• Introduction
  • Burning Your Bridges
  • Moving With God
  • Facing The Enemy
  • Facing The Facts
  • Building A Body
  • Facing Accusations
  • Repairing The Breach
  • Achieving Great Things
  • Preparing The Way
  • The Danger Of Independence
  • Tony Kostas
Doing God’s Work
Building With God

Doing God’s Work

  • Introduction
  • Burning Your Bridges
  • Moving With God
  • Facing The Enemy
  • Facing The Facts
  • Building A Body
  • Facing Accusations
  • Repairing The Breach
  • Achieving Great Things
  • Preparing The Way
  • The Danger Of Independence
  • Tony Kostas


Countless people throughout history have dedicated themselves to do God’s work. They have trained, sacrificed and laboured. They have risked their possessions, their loved ones and their lives- all for this one goal.

In Book 1, Getting Involved With God, which covered chapter 1 of the book of Nehemiah, I introduced this series by relating an incident from my own early experience – one which focused my attention for the first time on the difference between working for God and working with Him.

Then, as the first part of Nehemiah’s story unfolded, we noted the way in which he first identified with God, then interceded for Jerusalem and its people and finally came to the point of actually making himself available.

Without such identification and self-giving there is no true involvement with God. Yet even that is but the beginning- the necessary starting point for doing God’s work. Which brings us to the theme of this second book.

Burning Your Bridges

As we take up the story, at the beginning of Nehemiah chapter two, we find him at the crucial point of having made himself personally available to God. And only God knows how many of His people have, at some time or another, reached such a point. They have identified with God, felt the ache of His heart and been moved to intercede with passion – even to the point of crying: here am I, send me. But, when it has come down to it, how many of those same ones have actually gone on from there to take irrevocable steps? How many of them have launched out to the extent of burning their bridges behind them and embarking on a course of action from which there is no turning back? Nehemiah did.

In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the King. I had not been sad in his presence before; so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.”

I was very much afraid, but I said to the king. “May the king live for ever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”

The king said to me, “What is it you want?”

Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favour in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it.”

Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take. and when will you get back?” It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time.

I also said to him. “If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive In Judah? And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the king’s forest, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?” And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests. (Nehemiah 2:1-8)

In the first part of Nehemiah’s story (Book 1), we saw his initial feelings on hearing about the appalling condition of Jerusalem and its people. He was overcome with grief and frustration. Then, as he poured out his heart in prayer, he realised there was a way God might be able to use him to do something for his beloved city and countrymen. Though merely a slave he did have regular, personal access to the great king himself. Not that he had any particular plan in mind. He simply let God know that he was making both himself and his position in the palace available.

Longing for God to work through your life is one thing, but if He is to actually have His way you must be prepared to look beyond your own limitations and forget your own puny plans. Your cry must ever be: “God, I am totally available to you. Do with me whatever you want – however impossible it may be!” That was Nehemiah’s approach and it enabled him to successfully latch on to the desire of God’s heart and so move with him into His great purposes.

Moving With God

Like a skier riding a ski-lift to the top of a slope, Nehemiah was carried along in a direction and with a momentum which came from God alone. And the ski-lift analogy is an apt one, as an illustration from my own experience will show.

The occasion was my first ever attempt at skiing. In my ignorance I had chosen the wrong one of the two available lifts, the other being more suited to beginners like me. This one, though, was fast-moving and its design was such that it required a certain degree of skill and experience – of which I possessed neither. Watching the other skiers grabbing hold of the long flexible poles. as they swung round one by one, and noting the way in which they were then gracefully carried on up the slope, I reasoned that there couldn’t be too much to it. Ah, the bliss of ignorance – short-lived though it was in my case!

When my turn came I lunged forward, grasped the moving pole and attempted to emulate those who had gone before me – with anything but success. Instead of being gracefully propelled onwards and upwards I was jerked off my feet and, after momentarily flailing around like an animated rag doll, I was unceremoniously dumped in the snow, landing in an awkward and undignified heap! I had absolutely no chance of regaining any sort of composure. As I disentangled my skis and struggled to my feet, it must have been patently obvious to all that before them was a man who had learned neither the art nor the implications of riding that ski-lift!

The lift, of course, was not at fault. It had done its part perfectly. The problem was, I didn’t know how to do mine. It had offered me both the direction and momentum necessary to take me up the slope, yet without me playing my part it could not happen.

The same applies to latching on to God. In no way is it for the man who is ignorant of, or unprepared for, its implications. Though God will always do His part, that in itself is no guarantee that you will not come a cropper, as I did on the ski-lift. That is up to you. Listening to the claims of many Christians you would think they were more than ready to go anywhere and do anything for God. Yet so many of them end up in a heap of failure, because they are unprepared and often unwilling for the implications. Of course everybody should want, more than anything else, to take hold of God and move with Him in His way, but the prelude to that is allowing Him to prepare and train you.

Beware of playing down the demands and implications of moving with God. Have you, for instance. learned to be faithful, obedient and trusting in even the smallest things? If not there is absolutely no way you will go anywhere with God. To move with Him may well mean being taken into ways and situations beyond your own adequacy and ability to cope. Nehemiah was soon to find that. Taking hold of God, he found himself being carried steadily and inexorably into a remarkable series of events which took him from the position of a captive slave in an alien land to that of a great man of God – a leader of God’s people.

But all that was yet to come. On the face of it, he was still just a captive exile with a longing in his heart. Having made himself available to God, there was nothing more he could do. The next move was out of his hands – he could only trust God and wait patiently for Him to initiate something.

And how he needed patience. Despite his grief over the state of Jerusalem and the urgency he felt, nothing more happened for about eight months! Imagine that- here he was, offering himself to God, being ready to go anywhere and do anything, yet to all appearances God had not even bothered to answer him. In common with all who draw near to God, Nehemiah had to learn about God’s time. The situation was under God’s control. He had heard Nehemiah’s prayer and God’s man was not going to be disappointed.

When the day came it must have seemed like so many others before it. Nehemiah was, as usual, serving the king’s wine but he was deeply unhappy. Jerusalem was constantly on his mind. The passage of time had done nothing to lighten his burden. He knew he needed to keep on trusting God, but that in itself did nothing to ease the pain he felt for his beloved city and people. Then, for the first time, the king noticed his servant’s sadness- and asked the reason for it.

What a moment! Surely the king’s question was Nehemiah’s cue – the opportunity he had longed for all those months. Throughout that time he had not been free to raise the matter with his royal master. A mere slave, he was not permitted to speak unless spoken to. He was below even the humblest of Artaxerxes’ citizens who at least had some right to petition their king. Now, though, his chance had come! The longed-for moment had arrived! If nothing else, he would at least be able to bring the plight of Jerusalem to the king’s attention. That would be something.

Yet, with his big moment finally upon him, Nehemiah found he was very afraid. Feelings of inadequacy and insignificance overwhelmed him. Who was he to even begin talking to the king about Jerusalem? Yet, remembering his prayer of eight months earlier and despite his fears and misgivings, he knew he had to speak. As he opened his mouth, the grief and anguish which he had for so long bottled up came out like a torrent. Artaxerxes had asked – now he knew. But what would his reaction be? He could easily have been very angry. It was, after all, his army which had sacked Jerusalem in the first place. Nehemiah could have landed himself in big trouble.

Imagine, then, his surprise – not to mention relief – when Artaxerxes replied, “What is it you want?”. Just like that! Was he hearing things? No wonder he shot up a quick prayer on the spot! He had waited all those months and now, suddenly, it was all happening! Not only was the king giving him the right to speak about the situation, but he was actually inviting him to state what he wanted done about it!

No sooner had Nehemiah prayed than he knew what he must ask. For eight months he had waited for something to happen but now God had made His move and it was, once more, Nehemiah’s turn. The ball was in his court – and he knew it. So he made his request: “…send me to the city in Judah… so that I can rebuild it”. Some request – coming as it did from the king’s cupbearing slave! Yet not only did Artaxerxes grant it but he also extended to Nehemiah the privilege of deciding when he would leave and how long he would be away. More than that, he went on to agree to his requests for materials and safe passage.

What an amazing sequence of events! Just a short while before there had been no indication that Nehemiah’s prayer was about to be answered. Now here he was about to pack his bags and set out to rebuild Jerusalem! The whole thing was so obviously engineered by God. He had reached out to Him and He alone had set it all up – to perfection. No wonder Nehemiah wrote: “… the gracious hand of my God was upon me”.

How exciting! How marvellous! Yet it was still only the beginning. It certainly was no time for Nehemiah to rest on his laurels and boast about the way his faith and patience had been rewarded. It had happened all right, but for a purpose, and right now there was much more to be done.

There is a vital difference between conquering (initial achievement) and possessing (lasting accomplishment). To initially make yourself available to God, and see Him perform miracles as a result, is one thing. But then to follow it all through successfully to a lasting conclusion is quite another. Had Nehemiah made the common mistake of stopping at that point, basking in his initial achievement and treating it as the pinnacle of his success, that “success” would have amounted to nothing. Despite everything, he had as yet built nothing. His great task still lay ahead.

Facing The Enemy

Nehemiah’s next step was to be his biggest yet. He had the king’s go-ahead, now he had to get going. And it was not long before he came up against opposition:

So I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates and gave them the king’s letters. The king had also sent army officers and cavalry with me.

When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites.

Sanballat and Tobiah now appear on the scene as the villains of the piece. They were men whose aims were diametrically opposed to Nehemiah’s. The last thing they wanted was to see Jerusalem rebuilt and God’s people cared for. Nehemiah travelled to Jerusalem as God’s representative, only to find that Sanballat and Tobiah were there representing their god – the devil. Just as Nehemiah reflected God’s character and outlook in his passion to rebuild Jerusalem, they reflected Satan’s in their strong reaction to his mission.

The devil is the avowed arch-enemy of God. He stands determined to undermine and ultimately destroy all that God’s people set out to do. We need to be on guard against him, as the apostle Peter wrote: Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

Yet, despite the fact that the devil is so real and powerful, we are never justified in making him the focus of our attention. Far too many Christians become fascinated by Satan and his activities and so succeed in giving him just the kind of attention he craves. God calls no one to be an authority on the devil. Though the Bible speaks about him it does not teach us about him. Demonology as a subject is a creation not of God but of theologians and Bible teachers. It is unhealthy and undesirable for God’s people to be studying Satan. Sufficient for us to know that he is our enemy.

Naturally, the closer we get to God the greater will be the devil’s activity against us. God’s people are a spiritual people with a spiritual God and a spiritual enemy. It is inevitable that, in seeking to please God, we discover the reality of Satan. But he is a threat to us only if we take our eyes off God and cease to walk in harmony with Him. Determined he may be, but the devil’s fate is already sealed. He is doomed to inevitable failure. He will surely lose the war. We, for our part, are responsible to see to it that he does not succeed in winning any of the battles in which we are involved.

Jesus, too, needed to establish His supremacy over the devil. Before exercising any public ministry – before performing so much as one miracle – He had to face His foe and be put to the test. And so, immediately after His baptism, He went out into the desert and fasted for forty days. Then, when He was at His lowest ebb, the devil was let loose on Him. The temptations were powerful. each being aimed at diverting Jesus away from His God-given purpose. Determined as He was to do God’s will, He found that His enemy was equally determined to prevent Him.

Those who say it was impossible for Jesus to sin reduce that dramatic encounter in the desert to the level of a charade. But it was no charade – as both Jesus and Satan well knew. The Son of God came among men not only to be with us but also to be one of us – to identify with us. To do this He laid aside all the advantages of being God so that He could, among other things, meet the devil on the same terms as we do.

So the drama which unfolded that day in the desert was a deadly serious one with enormous implications. Jesus could have yielded to Satan. In fact it took everything He had to resist. His victory came only as a result of Him making some very determined personal choices. It was a fight to the finish. Jesus knew that and so did Satan. Had He lost, all would have been lost, but because He won, the devil’s loss was enormous and his doom was sealed.

Whenever men set out to glorify God – identifying with Him and doing His will – they will inevitably experience Satanic opposition. Yet we should never be afraid of the devil. Granted, you would be foolish to underestimate him or treat him lightly, but so long as you keep making the right choices as Jesus did – so long as you go on obeying God whatever the cost – you have nothing to fear.

Some who are not confident about their ability to handle spiritual opposition try to pretend otherwise, resulting in a retreat into unreality. Trying to sound bold and confident, they try to make the opposition go away by loudly “claiming the victory”, using Jesus’ name or “pleading the blood” – as if they were mouthing magic incantations!

Happily, Nehemiah had no need to be like that. Undaunted by opposition, he was not afraid to face it for what it was. And just as well, for he certainly had a lot of it to face.

Facing The Facts

Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem to find the city in ruins and his enemies hatching plots against him:

I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days I set out during the night with a few men. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on.

By night I went out through the Valley Gate towards the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. Then I moved on towards the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool, but there was not enough room for my mount to get through; so l went up the valley by night, examining the wall. Finally, I turned back and re-entered through the Valley Gate. The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work.

Compare Nehemiah’s approach to that of today’s attention-and-publicity-seeking “men of God”, How different it was! He was in no hurry to share his plans. Everyone knew he was up to something, yet he made no haste to talk about the purpose of his mission. There would be time enough for that. In the meantime there was something he had to do. He wanted to see for himself the stark reality of the situation so that he could proceed with his plans, not with careless optimism but in the light of that reality. So, instead of engaging in big talk, he had observed discretion and set about to look closely at the task he had taken on.

There is a world of difference between a man of faith and an optimist. An optimist prefers to ignore those aspects of a situation which he regards as negative on the unreal premise that “everything will be all right”. Such people are very bad at facing up to anything which calls into question their hopes and plans. They are threatened by “negative” facts simply because their optimism is not soundly based. A man of faith, on the other hand, finds he can afford to look at the starkest of facts – however daunting – and still not be threatened by them. Because his faith is in God, he has no need to be carried along by optimism. He can look squarely at the odds arrayed against him and remain unmoved. He has all he needs to succeed and he knows it. With conviction he can say: “I know what I’m up against, yet that doesn’t stop me because I also know what God has said and I trust Him”.

Optimism is no substitute for faith – as one would-be disciple soon discovered when he rushed up to Jesus, enthusiastically declaring: “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go!” Unmoved, Jesus looked him in the eye and said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Why respond in such a fashion? Why be a wet blanket when someone is so keen? Jesus had perceived something about that young man. He could see that he was an optimist rather than a realist. His approach was shallow, sweeping and impulsively optimistic. As such it lacked substance because it was not rooted in reality. Despite his dramatic pledge to follow Jesus anywhere, something as basic as not even having a bed for the night would be enough to put a dent in his commitment! Jesus knew this and His response was calculated to inject some reality into the man’s enthusiasm. Though He was never one to discourage potential followers whose commitment was soundly based, Jesus certainly knew how to bring them down to earth if it was not!

And so we find Nehemiah the realist riding his horse through the ruins of Jerusalem at night. All around him lay the indisputable evidence of the immensity of the task ahead. What a test of his faith that must have been as his horse picked its way through the rubble. How right he had been to allow himself this time of facing stark reality before involving any others in his plans. He had to see it all for himself and be sure of his own commitment before daring to share it with his people. He well knew that, once the project became public knowledge, deeds rather than words would be the order of the day.

Only after experiencing that firsthand encounter with reality, and satisfying himself about his own unswerving determination to take up the challenge, did Nehemiah speak about it to the local officials:

“You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins. and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.”

At that point it’s quite likely some of Nehemiah’s hearers felt something less than enthusiasm. His words may well have seemed far from those of a realist. He was, after all, just a new arrival. But they lived there: they knew exactly how bad things were and they also knew the vastness of the kind of thing he was proposing. In the midst of all their hardship the last thing they needed was some zealous fanatic holding out hopes that could not be realised.

Before any such feelings could be expressed, however, Nehemiah went on to tell them his story. Their response was immediate: “Let us start rebuilding!”.

Building A Body

As they listened to Nehemiah’s story, the leaders of Jerusalem’s community recognized that God was behind the whole thing. Their response was spontaneous, which must have been very heartening for Nehemiah. More importantly, it heralded a vital new development – the formation of a team. And a special team at that, for it came together on the basis of mutual faith and commitment. Catching Nehemiah’s vision the men had risen up as one: “Let’s get on with it!” was their cry.

Suddenly Nehemiah was multiplied. Previously he and he alone had been committed to God’s plan for rebuilding Jerusalem. Now that had all changed. Though that one-man beginning had been a necessary starting point, his newly-formed team was now the key to further progress.

And here we see a divine principle. The prophet Isaiah put it this way: “Here am I, and the children the Lord has given me”. According to Hebrews 2:13 lsaiah was prophetically quoting Jesus. He, too, began his ministry as just one man with a calling from God. While still alone in His calling He went through a period of preparation and testing. Then and only then did He begin to gather others around Himself- the “children” given to Him by His Father. That body is His Church, and His calling has become the Church’s calling.

I first understood this principle during 1973, when God gave me the vision for Outreach International. For some three years before that I had been aware of a personal calling to some kind of worldwide ministry, but my limited understanding had led me to see that as applying exclusively to me. I had seen it as my ministry, my calling. That, after all, was what I saw around me. One-man ministries abounded, and they still do.

But when God showed me that there was to be a family of churches called Outreach International, He also made it clear that only through such a body could the calling He had given me be fulfilled. The accomplishment of His purposes depended not only on me but also on those He had given (and would give) to me. It was then that He led me to those words: I, and the children the Lord has given me, and said, “When I call a man I also call a body which I build around that man’s calling”.

Though God begins a work by calling an individual, His intention is never to leave it at that. His purposes require a body – a people. Which explains something of what the ministry of an apostle is about. He is a man called by God to establish something for Him. Obedience to the call means going forward with God. Then, in God’s way and in God’s time, the apostle begins to gather others who are destined to share his calling.

In that sense Nehemiah was an apostle – a God-sent pioneer – a trail-blazer. He went out prepared to do whatever God asked of him. Yet he could never have built the walls of Jerusalem singlehanded. He needed people – given to him by God and inspired by the same vision. He needed to be surrounded by a united body saying; “We can do it!” – and he got them.

Facing Accusations

No sooner did Nehemiah have his team together than there was an increase in opposition:

But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. What is this you are doing?” they asked. “Are you rebelling against the king?”

I answered them by saying, “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.”

The line of attack now hurled at Nehemiah and his men was strong though subtle, for it accusingly questioned their motives. Sanballat and Tobiah, joined now by Gesham the Arab, went so far as to claim that the builders were plotting outright rebellion against the king himself. That must have hurt. After all, none of us enjoys having such aspersions cast on us when we know our motives are pure. And, if you are not careful, such attacks can directly hinder your relationship with God.

If, out of a sincere and pure heart, you passionately want to please God the very intensity of your desire can cause you to be over-anxious about your motives. If you allow yourself to get caught up in that kind of introspection you issue the devil with an open invitation to feed your anxieties. And He knows only too well how to get you caught up in agonising over your motives. Then instead of moving forward you will become bogged down in a quagmire of doubt and misgiving. How foolish – and how wrong!

Belief in your own motives is vital to spiritual success. If God has called you He has, in so doing, demonstrated His belief and trust in you. That, in itself, is all you need as a basis for believing and trusting in yourself. Whether or not you feel worthy or capable is not the point. God knows best and it is both foolish and sinful to disagree with Him.

How tragic it is when someone who has received a sacred trust from God backs off saying, “I’m just not sure I can trust my own motives”. What a way to handle a God-given responsibility! If you really mean business with God, if His Spirit is within you and guiding you, then not trusting yourself is the same as not trusting Him! He is, after all, not merely God “out there”- He is also God within you. It’s simply not enough to speak of trusting God unless, at the same time, you also demonstrate trust in His Spirit who is within you.

True sons of God are those who are led by His Spirit. If you have given Him control of your life it is your responsibility to trust yourself as one who is led by Him. Otherwise you do not really trust God. Had Nehemiah not learned to trust his motives as well as his God he would never have been fit to lead others in God’s work. But he had and he was, so a team was formed – an enthusiastic body, ready to take on the task.

That undoubtedly was a major step forward, yet the real challenge still lay ahead, and he knew it. This was no time for sitting back and indulging in self-congratulation, as if the formation of a team automatically guaranteed their success. Their situation now required an unprecedented degree of application and determination. With a God-given vision before them, they needed to put everything into obeying their calling. Only as a result of a great combined effort, entailing much self-sacrifice and self-discipline, would they ever attain their goal.

Repairing The Breach

We now come to the third chapter of the book of Nehemiah. This consists mainly of a list of those who worked shoulder to shoulder as the work of rebuilding got underway. There were a number of distinct groups working side by side, each playing its part in that massive task, so that the picture presented to us is one of a great, united effort. Though the work was exhaustingly heavy they all put their backs into it. Well almost all …but more of that later.

Because this chapter consists of a list rather than a narrative our concern will be with its general theme, rather than in following it through verse by verse.

As they squared up to the great task of rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall Nehemiah’s workers must have felt more excited than daunted. Inspired by their leader, they had grasped at the opportunity of being involved in something so dear to their hearts, approaching it with enthusiasm and dedication. Which was just as well because it was not something to be done by halves. Once begun, Jerusalem’s wall could not be left unfinished. It had to be an all-or-nothing venture.

It was imperative in those days for any city to have a wall, otherwise it would be quite defenceless. Hence both the distress of those living in wall-less Jerusalem, and the determination of their enemies to prevent the wall from being built. To perform its function, though, a city wall would have to be complete, without any breaks or breaches. If any part of it was broken down or if any of its gates would not close the city’s defences would be incomplete, rendering it vulnerable to attack. Even the smallest gap could give an enemy access. Security depended on the wall being capable of completely sealing the city off. So Jerusalem, with its broken-down walls and burned-down gates, was in a frighteningly exposed and vulnerable state.

That situation has a present-day parallel in the Church. So often throughout history God’s Spirit has moved through dedicated men. Like Nehemiah, they responded in faith and obedience, gathering around them others who shared their vision and calling. Together they performed God’s work in God’s way, with the result that He was glorified and his people were blessed and provided for.

So many movements and bodies have come into being in this way. Unfortunately the passage of time changes things. Almost without exception, within a generation or two the inheritors of God’s calling have departed from the truths and principles practiced by their fathers. Once God’s Spirit ceases to be given free reign over His people things soon change for the worst. Of course He does not give up easily. He is quick, under such circumstances, to point out to His people the error of their ways. Often, though, without success. Their stubborn refusal to heed His warnings leaves Him with no alternative other than to step back, withdraw His blessing and allow destruction and decay to take over.

Imagine God allowing the enemy to come in and destroy the very thing which once brought glory to His name and fulfilment to His people! Tragically, there have been many occasions when His people have given Him no choice.

God is love, but He is not sentiment. That which ceases to glorify Him – no matter how effectively it may have done so in the past – ceases to justify its existence. Though it breaks His heart, He must be true to Himself. Once His people fall away from Him and refuse to repent they compel Him to disown that which once bore His name. So numerous have such incidents been throughout Church history that we, in our day, have inherited a great deal of ruin and debris – the decayed remains of so much which, at one time or another, glorified God.

In the light of such an abysmal record, you may well be tempted to wonder if it’s worth all the effort in the first place. It is. Though history gives us little to hope for beyond the achievements of the pioneering generation, our source of hope and encouragement is not history, but God Himself. He it is who calls us to live by faith, so that we move forward with our eyes on the goals He sets before us. The reason He does not give up is not because He is stubborn but because He knows that, when all is said and done, His will will be done! He has not lost faith in humanity, even though He, more than anyone else, has been hurt and rejected again and again by those He trusted in. Not only does He intend to carry out all His plans and purposes, but He also intends to do it through human channels.

He is “the God of all hope” for us in our day as He was for Nehemiah and his co-workers in theirs. They rose up at God’s bidding and threw themselves into obeying Him; and He expects no less from us.

Achieving Great Things

Though Christians are usually thankful that God has loved them and Jesus has saved them, they often tend to think of themselves as having little in the way of personal significance in God’s kingdom. While that may seem like humility to some, its effect is to hamper the extent to which God can involve them in His plans and purposes. Not only Has He loved us and made us recipients of His benefits, He also wants to involve us fully- as intimate friends and trusted co-workers – in the things which are important to Him.

Can you imagine Nehemiah playing down his value in God’s eyes? Had he “humbly” refused to believe the extent of God’s trust and confidence in him I doubt if he could have inspired his people to build so much as a picket fence around Jerusalem! The fact that they succeeded so well in building a massive stone wall owes much to Nehemiah’s personal belief and confidence. and to his ability to lead his people into having the same sort of approach.

Looking way ahead of his time, the prophet Isaiah had much to say about the ministry of Jesus and His Church. He summed up our calling in this way:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives and release for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion –
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour.” (Isaiah 61:1-3)

Those words apply not only to Jesus but also to us – His Church. Like Him, we have been given God’s Spirit so as to impart His life, changing the people and situations around us. As we allow that Spirit to lead and empower us – as we embrace our calling – we become like oaks, steadfast and immovable. Our roots go deep down into our relationship with God, enabling us to flourish and live increasingly for His glory.

Yet our calling goes further than that, for Isaiah went on to write:

“They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.”

Once again we are presented with a picture of destruction and ruin, the result of generations of neglect and disobedience on the part of God’s people.

Here in England, where I am writing, there is much physical evidence of this. It is a country full of churches which are largely empty. Though in years gone by they may have stood as evidence of man’s desire for God, today many of them are little more than sepulchres. Like the old graves which surround them they are decaying memorials to what once was.

This country has, after all, seen a number of spiritual revivals over the centuries. Great preachers such as John Wesley and George Whitfield turned thousands to God. The Welsh revival, which took place early this century, made a great impact in its time. Yet, today, so much of that is mere history. It is hardly surprising then that some look back on it all and ask, “Did it achieve anything of lasting significance?” On present evidence the enemy, who appeared to have been so soundly defeated at the time, won out after all.

Yet God has said that those who are led by His Spirit will rebuild such once-great ruins. His works are not finished yet. By the time they are, it will be clear to all that He is the winner after all. Of that there can be no doubt. Yet it is your choice which will decide whether or not you have a part in His ultimate victory. He certainly has a place for you – provided you meet His conditions. And they are uncompromising.

Every one of us is called by Him to discipleship, to the great privilege of being co-workers with Him in the setting up of His kingdom. By its very nature discipleship is demanding and you may, at times, wish there was some other way. There isn’t. Not if you want to please God anyway. It boils down to a matter of will. You can meet all His conditions, provided it is important enough to you. Saying. “I can’t,” really means, “I won’t”.

The response of Nehemiah’s men – summed up in their spontaneous exclamation: “Let us start rebuilding!” – is the kind God looks for. It’s people like that who “rebuild the ancient ruins”, “restore the places long devastated” and “renew the ruined cities”. In short, they are the people who glorify God.

Isaiah had yet more to say concerning those who build with God:

What exciting promises! Especially so because they apply to anyone who is prepared to relate and respond to God on His terms.

“And you will be called priests of the Lord, you will be named ministers of our God.
You will feed on the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast.

Instead of their shame my people will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace they will rejoice in their inheritance;
and so they will inherit a double portion in their land, and everlasting joy will be theirs.

‘For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and iniquity.
In my faithfulness I will reward them and make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the Lord has blessed.’”

We are all called to be “priests of the Lord”, living in His abundance. He wants us to be the kind of people He can be glorified in – sharing His victories, His triumphs, His achievements. There’s another side to it too, of course. It also means having to contend with His enemies, but that is not a daunting prospect because He lifts us up onto a plane of existence which makes even the greatest trials more than worthwhile. To grasp the reality of this, to take hold of it and experience it, is truly exhilarating and liberating.

No wonder Isaiah went on to joyfully write:

“I delight greatly in the Lord: my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.

There was a time, a few years ago, when I started growing my own vegetables from seed. To begin with I had to get the seeds to germinate, so l planted them in containers of compost. watered them, and waited… and waited. It didn’t take long for me to realise that even that little operation required patience. Those tiny seeds simply refused to be rushed. Whatever I did made no difference. They insisted on sprouting in their own good time. Sometimes I would check them four or five times a day. There’s a saying that a watched kettle never boils; I began to get the feeling that a watched seed never sprouts! But, at the right time, they did – and how. With only one season in which to mature and bear fruit they wasted no time once they got going! I could almost see the growth taking place before my eyes as that strong, steady, silent release of life unfolded.

Even when such a plant is no more than a mere shoot its potential is apparent. Like a proud father I admired my young vegetable plants (yes, four or five times a day!) already envisioning the fruit they would surely bear. The life which previously had been contained within those tiny seeds had been released. Springing forth, it held out the promise of steady growth. resulting in much fruit.

This is the kind of picture Isaiah was presenting. He said that as surely as a garden brings forth its shoots and causes the seeds sown in it to spring up, so the Lord will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all nations. That is His promise. This world will see Him glorified and everything else will pale into insignificance beside His glory.

Looking around you at what is presently in evidence, does Isaiah’s prophecy seem like some sort of impossible dream? At this point it can really only be seen by faith, nevertheless it will surely come to pass. Not only that, but we are destined to play a vital part in its fulfilment. Will you then give yourself to God, allowing Him to take you – all that you are and all that you have – and do with you as He wants, for His own glory’?

Preparing The Way

Far too many Christians are sitting around, marking time, instead of listening to God and acting on His word. Their approach is one of leaving the kingdom-building to Him, while they draw on his benefits and look forward to Heaven. How wrong they are! Deliberately or otherwise, they miss one very vital aspect of belonging to God: that of being totally involved with Him in His works.

Praying, “Your will be done,” is meaningless, unless you are really saying, “Your will be done through me”. Your involvement with God in the building up of His kingdom is not optional – it is indispensable.

There is a danger of looking at what isn’t happening, so that you settle for wishing that there would be a greater move of God’s Spirit. You can then go on to claim that you are “waiting on the Lord” for that to take place. But mere waiting is not enough. Before God can pour out His Spirit in the way He has promised there is a work of rebuilding and preparation to be done.

Elijah was a prophet of God and a great man. In his time he faced the daunting challenge of having to be God’s spokesman to an apostate people. Consequently he was confronted with a great deal of opposition. His countrymen had turned from God and were worshipping the demon god Baal, provoking God to the point where He decided to bring things to a head. And Elijah was His chosen instrument.

Acting under God’s instructions, the prophet called the people to assemble at Mount Carmel for a public demonstration which would settle once and for all the question of just who was the real god. The odds in Elijah’s favour did not look promising. While BaaI’s prophets numbered four hundred and fifty, he alone spoke for God. Yet he did as he was commanded and organised the gathering. Then, with all the people assembled on the mountain, he issued his challenge:

” ‘How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God. follow him.’

But the people said nothing.

Then Elijah said to them, ‘I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. Get two bulls for us. Let them choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire – he is God.’

Then all the people said, ‘What you say is good.’ “ (1 Kings 18:21-24)

It was their turn first, so Baal’s prophets tried very hard to meet the challenge. No matter what they did though, no matter how loudly they cried out as they danced in a frenzy around their altar with blood gushing from the ritual cuts they had inflicted upon themselves, no fire came down from their god to consume their sacrifice. By the time Baal’s prophets had concluded their frantic, fruitless demonstration, the people – Baal worshippers all were starting to feel rather insecure.

Then Elijah called them to gather around him. They had seen the failure of their god, now they sensed that the drama was approaching its climax. It was then, at that critical, climactic point, that Elijah did something totally unspectacular and undramatic. He began picking up stones and stacking them on top of one another. What was he doing? He was repairing the altar of the Lord which was in mine.

Before God could be glorified – before His fire could come down from Heaven – there was work to be done. The altar which had been broken down by his apostate people had to be rebuilt. So, with the people gathered around him, the prophet- turned-builder repaired the Lord’s altar stone by stone.

Surely God could have kept up the spiritual tone of the occasion by, for instance, dropping a new altar marked “made in Heaven” from the sky! Wasn’t it just a bit insensitive and uncaring of Him to just stand back while His man bent his back, sweated and laboured, and worked with his own hands to build His altar? It certainly must have brought a lull to the proceedings. I can well imagine some of the spectators losing interest, now that the excitement seemed to have past.

There is always lots of interest whenever something sensational is taking place. Miracles inevitably draw a crowd, but how many want to stick around when nothing but hard work is on the program? Yet it is hard work which prepares the way. Before God’s promised outpouring can take place there must be a disciplined, dedicated effort by His people.

Soon, however, the story of Elijah on Mount Carmel moved on to its inevitable, spectacular climax. With the altar completed and the sacrifice placed upon it – together with a lot of water to really make it hard for God – His fire came down, dramatically proving Him to be the real God. With that, all the people turned back to Him crying, “The Lord – He is God! The Lord – He is God!” How exciting! How marvellous! How spectacular! Yet remember – before that great event took place someone had to do some rebuilding.

While I referred to the ruins of past spiritual revivals, it is also true to say that there have been some significant and well- publicised developments on the Christian scene over the past twenty or so years. With these occurrences becoming widespread, many have been drawn into the role of action- seekers. Looking to find out where the action is, they do all they can to get in on it. Interestingly, many of those same people never seem to be around when there’s a wall or an altar to be built! They seek the excitement, not the work, and that is just not good enough. We must all be ready and willing to put our shoulders into whatever work God may call us.

If God is to be glorified and His will be done, there is a price which must be paid and an effort which must be expended by His people.

There was another time in the history of God’s people when His house, the Temple, was broken down. The people had just let God slide ever lower down their list of priorities, resulting in an apathetic neglect of all that pertained to Him. Worship and sacrifice were no longer important to them and the Temple fell into a stale of serious disrepair. But then things began to change. King Joash decided that God’s Temple must be repaired, restored and returned to its rightful place of prominence.

Gathering the priests and Levites together, he commanded them to go out to all the cities of Judah and collect money on an annual basis, emphasising that they should act quickly. They, for their part, did not share the king’s sense of urgency. Instead of hastening to obey, they took their time. So, while Joash felt strongly about the need to return God to His rightful place, the very ones whose responsibility it was to look after His interests were complacent about it!

When the king discovered their laxity he decided on another course of action. He ordered that a large chest be placed outside the gate of the Temple. Then he made a proclamation, calling on all the people to bring their gifts and place them in the chest, giving freely for the care and upkeep of His house.

In contrast to the lax Levites, the people saw this not as a burden but as an opportunity. They rejoiced at the king’s proclamation, and responded accordingly. As a result, the Temple was soon restored to its former glory. Once more it became a place in which God was worshipped and glorified.

Here again we see the same principle: the broken-down state of God’s house required a great deal of money and effort before He could be glorified in it.

God is speaking to His Church today. He is pinning down the real issues, and showing us the things which are important to Him. He is calling us to put much effort – much of ourselves – Into building with Him. 

The task is by no means a small one and He expects us to give ourselves to it completely. He is faithful, though, and to those who obey Him He has made this beautiful promise:

“The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” (Isaiah 58:11&12)

He promises to attend to our needs while, at the same time, He extends to us the priceless privilege of building those things which glorify Him and meet the needs of His people.

The Danger Of Independence

Although, in referring to the third chapter of Nehemiah, I have concentrated on its theme, rather than looking at it verse by verse, there is one verse which does have special relevance. It concerns the Tekoite nobles – and it constitutes a warning to us all.

The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors. (verse 5)

Those men kept themselves aloof from the work. Perhaps they thought it was beneath them to dirty their hands in such menial labour. Whatever their reason, they were wrong. In the midst of all the others who worked so earnestly and willingly, they presented themselves as some sort of “elite” group who had unilaterally decided that wall-building just wasn’t for them.

Even though a body of people as such may be obeying God, there can still be within that body those who independently choose their own course – refusing to conform where it doesn’t suit them.

In the case of Nehemiah’s people, everyone else from the least to the greatest put on their work clothes, rolled up their sleeves and gave themselves to the work of rebuilding the wall. Whether nobles or not, they had a task to perform and they worked at it together. They were all one. The Tekoite nobles who chose to remain aloof simply missed out. The work went ahead just the same. It was they who were the losers.

It is always possible to be like one of those nobles – independent and charting your own course, picking and choosing just when and where you will be involved, without regard for the direction in which God is leading the church you belong to. To be like that, though, is to cause a separation to take place between you and those who, in contrast. are whole- heartedly responding to God. Such a separation will not be their fault. They are the ones who are giving it all they’ve got, while you act independently. Certainly you can choose to remain aloof at your whim. but not without paying a price.

Doing God’s work means doing God’s work. There is no lack of Christian workers in the world, just a lack of people giving themselves to God. There is much to be done for the setting up of God’s kingdom, but nothing of any real value can be achieved unless it results out of a heart-to-heart involvement with Him.

It is a marvellous thing to progress from simply having a great desire for God to the point of actually working with Him. Yet even that is but a beginning. There is so much more to learn and experience – as Nehemiah was soon to discover. In Book 3. Opposition and Selfishness, we will be looking at some of the obstacles in the way of progress in God’s work, and how to deal with them.

Tony Kostas

Tony Kostas was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1941, where at the age of seventeen, he committed his life to Jesus at a Billy Graham Crusade. In 1967 he founded the Melbourne Outreach Crusade, a non-denominational evangelistic outreach. This later grew into Outreach International, which is now a worldwide body of believers, who share a God-given calling and are committed to live in love with Him and with one another.

Tony’s life is a true expression of all that God has revealed to him throughout the years, in its purity and focus on loving God. His passion is for God to have the desire of His hears: a people who truly represent Him because they are His and His alone.