Finishing What I Started: The Struggle to Rebuild (Nehemiah)

As we begin the process of closing the chapter on this current generation of gaming consoles, I have come to an embarrassing realization.  I have left many, MANY things undone… SOOOOO many games that sit somewhere between 10-25% finished, some other games were lovingly installed on my hard drive but have never even been started, and a few are… gasp… still in the WRAPPER.  I know, I know… this is unacceptable.  I promise I bought Luigi’s Mansion 3 with the best of intentions, but for reasons I can’t even remember I quit after unlocking my fourth floor.  Oh… I remember why… ANIMAL CROSSING.  Speaking of Animal Crossing, hold on for just a second… let me go buy some turnips and I will be right back.  Sorry Luigi…  it’s nothing personal.

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Okay, where was I… that’s right, getting back into forgotten and abandoned games.  Whole worlds that were counting on me to save them, characters I promised I would help save the day… and they are still just sitting there wondering when I will come back from my gaming “walkabout” to finish what I started.  And I want to… I really do.  But, and maybe this is just me, it can be SO HARD to start playing a game you haven’t touched in months (or in some cases years).   It’s just so much easier to start fresh with another game and leave that one to die on the shelf.  I mean, think about it… all of the cool moves that I had previously mastered have been forgotten, and to be honest half of the time I can’t even remember what I was doing or where I was trying to go.  I am going to have to retrace my steps and probably backtrack SIGNIFICANTLY just so I can get my bearings again.  Why should I spend my incredibly limited gaming time trying to remember what I was doing when I could start something else fresh and new?

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I mean, I LOVE the feeling of starting a new game… new controls to learn, an exciting story to experience, and a fresh world of opportunity to explore.  I don’t even mind the mind-numbing tutorials that often accompany the beginning of my journey because it is all just a precursor to what is patiently awaiting me on the other side… new, uncharted territory to conquer.  But doing it all over again?  A second time?  It just seems easier and a lot more FUN to start something else from scratch rather than to try to rebuild on top of the ashes of my last save file.  And in our personal lives this exact same concept plays out with the identical frustrations and challenges… when it’s easier to quit a job/school, walk away from a relationship, or even give up on our calling from God after we experience game-breaking setbacks, roadblocks, or failures.  Each of us throughout our lives will find reasons to wonder why God allows such setbacks to occur in the first place… if God knew these things were coming why wouldn’t he just PREVENT them from ever happening?

The concept of rebuilding typically stands on the foundation of experiencing a substantial loss that necessitates a do-over.  Personally, I find this process frustrating as it feels inefficient, reflects poor time management, and seems like a waste of resources.  What is the point of rebuilding something that already existed?  Couldn’t it have simply been protected or preserved so the loss would not occur?  Losing is painful enough to endure… it almost seems insulting to have to pick up the pieces of the board game after they were just callously knocked off of the table by the classroom bully.  Yet we find this theme peppered throughout Scripture as God’s people frequently found themselves in the rebuilding process, sometimes through their own fault but often because of events that occurred beyond their control or even before their birth.  Such is the scene we find in one of the most epic reclamation projects found in the Bible… the rekindling of the heartbeat of Israel under the leadership of Nehemiah.

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To do justice to the level of rebuilding that is about to occur we need to fill in the backdrop of the scene.  Many years prior the nation of Israel was overthrown and enslaved by the neighboring Assyrians and Babylonian armies, and the incredible cities that King David and King Solomon built had been ransacked and burned to the ground.  Jerusalem, the capital, was left in shambles with the walls torn down and everything of value looted.  This is a truly post-apocalyptic setting with only small groups of survivors left to survive in the shell of this once proud city of global importance.  Enter Nehemiah…

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Nehemiah was not a descendant of the royal family, nor was he an obvious choice for leadership when we find him.  He was simply the cupbearer to the king, a position that placed him in proximity to power but reminded him daily of his status as a descendant of a subjugated nation.  Nehemiah receives an unfavorable report on the condition of his countrymen as well as of the city of Jerusalem and immediately goes to battle as a man of God should do… on his knees in prayer.  Unbeknownst to Nehemiah, he just entered phase one of the Jerusalem rebuilding project.

Nehemiah 1:3-4 “The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.”  So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.

His position may not have seemed to lend itself to a position on the nation building committee, but Nehemiah refused to disqualify himself from the burden he was carrying simply because of his name badge.  When the king asked him what was on his mind, Nehemiah pulled no punches as he explained the dire situation in his home country and his desire to be part of the solution.  Mind you, Nehemiah had no resources or credentials to support his desire to rebuild.  As a matter of fact, his mere request could have been considered treasonous.  But this was an appointment that was anointed by the Lord, and the king responded with a level of support that is quite honestly hard to fathom.

Nehemiah 2:1-8 And it came to pass in the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, that I took the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had never been sad in his presence before.  Therefore the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, since you are not sick? This is nothing but sorrow of heart.” So I became dreadfully afraid, and said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire?” Then the king said to me, “What do you request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven.  And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.” Then the king said to me (the queen also sitting beside him), “How long will your journey be? And when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time.  Furthermore I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given to me for the governors of the region beyond the River, that they must permit me to pass through till I come to Judah,  and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he must give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel which pertains to the temple, for the city wall, and for the house that I will occupy.” And the king granted them to me according to the good hand of my God upon me. 

Everything Nehemiah requested was granted… a leave of absence from work, letters of authorization, supplies from the federal reserve, and even a detachment of soldiers to protect him.  Looks like another happy ending is in order… cue the 90’s sitcom ending theme song and a “group high-five” frozen in the air.  Unfortunately, Nehemiah chapter two ends with some ominous foreshadowing of the adversaries who lie ahead.

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Nehemiah 2:17-19 Then I said to them, “You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.”  And I told them of the hand of my God which had been good upon me, and also of the king’s words that he had spoken to me.  So they said, “Let us rise up and build.” Then they set their hands to this good work. But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they laughed at us and despised us, and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Will you rebel against the king?”

No rebuilding project worth doing will exist without the resurgence of opposition that had been willing to lie dormant as long as the renovations were nothing more than a pipe dream.  As soon as you are ready to put your hand to the plow, you will find adversaries who you didn’t even know existed and often appear to have no valid reason to oppose you.  Such is the case here, as three men stand up to mock Nehemiah’s efforts, falsely accuse him of improper motives, and all along the way do everything in their power to distract him from completing his mission.  Have you ever set your mind to doing the right thing only to have enemies appear out of the clear blue “nowhere” just to make an already Herculean task even more difficult?  Take the advice of Nehemiah, a man who has been there.  Just keep on building and stay focused on the Lord.

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Nehemiah 6:1-3 Now it happened when Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies heard that I had rebuilt the wall, and that there were no breaks left in it (though at that time I had not hung the doors in the gates),  that Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come, let us meet together among the villages in the plain of Ono.” But they thought to do me harm. So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?”

Throughout the project Nehemiah endured setbacks, assassination attempts, threats and intimidation, but it was all for a purpose just like the rebuilding of the walls and the city itself was.  So now to return to our original questions… why does God allow us to lose things to simply rebuild them again?  And through the story of Nehemiah we find the answers.  It is through the act of rebuilding that the people were brought together both in heart as well as in body.  It was this process that brought them back into obedience to the Lord and initiated a rebirth of their commitment to His ways.  It unified them and purified them.  It made them a FAMILY, fully embracing their relationships with each other and with the Lord.  And all that they once took for granted was now appreciated in a whole new light, as they all got to participate in the process.

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Nehemiah 9:2-3 And they stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.  And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for one-fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the Lord their God.

The easy choice is clearly to cut bait and run.  But doing so would mean that you never achieve the satisfaction of seeing the fruit of your labors and the sense of completion shared with all those who have fought the good fight alongside you.  The choice to reload and rebuild is never a comfortable one, but it is often the one that provides the most reward and gives God the glory for the result.  Whatever has been torn down in your life, whether it is from the enemy such as the walls of Jerusalem, through events outside of your control like a server error, or perhaps it is a mistake of your own doing like overwriting the wrong save… regardless of how it happened there is a rebuilding solution.  It will be arduous work, and it may feel like you are treading old ground when you could be blazing a new path.  But the rebuilding process itself is a destination, not merely a journey.  It is when we endure and persevere through these setbacks that we prove the level of our commitment to God… to ourselves as well as to all of those around us. Don’t give up in the middle of your rebuilding process… you are already closer to the other side than you think!

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