Monday, August 31, 2009

My place on the wall

Do not fear . . . let not your hands grow weak. The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives great victory. – Zephaniah 3:16-17 (RSV)

I grew up in a house on a hill with a view of the Monongahela River. I’d often sit in the backyard on a summer day, watching the coal barges push upstream. On the near side of the river, extending the length of my hometown, was the steel mill. On the other side, a two-lane road ran between Webster and Monessen.

You had to be careful driving that stretch, especially during the spring. To make room for the road, builders had cut into the steep, rocky hillside, which made the entire hillside unstable. In the spring when the ground thawed, giant boulders came crashing down, destroying the high steel fence and littering the road. Signs were put up: “Danger. Falling Rock.”

Nowadays, unstable hillsides are restrained by huge stone walls built right up against them. However, these retaining walls, reinforced with steel rods and fencing meshed with stone, provide protection only for a time. Eventually they’ll give way to the forces of nature: the hillside will push against them, and if not reinforced periodically, these walls, too, will weaken and collapse.

From ancient times, walls have been built to protect. The Great Wall of China stretches over 4,000 miles and was once manned by one million soldiers. Ancient cities were protected by walls thick enough to contain houses, with watchtowers built along them. Troy’s walls could not be breached, thus the Greeks devised a way to get inside: we all know the story of the Trojan horse. Then there were the formidable walls of Jericho, which collapsed after a siege of only seven days.

One ancient wall that’s often overlooked is the wall that surrounded Jerusalem, which, generations after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC, remained “broken down, its gates burned with fire” (Nehemiah 1:3). Without a wall, a city was defenseless against its enemies. And a wall-less city was a disgrace.

Called by God in 445 BC to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem, Nehemiah faced a formidable task. The work was extensive—they toiled from “dawn till the stars came out,” not even taking time to change their clothes. Nehemiah and his crew had to be on guard constantly. Crafty and relentless, enemies without undermined his efforts with deception and murderous plots. The enemy within, exhaustion and discouragement, undermined the morale of the workers.

Nehemiah didn’t discount the power of his adversaries, but neither was he overwhelmed by everything that went wrong. Instead, he focused on God, rallied his workers, and pushed on.

“They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat,” he reported (Nehemiah 4:8–9). “From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. . . . Those who carried the materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other . . . So we continued the work” (Nehemiah 4:16, 17, 21).

Following God’s call doesn’t lead to a trouble-free life. The road of obedience is strewn with the boulders of deception, resistance, and animosity. The potholes of disappointment, discouragement, and doubt siphon energy and enthusiasm. Wounded and weary, we retreat, overwhelmed by the size of the task, the strength of the enemy, and our own weaknesses.

But wait! God hasn’t called me to defend the entire wall, only a section of it. Together we can rebuild the walls of faith that protect and defend us. It won’t be easy. But then, if it is, we’re no threat to the enemy.

We find strength not our own, but knowing that where God calls, He will enable.

Have you found your place on the wall yet?

Dear God, so much evil in the world, and it seems that the enemy is getting stronger and bolder by the minute. What can I, one little person, do to fight back? When I feel overwhelmed, remind me to focus on the portion You have assigned to me and that victory will come “not by might, nor by power, but by Your Spirit” (Zechariah 4:6). Amen.

Special-Tea: Nehemiah 4

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