“Then the people of Judah began to complain, “The workers are getting tired, and there is so much rubble to be moved. We will never be able to build the wall by ourselves.””
In our Senior Staff meeting today, Percy shared from Nehemiah 4. If you are unfamiliar with Nehemiah, the “Cliff Notes” version is that Nehemiah, cup-bearer to a foreign king, learned that the home of his ancestors, Jerusalem, was in horrible shape; specifically, the walls, essential to the security and well-being of the city, were destroyed. Broken-hearted, he spent time praying, and God opened an opportunity for him to talk to the king. The king provided for Nehemiah to take a group to Jerusalem, equipped with all he would need, to repair the walls. There were many obstacles along the way, but they believed strongly in the restoration of Jerusalem, so they persevered.
It’s a powerful story for a number of situation, but particularly fitting for urban ministry.
The verse above stood out to me. There was a very real problem: there was so much rubble, it seemed impossible that they could complete the work. The reality of the situation was that they had limited manpower and means, and they were dealing with a task far beyond them. This daunting realization stalled them out.
Except, that is, Nehemiah just shrugged it off. He never responds to this specific issue.
Other issues, like that of outside threats, he dealt with directly. They set men at posts, worked out shifts, even went so far as to carry a weapon with them everywhere…while they worked, while they got water, likely while they slept. So why didn’t he respond to the “rubble?”
Sometimes we face challenges that need real problem-solving sessions. Sometimes we have to put men on posts. (Note: they never actually have to fight anyone. In all their efforts, it was still God who did the protecting.)
Sometimes we face challenges that we simply have to face. Sometimes it’s not the challenge that’s the issue, but our perception of it. The men saw the rubble and decided it was too much to move. They may have decided they were too few or too weak. They concluded, “We will never be able to build the wall by ourselves.”
Nehemiah hears this, and goes about his business. Did he not care? No, he did. I imagine he heard their complaint and thought, “Yep, there’s a lot of rubble. In order to build the wall, we need to move the rubble. So we just have to do it.” The challenge was real, but the solution was to simply keep doing what they were already doing.
I think many of us struggle with this because we like immediacy and efficiency. If we don’t see quick results, we decide the method must be flawed and give up. Sometimes our approaches to things are wrong, but sometimes our work just calls for patience. Lots of patience.
I once heard at a CCDA conference that, if you really wanted to do urban ministry, you needed to commit at least 15-20 years of your life to it. Doing urban ministry for a summer, or for a year, is great; it’s transformative for the individual, and impacts others. But effective ministry, real community, lasting transformation, take time.
Lots of time.
In my new role, I see a lot of rubble. I look at my responsibilities, and at times it seems like an insurmountable mass. You know what? It probably is. A lot of ministry work is impossible…save for God. That’s the point, isn’t it? We aren’t supposed to be doing this through our own power, God intends to do the work through us. The walls of Jerusalem were an impossible rubble, and it fell to a group unequipped for rebuilding a city (among the list of workers it even mentions perfumers.) They were probably right… they couldn’t do it.
But Nehemiah didn’t answer because he knew two things:
1) Regardless of the obstacles, the work needed to get done,
2) God could do it.
So grab a shovel.
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