Pass the Tests – A Lesson From Nehemiah

Pass the Tests – A Lesson From Nehemiah

What thoughts do you associate with tests? Are they fear-filled or hopeful? How can we prepare to pass the tests life throws our way? Writing this blog became a test when my website crashed midway through preparation!

Nehemiah teaches us how to pass the tests, even when they come in unexpected ways. Each test presented a different range of problems he overcame as he consistently moved toward his goal.

We, too, will face challenges and hurdles as we press toward all God has for us, testing our character, commitment, and courage.

Nehemiah began his journey the best way possible through prayer.

“When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.”
Nehemiah 1:4

Nehemiah had received news that the walls and gates of Jerusalem lay in piles of burnt rubble. Deeply distressed, he sought God’s direction and intervention. Unprotected, vulnerable, and open to enemy attack, the people he loved were in the worst possible position.

Serving under the king’s authority, Nehemiah set out for Jerusalem.

Test of Motive

It didn’t take long for Nehemiah’s enemies to push back. Whenever we attempt to serve God, we will experience similar opposition. Three men, in particular, faced off against Nehemiah — Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem.

” . . . they mocked and ridiculed us. ‘What is this you are doing? . . . Are you rebelling against the king?'” Nehemiah 2:19

Their attacks against Nehemiah aimed deep. Verbal arrows pointed at his motivation, judging him as rebellious.

“I answered them by saying, ‘The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.'”
Nehemiah 2:20

Some people may delight in questioning our motives — even publicly.

Without anything to fear, this test offers a perfect opportunity to expose our true motive for the Lord’s examination. With the king’s orders in his hand, Nehemiah knew their empty claims were groundless.

Test of Ability

When Nehemiah passed his first test, his enemies became even more aggressive.

“When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, ‘What are those feeble Jews doing. Will they restore their wall . . . offer sacrifices . . . finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble — burned as they are?'”
Nehemiah 4:1-2

Our inner critic echoes similar questions. Will you? Can you?

Nehemiah wasted no time defending himself. He knew the task far exceeded human ability. The test of ability drove Nehemiah to his knees before God, asking Him to turn the enemies’ insults back upon them.

“So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.” Nehemiah 4:6

As a result, God protected the hearts of the workers. With hearts completely dedicated and trusting in God, all things are possible. Ability with heart will take anyone anywhere God leads.

Test of Courage

To pass the tests of motive and ability Nehemiah and his team consistently focused on the goal. Immediately, the troubling trio enlisted the assistance of Arabs, Ammonites and the people of Ashdod — increasing the troops of opposition.

“They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it.”
Nehemiah 4:8

Nehemiah faced the threatening declarations of war in the same way he withstood every test — through prayer. The mission conceived in prayer continued in prayer. Prayer formed a solid foundation for effective, continued ministry.

“But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.”
Nehemiah 4:9

Little by little, a wall began to rise from the rubble. The warrior-builders proceeded with “swords, spears, and bows” strapped to their sides (4:13).

Test of Dedication

As the work continued unabated, the trio attempted to lead Nehemiah into yet another trap. Without a leader, the work would surely stop.

” . . . Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.”
Nehemiah 6:2

No matter how persistent, we must never “meet together” with the enemy at Ono or anywhere else! Four times they sent the same message. Four times Nehemiah refused (6:4).

“I sent messengers to them with this reply” ‘I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?'”
Nehemiah 6:3

Distraction and failure to recognize the significance of a task may become the greatest obstacles to reaching any goal.

In the fifth attempt the enemy added even more lies and intimidation “trying to frighten us” (6:9). Again, Nehemiah prayed.

Taking everything to God in prayer will strategically lead us to victory. We may consider our mission minor compared to what God asked Nehemiah to do, but whatever our mission, may we face every test with determination and dedication. The smallest actions may prove to have the greatest impact in the Kingdom of God.

Test of Reliance

One final test of reliance awaited Nehemiah, when a false prophet attempted to entice Nehemiah to protect himself.

” . . . Let us meet in the house of God, inside the temple, and let us close the temple doors, because men are coming to kill you — by night they are coming to kill you.”
Nehemiah 6:10

Nehemiah trusted God alone as his protection. Self-protection placed above the call to shield his people would be nothing short of sin!

“But I said, ‘Should a man like me run away? Or should someone like me go into the temple to save his life? I will not go!'”
Nehemiah 6:11

Even here, Nehemiah would pass the tests with character, commitment, and courage. As servant leader, Nehemiah set the example by placing the needs of the vulnerable above his own.

Passing the Test

By the grace of God, they completed a humanly impossible task in fifty-two days (6:15). Nehemiah trusted in God, leading the people to accomplish God’s desire for Jerusalem.

What is our calling? What mission has God placed before us? Is it raising our families, teaching a Sunday School class, or leading a small home group? Perhaps, it is boldly living our faith in the marketplace.

May the testing of our motives, ability, courage, dedication, and reliance show a depth of character, a commitment to God, and an unwavering courage in the face of opposition. From here forward, may we learn from Nehemiah’s success and emulate his consistency in prayer. Whatever God calls us to, He will equip us for. There is no shortage with our God!

“Lord make us bold for the task. Give us ears to clearly hear your direction. Grant us a steadfast heart to serve You. Through You, we pick up spiritual weapons in one hand and tools to build your Kingdom in the other. We turn our whole hearts to follow You.”

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Trust is the Greatest Compliment We Give Each Other

Trust is the Greatest Compliment We Give Each Other

Trust is the greatest compliment we can give each other. Trust securely glues every kind of relationship we experience together: parent and child, husband and wife, teacher and student, friend to friend, leader and disciple, employer to employee. We know the security of trust when it is present. Yet, trust is difficult to define. 

Every newborn baby comes explicitly trusting others to care selflessly for its needs. Yet, broken trust requires extra measures of responsibility, grace and time to restore.  

Love, honour, servanthood, and humility are just a few of the non-optional attributes we owe to each other. But not trust! In fact, Jesus didn’t trust everyone!

“Now while he was in Jerusalem
at the Passover Festival,
many people saw the signs
he was performing and believed in his name.
But Jesus would not entrust himself to them,
for he knew all people.”
John 2:23-24

What is this valuable asset, we call trust, in relationships? What allows trust to thrive? How can trust be restored once broken?

Five key elements must exist to create trust: empathy, motivation, ability, character, and history. 

Empathy

The dictionary defines empathy as an “ability to understand and share the feelings of another”. Far too often, our need to be understood exceeds our desire to truly understand others. 

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition
or vain conceit.
Rather, in humility
value others above yourselves,
not looking to your own interests
but each of you to the interests of the others.”
Philippians 2:3-4

Instinctively, we sense when people are more concerned with themselves than with others. Developing positive communication skills, including listening well, has been a process for me. We can learn to hear beyond people’s words to their hearts.

I honestly have to ask myself, “Do I listen well?” So far, the response is “Not good enough!” I am learning, albeit slowly, how to listen with more than my ears. 

Often words mask the real message of the heart. Will I look into people’s eyes and honour their unspoken longing — taking the risk, though messy and uncomfortable? Will I focus on their circumstances, their struggles, and their needs?

“Nobody cares how much you know
until they know how much you care.”
– Theodore Roosevelt

Motivation

Motivation, the reason why someone acts or behaves in a certain way, usually conceals itself in wounded caverns of the soul. We may be ignorant of our own “real” motivation behind our words or actions. 

Dr. Henry Cloud says, “Whenever we meet someone — especially a stranger but also a friend, a boss we see every day, or even a family member — we unconsciously scan the face, read the body language, and assess the tone of voice to determine whether the person is with us or against us. It is just what humans do.” 

“But I, the Lord, search all hearts
and examine secret motives.
I give all people their due rewards,
according to what their actions deserve.”
Jeremiah 17:10

By allowing God to search our hearts, we become people others can trust. The only way to effectively invest in the lives of others, championing their causes and helping them to succeed, is through pure motives.

When someone has “dropped the ball”, failing us in some way, will vengeance cloud our vision of them? Do we value them and the relationship enough to seek restoration? Will we stand by them until they walk strong again?

Restoring trust is the greatest compliment we can offer. Trust says, “I want you to succeed.”

Ability

It is amazing to me, how Jesus drew His incompetent disciples into ever increasing levels of ability. They floundered and fought. Yet Jesus trusted them enough (after only three years of training) to launch the Christian Church off their backs. Astounding!

Ability unlocks trust.
Trust empowers ability.

We often chose people for positions of trust based on credentials, certification or even the recommendation of others. Jesus chose The Twelve in a different way.

“One of those days
Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray,
and spent the night praying to God.
When morning came,
he called his disciples to him
and chose twelve of them,
whom he also designated apostles.”
Luke 6:12-13

Would any of us have chosen to trust this team? Would we have considered any of them upper level leadership? As Jesus sought the wisdom of God, He saw in each of them potential. 

Relationships require trusting the ability of others to bring what is needed into the situation. Trust says, “This is no gamble! I know that you can do it. You will do well.”

Trust is the greatest compliment we can offer someone who questions their own ability.

Character

Character resembles the steel structure in a skyscraper. It is the invisible strength that sustains a person through time and adversity. As fire forms steel, suffering molds godly character.

“Not only so but we also
glory in our suffering,
because we know that suffering
produces perseverance;
perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
Romans 5:3-4

Character includes far more than the moral aspects required to be trustworthy. Trust grows best among those 

who are optimistic,
know how to persevere through trial,
refuse to act impulsively or defensively,
are unstoppable by fear,
secure and tenacious.

People with these attributes possess character mature enough to trust.

“Character inspires others to trust them.”
– Dr. Henry Cloud

History

Past successes and failures historically map our lives. Paul and Barnabas, after much prayer and fasting, were sent off to preach the gospel. I’m not sure anyone was at fault, but soon we see the team divided over John Mark. 

“They had such a sharp disagreement
that they parted company.
Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus,
but Paul chose Silas and left,
commended by the believers
to the grace of the Lord.”
Acts 15:39-41

Paul’s impression of John Mark was clouded by previous experience — “history.” Mark once deserted him “in the work.” Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement, embraced Mark in spite of past failure. Paul refused to trust again.

 

Later, Paul considered him a valuable brother. Obviously something changed, either in Paul’s heart or in Mark’s attitude.

“The best predictor of the future is the past,
unless there is something new.”
– Dr. Henry Cloud

Broken trust necessitates change before it can be restored — often on the part of both parties. Such restoration develops over time, forming a new history. Trust is the greatest compliment we can extend to each other. It is the confidence to say, “I believe in you!”

Only One

Trust varies depending on the relationship. God is the only One we can completely trust all the time.

“Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.”
Psalms 62:8

For people, trust is a work in progress through grace and vulnerability. 

Though we might struggle to move past times of broken trust, it is far more beneficial to focus on how we can become trustworthy ourselves. Let’s allow God to reveal our empathy and inner motivation. May we increase in our ability to facilitate trust with strength of character. Then, over the duration of our lives, we will develop a “history” of trust.

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Recommended Read:
Dr. Henry Cloud – “The Power of the Other”