Mind to Work
Preaches on Nehemiah? All Ministers Should.
"O Yahweh, let thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant and to the prayer of thy servants who delight to fear thy name; and give success to thy servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of man."
Nehemiah 4:6 So we built the wall; and all the wall was joined together to half its height. For the people had a mind to work.
There is nothing more encouraging to one who is endeavoring to do well than to receive a pat on the back with the words, "You're doing a great job - keep up the good work!" A good word regarding the congregation is included here..
When I was thinking of a small, rural church's struggle to survive and our attempts to bring new life into the church over the last few months, I again remembered the story of Nehemiah. As you recall, Nehemiah was the Rabshakeh (cupbearer) of the King of Assyria when he was sent back to the shambles of Jerusalem, a city he had never seen, to rebuild her walls... how he organized the remnant of Judeans left behind by the hordes of both Babylonians and Assyrians... and how, though they didn't know one another, came together with one accord, were able to overcome nearly insurmountable obstacles then eventually rebuild the walls of their beloved city. The walls of Jerusalem had to be rebuilt in order that Nehemiah, his companion priest Ezra, and the people of his heritage to re-establish the worship of Yahweh in safety, for there were many in that community who would want to prohibit truth and true worship. Let's recount the story so that we might be encouraged to continue the momentum in our own "rebuilding" efforts with one mind and one heart, until that time when Yahweh unites us all in safely within the confines of the New Jerusalem.
Prayer of Nehemiah (1:11): "O Yahweh, let thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant and to the prayer of thy servants who delight to fear thy name; and give success to thy servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of man."
Nehemiah 2 (excerpts): 1. In the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. 2. And the king said to me, "Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing else but sadness of the heart." Then I was very much afraid. 3. I said to the king, "Let the king live for ever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers' sepulchers, lies waste, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?" 4. Then the king said to me, "For what do you make request?" So I prayed to the Yahweh of heaven. 5. And I said to the king, "If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers' sepulchers, that I may rebuild it." 6. And the king said to me (the queen sitting beside him), "How long will you be gone, and when will you return?" So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time. 7. And I said to the king, "If it pleases the king, let letters be given me to the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may let me pass through until I come to Judah; 8. and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king's forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple, and for the wall of the city, and for the house which I shall occupy." And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my Yahweh was upon me. 9. Then I came to the governors of the province Beyond the River, and gave them the king's letters. Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen.
But There is Opposition
(Nehemiah 4) 1. Now when Sanballat (a Horonite) heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he mocked the Jews. 2. He said in the presence of his associates and of the army of Samaria, "What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore things? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish it in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish--and burned ones at that?" 3. Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, "That stone wall they are building--any fox going up on it would break it down!"
Nehemiah is a Man of Action, But First, of Prayer
Nehemiah 4: 4. Hear, O our Yahweh , for we are despised; turn their taunt back on their own heads, and give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. 5. Do not cover their guilt, and do not let their sin be blotted out from your sight; for they have hurled insults in the face of the builders. 6. So we rebuilt the wall, and all the wall was joined together to half its height; for the people had a mind to work.
Despite Hardship and Ridicule, The Jews' had a Mind to Work
The passage begins with ridicule (4:1-3) by those who had taken over after the deportation of the elite of Judea. Nehemiah, always on the peoples' behalf, prays against the enemies of the project (4:4-5). In the course of the prayer, he speaks a very notable affirmation. "We rebuilt the wall." Then, "The wall was joined only half-high" (4:6a). The spirit of the work was so high and the commitment of the laborers was so strong, that though the wall wasn't built, they declared it was anyway. This is a type of high praise, call Towdah, in which we give Yahweh credit for things that have not come to pass as though they already had. This is a marvelous example for us folks who continually toil to build a work for our L-rd. Let's not be negative about it, but see it as already completed with the Father's help. Indeed, he already sees it that way and wills us success in our endeavors.
Nehemiah also informs us through prayer that the reason they could praise in the Towdah sense was because they "had a mind to work" (6b). In other words, these builders were of one mind with their leaders and Yahweh in getting the rebuilding done; so much so, that though the work was only half finished, they saw it as already completed. They had an assurance that their mission would be accomplished. When a person can see the end from the beginning, that's vision and dedication.
The word here translated "mind" is "leb." This word is often translated "heart" rather than mind. We might say in a more literal sense that these people had not only a mind to work but a heart to work. Emotions like Yahweh ly pride were involved -- not unlike the obvious camaraderie and unity of the coalition troops in Iraq -- they were bound and determined to see the mission through. "Leb" actually means something like "kidney," so, even more literally, we can claim that these people had "a kidney to work"!
The common mind, heart and kidney of these disenfranchised Jews remind us of
The Shared Attitude of the Followers of Yahshua in Acts 2:44-47
(Acts 2:42-47) 42. They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44. All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45. they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47. praising Yahweh and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
These people too had many commonalities - of mission, of goods, of faith, and certainly of work. They didn't have to rebuild the walls of a deserted city, but they had a much larger and less well defined mission - the building of Yahweh's kingdom. And, according to one version (KJV), these followers were also in "one accord" in their worship, in the manner of their lives and behavior and in the blessed Spirit of their Messiah. Thirteen times the book of Acts uses the term "in one accord." Twelve of those times it refers to the attitudes and missions of the disciples of Yahshua ; but one time it refers to the dedication of their enemies to destroy that perfect, heavenly city they were building. Even though they were persecuted and even killed, they lived in a unity of gladness, generosity, praise and good will. As a result, they, like Nehemiah's crew, accomplished much, and the spirit of Yahweh daily added those who were likewise being saved.
Shouldn't We Also Be In One Accord
as we endeavor to rebuild the ruins yet one more time in our own age? If we are to snatch some of this same spirit, some have said we must form "circles of encouragement" to maintain the common mind and heart for our common goal -- to build the congregation UP in spiritual and physical strength, and to build it OUT into the community! We must encourage each other and the encouragement must go around. (This is what we mean by a circle of encouragement.) Thus, with each others' help, we may remain 'stoked' for whatever Yahweh is going to do here in the future. And in our state of encouragement, we remember that long before the church "came in," it "went out" -- from Jerusalem, to Judea, to all of Israel, even outward to the world." (What are some of the missions that our church are endeavoring to fulfill now?)
The only way we may remain on the cutting edge of rebuilding is to get into a united spirit and attitude. We must never do good works and outreach and building for the sake of duty alone, but because we share a heart for it. Unified minds and spirits lend supernatural aid to our endeavors, and we find ourselves able to accomplish far more than we could in our own power and sustain our efforts longer.
Such labor as we are given requires this common attitude and effort -- a unified 'heart & mind' -- a "one-accord-edness" that keeps us secure in the knowledge that we, like the the righteous Jews of Nehemiah's time and the earliest disciples, have the 'leb': the heart, the mind, the kidneys, the common thoughts and feelings that qualify us to call ourselves an Assembly under Yahweh: even a common will to succeed and the intellectual affirmation that boldly proclaims, 'We do know how to get the job done, and WE CAN DO IT!' It takes all of us to complete what he wants.
Back in Sarasota a mainline church that had experienced phenomenal growth under a particular pastor bought ground to build a new church. It was someone's novel idea to break ground using an old-time horse plow. Since the pastor had worked so hard to build the church (the church leaders pretty much leaving the building to him), the church elders thought he should be the one to pull the plow to break the first ground. The ceremony was attended by a lot of people. The elders hitched the pastor up to the plow and the rest clapped and shouted their encouragement. But guess what? The pastor couldn't even budge the plow. As red-faced and sweaty as he got, he couldn't cut one inch of ground. The rest of the crew just stood around shouting and watching, but they didn't lift a finger to help until the pastor himself cried out to the church elders, "I can't do this alone." The report said that, even with the help of the church elders, the plow couldn't be moved. It wasn't until a significant portion of the congregation put a shoulder to it that the ground was cut. What do you think they learned from that exercise? And what do you think happened to the church when the pastor retired?
Pushing the plow might be enough to get a new building started, but it's not enough to get an old one rebuilt! Take note of
Nehemiah 4:16. From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail; and the leaders stood behind all the house of Judah, 17. who were building on the wall. Those who carried burdens were laden in such a way that each with one hand labored on the work and with the other held his weapon.
Half worked and half stood guard. In some cases, one hand worked while the other held the weapon. Now we know that the weapons of our warfare don't consist of swords and spears, but mightier weapons than these. Our arsenal is called all prayer, and, like Nehemiah, we pray Yahweh for things and against others. We pray for Yahweh speed, but we also destroy the designs of our enemies who would destroy our forward progress. Again, we do this through prayer and spiritual warfare.
Nehemiah himself prays 11 times in this short little history. The Apostles of Yahshua actually delegated their administrative authority and responsibility so that they might spend time in the Word and in prayer. And, if the rest of Acts is any indication, a significant portion of their prayer was spiritual warfare. Those of us who are gifted as prayer warriors must perform our gift regularly on behalf of the congregation -- such pray-ers are on the front lines of the battle -- they pray for things to happen -- and they pray against other things that would hinder the work. Then those who are the "hands-on" types get to the "hands-on" type of work -- yet no work is any more important than the work of prayer!
Accomplishing the task of rebuilding, even up to half-high, makes prayer for and against all the more essential, because a show of unity in rebuilding any old church walls will bring all the old enemies and new ones out, just as Sanballat and Tobiah, Simon Magus and the Temple rulers came out in force to undermine the building of rebuilding of the Kingdom in the Scriptures. Yes, a sure sign of accomplishment is when the bats of ridicule fly out of their dark hiding places. But we are "great spirits," and, as Einstein put it, "Great spirits [like us] have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds." We have already won remarkable battles, and we know the war was already finished when Yahshua claimed victory to the spirits in prison. Yet battles still rage. But the battle belongs to Yahweh as long as we remain faithful to fight.
Like Nehemiah, dare we say with faith in ultimate victory that "we have built the wall, although the wall is up to but half its height"? Yes, we have no choice but to be optimist by proclaiming victory before it's completely realized, because we have experienced moments in which we shared "a common mind and heart to work." We have seen enemies scattered like flies from a carcass. We've also sustained casualties: some we thought we couldn't live without. And now at times we seem to have the potential of being in one accord in what we accomplish, not unlike the righteous Jews of Nehemiah's day and the first disciples.
Let me personally encourage you by saying once again, "So far, you're doing a great job, keep up the good work." We are beginning to drop our personal crosses to the ground to lift up the cross of our Savior together, which is the indication of true discipleship. When we finally get beyond ourselves, then we can get to the work of rebuilding that which is outside ourselves. We can join in pulling together in one accord at that rusty, old plow, and the ground will certainly break!
Let us now encourage one another in the Holy Ghost with the words, "Keep up the good work!" And let us continue until we hear the voice of the one whom we are working for say at last, "Well done, good and faithful servants! You've proven what a mind to work can accomplish!"
Jackson Snyder, June 6, 1993