Part of God’s People

Dear friend, I know this with all my heart: you matter, and not just to me or the church or your family. You matter to God, and that’s beyond all of that. God loves you and knows you by name. That’s the hope I find in the book of Nehemiah, especially chapter 7.

Nehemiah 7:1 tells us that “the wall was built and [Nehemiah] had hung the doors.” It’s tempting to think, Oh, Nehemiah’s work was done. He could just hang up a hammock somewhere and kick back, right? But Nehemiah knew Jerusalem was a virtual ghost town and would need thriving, prosperous people to fill it. So this leader decided to take stock of his human resources and called for a census.

There are only two major points in Nehemiah 7. First, Nehemiah made sure that the city was guarded (see vv. 1-3). Some commentators think Nehemiah was going back to the king of Babylon to report that the walls of Jerusalem were finished. Thus, he wanted to make sure the people were taken care of, so he put leaders in his place that would carry on while he was gone.

Second, Nehemiah gathered the residents (see vv. 4-73). The rest of this chapter describes the census Nehemiah took and the people he counted: “Altogether the whole assembly was forty-two thousand three hundred and sixty” (v. 66).

A lot of us aren’t huge fans of the genealogies in the Bible. Even so, the Holy Spirit inspired the biblical authors to write them down, including this one in Nehemiah 7. Why? It emphasizes that people are not just numbers to God—they are names, and what they do is important, no matter how ordinary it may seem.

Not only that, but in this case, God had made a covenant with Abraham that his heirs would be God’s chosen people—His special treasure (see Deuteronomy 7:6-8). Thus, the Jews needed to prove their pedigree. If they were on this list, they were part of the chosen people.

What about you—are you part of God’s people? God is going to open the Lamb’s Book of Life one day (see Revelation 20:11-15). Do you know if your name is written in it? Are you sure you have the pedigree of being saved by the blood of Jesus Christ? I would love for your name to be written in His book and for you to receive the heritage of the kingdom of Christ. If you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior, that makes God your heavenly Father, which means you’re in His lineage and part of His chosen people (see John 1:12-13). That’s astounding, isn’t it?


The Enemy’s Poisonous Darts: Detention

In Nehemiah 6, Nehemiah had to deal with a third poisonous dart meant to take him out and render him helpless: detention (see vv. 10-14). This time around, his enemies Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem wanted to get him off the wall by making him run and hide.

Tobiah and Sanballat used an inside connection to try to bring this distraction. Shemaiah, we discover, was a hireling prophet who was complicit in the plot to frighten Nehemiah. Shemaiah invited Nehemiah into his private home and then said, “Hey, let’s go to the temple. I have the key. We can lock ourselves in there.”

Now, the Old Testament taught that if a person who sought a place of refuge was really in fear of their life, they could come to the brazen altar before the temple (see 1 Kings 1:50). But no laymen were allowed to go beyond that altar (see Numbers 18:7), and that’s exactly what Shemaiah—along with the other prophets mentioned in verse 14—were trying to get Nehemiah to do. They knew it was a death penalty if they could just go, “Hey, Nehemiah, cross this line.” And the Jews revered their prophets, making this a mounting peer-pressure campaign.

Yet Nehemiah didn’t give in. He refused shelter for three reasons: First, as governor he was responsible to protect the people. If he hid, they would all want to hide, so he had to stay out front for the moral advantage of keeping the rest of the people courageous. Second, he was a God-fearing man and thus would not disobey His Word. There are some boundaries we must not cross, even if fear is prompting us. And finally, as a discerning man he uncovered the entire plot and exposed those who were responsible.

All this to say, don’t forget in the dark what God has told you in the light, because fearful circumstances will come your way. Fear is the enemy’s favorite tool because it’s contagious. When you’re around fearful people, you will be become more fearful. And the enemy is perfectly happy to keep you crippled in fear so that you’ll stay hidden away, far from achieving all that Christ has for you in your life.

But I can personally attest that you do not need to be a victim of fear. Do you know the antidote for fear-tipped darts? Faith. The enemy shoots these poisonous darts, but God provides protection: “[Take] the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one” (Ephesians 6:16). Is there any dart of fear the enemy can shoot your way that you cannot be victorious over? No, because you merely have to raise up your shield of faith, and it will quench them all. So let’s march forward this month and keep fighting, even in the face of fear and darkness.


The Enemy’s Poisonous Darts: Distortion

The second of the enemy’s darts Nehemiah had to deal with in chapter 6 of his book was the dart of distortion (see vv. 5-9).

Normally, important governmental correspondence was put in a scroll and sealed with wax so other people couldn’t read it. But this particular time Sanballat corresponded with Nehemiah, it came in an open letter. Wouldn’t you be a little unnerved if all the mail you got in your mailbox was open? That’s basically what the enemy was doing—he was sending open mail because he wanted the contents to go viral. He wanted to spread rumors to undermine Nehemiah’s authority and start division. That was the whole goal of this distortion campaign.

Do you ever get forwarded emails with a bunch of questionable or downright false information? I hate those things! As a matter of fact, I won’t even open them up. They’re unhelpful.

That’s what was happening to Nehemiah. This letter was a load of bunk, yet people were listening to it. Three charges were listed in this open letter: that Nehemiah and the Jews were plotting treason, that Nehemiah wanted to be king, and that Nehemiah had bribed prophets to endorse him. This is what the enemy said was happening, but it was all lies.

My husband Skip and I, as most people I’ve met in the ministry, have over the years been attacked by bloggers and vicious letters and nasty rumors. It’s just a very sad, difficult part of being in leadership. And when someone says you did something, and you say, “Did not,” it’s hard to prove that. You’re put in a very untenable situation. But you know what? It’s a waste of time. To defend something that is untrue from people who are unkind takes you off the wall, away from the work the Lord has called you to do.

So Nehemiah “sent to [Sanballat], saying, ‘No such things as you say are being done, but you invent them in your own heart.’ For they were all trying to make us afraid, saying, ‘Their hands will be weakened in the work, and it will not be done.’ Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands” (Nehemiah 6:8-9). He simply denied the content of the letter, continued the work, and prayed.

And that’s what I recommend you do when someone is gossiping or distorting facts about you: ignore it, continue doing what God’s called you to do, and pray.


The Enemy’s Poisonous Darts: Distraction

To me, poisonous darts really seem to be the stuff of Indiana Jones movies. But the fact is that Satan has poisonous darts pointed in your direction (see Ephesians 6:16). Like the serpent he is (see Genesis 3:1-6; 2 Corinthians 11:3; Revelation 12:9), he stands ready to poison your mind and ruin what the Lord is doing in your life.

But the Bible says we’re not ignorant of Satan’s devices (see 2 Corinthians 2:11). Nehemiah certainly wasn’t. Over the next several months, we’re going to look at his responses to the poisonous darts that were launched at him in the words of Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem in Nehemiah 6.

The first poisonous dart fired at him was the dart of distraction (see Nehemiah 6:1-4). The walls of Jerusalem had been completed in just fifty-two days; the only job remaining was to hang the doors. When the enemy realized that their previous tactics of mockery and massacre weren’t working, they begin an incessant mail campaign to distract Nehemiah. Their goal was to get him to meet up with them to negotiate so they could thwart the completion of the work.

Imagine you’re in the middle of tackling a project that requires intense focus. You’re on a roll with whatever it is, when suddenly the phone rings. It turns out it’s just one of those robocalls, so you hang up, but then you think, I should check my email while I’m at it. And then you say, Hey, I wonder what’s happening on Facebook. By the time you get back to your task two, five, or ten minutes later, you’re wondering, Where was I? That’s what even the briefest distractions can do to us.

Distraction is a wonderful dart to get you off track and decrease your productivity. And Nehemiah’s enemies wanted to interrupt what he was doing on the wall. So they suggested they have peace negotiations on the plain of Ono, which was about thirty miles from Jerusalem and two days’ travel each way.

But Nehemiah didn’t fall prey to this distraction. He kept the main thing the main thing, and he refused to leave the work because he understood that a leaderless project is an aimless project. No negotiation. No compromise.

There are people who would like to distract you and get you off target. “You can do that tomorrow. Let’s watch a movie”—whatever it is. How can you defeat that distraction?

  1. Create distraction-free zones. Put all electronic devices on lockdown, and carve out chunks of uninterrupted time.
  2. Determine your most productive time. I’ve figured out that eight in the morning until noon is my best time. Guard that particular time jealously with your most important tasks.
  3. Discipline your inner child. This is a hard one. Distraction and procrastination are intertwined; procrastination is simply succumbing to distractions to put off work you don’t feel like doing. But not feeling like doing something is no reason not to do it.

Do you need to deflect the dart of distraction today? What steps will you take to combat it?


Your Choice: Selfishness or Selflessness?

Nehemiah 5 describes the battle from selfishness to selflessness: the nobles took advantage of the commoners for selfish gain, but Nehemiah selflessly worked to rebuild Jerusalem. Let’s look at the outcry of the people, the outrage at the nobles, and the outcome of a godly life, including seven things you can work on to curb your selfishness.

First was the outcry of the people (see vv. 1-5). Because of the selfishness of the rulers and nobles, the Jewish people had become poor, overtaxed, and short on food. Some of them mortgaged their land; others even had to sell their children into slavery.

So Nehemiah stepped in and called a great assembly—this was outrage at the nobles (see vv. 6-13). Nehemiah was angry, but he handled his anger in a godly way (see Ephesians 4:26). He stopped to assess the problem, and above all, he feared God—he respected and revered Him.

This led to him admonishing the nobles. And what happened? They all agreed that personal gain is not as important as the project goal. So they made an oath, replied with an “Amen!” which means “So be it,” and then they worshiped the Lord. This is what I call taking one for the team.

The chapter ends with the outcome of a godly life (see vv. 14-19). Nehemiah lived above reproach. He refused to use the official expense account, he paid for his own food, he shouldered the burden of manual labor and went to work every day, and he did it all with no ego involved. How? “Because of the fear of God” (v. 15). Nehemiah did what he did to please God.

Let me give you seven practical things that you can do to conquer the selfishness in your heart and become more like Nehemiah:

  1. Last but not least: The next time you’re in line or waiting for a table, let someone go ahead of you.
  2. Put the shoe on the other foot: Consider how someone else in your life feels. Do you take them for granted? How can you sympathize with them?
  3. It’s not all about you: Drop that mentality like it’s toxic waste, and think of other people who are in positions less fortunate than you.
  4. You can’t always get what you want: Find a way to deny yourself and provide something for someone else.
  5. Share the spotlight: Be proud of other people for achieving things instead of wishing it was you. Turn the conversation off of yourself and onto someone else.
  6. Listen to your critics: Ask someone to give you honest feedback about yourself.
  7. An attitude of gratitude: Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, be grateful for what you do have.

The Bible says the one edict for the flesh is death: “Make no provision for the flesh” (Romans 13:14). I pray this month that the Lord would show you how to go low, how to love others like yourself, and how to selflessly live a contrary-to-this-world life.

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).


Battling Discouragement

Have you ever been discouraged? Have you ever felt like giving up? I know I have.

In chapter 4 of his book, Nehemiah had bullies that ridiculed him, a workload that crushed him, friends who threatened to desert him, and sleep that eluded him. Yet he plowed through. Let’s look at three points and see how he found encouragement in the Lord:

  1. Haters hate (see Nehemiah 4:1-3, 10-12). The enemies of the Jews—Sanballat, the army of Samaria, and Tobiah—came against Nehemiah and the people with anger, insults, and intimidation. And some of what they said was absolutely true: the Jews were feeble and their building materials for the wall were worthless. But this was God’s job and God’s work, and He was going to make something of it.

Sometimes broken people using burnt stones need to confess their emptiness and look to Emmanuel for encouragement (for starters, see Matthew 19:26; John 15:5; Romans 7:18; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10). When haters start hating, sometimes you need to be weak so that God can be mighty on your behalf.

  1. Leaders lead (see Nehemiah 4:4-5, 9). Nehemiah didn’t retaliate against the haters. He prayed instead, first personally and then publically with the people. They had a mind to work but they also had a heart to pray, and if you have a heart to pray, you can keep your mind to work.

Then Nehemiah positioned his team along the wall (see vv. 13-14) and persevered right alongside them (see vv. 21-23). Nehemiah was not going to back down, back off, or back it on up. He knew that with God, nothing is impossible.

  1. Workers work (see Nehemiah 4:16-18, 19-21). The Jews forged ahead and worked with shovels and swords, using one hand to build and the other to battle. This is because when God builds something, Satan wants to tear it down. You must keep building while you’re battling or you’re not making progress.

And I love that they put a sword at their side. Do you know what our sword is? The Word of God (see Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12).

When haters hate, leaders lead, and workers work, God is glorified in our lives: “When our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had brought their plot to nothing, that all of us returned to the wall, everyone to his work” (Nehemiah 4:15).

God can bring plots against you to nothing. Sometimes you just have to put one foot in front of the other. So if you’re discouraged today, don’t give up. I believe what God did with Nehemiah He can do for you, too. Let’s end with a prayer.

God, You are the God of the impossible. I pray that You would transform my thoughts of discouragement to encouragement. Renew me to go forth in Your strength, building and battling on the walls to which You’ve called me. In Jesus’ name, amen.


Happy People Are Holy People

Did you know happiness is a by-product, not a product of direct pursuit?

Psalm 84 says, “Blessed are those who dwell in Your house; they will still be praising You” (v. 4). In other words, happy people are those who dwell in God’s house and seek His presence. As the Psalms say elsewhere, “In Your presence is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11).

The temple in Jerusalem used to be the place where people could meet with God and be happy in His presence—but in Nehemiah’s day, the city had been decimated. That’s why he went back to rebuild a wall of protection around it.

We read about the repairs he and the people made on the wall in Nehemiah 3. Everyone had a purpose in the efforts, and by the end of the chapter, they were halfway through the project! This was a real testament to their unity. They all obeyed the same leader—Nehemiah—and focused on the same goal, working for the glory of God.

I wonder what results we’d see today if the church rallied together like this. The worse it gets out there in the world, the more we should be together in unity and community (see Hebrews 10:24-25). This is because happy people pursue not just God’s presence, but the place and the people of His presence, too. And that’s what Nehemiah did as he got everybody working with their hands on the task before them.

And, boy, was it everybody: priests, political leaders, laypeople from all different backgrounds, and country folk from different towns. Not only that, but women also left the comfort and safety of their homes to work on the wall (see v. 12).

Ladies, it must be the same with us today. There must be a team effort in the local church for us to serve wherever God needs us. We should be on all parts of the wall of our local community, building up His kingdom.

If you’re not happy today, maybe you need to think about getting involved in God’s work with God’s people, dedicating all that you have to Him: your family, your things, your time, and your talent.

Remember, happiness is a by-product, not a product of direct pursuit. Happy people are holy people. They come to church, spend time in God’s presence, and work side by side with other believers on the walls of their community. In short, happy people seek to glorify the Lord.

Are you happy today?


Project Prep

Have you ever had good intentions for a project, only to find out you didn’t calculate everything very well? Maybe you weren’t able to finish it on time or it came out over budget.

We can learn a lot from how Nehemiah approached his project, Operation Rebuild Jerusalem. He succeeded in his venture by doing four things: conversing with the king, coordinating the details, canvassing the job site, and contending with difficulty.

First, he conversed with the king (see Nehemiah 2:1-5). Four months had passed between chapter 1 and 2, meaning Nehemiah had plenty of time not just to pray and prepare for this conversation with Artaxerxes, but also for the job ahead. And he let the king know that: he humbly, tactfully, and respectfully asked for permission to leave his job as cupbearer and help rebuild Jerusalem. His burden that began with weeping in chapter 1 had developed into a full-on calling. He knew he was the guy for the job.

So Nehemiah began to coordinate the much-needed details with the king (see Nehemiah 2:6-9). He set a time frame, got permits for traveling and building, and put together supplies. I think there are three reasons why Nehemiah received these requests: Number one, godly prayer (see v. 4). Number two, God’s partner. It’s thought that the queen mentioned in verse 6 was the only daughter of Queen Esther and believed in the Hebrew God. Do you think she had any influence in making sure all of Nehemiah’s needs were met? You bet. And number three was God’s providence. Anything can be done when the good hand of God is upon you (see v. 8).

Next, Nehemiah went and canvassed the job site: Jerusalem (see Nehemiah 2:11-16). If the news of Jerusalem had brought tears to his eyes, imagine what it was like seeing it in person. But great works begin when we walk through the nighttime of sorrow and our hearts are broken by Gethsemane’s darkness. When Nehemiah returned, he rallied the people together to begin building, and they said, “‘Let us rise up and build.’ Then they set their hands to this good work” (v. 18).

And right off the bat, Nehemiah had to contend with difficulty, which came in the form of three men: Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem. These men used the weapons of ridicule and doubt to try to stop Nehemiah’s efforts (see Nehemiah 2:19)—but just read his response: “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no heritage or right or memorial in Jerusalem” (v. 20).

He didn’t attempt to negotiate; after all, if you play tug-of-war with your enemy long enough, someone’s going to get pulled down into the mud. So he simply let go of the rope. And guess what? God took hold of it. But more on that next time.

Take some time to examine your heart: What projects do you need to turn over to the Lord today? How are you trusting Him with your plans and desires?


What If?

That tiny, two‑letter word if can either make us or break us. It offers spectacular possibility or eternal regret: What if I were to grasp all that life had to offer me? or If only I had taken that opportunity!

Nehemiah wasn’t an “if only” regretter, but a “what iffer,” someone who said, “What if God were to use me?” Let’s look at four questions he asked in Nehemiah 1 and see how they apply to us today.

  1. What if you don’t like the answers? When Nehemiah asked, “How are my people faring in Jerusalem?” the answer broke his heart: the city walls were broken down, its gates were burned with fire, and its people were bruised and broken, vulnerable to enemies (see Nehemiah 1:1-3).

How are the walls around your heart and home? Are the gates keeping the enemies out—those certain things on television and the Internet? To find out, we, like Nehemiah, need to ask the right questions—even if it’s hard, and even if we don’t like the answers. So be a Nehemiah to your family and friends. Don’t wonder one day, What if I would have asked them, “Are you really doing okay?”

  1. What if life gives you lemons? When Nehemiah heard the bad news, he “sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (v. 4). First off, bravo to him for not being afraid to weep over the things that make God weep. Life handed him a lot of lemons, and he responded by mourning, fasting, and praying. So if life gives you lemons, go ahead and cry, but then try to make lemonade—see what God will do with your tears and prayers.
  2. What if at first you don’t succeed? This is where we find the nation of Israel: they had broken the Mosaic covenant (see v. 7), and Babylon had taken them off into exile. So Nehemiah prayed a specific prayer, looking up, in, and around.

First, he looked up. He remembered who God is and what He had done (see v. 5). God had kept His promises to Israel before, and He would keep them again.

Second, Nehemiah looked in (see vv. 6-9), saying, “I know why we’re in exile: we worshiped false idols. But if we turn around and repent, the blessings are ours once again.” When we get real and repent of the sins we’ve committed—sins that contribute to the decline of our nation, by the way—and say, “O God, we’ll return to You,” do you think revival could happen in our country once again? I believe it with all of my heart. But it starts by looking inward.

Finally, Nehemiah looked around (see v. 10). This was the hopeful part of his prayer: he realized he was part of a nation that could play a big role in God’s plan. Ladies, each one of us are bricks in the wall of God’s holy temple. We need to look around and find other women who are ready to lock shields with us and get their hands dirty in the Lord’s work.

  1. What if the shoe fits? Nehemiah ended his prayer by simply saying, “Let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man” (v. 11)—his boss, the heathen king of Persia. He resolved his “what if” pretty easily, didn’t he? What if God could use me in this situation? Well, I’ll just ask the king and find out.

So what about you? Are you content to be filled with the regrets, with “if only”s? Or are you ready to see God bring spectacular results by stepping out in a few “what if”s?


Hope Changes Everything

Do you need a little hope refresher today?

Hope is not wishing on a star: “Star light, star bright, the first star I see tonight….” Hope is not blowing out the candles on your birthday cake. Hope is not crossing your fingers before buying a lottery ticket.

Real, biblical hope is a strong, confident expectation for a future reward. And hope and faith are inextricably intertwined. As Hebrews 11:1 tells us, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” And Romans 8:24-25 says, “Hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.”

Did you know this is the kind of hope Nehemiah had? The Jewish people had been in Babylonian exile for seventy years, and one day Nehemiah said, “I want to go back to Jerusalem and help rebuild.” So he did—he left his job as cupbearer to the king and went to rebuild the walls of the city that had been decimated decades earlier by Nebuchadnezzar.

When he got there, the damage was worse than what he’d been told. There was so much ruin that an average guy might have thought rebuilding wasn’t such a good idea after all. But Nehemiah wasn’t your average Joe.

Do you know how long it took him and the people to build the walls? Fifty-two days. When you look at that in the light of history, it’s amazing.

That’s not to say he didn’t run into obstacles. Nehemiah faced setbacks, fought spiritual battles, and had to deal with Israel’s enemies and their threats. Yet he had a hope that anchored his soul (see Hebrews 6:19). He was like Tigger in Winnie the Pooh: he was bouncy, bouncy, bouncy. No obstacle in the way of a Tigger, right?

I don’t know what you’re facing in this season in your life, but I know God can take whatever it is and do something amazing. You know why? Because hope changes everything.

So I invite you to join me on this blog over the coming months as we take a fresh look at the life of Nehemiah, discovering not just how he was able to live so full of hope—but how you can, too.