We are an impatient people. We do not like to wait in lines, wait for our food, wait to check our messages, or wait for something to download. We expect results, and we expect them immediately. We like our senses to be stimulated. Constantly. Just look at how many people are at exciting sporting events but looking at their iPhones because the game does not offer sufficient stimulation to maintain their interest. What then will we do when a goal requires months and even years of commitment and time? Unfortunately, the answer for many is “Quit.” What happens when the input we receive is not what we expected and especially not what we wanted? We change the channel and quit. Thus we have developed a culture whereby we expect immediate and amazing results within a short time frame and with little commitment required. How then do we expect to “be faithful until death” (Rev. 2:10b)? More than that, how do we expect to influence others around us—a congregation of God’s people, for instance—to hold true to God’s Word, remain active, engaged, and present, worship reverently and consistently, and do so not only for now but for generations? Whether we realize it or not, that is our challenge, because that is what God expects us to do (2 Tim. 2:1-2).
Nehemiah records the names of the people involved in restoring Israel following her captivity. We recognize few of them. However, what they accomplished demonstrated the characteristics necessary for God’s people in any and every generation—if we are to be faithful to our calling.
- It takes leadership (Neh. 12:1-7). Building for the future requires men who can see with their mind’s eye what a congregation can be, what a congregation ought to be, and what it takes to reach that goal. They need to be able to evaluate their situation and their people with an eye on fulfilling God’s will with a critical eye but a heart of compassion (Phil. 2:1-4).
- It takes role players (Neh. 12:8-9). Congregations need people who are willing to be involved in the work, especially in the rebuilding stages. It is easy to be part of something already built with existing momentum. But those who work to build a congregation up and build momentum in the work are a true treasure (1 Cor. 12:12-19).
- It takes commitment by each successive generation (Neh. 12:10-21). The work it takes to build a solid work and the work necessary to keep it are very different things. Generations that grew up with success but did not participate in it often fail to develop the skills necessary to build upon it because they enjoyed the success before making a commitment (1 Cor. 15:58).
- It takes commitment to the proper standard (Neh. 12:22-26). Sometimes people get caught up in the wrong goals as a congregation early on, such as ever-increasing numbers, and so this erroneous standard ultimately leads them away from the purpose of their existence. An appeal to scripture, both in truth and love, is an essential element to be instilled in the culture of any congregation for there to be long-term success (Jn. 12:48; 17:17).
- It takes personal commitment to spiritual purity (Neh. 12:27-30). Congregations will not find success if they focus on programs and presentation. Spiritual success, which should be the focus of a spiritual organization, is rooted in individual people and personal purity. A congregation may be able to provide a facade of spirituality for a while without these, but it will ultimately dissolve into a social organization bereft of spiritual heart (Matt. 5:8).
- It takes a balance of reverence and joy in worship (Neh. 12:31-43). The people who returned from captivity understood the seriousness of their situation because they had experienced the consequences of sin. However, having returned home and successfully rebuilt the temple and the walls of Jerusalem, they understand the joy that comes from fulfilling God’s will. God’s people should bring both with them when they bow before God (Jn. 4:24).
- It takes sacrificial giving to sustain the work (Neh. 12:44-47). No matter what stage the work of a congregation may find itself in, there will always be financial needs, and therefore, regardless of a congregation’s age, size, or situation, there will be a need for sacrifice if the work is to move forward. Too often today, established congregations only plan to maintain the situation they inherited. Instead, our giving and our purpose should be to leave the congregation in a better place than when we arrived.
All of these things require a great deal of patience. They involve commitment and hard work. They demand the readiness to address problem upon problem if necessary because the goal is worthwhile. They call for faith in the vision of the future even during trials and setbacks. They have a heart for God that simply will not quit because they are focused beyond themselves and looking into eternity. They work. They build. They grow. And they do so with confidence in God’s blessing (1 Cor. 3:6). Spiritual work requires great perseverance because it is a great work.