Nehemiah is one of my favorite books in the Old Testament and the Bible as a whole. The courage, faith, and shrewdness that Nehemiah shows in this story is one I greatly admire. We did a study of this book at the church we belonged to when I first launched my business in late 2016. I took great inspiration from Nehemiah, as against all human odds and tremendous opposition, he rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. I wanted to do build something great when I started my business.
To set the stage for what I am going to write about here, the wall had been completed. Nehemiah had organized great celebrations to commemorate God’s faith in building the wall in an almost impossible timeline and against incredible odds. The people who built it, along with Nehemiah, dedicated the wall to God. Nehemiah organized everyone and gave everyone orders on what to do next and how to conduct business and live life. He then returned to King Artaxerxes to fulfill his post.
After some time, he returned to find the people back to some unhealthy patterns (all from Nehemiah 13, NLT):
6But during all this I was not in Jerusalem, Neh. 5:14–16for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I had returned to the king. Then after certain days I obtained leave from the king, 7and I came to Jerusalem and discovered the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, in 5preparing a room for him in the courts of the house of God. 8And it grieved me bitterly; therefore I threw all the household goods of Tobiah out of the room. 9Then I commanded them to cleanse the rooms; and I brought back into them the articles of the house of God, with the grain offering and the frankincense.
“Why is the house of God forsaken?” And I gathered them together and set them in their place. 12Then all Judah brought the tithe of the grain and the new wine and the oil to the storehouse. 13And I appointed as treasurers over the storehouse Shelemiah the priest and Zadok the scribe, and of the Levites, Pedaiah; and next to them was Hanan the son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah; for they were considered faithful, and their task was to distribute to their brethren.
14Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and do not wipe out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God, and for its services!
15In those days I saw people in Judah treading wine presses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and loading donkeys with wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. And I warned them about the day on which they were selling provisions. 16Men of Tyre dwelt there also, who brought in fish and all kinds of goods, and sold them on the Sabbath to the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem.
17Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said to them, “What evil thing is this that you do, by which you profane the Sabbath day? 18Did not your fathers do thus, and did not our God bring all this disaster on us and on this city? Yet you bring added wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath.”
As you can tell, Nehemiah was furious because his orders (God’s orders via Nehemiah) had not been followed. What isn’t stated was why the people drifted from his orders. Was it willful disobedience? Complacence? Were the distracted or discouraged by something and slowly drifted? It is hard to say.
Last fall was a very difficult one for me and for the business. We had much going on. I lost an employee to a customer as they hired him away from us, which took away almost any hope of being profitable for the year. We lost a potentially large contract that would have taken us to the “next level” and it was one that I truly thought we were going to deliver on. My mother in law was in bad health. My oldest son was still adrift. We were (and still are) trying to find a church where we feel we should belong. I became like the people in the above story. I had drifted from the things that God had told me to do that would make me successful in His eyes. I wasn’t studying as much. I wasn’t praying as much. I was distracted by other activities like golf and fishing. The events going on in the country, the world, and within God’s people were weighing me down. I was far away from the course that God wanted me on.
On the business side, we had had two great years and it wasn’t like I didn’t know what to do, nor had I forgotten what it took to get there. Maybe I just started thinking we had “made it” and the business would just continue to grow. I had gotten complacent over time, maybe even a bit arrogant. I had done so much, the “wall was built,” yet it all has to be maintained and cultivated. It wasn’t like I suddenly forgot what to do.
For me, I think it was a slow drifting away from the things I knew were the best for me and there were certainly some body blows to my ego and my psyche. It hurt, but it was a slow drifting away toward complacence that was hurting me. Every discouraging event weakened my will.
I didn’t really have a Nehemiah to come in and assess my life, my business, and all of my issues. I wish I did. I wish someone would have come in sooner and called me out on things that I wasn’t doing as much as I should have. I wish someone would have called out the distractions and the things that were turning to “idols” in my life without knowing it (well, Kristina did a few times, as good wives do!). I had to get back on track with God Himself and a small circle of people. I had to admit to myself that I needed to make a course correction.
I think for all of us, especially in these crazy times we live in (which aren’t unprecedented by the way – I have to keep reminding myself of that and the Bible reminds me as well), it is easy to get discouraged, distracted, and complacent. It is what the enemy wants. He wants us away from our lifeblood. It isn’t easy to come back from a distracted state, but it can be done. What we have to guard against at all cost is willful disobedience, which can be a real danger to us. That is much harder to get back on track from.
So, what do you think happened with the people of Jerusalem? Was it willful disobedience? Or, were they just like their ancestors who were delivered out of Egypt and then complained at every turn just because things weren’t turning out how they had hoped? How about you? Have you been blessed mightily in your life only to find yourself feeling down, bitter, or nonchalant to what is going on in your life? Do you need a Nehemiah – someone sold out and on fire for God to come in and make a tough assessment and tell you what you need to hear whether you want to or not? Is there someone that you need to lovingly hold accountable for something like Nehemiah did here? I will let you ponder that.
Dear Lord, I pray for all of those that read these words. I pray that they take an honest assessment of where they stand with You and with what they are doing in their life. Are they and we obeying You the way we should? You have brought me back from dark places more times than I can count and yet I still let my fire for you burn too low at times. I am praying that my track back toward where You need and want me to be continues. I pray that the right person or people are encouraged and challenged by these words. For those in the right place with You, I ask that they stand on guard at all times. The enemy never quits, never sleeps, and is always out to destroy our relationship with You. I am sorry for drifting away and forgetting Your majesty at times. Help me stay focused on You and away from things that are not good for me. In Jesus’s mighty name I pray, Amen!