by Mike Shannon
I once saw a sign posted in a business that said, “When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” That is good advice for anyone, but especially good advice for those who work in the church. Many factors can potentially discourage us in church work. There are many times we are prone to give up, but God’s work requires staying power. Nehemiah knew that. Nehemiah had staying power.
Sometimes we are filled with good intentions. We begin a job, but when the boring and tedious parts come we walk away. This is, I suppose, a common human failing. However, our character is developed not in the exciting times but in the routine times. The job itself can become discouraging, but if it needs to be done, and it is a job God has commanded, then we must persist.
Sometimes it is not the boring part of the job, but the challenging parts that engender discouragement. Critics often threaten us. Nehemiah had such a critic in a man known as Sanballat, along with his co-critics Tobiah and Geshem. It was not long after Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem to rebuild the city walls that Sanballat and company resisted him fiercely; they even laughed in his face. He ridiculed those who worked with Nehemiah. Not only did Sandballat conclude the job was impossible, he mocked those who tried to accomplish it, calling them “feeble.” Their critics suggested that a fox could knock the wall down. They tried to distract Nehemiah with requests for meetings. They spread slander about Nehemiah and suggested nefarious motives, once even claiming he was trying to set himself up as king. I suppose every church has a Sanballat. When nothing else worked he resorted to threats, suggesting something bad just might happen, but Nehemiah simply would not relent. When Sanballat asked Nehemiah to come and consult with him, Nehemiah calmly, but firmly, replied, “I can’t come down from this great work” (Neh. 6:3).
Critics are too often allowed to control the agenda. The harshest critic, of course, is usually the one who has never accomplished anything. The critic is free to find fault with everything because he/she has never personally taken the risk of trying and failing. Generally, you will find that critics are rarely doers and doers are rarely critics. We should be humble enough listen to genuine feedback, particularly if it comes from those who are wise, but we should never let the pathological critic force us to come down from a great work.
We can change direction, change strategies, change tactics, but we must persist in our mission. Remember when Paul came to Corinth, he had many reasons to quit. He was discouraged, lonely, in poor health, and faced sharp criticism. In the midst of that discouragement God promised Paul that he was with him. God sent him people to help him deal with his great task, and a great church was built in Corinth. Since God does not quit on us, we don’t have to quit in His work.
We must expect the discouragers to come, but we must be strong enough to resist their influence. In spite of the chronic critics, we can succeed if we are determined God’s work should, can, and will be done. No doubt, most of the jobs we will take on are not nearly as challenging as building the city wall in Jerusalem. Think of what we could do if we just had a little staying power.