As I was studying Nehemiah 6 this past week I was struck with the reality of the time I have wasted during my life. It didn’t happen the first time I read through the chapter, but as I settled in, dug a little deeper, took a closer look at each word and each verse the Lord overwhelmed me with the amount of time, precious time, I’ve wasted in my life. How many hours in a day? How many days in a month? I really don’t think I want to know the sum total of the amount of time I’ve wasted through the years. It would be devastating.
Oh the time I have wasted on unnecessary things, unproductive endeavors, trivial pursuits, and meaningless, monotonous, time-wasting passions that looking back truly had no purpose. How much time have I spent complaining about things that were totally out of my control? How much time have I wasted sulking, moping around because I didn’t get my way, because things didn’t fall in my favor, because someone had it better than me? How much precious time have I spent worrying, even agonizing over the news I learned that someone didn’t like me, someone wasn’t pleased with me, someone said something about me that was hurtful or wasn’t true? Oh, how I could have better used the time I spent on envying someone else’s good fortune and philosophizing over the question, “Why me?” What could I have done instead of scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, endlessly scrolling through social media? How many times have I said, “Yes” to someone I didn’t want to disappoint, even though my “Yes” meant that I had to say, “No” to something else far more important, something with eternal significance? Oh the time I have wasted! My confession to you this morning doesn’t even scratch the surface of the details of the time I’ve wasted.
Dr. Benjamin E. Mays was a giant among giants when it comes to leaders. He was a pastor, theologian, and educator. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1935. He was named President of Morehouse College in 1940. Dr. Mays led that great institution of higher learning, one of the great historically black colleges in America, for 27 years. His most famous student, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called Dr. Mays his “mentor.” He credited Dr. Mays with laying the foundation for the civil rights movement that Dr. King led. How did Dr. Mays accomplish so much? I’m not sure, but I think I can gain some insight from a poem he wrote,
I have only just a minute, Only sixty seconds in it, Forced upon me, can’t refuse it, Didn’t seek it, didn’t choose it, But it’s up to me to use it, I must suffer if I lose it, Give account if I abuse it, Just a tiny little minute, but eternity is in it. (Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays)
When you live your life in minutes, examining each and every decision as critical and decisive, then you tend to accomplish so much more than those who live their lives in years, not understanding the gift and significance of this very minute and each and every decision.
As I have been studying Nehemiah 6 this past week I’ve been so impressed with the singular focus of Nehemiah and his unwillingness to be distracted. You have to remember what it was that brought Nehemiah to Jerusalem from Susa, the winter home of the Persian King Artaxerxes whom Nehemiah served as his cupbearer. When Nehemiah heard the news of what was happening in Jerusalem he was distraught. He broke down and cried and began to pray. God moved in Nehemiah’s prayers. He opened a door for Nehemiah to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the wall around the city…and with the king’s blessing and financial support.
We saw last week, in Nehemiah 5, that even though God’s favor was upon Nehemiah there were many obstacles and adversaries he had to deal with in rebuilding the wall. There were adversaries outside of the walls and Nehemiah discovered opportunists inside the walls who were willing to use and abuse their own people. Nehemiah stayed focused and he dealt with every obstacle: Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem, and the surrounding nations who didn’t want the wall rebuilt in Nehemiah 4 and his own people who were destroying the lives of those in their own community in Nehemiah 5. As we turn the page to Nehemiah 6 we find some old adversaries are back at it again. Let’s read together from Nehemiah 6:1-9.
1 When word came to Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall and not a gap was left in it– though up to that time I had not set the doors in the gates– 2 Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.” But they were scheming to harm me; 3 so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” 4 Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer. 5 Then, the fifth time, Sanballat sent his aide to me with the same message, and in his hand was an unsealed letter 6 in which was written: “It is reported among the nations– and Geshem says it is true– that you and the Jews are plotting to revolt, and therefore you are building the wall. Moreover, according to these reports you are about to become their king 7 and have even appointed prophets to make this proclamation about you in Jerusalem: ‘There is a king in Judah!’ Now this report will get back to the king; so come, let us meet together.” 8 I sent him this reply: “Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head.” 9 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.” (Nehemiah 6:1-9 NIV)
The enemies of Nehemiah and of God’s people were back at it again, but this time they were changing their tactics. You have to go back to Nehemiah 4 to understand what I’m talking about. In Nehemiah 4, we read that Sanballat, when he heard Nehemiah and the Jews were rebuilding the wall after it had been breached and broken for 100 years, began to mock Nehemiah and the workers. His buddy Tobiah joined in with him in verse 3. When mocking and ridicule didn’t work, they decided to go and make war on Nehemiah and the workers. Look at Nehemiah 4:7-9 with me.
7 But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the people of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. 8 They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. 9 But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat. (Nehemiah 4:7-9 NIV)
Sanballat, Tobiah, and their friends ratcheted up the pressure as they turned from ridicule and mockery to a declaration of all-out war. If we can’t deter you with ridicule then we’ll destroy you with force. I love Nehemiah’s response. Did you notice it? He said we prayed and we posted a guard. So, the Lord answered Nehemiah’s prayers and the guards were effective in turning back the enemy. Nehemiah had to have been glad to get that challenge behind him, or so he thought.
When we read the opening verses of Nehemiah 6 we learn that Nehemiah and the workers were almost finished with the project. The only thing they had left to do was to set the gates in place. That’s an important step. There’s no way the city would be secure until the gates were set in place. And then the enemies of God’s people showed up once again. The enemy of God’s people does not give up so easily. The enemy is persistent. The enemy is cunning. The enemy of God’s people is relentless. And so they show up again in Nehemiah 6, but this time they used a different tactic. Did you notice it? They sent a messenger to deliver a message to Nehemiah. The messenger said, “Nehemiah, let’s get together and talk. Things don’t have to go down like this. We’re neighbors. Surely we can work this thing out. We’d love to meet you in one of the villages on the plain of Ono. Come on down Nehemiah.” Nehemiah said, “Ono?” “Oh no! You’re not going to get me to stop this great work!” And there’s a reason for that my friend.
The name Ono probably doesn’t mean anything to you, but I want us to understand so let’s take a minute. Where Sanballat and Geshem wanted to meet with Nehemiah was 20-25 miles away from Jerusalem. Ono is located up by what we know as Tel Aviv today. Nehemiah would have been away from Jerusalem, away from the work the Lord had given him to do, for three or four days. Nehemiah said, “You want to meet me where? Why can’t we meet at the fish gate? I’ve got work to do. I can’t leave my work.” There’s a reason why they wanted Nehemiah as far away from Jerusalem as they could get him. You see, not only would he have been away from the work the Lord had given him, but Ono was located on the border of Samaria and Ashdod, both of those regions were hostile towards God’s people…it was a setup and Nehemiah smelled a rat. So Nehemiah said, “Why would I waste my time meeting with you!”
They wouldn’t take “No” for an answer. We read in verse 4 that the messenger came to Nehemiah four times with the same request. Every time they came to him, Nehemiah gave the messenger the same answer, “Why would I waste my time meeting with you?”
Now, somebody here this morning is thinking, “That doesn’t sound very Christian. Shouldn’t Nehemiah have given Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem a chance?” You might have a case if this were the first time that Nehemiah had ever come in contact with Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem, and their friends. Nehemiah knew them all too well. He knew they were as committed to their mission as he was to his and that is why he would not waste his time, not a minute of his time, on talking with them.
Somebody needs to hear me this morning. How much time have we wasted trying to get people to like us that won’t like us no matter what we do? How much time have we wasted trying to explain ourselves and trying to convince those that God Himself couldn’t convince? Some folk’s hearts are as hard as a rock and how much time have we wasted trying to soften those hard hearts? Stop wasting your time in trying to do what only the Holy Spirit can do. Some folks are like Sanballat and Tobiah–they are opposed to any and everything God is doing and you and I will never convince them of anything different. So why waste your time? Get back to doing what God has given you to do and stop wasting your time. Life is too short and the work God has given you to do is too important. Get back to work! Do you remember the message sent back to Sanballat and Tobiah?
3 …I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you? (Nehemiah 6:3 NIV)
Nehemiah knew he was doing God’s work. You may see building a wall as menial work, nothing more than manual labor, but because God had given him the work to do Nehemiah called it a “great project.” He said, “I’m carrying on a great project…I can’t stop!” If you live and work with this kind of singular focus you can bet there’ll be plenty of folks who won’t understand. I’ve told you about the time a good friend of mine came into town for a speaking engagement. I picked him up at the airport. We came to my office. At one point in our conversation he said, “Hays, what are you still doing here?” I knew what he was saying. “Why are you still in this little church?” I explained to him why I was still at Britton Christian Church and it is out of that conversation that the Lord gave me a phrase that has stuck with me throughout these 30 years: “It’s not important that others understand what you are doing. It is important that you understand what I’ve given you to do.”
You see, Nehemiah never forgot those days he was in Susa when he was weeping, praying, fasting that God would do something to help His people in Jerusalem. Lo and behold, God opened a door! He touched the heart of a pagan king, the most powerful man in the land. The king gave Nehemiah financial resources, he sent his military to escort Nehemiah to Jerusalem, and he gave him authority, a letter letting everyone know that Nehemiah was working under his orders. Who could have done that but God? Why would Nehemiah work to win the approval of men, when he was working under the favor of Almighty God?
This reminds me of the Apostle Paul. Do you know the men of our church have been studying the book of Acts for the past 32 weeks? We have learned so much. We’ve learned that Paul ran into opposition everywhere he went. He was run out of town, beaten to the point of death, falsely accused, ridiculed, and imprisoned, but he never wavered. Only death would prevent him from doing the work God had given him to do. He wrote to the church in Corinth and said,
10 Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10 NIV)
Can I let you in on a secret? If your goal in life is to be liked, to fit in, and to stand out among your peers–you will never do the work God has for you to do. It just won’t happen.
I’ve got to show you one more thing before we get out of here this morning. We’ve seen that intimidation didn’t work for Sanballat and Tobiah. A show of force, parading their troops around the perimeter of the wall didn’t work for Sanballat and Tobiah. An invitation to a nice resort on the plains of Ono for the purpose of diplomacy didn’t move Nehemiah to leave his work either. But, I told you the enemy is persistent and unrelenting didn’t I? Turn with me to Nehemiah 6:5-7 and let’s see their next tactic.
5 Then, the fifth time, Sanballat sent his aide to me with the same message, and in his hand was an unsealed letter 6 in which was written: “It is reported among the nations– and Geshem says it is true– that you and the Jews are plotting to revolt, and therefore you are building the wall. Moreover, according to these reports you are about to become their king 7 and have even appointed prophets to make this proclamation about you in Jerusalem: ‘There is a king in Judah!’ Now this report will get back to the king; so come, let us meet together.” (Nehemiah 6:5-7 NIV)
Sanballat sent his messenger a fifth time, but this time the messenger had an open letter in his hand and as he handed it to Nehemiah he said, so everyone could hear, “Sanballat has heard a rumor about you.” Now, we need to understand that private matters were never sent in an open letter, they were sealed so no one else could be in your business. Sanballat made accusations against Nehemiah that simply weren’t true. He said he heard it from Geshem and that the nations were talking. What was the rumor that was supposedly circulating about Nehemiah? Well, let’s take a look.
- Nehemiah and the Jews were plotting a revolt against the king of Persia and that’s why they were building a wall.
- Nehemiah was positioning himself to become king.
- Nehemiah had even stooped so low as to appoint prophets to go around and announce him as the new king of Jerusalem.
The last line is the most threatening: “You know this is going to get back to Artaxerxes!” Sanballat was threatening Nehemiah. It wasn’t a veiled threat, he wanted everybody to know about these rumors that he had concocted to undermine Nehemiah’s leadership.
We can learn so much from the way Nehemiah dealt with the rumors in Sanballat’s letter. First of all, I want you to notice something that is exactly the way many rumors play out today. We read, “It is reported among the nations…” The message is this: “They are saying…” “They are talking…” Have you ever heard those words? “Mike, there are some people in the church who are not happy…” “Mike, I’m not at liberty to share any names, but…” I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard one of those lines. Do you know what I’ve come to learn? “They” is typically the person who is delivering the message. I want you to notice how Nehemiah answered the rumors. Take a look at verse 8 with me.
8 I sent him this reply: “Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head.” (Nehemiah 6:8 NIV)
Nehemiah didn’t sit down and write out a dissertation answering all of the accusations. Nehemiah didn’t say, “Let me go talk to Geshem.” He didn’t even ask which nations were saying those things about him? Nehemiah said, “There’s not a shred of truth in what you are saying. It’s all in your head. Now you’re just making stuff up!” And that is good counsel for you and for me!
I learned a great lesson many years ago from my friend Arlene Meier. Many years ago there was a man who started attending BCC. He came to worship, attended a Bible study I taught, and was so excited about what God was doing at BCC. Then one day he came to see me in my office. He had an article from The Daily Oklahoman, from many years ago, about a teenager and his friends who had done some horrible things. The teenager was now in his sixties and he was also attending BCC. I knew the man. He loved the Lord, loved his family, Jesus had transformed his life, and to tell you the truth he was brutally honest about his past. The man who came with the article wanted me to read it. After I read it he asked, “What are you going to do about it?” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Look what he did!” I explained that what he had done when he was young was horrible, but that was 50 years ago. He was not the same person as he was when he did those things. He wanted “cancel culture” before there ever was such a thing to take place that day at Britton Christian Church.
When I didn’t agree with what he thought should happen he was livid. He started calling people in our church. He even called one of my boys and told him horrible things about me that were not even remotely true. Now, you need to know I was raised in locker rooms and not in a pew so you can imagine what I wanted to do, but instead I got on the phone. I tried to talk to him, but it only fueled his fire. When that didn’t work I started calling my friends that I had heard he had called. I would call them and try to explain that it wasn’t true. Then, one day I heard he had called Arlene Meier so I picked up the phone and called her. I will never forget that phone call. Arlene said, “Mike, you didn’t need to call me and you don’t need to call anyone else. Those of us who know you don’t need a phone call. We know you. And those who don’t know you, a phone call isn’t going to help anyway.” You know what I did? I went back to work.
My friends let me tell you, a rumor is not reality. You know the truth about you. More importantly, God knows the truth about you. When others talk about you, you just keep working. Don’t try to chase down who started the rumor and those who continue to perpetuate the rumor. You just keep your head down and be about your Father’s business.
Well, we’ve got to go, but before we go I want to remind us: The work God has given us to do is too important to be so easily distracted by the unnecessary, the trivial, and the things the world finds so attractive, but which hold no eternal value whatsoever. How do we stay focused? How do we keep from allowing the Sanballats and Tobiahs to pull us away from our work? How do we resist the pull to try to win the favor of people and get everyone to like us? There are so many opportunities out there, but for those of us who want to be used by God, how do we stay focused and passionate? Those are great questions and I’ve got an answer.
In Dorothy Haskins book, A Practical Guide to Prayer, she tells the story about a young violinist who had separated herself from other violinists. She was asked one time how she had mastered the violin? Her response, “Planned neglect.” She went on to explain. She said, “There were many things which used to demand my time. When I went to my room after breakfast, I made my bed, straightened the room, I dusted, and did whatever seemed necessary. When I finished my work, I turned to my violin practice. That system failed, however, to accomplish what I wanted on the violin, so I reversed things. I deliberately planned to neglect everything else until my practice period was complete. And that program of planned neglect is the secret of my success.”
I want to ask you this morning, “What is your one thing?” For the young violinist it was mastering her instrument. Therefore, everything else had to go, it all had to take a backseat to her ambition, her passion. What’s yours? It is my prayer that your greatest desire in all of life is to know Jesus and to make Him known. If that is your heart’s desire then commit to that today, let everything else take a backseat to getting to know Jesus more and more each day and then sharing with others the things you learn. If you have never received Jesus as Lord of your life, let Him know, “Today is the day Lord that I give you my all.”
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114