They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.” But I prayed, “Now strengthen my hands.” … So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realised that this work had been done with the help of our God. Nehemiah 6:9, 15-16.
It is around 445 BC. Nehemiah, cup-bearer to King Artaxerxes, has been given permission to return from Babylon (where he and his fellow Jews have been held in exile) to Jerusalem which still lies in burnt out ruins. He has felt the call of God to rebuild its broken walls, but as he builds he encounters not only jeers but threats of violence from the surrounding tribes. And Nehemiah understands something very important about the fear those threats create: it can weaken the hands of those doing the work. Fear of failure saps strength and actually makes failure more likely. That is a principle I have discovered to be true over and over again in my own life.
So Nehemiah takes action — the most appropriate action there is. He asks the Lord to strengthen his hands; and as a result, because of the Lord’s help, the wall is completed. What a simple lesson, but how slow I can be to apply it … especially where the work is not “spiritual” work. It is almost second nature to pray, “Lord, help me … work through me, etc” when I’m about to preach, engage in prayer ministry and the like, but not when I’m stuck with, say, a web-design difficulty. Then, with a website down and a client breathing down my neck demanding I fix it, I can easily start to be afraid of failure. I can easily begin to panic, stop thinking clearly, lose focus … and start to bring the failure about.
Why is that? Is it because I don’t think Jesus understands the complexity of a piece of PHP coding or the structure of a MySQL database? Not really; I know he does. I think perhaps it’s more of this subconscious, artificial divide we have today between sacred and secular. Nehemiah knew of no such divide. For him and his fellow Jews, all of life was lived out in response to God’s call and all of it had God’s concern. And Nehemiah would tell me, I’m sure: “Your work as a web designer is no less a calling of God than your work as a preacher, and the Lord is there to help you succeed in both.”
George Herbert (1593-1633) understood this:
A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine;
Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws
Makes that and th’ action fine.
So too did Brother Lawrence (1605-1691) who “in his business in the kitchen (to which he had naturally a great aversion), having accustomed himself to do everything there for the love of GOD, and with prayer, upon all occasions, for His grace to do his work well … had found everything easy, during the fifteen years that he had been employed there.” (The Practice of the Presence of God, Second Conversation).
Lord, whatever difficulties I encounter in whatever work I do this day, please strengthen my hands … my mind … my heart, so that the work may be done well and for your glory. Amen.