No one wants to live a wasted life. We want our lives to be meaningful, purposeful and valuable. Even more so, the God of the universe has made us to be just that. In this series, we’re exploring what it takes to step into greater meaning and purpose for ourselves.
In our last teaching, we met a Jewish man named Nehemiah. When we joined his story, Jerusalem had been destroyed for 140 years, and Nehemiah received a burden from God to rebuild it. He asked the king of Persia, who ruled over Jerusalem, if he can rebuild it. The king agrees, and chapter three records the beginnings of the rebuilding process. But just as soon as Nehemiah and the Jewish people get traction, they face opposition.
Read Nehemiah 4.1–3.
Sanballat was the leader of Samaria to the north of Jerusalem and Tobiah was the head of the Ammonites to the east. When they hear the rebuilding process is moving forward, they get angry because they don’t like how the changes will affect them. Most people prefer the comfort of the status quo to the challenge of change, even if that change is good. People only change when the pain of not changing is greater than the pain of changing.
Sanballat and Tobiah immediately attempt to derail Nehemiah’s plans. Whenever we attempt something big for God, we will face opposition. To put it another way, big callings invite big challenges.
Question: Has the comfort of the status quo ever kept you from doing something? What opposition have you faced when you’ve tried to do something big for God?
If we want to live an unwasted life and respond to the burdens God has given us, challenges are going to come. These aren’t the same kind of difficulties that come from doing or saying something foolish; these are challenges from opposition we face because we’re trying to change things for the better.
Two Challenges that Come with an Unwasted Life
Nehemiah 4.1 says that Sanballat hears the Jews are rebuilding and begins to mock, insult and criticize them. Ridicule is the first challenge to an unwasted life and may play out in several different ways. People may attack our motives. In Nehemiah 2.19 Sanballat accuses Nehemiah of wanting to rebel against the king of Persia.
People may also attack our abilities. In the first passage we read, Sanballat called the Jews feeble, suggesting that they couldn’t accomplish what they set out to do.
Finally, people may attack our output. This is what Tobiah did in Nehemiah 4.3. He degraded what they had accomplished so far, making it out to be a pitiful joke.
As we seek to live unwasted lives, we will probably encounter every one of these kinds of ridicule. Ridicule doesn’t only come from outside sources; it can also come from the voices in our own heads.
Question: What kinds of ridicule have you faced in your journey with God? What sources does ridicule usually come from in your life?
2. Threats to Our Well-being
Nehemiah 4.11 records a blatant threat to the Jews’ well-being: “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.” For us, it may not be death threats, but threats to our well-being can come. When we want to do something great for God, people will tell us it will wreck our family, our reputations or our financial situation. They will tell us that if we fail we will never recover, and we will damage our friendships in the process. If we attempt something great for God, we have to be ready to deal with threats to our well-being.
How Can We Overcome the Challenges of an Unwasted life?
Nehemiah runs into his first challenges at the beginning of chapter 4 and immediately goes to God in prayer (4.4). Again, in verse 8 he responds to the opposition with prayer. The first way to deal with challenges to an unwasted life is to pray through them. Too often when problems hit, the first thing we want to do is take action. We ask, “What are we going to do?” rather than, “How are we going to pray?” But Nehemiah knows that “unless the Lord builds a house the builders build in vain” (Psalm 127.1). And so he prays.
Question: As you honestly reflect on your past responses to challenges, what is usually your first move? Is prayer the first thing on your mind or is it an afterthought? What would it take to make prayer your first response to challenges?
Nehemiah 4.9 says, “But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.” Nehemiah isn’t naive. He doesn’t stop with prayer but instead takes steps to prepare for the threats. One of the best things we can do if we want to live an unwasted life is to consider the threats that might come, and start preparing for them now. Meditating on verses like 1 Corinthians 4.3–4 and Matthew 6.33–34 can help prepare us for some of those challenges.
DO THE WORK
Nehemiah 4.9 says, “So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.” Sometimes when we get challenged, we spend all of our time trying to debate with those who are challenging us. Nehemiah realizes that we can never convince all of our critics, so he just sets his hands to getting the job done.
Steve Jobs once said, “Real artists ship.” He was going with this idea that there are a lot of people with great ideas who don’t accomplish anything, and there are a lot of individuals who have too much time on their hands and love to criticize everyone else, but don’t actually accomplish anything. But real artists, people who truly live unwasted lives, don’t spend all their time dealing with the critics—they ship.
Question: When have you seen good work be held back by talk, criticism or debate? Is there anything you’re putting off because of critics? What is your next step in getting the job done?
CHOOSE THE FEAR OF GOD OVER THE FEAR OF MAN
In verses 7–12 Nehemiah’s critics continue to ratchet up the pressure on the Jews to quit. Nehemiah keeps praying, preparing, and doing the work. Right after they have completed another round of preparations, Nehemiah says, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your people, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” (Nehemiah 4.14) He is helping the Jews overcome challenges by encouraging them to choose the fear of God over the fear of man.
Many of us are afraid of what people think, what people might do to us or what people might say about us. Nehemiah’s words remind us that none of the enemies who are coming against us are as great as the God we serve. None of the challenges we face are as powerful as the God who created Heaven and Earth.
Question: Think through your life, Biblical accounts and stories you’ve heard. What examples of God’s awesome power stand out? How can dwelling on the truth of God’s greatness affect our feeling toward other people’s opinions?
It was true for Nehemiah and the Jews, and it is even more true for Christians. We know that Jesus Christ faced every possible threat this world could throw at Him—ridicule, false accusation, persecution, and ultimately death. Yet three days after He was crucified, Jesus rose again and overcame all of those challenges!
Read Romans 8.24, 38–39.
If we’re facing challenges, the best thing we can do is have Jesus at our side and choose the fear of God over the fear of man.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]