By Pr Ay Nee Ng
Have you seen the Target’s TV ad “Back to school”? It says that those clothes and shoes were built to last whether we rub our grubby hands on it, roll on the grass, jump in a puddle, climb, kick them, bury them, or drag them. Target has promised that because it has been tried and tested to last a lifetime. It is customized to take all kinds of weather and all kinds of trials and hardship. Is our Christianity tried and tested? Are we conditioned to take hardship and all kinds of treatment in life?
“Build to Last” is about heritage. Do you believe we have a heritage to past on? If you don’t, there is nothing to hang on to. And if you do, what sort of heritage are you passing on? What do you want to build that you can see it lasting? A business or an empire? It may last 3 generations then what? Great wealth for you and your family? Yet, could your family or your descendants handle great wealth? What about a name for yourself? It may only last your life time. Once you are dead and gone; as they say: “Out of sight, out of mind”.
What will last even after being tried and tested through time and seasons? What do we want to build to last in our church? Lives. What we sow into this generation will be reaped. So what will last in our lifetime and beyond? Principles, ethics, and character qualities; in other words, who are we in Christ. Yet, the most important thing to sow in people is the Word of God.
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away…. All that mighty pile of buildings called Jerusalem will pass away, but my words which told of their coming ruin will remain.” (Luke 21:33; NLT)
“Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away[…]” (Matt. 24:35).
“The earth and the heavens will disappear, but my words will never disappear” (Mark 13:31). So, we must build, knowing and believing we have a spiritual and Godly heritage. We want to pass on a spiritual heritage and build generations that will love and honour God and have full dependency on God, devoted to His task ahead.
On October 2, 445 BC, the wall surrounding Jerusalem was completed. This wall had lain in ruins for nearly 150 years. Yet, the entire reconstruction project took only 52 days. Such an amazing achievement at such a short time! Nehemiah’s predecessors in the Book of Ezra was a faithful group that responded to King Cyrus of Persia’s edict, which stated that willing Jews could return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and the city. They departed under the leadership of Zerubbabel in 538 BC. In the midst of the opposition from the non-Jewish inhabitants, they were so discouraged that they ceased to work. Then, God raised up the prophetic ministries of Haggai and Zechariah who called His people to complete the task. The new temple was completed and dedicated in 515 BC, taking 21 years to be completed. This happened around 72 years after the destruction of Solomon’s temple.
This same temple stood in Jesus’ days, which was then enlarged and enhanced by Herod the Great and destroyed by Rome in AD 70 (Ezra 6:15, 17). In 458 BC, after some 60 years from the rebuilding of the temple, another group of exiles returned to Jerusalem under the leadership of Ezra, sent by the Persian king Artaxerxes in his 7th year reign (Ezra 7:7). Ezra brought a revival and proper teaching on temple worship.
It is important to note that after the temple was rebuilt and completed, worship was restored; however, people kept backsliding, being discouraged, and being tempted back into their old ways. Why? After 13 years, in the 20th year reign of King Artaxerxes, the king sent Nehemiah to rebuild and to fortify the walls of Jerusalem (Neh. 1), fulfilling the prophecy that they would being captivity for 70 years. It is not good just to have the temple as a sitting duck for attack. A city without walls is open to attack and is considered insignificant.
Nehemiah was chosen for this task. Nehemiah means “Yahweh comforts”. He was an Israelite born under captivity who worked as a cup-bearer to King Artaxerxes of Persia. As a cup-bearer, he had a position of great trust before the king and had the responsibility of keeping the king from being poisoned. After Nehemiah heard that walls of Jerusalem were broken down (Neh. 1:3) and that God’s people were in great trouble and disgrace, he wept and was heartbroken. He wanted to do something to help the people to rise above their insignificance and to restore their dignity by rebuilding the crushed walls.
The Israelites needed to rebuild their walls to shield them from predators but also to give them an inheritance. This inheritance is dignity, integrity, self-worth, and identity. They had lost them when they were in captivity. To draw them out of captivity to who they were to be, the prophets called them back to love and honour God.
Similarly, God is building His kingdom through us, and if we keep getting our walls knocked down, we will be knocked down. We have not planned any defence and attack strategy; our walls are down, broken, disjointed, mangled, and ruined. So, Church, why are we knocked down and dashed? You and I are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Why are we not strong enough? Why do we feel insignificant?
We need to tear down those walls in our lives that are feeble and wobbly and rebuild them, so we, the temple of the Holy Spirit, can buffer the wiles of the world. Our spiritual life is at stake! The walls that need rebuilding are our wall of dignity that is like a cloak around us, our wall of integrity that will empower us, our wall of self-worth that will stand in all the seasons and trials we face, and our wall of identity that will help us to ward off the wiles of the devil and this world.
“There are seven things that will destroy us: wealth without work; pleasure without conscience; knowledge without character; religion without sacrifice; politics without principle; science without humanity; business without ethics”. – – Mahatma Gandhi
“Tragedy in life normally comes with betrayal and compromise, and trading on your integrity and not having dignity in life. That’s really where failure comes”. – Tom Cochrane
“All labour that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence”. – Martin Luther King, Jr.
“There are two kinds of pride, both good and bad. ’Good pride’ represents our dignity and self- respect. ‘Bad pride’ is the deadly sin of superiority that reeks of conceit and arrogance”. John C. Maxwell “Maturity is the ability to think, speak and act your feelings within the bounds of dignity. The measure of your maturity is how spiritual you become during the midst of your frustrations”. – Samuel Ullman
“The ideal man bears the accidents of life with dignity and grace, making the best of circumstances”. – Aristotle
“The World Trade Centre is a living symbol of man’s dedication to world peace… a representation of man’s belief in humanity, his need for individual dignity, his beliefs in the cooperation of men, and, through cooperation, his ability to find greatness”. Minoru Yamasaki
The Israelites needed to protect themselves from neighbouring enemies and to stand firm for their faith in God. These walls were symbols of protection and security. To rebuild these walls, we need to activate our prayer life, be part of the team and join the community, and rebuild our faith and hope in the midst of opposition.
The ultimate goal is to bring us into a love relationship with God once again and full dependency on Him.
Activate Our Prayer Life.
We ask, but don’t know exactly how God will respond, whether “yes”, “no”, or “wait”. We believe God will supply boldness and power, but we cannot guess His timing. Like Nehemiah, we must pray and trust that God is bigger than the risk we take.
Church, may we learn from Nehemiah; “…when he heard the predicament of the Jewish people in Jerusalem, he sat down and wept” (Neh. 1:4). It drew out his compassion and broke his heart; the sorrow he felt for his people propelled him to fast and to pray to the God of heaven “very much afraid” (Neh. 2:2, 4).
I know that I am limited, and because of the God given-love for a certain situation and people, I turn to higher authorities and go on my knees to God. I pray we may all learn to fully depend on God. Then, as we rebuild our walls and God’s Word is anchored in us, we will be able to withstand the weathering seasons and trials.
Nehemiah 1 tells that he prayed for weeks until God opened an opportunity. Nehemiah, was a man of action and a man of prayer. He faced fears and went to God in total dependency. Like Nehemiah, we must come before God even if we do not know the possible outcome because as we pray to God, we open our hearts, our minds, and our emotions to God, being totally transparent to God. This is coming before God in humbleness.
Nehemiah was taking a risk by advocating for the cause ahead—the rebuilding of Jerusalem—and facing the king. Appearing sad in the king’s presence was dangerous and could lead him to death. However, when the king asked him his trouble, he asked permission to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls. He went beyond thinking of himself to place someone else’s needs as his focus because of compassion.
Church, what are we advocating for at this time? Let us put our life on the line for those we are advocating for to God. God ignited a spark of revival in his servant Nehemiah to pray and do something for Jerusalem. Nehemiah stoked the fire with prayer and a willing heart. God’s power worked through this caring and capable man to spread a revival over 500 miles to Jerusalem and to inspire others to be part of the community, being interdependent, which means that each individual accepts responsibility for his or her own contribution to the project ahead.
However, they still faced opposition because they were trying to make positive changes in their circumstances and lives. In the end, they rose above the opposition with hope and faith. We also face opposition, mainly from people who are threatened by our change and transformation. Yet, let us stay on course for the cause ahead!
We must tear down our walls of shame, pride, stubbornness, independence, and bitterness and, in place, build our walls of dignity, integrity, self-worth, and identity—the core of morality and justice. We must also ride with those who are down and out at this season of their lives.
“Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters”. – Albert Einstein
“Living with integrity means: Not settling for less than what you know you deserve in your relationships. Asking for what you want and need from others. Speaking your truth, even though it might create conflict or tension. Behaving in ways that are in harmony with your personal values. Making choices based on what you believe, and not what others believe”. – Barbara De Angelis
“The fight for justice against corruption is never easy. It never has been and never will be. It exacts a toll on our self, our families, our friends, and especially our children. In the end, I believe, as in my case, the price we pay is well worth holding on to our dignity”. – Frank Serpico
“I believe in the dignity of labor, whether with head or hand; that the world owes no man a living but that it owes every man an opportunity to make a living”. – John D. Rockefeller
Church, let us strive to keep these walls up and strong to last. Let us sow the Word of God and build a life with ethics, principles, and a Godly character. Let us trust in and depend on God, restore worship to God, and grow in love for God. Think about the walls that need to be torn down; let us let go of these walls of pride, self- pity, stubbornness, and hardness of heart. Let us also ask God for forgiveness and help to rebuild the our dignity, our integrity, our self- worth, and our identity in Him to buffer the wiles of the enemy and to stand strong through the seasons and trials we may face ahead.