Updated on August 11, 2016
For When The Work gets Hard
We’ve been in school two weeks here in the southern suburbs. Two weeks, people! And the whining has already begun. We’ve already lost a notebook, cried over a book report and had a melt-down over the fact that we have to memorize all of the prepositions that exist in the whole world????
The stark realization that these new pencils, folders and graph paper have to actually be used to do work – well, that hasn’t gone over very well. Because, Mom, work is hard and boring and I don’t want too. I am going to play for the NBA and none of this little work will matter anyway!
Umm… it is going to be a long year.
That’s where we are living this week. And I don’t know about you, but even if your life no longer ebbs and flows with the school year calendar, or if you are never asked to recall all 48 prepositions, realizing that work is hard, constant and required is something that can hit you between the eyes at any time.
Work can go from being new, exciting and fulfilling to endless and pointless in the course of just a day. And sometimes we can be in these whole seasons where we can’t see why our work matters, where we want to bang our heads on our desks because really, God, this is the work you want me to do? I mean, I am just going to be an NBA player, why does any of this matter?
And whether we spend our days building buildings, painting pictures, teaching children, changing diapers, making spreadsheets, or sitting in classrooms, we want our work to be important, to matter, and to make a difference.
I walk right into that wanting each day. And I push hard against it.
Don’t you have great plans for me Lord? Aren’t you going to give me work to do that will bring you glory and make the world better? Aren’t you working your purposes out here? Then, why Lord why all the hard and boring stuff? Why the endless days where nothing seems to go right? Why the constant re-doing of the same thing? When are we going to get to the big stuff, Lord? The important stuff?
“I am doing a great work. And I cannot come down” (Nehemiah 6:3).
These little words from the book of Nehemiah always come to mind when I start down the rabbit hole of thinking about the work that God has given me to do. It is this story that God uses to turn me back toward him.
Here’s a little history to help it all make sense (just a little history, I promise). Nehemiah was a Jew, one of God’s chosen people, living in captivity in Babylon during the Old Testament times. When the Jews were finally released from their captivity, God gave Nehemiah some work to do. God laid it on Nehemiah’s heart to rebuild the wall around the sacred city of Jerusalem.
Huge job for a man who was just the cup bearer to the king. Huge important work given to him by God. Yes, kingdom work. This means that it’s going to be easy and go well with him, right? God’s going to make it all perfect and the amazing beautiful wall will be rebuilt and Nehemiah will just spend his days marveling at this great accomplishment.
We think this don’t we? When we step into new work that we are even slightly convinced God has called us to do, we think that it will just go well with us. We think that it will never be hard or boring or have obstacles because God has called us to it. And, man is it frustrating when that is just not the case!
Maybe that is what Nehemiah thought when he began to work on the wall. Because it did start that way. God cleared out a lot of obstacles and Nehemiah prayed a lot.
But then the work began. The actual clearing of the rubble and the laying of the stones. The back aching, mind numbing work of building a wall. The challenges of getting the people to work together and of fending off their enemies all at the same time were overwhelming. Sound familiar?
And all these people and all these things tried to distract Nehemiah from the work that God had called him to do. People had other plans for him; they wanted to meet with him. They begged to be deemed more important than the building, the stacking and the wall making.
But Nehemiah would not relent. He stayed up on the wall. He stacked bricks and he bolted gates in place. He encouraged the people and he sent word down to all of the distracting things.
“I am doing a great work and I cannot come down” (Nehemiah 6:3).
He just kept working. And I am sure his enemies scoffed. What? A great work? It’s just a wall. They didn’t really think that Nehemiah and the Jewish remnant had any chance of completing this project. They were certain that they could distract them into stopping. But here’s the thing. Nehemiah knew something that the others didn’t.
He knew that it was a work the Lord had called him to do. He knew that it was holy, precious and great no matter how it looked to anyone else. Because he knew that it wasn’t really all about the walls anyway.
The work that God was doing among his people back then was not measured in brick and mortar or length and height. He was rebuilding a people from the inside out; rebuilding their hearts and teaching them what it meant to trust him again. The wall was not the great work. God’s presence with his people was the great work. God didn’t want the wall. He wanted the people.
And here I stand with my hands full of work stacked precariously high, with these questions I dare to ask God about how important my tasks are or are not. Here I stand badgering my Creator about whether or not he has given me the right work or whether I really have to do it and God whispers…
Are you looking at the wall or at me? The work is never really about the product as much as it is about your heart. So listen to how I lead you. Lay down your ideas of greatness, and if I lead you to hard work, small work, or unseen work, then do it. It is how you will come to see me doing a great work in you. I don’t want your perfect wall, I want your heart. I want you. So trust me and go on, get back to work.
“And I will walk among you and be your God and you will be my people.” (Leviticus 26:12).