Nehemiah said, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.” Knowing the discouragement church leaders face, I delivered the following teaching at a pastors’ conference.
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The title of this teaching is, “I Am Doing a Great Work, and I Cannot Come Down.”
There is something oddly comforting about speaking with other pastors and hearing them share about their trials. It reveals that we are not alone when it comes to ministry.
When I looked at the list of men attending, I was reminded of some of the situations some of you have shared with me (NOTE I changed the names for privacy reasons):
- Paul, we actually became close when you were going through a really difficult situation in your church. Who would have thought that not long in the future I would go through something similar.
- Peter, I remember hearing about the circumstances that led to your departure from your previous church and how difficult that was.
- James, I remember being on the phone with you while you shared about the difficulty navigating through everything with COVID.
- John, last time we saw each other you shared about something happening in your church, and you thought so little of it, that it made me think that you’ve been through so much by this point that it doesn’t even phase you anymore.
The rest of you I’m sure have stories you could share with me, but I just haven’t had the time to hear them yet.
Knowing we all face opposition and discouragement, I wanted to look at a verse that has encouraged me the last couple years and that I hope can encourage all of you. Go ahead and turn to Nehemiah 6.
As much as Genesis is about beginnings, Job is about suffering, and Proverbs is about wisdom, Nehemiah is about discouragement.
Nehemiah was encouraged to come down from the great work
You all know the situation: the Jews returned from exile and try to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, but they face opposition from all sides, and sometimes even from within. This seems to be the case whenever God’s people come together to build something. I hope we can all relate to this. Jesus said he would build his church, and as church leaders we take part in that construction.
Nehemiah 6:1 Now when Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies heard that I had built the wall and that there was no breach left in it (although up to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates), 2 Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come and let us meet together at Hakkephirim in the plain of Ono.” But they intended to do me harm.
They heard the work had gone well, so they tried to ruin it.
First, let me say that when people in our churches oppose us, I am not necessarily comparing them with Sanballat and Tobiah. I think there are three reasons people in our church fight against us:
- First, they are like Sanballat and Tobiah. They’re simply ungodly people. Their motives are bad and they are dominated by their flesh. We all have some people like this.
- Second, they are ignorant. They don’t know better. They might be deceived by other people, they don’t know the whole story, and they are acting out of this ignorance.
- Third, they think they are doing something good. They sincerely believe we are wrong, and they sincerely believe their cause is righteous.
This is why it is so important for us to pray that God reveals any of our fault to us, or sin that needs to be repented of. I hope my elders would say that they have heard me pray multiple times during our meetings that God would reveal any fault or sin to us. We could be ignorant or deceived. What if we thought we were doing something good, when in fact we were in the wrong? None of us are perfect. We must ask God to examine our hearts and show us if there is any wicked way in us.
Keep in mind we are doing a great work
The next verse is the one that has come to my mind many times, and I hope it might serve as an encouragement for each of you as well when you face opposition…
Nehemiah 6:3 And I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?”
Christ is building his church and as pastors and elders we have been given incredibly sacred positions. While we would not say, “I am doing a great work,” we could say that Christ is doing a great work and we are privileged to be part of it.” And for that we should be thankful.
I think the elders I serve with are more mature than me. At the least, they don’t seem to be as bothered by some people’s behavior as I have been. I feel like it is easier for them not to come down and let the work stop. I on the other hand, frequently feel tempted to come down. I think things like:
- “We need to meet with these people and help them see the truth.”
- “We need to talk to these people about what they have done.”
- “These people said these things about us that are not true, and they need to be confronted.”
- “We need to respond detailing all the problems with what they said.”
- “His wife is out of control – I find myself saying this more often the longer I’m in ministry – and we need to talk to him about it.”
I’m not saying there are not good reasons to talk with people or confront them, but we could spend all of our ministries:
- Following up with people
- Trying to correct every false perception
- Confronting every little thing that is said
- Making sure everyone knows the truth about us
It’s exhausting, and if we do this, the work stops.
What it looks like to not come down
Two words that stuck with me are come down. Over the last two years I have frequently felt tempted to come down. Unfortunately, often when we leave our post and come down to the level of the people opposing us, the work stops. We need to respond like Nehemiah and say, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?”
What does this look like practically? It means:
- Not responding to that post on Facebook that looks subtle, but you can tell is criticizing you, your sermon, and your leadership.
- Not responding to that gossip, when someone tells you that the angry couple who left the church is trashing you at their new church.
- Smiling and waving to those people you know have tried to destroy you and your ministry.
- Not dwelling on those couples who hated each other in your church, but left your church bitterly and then suddenly became close friends who are united by their bitterness and now mutually support each other.
As one of my elders, Jim says, we need to leave these people out there with God.
Look at verse 4…
Nehemiah 6:4 And they sent to me FOUR TIMES IN THIS WAY, and I answered them in the same manner.
People opposing us can be very persistent. It can seem like their Facebook posts and gossip never stop. But Nehemiah was equally persistent. As many times as they tried to pull him away from the work God wanted him doing, he stayed committed to it.
The solution when we are tempted to come down
The solution that I would do well – and I suspect it could be the same for many of you – is to apply 1 Peter 2:21-23 and follow Christ’s example…
1 Peter 2:21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, LEAVING YOU AN EXAMPLE, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but CONTINUED ENTRUSTING HIMSELF TO HIM WHO JUDGES JUSTLY.
He left himself in His Father’s hands, and we should follow his example. We need to trust him with our reputations and let him untangle the messes.