Commentary by Walter Albritton

May 18, 2008

Faithfulness to God Requires Diligent Persistence

Nehemiah 4-6

Key Verse: So we rebuilt the wall, and all the wall was joined together to half its height; for the people had a mind to work. – Nehemiah 4:6

          The key word for this lesson is persistence. This virtue of the human spirit calls to mind words like diligence, doggedness, unrelenting, determination, and perseverance. These words remind us that unless we are willing to “keep on keeping on,” often against overwhelming resistance,           we shall not succeed in any worthy endeavor.

          Nehemiah is the perfect example of persistence. He took on a difficult assignment for God. It was a task he could not accomplish alone. The rebuilding of the wall required the help of many people. Some of the people he called on to help let him down. But Nehemiah refused to give up. He stayed the course.

          Churches sometime fall to pieces when disgruntled people walk away from the fellowship. Those members who remain must decide whether to give up or carry on. Recovery usually requires a few people with the spirit of Nehemiah who will, without rancor toward the quitters, persist in finding other people to join them in getting the job done.

          Nehemiah’s noble efforts were fiercely opposed. But he did not allow his detractors to defeat him. He used the gifts God had given him – the gifts of persuasion, organization, encouragement, and faith in God. He persuaded people to embrace his vision. He organized the people according to their skills. He encouraged the people to “keep their hands on the plow.” He inspired people to believe that God would reward their diligent labor.

          It is not difficult to recognize work that needs to be done. We are all good at seeing a problem and saying, “Somebody needs to do something about that.” But usually nothing gets done until a Nehemiah comes along and says, “Let’s tackle this job together.” The most “Somebody” ever does is complain. Walls are never rebuilt until a Nehemiah shows up and challenges people to get organized and go to work. God’s work usually requires a team effort.

          We cannot overemphasize the fact that, inspired by Nehemiah, the people were willing to work. They “had a mind to work.” Strong churches are not made strong by talk but by work. Talk is cheap. Most churches are filled with people who “yap” constantly about what the pastor and the staff ought to do. But call a “work day” and the talkers seldom show up.

          Yet, thank God, the work goes on. Even a few people can get a lot done if they do their work in the name of Jesus. It is crucial that we do our work “for Jesus.”  We spoil it if we work for the applause of others or out of a desire to have “control.” We work best when we do “church work” as an expression of our gratitude for what Jesus had done for us.

          Attitude is so important. When we choose to be persistent in doing work for God, we must take care not to become mulish and inflexible. The Jews had to be flexible. Their enemies made it necessary for some of the Jews to stand guard while others worked. Henry Ward Beecher wisely observed, “The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is that one comes from a strong will, and the other from a strong won’t.”

          As Christians we are inspired to serve not only by the example of Nehemiah but that of our Lord Jesus and the Apostle Paul. Jesus refused to let his enemies deter him from his mission. Resolutely he “set his face” toward Jerusalem so that he could do the work his Father had sent him to do. His willingness to “endure the cross, despising the shame,” inspires us to persevere in our work when the going gets tough. And it always will.

          When our burdens are heavy and we are tempted to quit, the words of Saint Paul can renew our determination, “Let us not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). How many times this scripture has revived my flagging zeal!

          Perhaps Nehemiah inspired the great Winston Churchill. When the “walls” of England were being destroyed by Hitler’s army, Churchill persuaded the English people to get organized, go to work, and have faith in God. In response to Churchill’s challenge, the people were willing to work, and with the help of God, they got the job done.

          The virtue of persistence calls to mind Churchill’s speech to students at Harrow, his old school, in 1941, when he said,  "This is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."

          When we become weary in doing the work to which God has called us, the examples of Nehemiah, Jesus, Saint Paul, and even that of Sir Winston, should be enough to renew our willingness to work.

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