Throughout the past few weeks we’ve studied what it looks like to live an unwasted life. We’ve explored paying attention to burdens, pushing through obstacles, and living out purpose in a way that honors others and God’s word. To wrap up, we’ll talk about how we can remain in a place of living out our purpose.
Question: What truths have stood out to you in this series so far? In what ways are you stepping into unwasted life in greater ways?
As we continue in the story of Nehemiah, he has restored the city of Jerusalem, the Jewish people have moved in and the city is up and running. The people of God are living our their purpose! After serving two terms as governor, Nehemiah returns to his work for the king of Persia. Fifteen years later he returns to Jerusalem to check in on how things are going.
Read Nehemiah 13.
Four Ways To Drift
When Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem, he discovers that the people of Israel have drifted. When he last saw them, the people had been living into God’s purposes and had been moving in the right direction. But at some point they started making small compromises that began working against their life of purpose.
1. Spiritual Drift
The scriptures made it clear that the temple was to be reserved for Jews to worship. But Nehemiah finds Tobiah, who is neither a Jew nor a worshipper of God, living right in the temple. The Jews are ignoring God’s word and consequently drifting spiritually.
2. Financial Drift
The Bible has long taught that all resources belong to God but that financial faithfulness begins with tithing (giving 10% of our income back to God). The Jewish people had moved away from that kind of financial faithfulness.
3. Vocational Drift
Wisdom about how we do our jobs is abundant in the scriptures. Chief among God’s teaching on our work is that it’s important to take a day each week out for rest—the Sabbath. In verse 15 Nehemiah sees people working on the Sabbath, not following God’s command to honor it.
4. Relational Drift
Israel has always been forbidden to marry foreigners because in that time it meant marrying someone of a different religion. God doesn’t want the hearts of His people to be divided. Yet Nehemiah finds that the Jews were intermarrying with people of different religions.
When Nehemiah sees all this drift from purpose, one of the most important things He does is warn them of the cost. In verse 18 he says, “Didn’t your ancestors do the same things, so that God brought all this calamity on us and on this city?” He is warning them that they are participating in the very same behavior that knocked them out of their purpose before and caused them to lose Jerusalem. His big point is that drift is insanely expensive!
God has called every person to an unwasted life—to live a life of purpose. But some of us, just as we began living into our purpose, started to tolerate drift in our lives.
Sometimes it’s a spiritual drift. Maybe we start missing corporate worship on a regular basis. Maybe we step away from disciplines like Bible reading or prayer that keep us anchored and growing.
Question: In what aspects of your spiritual life do you find it easiest to drift away from God’s best? Which spiritual disciplines are most challenging for you? Which do you find most rewarding?
Sometimes it’s financial drift. Too often someone decides they want to spend money on something they’ve been thinking about for awhile, and they compromise on their giving in order to get it. Or if a surprise bill comes in the mail, rather than cutting back on their cable package or eating out expenses, they say, “We’ll just pull back on our giving for a bit during this tight season. God will understand.”
Sometimes we drift vocationally. Maybe that means we fail to take a Sabbath and instead do work every day of the week. Or maybe it’s that we start giving less than our best at work or start having a critical attitude toward those we work with.
Question: How do you approach your work? Is your tendency to work too much or not hard enough? How would you rate your attitude toward those you work with?
Sometimes it’s relational drift. This could be a friendship or romantic relationship that we know isn’t honoring to God. It could also be attending a church on Sunday morning but never stepping up to serve or engaging with the church family on a deeper level.
We have all experienced at least one of these kinds of drift before. But God wants us to know that if we want to live unwasted lives, drift is insanely expensive! It takes us out of the sphere of the blessing of God. It knocks us off our purpose and ultimately leads to a wasted life.
In the passage above, we can find a few strategies Nehemiah uses to destroy drift.
The first thing Nehemiah does is look for drift. Verses 7 and 10 talk about him listening for drift and verses 5 and 23 talk about him looking around for drift. One of the best things we can do is give our lives a really hard and honest look to see if there is drift present. Drift is not a sudden change, it is a subtle shift that happens so slowly that we may not even notice it. It happens through small compromises that seem like no big deal.
The second thing we can do to destroy drift is to replace it with direction. Nehemiah doesn’t just kick out who shouldn’t have been living at the temple, he fills the room with what was supposed to be there in the first place. They say that nature abhors a vacuum. It’s not enough to avoid negative behaviors, we have to replace them with positive behaviors.
The third thing we can do once we’ve discovered drift is to invite trustworthy people to speak into that place of drift in our lives. This is what Nehemiah does in verse 13. He sees drift so he brings in people who are trustworthy and whom he knows won’t tolerate drift.
Question: Who in your life would you consider to be trustworthy and won’t tolerate drift? How can you be that kind of person to your friends?
The fourth thing we can do to destroy drift goes a little bit deeper. When Nehemiah saw that the people were no longer tithing, he rebuked the officials and asked them, “‘Why is the house of God neglected?’” (verse 11) To destroy drift in our lives we need to ask why we are experiencing it. Drift always points to deeper things going on in our hearts that we need to pay attention to. If we only try to change our behavior without addressing our hearts, we are going to fall right back into drift.
The reasons for drift almost always fall into one of two buckets. First, we drift because of personal comfort issues. We drift in our generosity because we think we’ll be happy if we have the latest thing. Or we start studying every day of the week because we think if we have awesome grades we’ll get the job we want and be happy that way. Or maybe we just drift out of reading the Bible because we want the extra sleep.
The other main reason for drift is social pressure. In the text we see that Eliashib was compromising what the word of God had clearly said because of his close association with Tobiah. Our relationships can easily push us toward small compromises that cause us to drift. Asking the why question causes us to really get to the root of what’s going on in our hearts.
The final thing Nehemiah does to destroy drift is purify the people’s hearts (see verses 30–31). He knew that drift had ruptured the people’s relationship with God and that the relationship needed to be set right. Any time we want to set a relationship right, it involves some kind of sacrifice. Sometimes it’s just an apology, sometimes it’s a bouquet of flowers. Part of how Nehemiah purifies the Jewish drifters was by personally making provision for the necessary sacrifices.
Question: What sacrifices have you had to make to restore a relationship?
If we have tolerated drift in our lives, then our relationship with God has been ruptured and our hearts need to be purified as well. The good news is that just as Nehemiah made provision for his people’s purity, God makes a far greater provision for our purity in the life of Jesus. When Jesus came to this world and gave up His life on the cross, that was God’s provision for our purity. That was the necessary sacrifice to restore our relationship with God. And it wasn’t something that has to be repeated over and over again. Once Jesus gave up His life, the penalty for our drift was paid once and for all. When Jesus rose from the grave, the power of drift to overwhelm us was completely destroyed.