Anyone who has ever been put in charge knows the following truth: Getting people excited about starting a project is twice as easy as keeping them motivated to continue.
We can be so easily side-tracked by everything from outward distractions to inner discouragements.
This week, Chapter 21 of "The Story" outlines how God's people work to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. It is a project everyone agreed needed to be done — in that culture, a city was only as good as the walls protecting it — and although they started the project with great zeal, they were quickly side-tracked by outsiders who threatened to attack them and by an unrealistic sense of worry within their own hearts.
As those Israelite wall-building construction workers found out, their fear of being attacked caused more delays than any actual physical assaults from real enemies. Nehemiah spends time giving them God's Upper Story perspective.
Funny how big we can make little things ... and vice versa.
Back in 2006, Jeffry Kluger wrote an article in Time magazine entitled "Why We Worry About the Things We Shouldn't," in which he opined: "We wring our hands over the mad cow pathogen that might be (but almost certainly isn't) in our hamburger and worry far less about the cholesterol that contributes to the heart disease that kills 700,000 of us annually.
"Shoppers still look askance at a bag of spinach for fear of E.coli bacteria while filling their carts with fat-sodden French fries and salt-crusted nachos. We put filters on faucets, install air ionizers in our homes and lather ourselves with antibacterial soap.
"At the same time, 20 percent of all adults still smoke; nearly 20 percent of drivers and more than 30 percent of backseat passengers don't use seatbelts; two-thirds of us are overweight or obese ... In short, shadowed by peril as we are, you would think we'd get pretty good at distinguishing the risks likeliest to do us in from the ones that are statistical long shots. But you would be wrong."
A significant part of the lesson that God is teaching His people during Nehemiah's wall-building project is that they need to simply re-prioritize the purpose for the project. They were doing more than building a physical wall.
The good news is that the story ends with God's people re-committing and finishing the project in 52 days. The real project all along was learning to trust their Lord and build confident obedience in serving God.
Perhaps that's why our Lord Jesus so succinctly described the true starting place for determining priorities with these simple words: "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you as well." (Matthew 6:33)
For those of us going through this overview of the Bible, Chapter 21 marks the final lesson from the Old Testament. It will be 400 years before God speaks through another prophet; his name will be John the Baptist, who introduces Jesus as the Messiah. But the lessons of trust and priority that we learn here at the wall-building chapter will carry us forward to the greatest part of the Upper Story — hope through Jesus Christ.
To learn more about God's Upper Story plan to bring His love and forgiveness to us, you are welcome to join "The Story" team. For more information, visit www.thestorylodi.com or visit one of these local churches to find out more about The Story ministry: First Baptist Church, 267 N. Mills Ave., 209-334-1332, www.fbclodi.com; Ham Lane Church of Christ, 600 S. Ham Lane, 209-369-2817, email@example.com; Temple Baptist Church, 801 S. Lower Sacramento Road, 209-369-1948, www.tbclodi.com; Vinewood Community Church, 1900 W. Vine St., 209-379-1068, www.vinewoodchurch.com; Emanuel Lutheran Church, 1540 W. Lodi Ave., 209-334-2130, www.emanuellodi.com.
Perry Kallis is senior pastor at Temple Baptist Church.