“In Judah it was said, “The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall.” And our enemies said, “They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work.” At that time the Jews who lived near them came from all directions and said to us ten times, “You must return to us.”” (Nehemiah 4:10–12 ESV).
[Setting: Jerusalem] Waves of discouragement and frustration came into the city. Excuses abounded. Too much rubble! Our enemy's threats! Our friends have invited us to stop!
But they didn’t stop. Discouragement and fear and fatigue require breakthroughs. Nehemiah said, "Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes" (Nehemiah 4:14).
A point comes in any church's life where atrophy sets in. The passion and joy and labor begin to dry up as people begin to grow discouraged in the mission. Soon, the fight, and what they were fighting for in the first place, is forgotten. Life -- it's busy, after all -- swallows up fruitfulness. The church becomes an afterthought. The mission is replaced with routine.
Nehemiah and his team felt it. They were in the midst of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem for the glory of God. They had funding, they had teamwork, and they had the Lord. Together, they sacrificed and fought and battled for God's goal.
But, eventually, with the wall about half-way completed, they began to atrophy. First, their strength faded. "There is too much rubble," they said. "By ourselves, we will not be able to rebuild the wall." Second, their enemies began to discourage them with threats: "They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work." Third, even their friends and family dissuaded them from the task. Over and over again, ten times, from all directions, they said, "You must return to us." Together, they felt the momentum slow, and the energy dry.
Nehemiah's reply to all this? "Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes" (Nehemiah 4:14).
First, Nehemiah Reminded Them of God
If a church's energy and enthusiasm for the work comes from their vision of what the church could be, it will ultimately fade. You cannot remain zealous when you only have a vision for the "next level" or numerical growth. You must have a vision of God. He is the "great and awesome" one. He is worthy of our praise, sometimes in the form of our sweat, and when we set our sights on him, we have someone worth the fight.
When a church loses its hope in God, replacing it with hope for the church or their own future as a congregation, zeal will be displaced. Eventually, disillusionment will flow and the work will grind to a halt. Why serve? Why attend a group? Why give? Why grow? If your vision for God is lost, so is your "why." However, with a vision for him and his glory, a desire to want everything he wants, a lifelong drive will exist in you. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge...” (Proverbs 1:7 ESV).
Second, Nehemiah Reminded Them of Others
He told them to fight for brothers, sons, daughters, wives, and homes. He wanted them to get their eyes off themselves and onto the despairing generations which followed them. Without their warring, their fight, others would be lost. He wanted them to stop thinking so much about themselves and their own little lives, but others.
When a church loses its energy, it often happens because the members of the congregation have ceased to think long and hard about the people of their community and world. Rather than attend a small group because a new believer there is going to need their support and encouragement, they decide they've already got all the friends they need so why bother? Rather than greet people at the door of the church with enthusiasm and love, they somberly usher someone to their seat. Rather than lead worship with passion and hope, they dejectedly go through the motions.
But consider others! People are dying and going to hell every day! People are making decisions that generate generational problems every day! People are teetering between God's purposes and plans and best and their own foolish ways every day! How can we lack zeal when in a war for the souls and spirits of men and women whom God loves and for whom Christ died?
Mission and Ministry at Calvary Monterey
For instance, at Calvary Monterey, every ministry has a reason. Why be zealous in conducting the Grille, our onsite Sunday restaurant? Because people need to connect so they can support one another to live their life for God's glory! Why have zeal in working with Calvary Kids? Because children are exposed to so much heartache and pain throughout their lives they need someone to show them the love of Christ! Why have zeal in greeting and ushering God's people into the gathering? Because every week someone is making a decision, looking for a connection, and in need of the kindness of Christ! Why have zeal in helping people find a place to park? Because if we don't, someone won't be able to get in to hear the Scripture which could change their lives. Why have zeal in giving yourself to a life group? Because it is through relational connections that people grow, through a community that we support one another, and there are people in desperate need of that atmosphere of love!
But once people lose the "why" — a love for God and others — they lose their zeal. They go through the motions, and the work stops. Nehemiah saw this. He shouted from the rooftops, "Think of God! Think of others! And get to work!"