How to Tackle a Tough Job

Nehemiah 2

September 17, 2000 | Brian Bill

I came across some lines from actual resumes this week:

I have lurnt Word Perfect 6.0 computor and spreasheet progroms.

Received a plague for Salesperson of the Year

It’s best for employers that I not work with people.

I’m a perfectionist and rarely if if ever forget details.

I have become completely paranoid, trusting completely no one and absolutely nothing.

Instrumental in ruining entire operation for a Midwest chain store.

Finished eighth in my class of ten.

References: none.  I’ve left a path of destruction behind me.

Nehemiah had a pretty impressive resume and instead of leaving a path of destruction behind him, he was about to tackle the path of destruction in front of him.  His resume would include the following accomplishments: “Cupbearer to the king for many years.  Great job stability as long as no one tried to poison the boss.  Served in the court and well connected with the power brokers of Persia.”   Under the section of his resume where he listed personal information, you’d see this: 

I’m concerned about problems

I have a strong conviction about God’s character

I confess my sins on a regular basis

I have confidence in God’s promises

And, I have a commitment to get involved

This is really a summary of what we learned last week in the opening chapter of his memoirs as we focused on “Learning How to Pray.”  [Place Building Block #1 on stage]. 

Before we jump into the text, let me remind you of how the Book of Nehemiah fits into Old Testament history.  

Nehemiah did not rely on his resume when it was Time to Build.   He got out his tools so that he could handle the tasks ahead of him.  In verses 1-10, we’ll see that he had at least 5 tools in his toolbox and in verses 11-20 we’ll look at the 5 tasks that he tackled.  Building Block #2 in our Time to Build series is called, “How to Handle a Tough Job.” [Place Building Block #2 on stage].

Tools in Nehemiah’s Toolbox

I don’t have a lot of tools because I’m not very handy.  I would rather a buy a book than a belt sander any day.  This is a problem for me, however, when I need to fix something or tackle a project.  Fortunately, my dad has an entire Ace Hardware store in his garage and whenever he comes down to visit, he loads up his truck with tools.  He’s got so many tools that I don’t know how he can keep track of them.  He was down last weekend to help me do some work in our basement – actually; I’m helping him do the work!  He’s like the surgeon and I’m his assistant – I just hand him the tools and wipe the sweat off his brow!

Nehemiah had a lot of tools as well.  He pulled them out, one by one, just when he needed them.

1. Waiting. 

The first tool Nehemiah used was the tool called waiting in verse 1.  He was a man of decisive action, and when he prayed it was natural for him to ask God to provide an early, if not immediate, opportunity to speak to the king.  Remember the closing verse in chapter one indicates that Nehemiah wanted success “today” in the presence of the king.  He waited patiently on the Lord for an answer, just as we’re urged to do in Hebrews 6:12: “…imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what was promised.”  Nehemiah could weep and pray and he could also wait and pray.

Have you had to wait for God to answer a prayer?  In Nehemiah’s prayer journal, nothing was entered for four months because nothing happened.  Friends, waiting time is not wasted time.  Quiet reflection may have provided Nehemiah with fresh insight about how to approach the king.  God wants each of us to get real familiar with this tool – we’re going to have to use it a lot.

2. Trusting. 

The second tool he fished out of his toolbox was called trusting in verses 2-3.  Nehemiah was “sad” in the last part of verse 1 and this word is used three other times to describe how he looked when he was in the presence of the king.  The king asked him a question to find out why Nehemiah was not his chipper self.  Nehemiah wigged out when Artaxerxes asked him this question because he knew the king only wanted to be around happy people.  In verse 2, Nehemiah says that he was “very much afraid” which can literally be translated, “a terrible fear came over me.”

I think he was very much afraid for at least two reasons.  He knew that he was expected to be perfectly content just to be in the presence of the king.  Subjects who were sad or melancholy around the king were usually executed for “raining on his parade.”   Second, he was about to ask the monarch of the Persian Empire to reverse a written policy he had made several years earlier about Jerusalem’s reconstruction.  This edict was recorded in Ezra 4:21: “Now issue an order to these men to stop work, so that this city will not be rebuilt until I so order.”  Nehemiah knew it would take the power of God to get Artaxerxes to change his mind.  I think I’d be afraid too.  

What are you afraid of this morning?  Some of you might be afraid of the past.  You’re worried that something you did long ago will catch up to you.  Maybe you’re afraid of the present and find yourself crippled by the fear of people, snakes, or confined spaces.  Others of you might be fearful about the future and even death.  In the best selling book called, “Who Moved My Cheese,” the author asks a very penetrating question, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid.”  He points out that fear often keeps us from taking the steps we know we need to take.  Fear can paralyze us. 

Courage filled him when he realized it was no longer possible to hide his grief

Fortunately, Nehemiah’s faith was greater than his fear.  He did the right thing because he believed the promises of God.  Notice what happened, “I was very much afraid, but I said…”  Instead of paralyzing him, fear propelled Nehemiah to action.  Months of prayer had prepared him for these crucial minutes.  Courage filled him when he realized it was no longer possible to hide his grief.  

Then, using wisdom, he affirms his boss by saying, “Long live the king!”  He explains why he was sad in verse 3: “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?”  Did you notice that Nehemiah never mentions the name of the city?  Jerusalem’s history of independence might have turned the king’s thoughts toward questions of politics and national security.  Instead of going political, he chose the personal route – that’s usually the better choice.  What Nehemiah did say was, “I want to honor the burial place of my fathers.”  This made a lot of sense to the King because the Persians honored their dead as well.

Nehemiah’s fear could have led him to be timid.  Instead he used the tool of trusting very effectively.  In verses 4-5, Nehemiah pulls out another very well-used tool – the tool of praying.

3. Praying. 

Verse 4 begins with a direct question from the King: “What is it you want?”  Before answering the King of Persia, Nehemiah needed to speak briefly with the King of Heaven.  I love this.  The text says, “Then I prayed to the God of heaven.”  This had to be a short prayer because it happened between the time the king asked his question and Nehemiah’s answer.  I picture him sending up an arrow prayer, or in contemporary jargon, doing some “Instant Messaging” with God.  He obviously didn’t have the time to drop to his knees or even bow his head.  If he had done that, the king would have suspected treason.  His emergency prayer was backed up by four months of fasting and intercession.

This is encouraging to me.  You and I can pray at any time.  Right before we have to give an answer to our boss, or before responding to our spouse, or when disciplining our kids, or when looking for a way to impact our neighbors for Christ, just shoot up a prayer.  It doesn’t have to be long or even audible.  We need to make good use of these chance moments to send up “popcorn prayers” to God.  I’m convinced that this is the only way to fulfill 1 Thessalonians 5:17 where we’re challenged to “pray continually.

4. The next tool is planning. 

We see this in verses 5-8a.  Nehemiah has lifted his heart to God; now he must open his mouth to the king.  He practiced both dependent praying and deliberate planning.  This is good for us to hear.  Some people think that all you have to do is pray; others focus almost exclusively on planning.  It shouldn’t be an “either/or” but a “both/and” deal.  We are called to pray and plan; to worship and work; to make requests and to fill out requisitions.

Notice that he knew how to answer the king’s questions.  He anticipated the question related to how long his journey would take, so when the king asked, Nehemiah gave him a timeframe.  He also knew how to plan the dangerous journey by asking for letters on the king’s stationery, which would give him safe passage through the different territories he came across.

He didn’t stop there.  Look at verse 8.  We see here that he wanted permission to take some timber out of the king’s own forest — he was not asking for a gift certificate to Menard’s!  He had done some research to know that the keeper of the king’s lumberyard was named Asaph. This forest was also called “paradise” in Hebrew and looked like a park filled with orchards.

Nehemiah asked for, and received three things from the king: permission, protection, and provisions.  

5. The final tool he pulled out in verses 8b-10 was the tool of testifying. 

He gave testimony to the goodness of God in answering his prayers, guiding his mind, directing his speech, and meeting his needs.  Look at the last part of verse 8: “…And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests.”  Only God could have brought about such a dramatic change in the king’s mind and the cupbearer’s destiny.  

Nehemiah knew that what was taking place had everything to do with God’s arranging, not human contriving.  It’s like what Psalm 118:23 says, “The Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”  Nehemiah was meticulous in his planning but it would not have been enough were it not for the Lord’s perfect timing, constant guidance, and overruling provision.

As we move into our Time to Build campaign, I am confident that we will see the “gracious hand of God upon us.”  We must use the tools of waiting, trusting, praying and planning.  And then, we’ll see God do something truly amazing. When He does, we will testify about His gracious provision.

Verse 10 introduces some bad guys – I’ll come back to them later.  Suffice it to say that they cast a long shadow over the story.

Tasks for Tackling a Tough Job

I asked my wife this week if she could think of any projects that I have tackled recently that didn’t go quite right.  It didn’t take her long to point out one I wasn’t even aware of.  Several months ago, the handle broke on our microwave and I ordered a new one.  When it arrived, I searched the house until I found a screwdriver and installed it.  I was pretty proud of myself.  She wasn’t going to tell me – but since I asked, she informed me that I had put it on upside down!  She put it on the right way several weeks ago and I hadn’t even noticed!

I admire my dad for many things but I’m always amazed at how he seems to know how best to tackle a job.  He can look at a project and determine what needs to happen first.  Sometimes he’ll think about it for a while, and even lay awake figuring everything out – but he always knows the steps that need to be taken before the project can be completed.

Nehemiah was a master builder as well.  As we move to the second half of chapter 2, we’ll see that he tackled five tasks.

1. Nehemiah first replenished his resources in verse 11.

When he arrived in Jerusalem, he could appreciate why his brother Hanani was so bummed out.  As he looked at the city’s shattered walls and useless gates, he was overwhelmed.  But, before he could examine them more closely, there was a greater priority.  Nehemiah needed a nap!

The journey of four months took its toll on Nehemiah – he was probably suffering from ‘camel lag’!  Ezra did the same thing when he arrived in Jerusalem many years earlier when he rested for three days (see Ezra 8:32).  Just as Elijah needed rest under the juniper tree, and Jesus withdrew with his disciples for rest, so too, you and I need to make sure we replenish our resources on a regular basis.  Here’s a biblical principle: Don’t try to make major decisions when you’re tired.  I know when I’m short on sleep I’m not usually very sharp and I’m usually crabby – sometimes I need to just wait until the next morning to tackle something.

2. After getting recharged, Nehemiah assessed the need. 

We see this in verses 12-16.  Nehemiah knew that in order to lead this project, he would need a firsthand picture of what needed to be done.  He then scouted out the damage to the walls one dark night.  With the moonlight showing the mounds of broken stone and demolished gates, Nehemiah made some notes to himself.

This moonlight journey is one of the most dramatic scenes in the book.   I think he discovered at least three things as he did his assessment:

  • It was a demanding job.  The circuit of the walls was more than a mile long, and the new wall needed to be three or four feet thick, and fifteen to twenty feet high. This was not going to be easy but Nehemiah knew that he and his people had to give their best to it.  The same is true for us – kingdom work is demanding, but it’s worth our energy.
  • It was a hazardous assignment.  Nehemiah went at night because there were enemies lurking around.  He said nothing to anyone until the time was right.  The careless leakage of information might bring the work to an end even before it started.
  • It was a co-operative venture.  It was only by surveying the walls and gates that Nehemiah could calculate how the work should be divided.

That leads us to the third task.

3. After replenishing his resources and assessing the need, Nehemiah now recruited workers in verse 17

In some way not mentioned in the narrative, Nehemiah gathered together a large group of prospective partners.  Let’s look and see how he put his work force together:

First, he identifies with the workers: “Then I said to them, ‘You see the trouble we are in.”  Nehemiah is passionately involved in the city’s welfare and feels its need as acutely as though he had been living in the desolate city all his life.

Next, he presents spiritual perspectives.  They are in trouble – and its not just because Jerusalem is in ruins.  He sees their spiritual disgrace.  The sight of those collapsed walls for well over a century has created the impression in the pagan mind that the God of Israel has abandoned his people.  He recognizes that there are always spiritual issues involved – a building project is more than just brick and mortar.  As His people, we have to be aware of the spiritual opportunities and challenges as they present themselves to us.

Then, he invites immediate action.  Everybody knows exactly what is required, “Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace,” and everyone realizes that the task must begin without further delay.  Nehemiah is asking a lot of the people.  He’s not afraid to ask them to step up to the plate.  The sacrifices will be huge.  They will have to take time off from work in order to rebuild the walls.  Who will protect their families?  Before people can respond they need to know that there is someone greater than Nehemiah behind this project.

4. That leads to the next task – Nehemiah inspired confidence in the people in verse 18

While rebuilding the walls is an important job, the central theme in the book is the sufficiency of God.  His mind dwells on the greatness of God and he wants his workers to do the same.  As we move into a Time to Build at PBC, the Family Life Center is important, but the central thrust must be the sufficiency of God.  

Listen to Nehemiah’s testimony: “I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me.”  He didn’t reach Jerusalem because he was a skillful persuader, or because the queen was possibly a compliant helper, or because the king was a generous benefactor, but only because God was a sovereign provider.  Since God had done all that, He would certainly help them to complete the task of rebuilding the walls.

By telling the people what God had already done, he was firing them up for what He was about to do.  His appeal was positive as He focused on the glory and greatness of God.  When you think about it, it’s amazing that the people said, “Let us start rebuilding.”  Think about what they could have said.  They could have been apathetic – they had been living in the rubble for a long time and could have just stayed there.  They could have reminded Nehemiah that the Jews had “already tried that” before in Ezra 4 and were stopped by the authorities.

We often face those same two obstacles within the church.  Either “we’re content with the way things are” or, “we tried that before and it didn’t work!”  I’m thankful that this church responds much like the wall builders did in this chapter.  Someone has defined leadership as “the art of getting people to do what they ought to do because they want to do it.”  I’m proud to be your pastor and want to do all I can to help us do the things we ought to do because we want to do them – because the gracious hand of our God is upon us.

5. The fifth task comes almost immediately after the decision to make an impact takes place: He Handled opposition. 

Whenever we get serious about kingdom work, Satan will oppose us.  The first two enemies have already been identified in verse 10.  Now Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite are joined by Geshem the Arab.  In verse 10, the opponents are “very much disturbed,” now this troublesome trio becomes highly vocal in their attacks on Nehemiah and his work crew.  Let’s look at their tactics:

First, they derided the efforts of the workers.  Verse 19 says that they “mocked and ridiculed” them.  Verbal onslaughts have always been part of the enemy’s demoralizing tactics.  They laughed at the workers and belittled both their resources and their plans.  

Next, they suggested that they were rebelling against the king – that weapon had worked once before in Ezra 4: “What is this you are doing?  Are you rebelling against the king?”  This was a cutting allegation to the timid workers.

I love how Nehemiah deals with these bad guys.  He doesn’t answer their lies or engage in a conversation with them.  Nor does he just ignore them.  He first exalts the God who called him to do the work in verse 20: “The God of heaven will give us success.” He wasn’t concerned about their fictitious insinuations – he was concerned that God would get the glory in the project. 

Nehemiah wanted his people to know that God had everything in control.  Even though Geshem controlled the southern approach to the city, and the other two thugs patrolled the north and east, Nehemiah was not ruffled.  In his reply, he made three things clear: 

  • Rebuilding the wall was God’s work
  • The Jews were God’s servants
  • Their opponents had no part in the matter.

The last part of verse 20 says it rather strongly: “We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.”  Their opponents had no past right, not present prerogative to be there, and no future role in the city.

Let me just say that as believers we should expect spiritual opposition and even be thankful for it.  It’s a sign that we’ve angered the enemy and encroached on some territory that He thinks is his.  If there’s no conflict or opposition, then we’re probably not disturbing the enemy enough.  Remember, Satan only shoots at moving targets!

The tools are now out of the toolbox – waiting, trusting, praying, planning, and testifying.  Are you ready to pick them up and start using them?  It’s not enough to just rely on your “religious resume.”  And the tasks are ready to be tackled – replenish your resources, assess the need, recruit workers, inspire confidence, and handle opposition.  This is a continual commitment and a long term-task.  God wants us fully engaged for the long haul.

That reminds me of two guys in a pickup who drove into a lumberyard.  One of the men walked into the office and said, “We need some four-by-twos.”

The worker said, “You mean two-by-fours, don’t you?”

The man said, “I need to check with my buddy.  I’ll be right back.”  When he came back, he said, “Yeah, that’s what I meant.  I need some two-by-fours.”

The worker then said, “Alright.  How long do you need them?”

The customer paused for a minute and said, “I better go check.”  He came back in a few minutes and said, “We need them for a long time.  We’re gonna build a house with them!”

Brothers and sisters, it’s time to build!

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?