There aren’t a lot of Christians who would say what I am about to say. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with what I am about to say; it’s just that most Christians have other opinions, other viewpoints. And maybe some of them have never even heard of what I am about to say.
Have you heard the term “life-verse?” It refers to the verse, or verses, in scripture that a person finds to be foundational, that so inspires his or her heart and soul that it becomes the one verse that person hangs on. I’ve heard the oldies and goodies, John 3:16 1, Galatians 5:1, Matthew 28:18-20, and so on. And those are all great, wonderful verses, foundational to the Christian life and understanding of God’s revelation in Christ Jesus.
But for me, personally, there are two verses in an obscure Hebrew Bible scripture that speak to me, that guide me, that remind me of who I am and what I am called to do and to be.
And, probably, you’ve never read them. My “life-verse” is Nehemiah 6:3.
To understand it, you need to understand the story of Nehemiah (see my previous blog post), and maybe read a little more than 6:3, for context. Maybe Nehemiah 6:1-10, for example.
In short, as Nehemiah’s project of rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem comes to a close, there are brigands and outlaws in the desert who seek to take his life, and end his work. They are leaders of tribes who essentially use Jerusalem as their combination ATM and convenience store: they rob, and pillage, and loot, and they do it because they know the city has no defense. Once it is strong again, they’re in trouble, and they know it. So they send to Nehemiah, trying to lure him down from the wall, so that they can kill him.
And his response is beautiful, and elegant.
I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it to come down to you?2
But it’s more than beautiful and elegant. It’s good advice for us.
From a Christian perspective, being about a great work and refusing to come down isn’t about not taking a break. How can it be, when Sabbath is mandated by our scripture; when Jesus so often withdrew to quiet places to be alone in prayer, to become rested and restored? As a minister of the Gospel by both word and example, taking Sabbath, enjoying hobbies, relaxing, sometimes blowing off whole days, spending time with my family, these things aren’t antithetical to being about a great work; they are part of doing a great work. God loves us, and calls us to love ourselves, and we simply can’t do that without spending time enjoying this life that is God’s gift to us!
So, not coming down from the wall isn’t about not taking a break. It’s about not being broken.
Because we all know saboteurs are out there. There are people who are going to dislike us on spec, who aren’t going to share our vision, or recognize our mission. There are people who are going to try to call us down, to hurt us, to destroy us, to distract us. Sanballat and his cohorts try to lure Nehemiah to his death, to destroy him, because they want to kill his vision: a vision of a restored Jerusalem and, more importantly, a re-awakened people called Israel. They know if he is successful they will lose their power, and their influence. And they are jealous of what they have.
And so not coming down from this great work is really about not allowing myself to be caught up in the bullshit, the petty squabbles over influence or money or bruised egos and wounded pride3.
In my last appointment, two petty and vindictive individuals who were more concerned over the church serving them than the church serving the world came close to derailing me. They’d lost influence and power when I was appointed to the church, and in their anger and disappointment they actively tried to damage me. More than anything else, they were fighting against change, against the church embracing a new way of being present in the community, and they were unfortunately successful in sabotaging my own mission.
And I very nearly let them do me lasting harm.
But… I am about a great work… and I cannot come down for that bullshit.
Though it surely is tempting. It’s tempting to give in, to rationalize that if the people want it badly enough to fight for it, maybe they are right and my vision is wrong. To think, I am just a guest in this church, and so maybe I have no right to try to push an agenda if it’s unpopular with a few people. It’s tempting to surrender the difficult vision in favor of the easy path to acceptance by everyone.
But we have to refuse. Because the work we are called to is a difficult work. Christ himself told us as much:
and you will be hated by all because of my name.4
But he also reminded us that the work we are called to is Kingdom work, and that in our work for the Kingdom of God, on Earth as it is in Heaven, is a blessed calling:
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.5
And so, though the way is tough, we have to persevere, and when someone calls to us to distract us or destroy us, or tear us down, or tear us away from our vision and our mission, like Nehemiah, we must respond:
I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it to come down to you?6
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||didja notice how I added John 3:17 to that? It's amazing to me how often people leave verse 17 off!|
|2.||↑||Nehemiah 6:3, NRSV|
|3.||↑||even my own!|
|4.||↑||Matthew 10:22a, NRSV|
|5.||↑||Matthew 5:11, NRSV|
|6.||↑||Nehemiah 6:3b, NRSV|