them by saying, "The God of heaven will give us success.

Many Christians fall under the burden of God's work because they feel that they are responsible for its success. Christians should be responsible for giving their best to God and leave God responsible for the success of their efforts. Let me explain.

Supposing we want to share the gospel with someone. We will define success as bringing that person to Christ and feel like a failure if we do not do so. Yet I believe that our job is simply to do our best and commit the whole thing to God. God may just want us to sow and another to reap. There may be many different stages to the process for which we are responsible for one but God alone is responsible for the success.

(1 Corinthians 3:6 NIV) I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.

If we follow this rule, Satan cannot discourage us when we do not see immediate results.


Don't leave our common sense behind when we serve God

Some people throw away their common sense when they serve God. One experience I have may clarify this point. Our church organized an evangelistic event and we were asked to mingle with the crowd to share the gospel with them while they were watching a live Christmas story presentation. One day it was raining and so some Christians took umbrellas while they mingled with the crowd to share the gospel. Someone saw this and commented "Do you have so little faith? Trust God that He will keep you from falling sick". To me, there isn't a doubt that we can pray to God to keep us healthy but taking whatever precautions we can based on common sense is not wrong. People think that it is unspiritual or even embarrassing to use common sense when serving God.

(Nehemiah 4:7-9 NIV) 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. {8} They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. {9} But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat…..16-18 From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah {17} who were building the wall. 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. But the man who sounded the trumpet stayed with me.

God gave us common sense. Let's not make it an uncommon commodity in church!


Don't ignore planning even when we are doing God's work

Another fallacy that is very common among people who serve God is that it is unspiritual to plan. "As the Spirit leads…" so they say. It is important to be sensitive to what the Holy Spirit wants us to do but failing to plan is wrong. Let's take the case of the preacher. It is not correct if a preacher fails to make any preparation for his sermon "trusting" God to prompt him when he is at the pulpit. What if God does not speak to him at the pulpit? Many people will be wasting their time hearing him babble on Sunday. Is it possible that God may choose to speak to him when he is doing his sermon preparation? What he should have done is to go ahead with the preparation of the sermon but be prepared to change it if the Holy Spirit tells him to do so at the pulpit.

Before Nehemiah carried out any work for the rebuilding of the walls, he did his planning.

(Nehemiah 2:11-16 NIV) I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days {12} I set out during the night with a few men. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on. {13} By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. {14} Then I moved on toward the Fountain Gate and the King's Pool, but there was not enough room for my mount to get through; {15} so I went up the valley by night, examining the wall. Finally, I turned back and reentered through the Valley Gate. {16} The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work.