Many years ago a friend and I were talking about the book of Nehemiah, and he said the most significant verse from the entire book for him was when Nehemiah told his enemy Sanballat, “I’m doing a great work and I can’t come down!” This, of course, is a paraphrase from Nehemiah 6:3, but I liked the way my friend said it with such conviction, and the phrase has stuck with me ever since!
Sanballat is Nehemiah’s chief political opponent. He is the governor of Samaria, the capital city of what was the Northern Kingdom before the Assyrians conquered the land and scattered the ten northern tribes of Israel. From the very start of the rebuilding project in Jerusalem, Sanballat and his cronies have been ridiculing the Jews and stirring up conflict. Now, when Nehemiah utters these memorable words, it’s because Sanballat is making his fifth attempt to distract Nehemiah from the job God has called him to do. He is trying to lure him out to one of the villages on the plain of Ono. But Nehemiah has discerned that, this time, “they were scheming to harm me…”
Most of us have heard the expression, “The tyranny of the urgent.” It’s a phrase that reminds us of how the important things of life are often overtaken and crowded out by the urgent ones. Nehemiah’s example sets us straight, doesn’t it? He is firmly focused on doing God’s work, God’s way. I read somewhere that the book of Nehemiah, for that very reason, is one of the best examples of leadership ever written.
What is the work that God has called you to do? Is it started each day with prayer? Is it centered on giving glory to God and helping others? The story of Nehemiah gives us a very real, very authentic person whose life is fully lived in the real world, with real work, and real problems. Next time some ‘urgent’ task comes along in your life, I hope you will choose the ‘important’ one instead, and tell that old enemy, the devil, “I’m doing a great work and I can’t come down!”