So we built the wall and the whole wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work (Nehemiah 4:6 NASB).
Every pastor and spiritual leader I know is experiencing waves of discouragement and confusion during this COVID-19 pandemic. Leaders lead. They want to move the ball forward and get things done.
Spiritual leaders want to see the kingdom advance. No true man or woman of God wants to just survive. To get by. To merely tread water. To see the work of God slowed or even stopped.
It’s frustrating. It feels like we can’t plan (we don’t know what the future holds). We can’t advance (all our energy is given to just surviving). And we don’t know what to do, because our normal means of doing things are gone. The old wineskins don’t seem to be working right now.
So, what do we do? How do we lead in this moment? How do we advance the work of God when it seems that everything is working against us?
A National Shut-Down
A national shut-down actually happened in Nehemiah’s day. Most of the people in the nation of Israel had been taken into captivity in Babylon. There was just a small remnant left to tend the fields in Israel (surely not enough to get anything else done).
Over time, the primary city (Jerusalem) had fallen into ruins. The wall was destroyed around the city, and the gates had been burned.
This is a picture of a city totally defenseless and vulnerable. Everything had fallen apart during a confusing season, and it seemed there was nothing anyone could do to stop it. Sound familiar?
But God, as He always does, raised up a spiritual leader to lead during the crisis. Nehemiah could have resisted. He could have said, “This is just too hard. I don’t have the personnel or the tools to get anything done. I don’t have a clue what to do.”
A lesser leader would have sat down, shaken his head, and done nothing. No one would have blamed him.
Not this leader. He prayed incessantly (eight of his prayers are recorded in the book of Nehemiah—the first prayer and fasting lasting for four months—illustrating that prayer was the foundation for his approach). He surveyed the devastation, took what he had, rallied the people, and advanced the work in record fashion.
In a miraculous display of God-initiated leadership by Nehemiah and his friend Ezra, and cooperation by the people, the city of God was completely rebuilt in 52 days. And it was all accomplished in the midst of devastating national conditions.
What Everyone Had to Do
In order to accomplish this massive task, everyone had to take care of their part of the wall in front of their house. Don’t miss this. Nehemiah 3–4 gives an accounting of each family and how they worked.
Almost every verse starts with this type of phrase: “Next to him / them was (name of family), and they made repairs in front of their house / the next house.” Some of these verses stand out.
Next to him Shallum the son of Hallohesh, the official of half the district of Jerusalem, made repairs, he and his daughters (Nehemiah 3:12).
After him Baruch the son of Zabbai zealously repaired another section (v. 20).
Above the Horse Gate the priests carried out repairs, each in front of his house (v. 28).
And on and on the record of this joint effort goes.
What Does This Mean for Us Now?
We can sit down during the COVID-19 pandemic and seek to “ride it out.” We can do nothing to advance God’s kingdom, and the work of God will deteriorate in front of our eyes. We will be worse at the end of the pandemic if spiritual inactivity becomes our new lifestyle.
Or, as leaders, we can pray and get God’s plan. During this time it will probably not be a grandiose design, but a simple plan to enlist every family to build their part of the wall. For instance …
- Every family could be called to new levels of spiritual discipleship and prayer within their home. Huge advances in family discipleship could occur, and families would never be the same! Fathers and mothers could accept the challenge and learn to become disciplers of their own children. They could embrace this not as an intrusion but as a chance to fulfill their highest calling. Children could come out of the pandemic as spiritual champions.
- Every person could be challenged to look for one person to reach for Christ and disciple during the pandemic. What if 2,000 people led 2,000 people to Christ in the next six months?!
- Every family could adopt their neighborhood. Not for one moment of help, but for a continuing ministry to all of their neighbors in various ways. They could become “block pastors and workers” to see God build the wall through them with their neighbors. A church could start in a neighborhood.
- We could simply invite a few people into our home to discuss a portion of the Bible and pray. We could invite our neighbors. We could invite different people each week. We could pray for our city, our nation, and our world.
- We could prayer walk our neighborhoods every single day.
- We could readjust our “building-centered” Christian ecclesiology into a “people-centered” ecclesiology (like they do on the mission field). We could change from thinking of starting with the large gathering and then trying to mobilize smaller groups, to building the work first with individuals and then small discipling groups that would grow into churches. Every Christian could see this as their highest calling—lifelong discipling of disciple-makers.
- We could boldly come together, as we’re able to gather, and cry out to God. If we go to restaurants and stores with proper health guidelines, perhaps we could come to church with similar guidelines and health precautions.
- We could resist spiritual apathy and inactivity, asking God for what our part is on the wall!
If each leader would lead with prayerful courage like Nehemiah, and each family would work their part of the wall like the remnant in Jerusalem, the work of God could advance IN RECORD TIME. In fact, we might even discover new wineskins of ministry—whole new paradigms for how to get the work of God done (in world evangelization) more quickly and efficiently.
Perhaps the pandemic is not designed by God to paralyze us, but to mobilize us to unceasing, fervent prayer and effective personal and family ministry (our part of the wall).
There will be enemies …
Read Nehemiah 5–6. But our enemies can be handled just as Nehemiah and his people handled theirs, refusing to be distracted from the main work of rebuilding.
There will be fear …
Read Nehemiah 4:14 and following. But we can address and overcome our fear in the same way Nehemiah led his people to believe that God was fighting for them. We can arm ourselves with work tools in one hand and sword in the other, as they did.
We Are Not Powerless During the Pandemic!
We can sit down during this pandemic and let the walls collapse around us. Or we can each (leaders and followers) pray, find God’s plan for advancing His kingdom, and put our hands to the task with “a mind to work,” and see things done that will astound a watching world.
It just could be that our fervent prayer and personal work on our part of the wall could lead to a nationwide revival and spiritual awakening. Nehemiah and the people’s work led to one of the greatest nationwide revivals in history (read Nehemiah 8–9).
We’ve been rattled by the pandemic. Confused and baffled by what’s happening. And this plague may continue and even accelerate. But it is in these moments that the light of God and His people can shine most brilliantly.
It’s time to get back to our most important work.
Father, help us to see what You’re doing right now. Thank You for men like Moses, Joshua, David, Nehemiah, and the New Testament disciples who were used to advance Your kingdom under horrible national conditions. Thank You for stripping away things that we’ve vainly relied on that could actually be hindering Your work. Thank You that You are building Your church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against this work! And thank You that every single leader and every single follower of Christ can be used to build their part of the wall. Help us arise and build!