Pray and keep going
Last Sunday we returned to the story of Nehemiah and discovered that he faced a lot of opposition. There were people who would do everything in their power to stop the rebuilding of the walls. They would do all they could to undermine, and discredit Nehemiah.
We know that God is good and God is love. God wants what is best for us. We know that when we are feeling damaged or broken, God wants to take the broken pieces and rebuild something beautiful. But if, at a time of brokenness, we say “Yes” to God, then we should be aware that we are likely to face opposition.
So, what did Nehemiah do when he faced opposition?
- He prayed.
We understand the value of prayer. We can bring difficult situations to God. But Nehemiah’s prayed that God would make his enemies suffer! This is not a very Jesus like prayer. Jesus taught his followers, “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you, Bless those who abuse you.” When Jesus prayed for his own executors he prayed, “Father forgive them.”
But there are two aspects of Nehemiah’s prayer we can focus on. Firstly, Nehemiah says it exactly how he feels it. He prays “God , I want you to hit them, and hit them hard.” He is completely honest about how he feels. Secondly, although Nehemiah prays for revenge, he does not try and take revenge himself. He carries on building the wall, and leaves revenge in God’s hands.
When our feelings and our desires are not very Jesus like, when we are hurt or angry and we want the people who hurt us to suffer, then it’s OK to to be honest with God and say exactly how we feel. And when we feel that way, we should not try to take revenge ourselves, we should hand our desire for revenge over to God.
So when we face opposition, it is good to pray. It is good to be honest with God and say exactly how we feel. And it’s good to know that we can hand the situation over to God – and leave it there.
2. He kept going.
And not just Nehemiah, all the builders of the wall kept going too. When Sanballat and Tobiah made fun of them – they kept going. Then, when the going got tough, when fatigue set in, when they were feeling exhausted and wondering if it was even possible to finish the task, when their strength was giving out – they kept going.
When they received messages that their enemies had mobilised their armies to march on Jerusalem and attack them – they prayed and posted a guard, and they kept going. And when Nehemiah received requests to leave Jerusalem and meet with the local tribal leaders, he sent them messages that he had more important work to do – and he kept on building.
Most projects start off well. Starter enthusiasm can give you a good motivation. The enthusiasm of starting something new can enable you to really throw yourself into a project.
And when the finish line is is sight, when you can see that your project has come together and is close to completion, this can give you motivation for a final push to reach the goal, to finish the project.
But at the half way point, when you’re getting tired and discouraged, when you are facing problems or difficulties you didn’t expect, and when the finish line is still nowhere near in sight – that’s when rebuilding can be most difficult.
That’s when we need to think about words like discipline, endurance, perseverance, faithfulness, and patience. These are all qualities that are praised in the Bible. They are qualities that Jesus looks for in his followers.
If we, like most people, struggle to be patient, if we find it a great effort to live disciplined lives, if we feel like giving in, like we don’t have the strength to endure … then the good news is that the Holy Spirit is with us. God’s Spirit will develop and grow these qualities in our lives. Then, when we need to, we can keep going. We can keep on keeping on.
Two simple thoughts: ‘pray’ and ‘keep going’.
I closed by reading Mike Yaconelli’s telling of the story of the concert pianist who created a beautiful symphony with a young boy who was playing ‘Chopsticks’.
As we look at ourselves and wonder what difference our bumbling, flawed, faltering lives could possibly make; may we catch the sound of God’s whispering voice, “Don’t stop. Keep going. You’re doing great.” And may we let Jesus fill in the symphony around us.