During the pandemic we have faced more than one or two challenges, but beyond the virus or job loss, perhaps the most significant has been the loss of connection most of us have experienced – with our life as we knew it, our family, our friends, our places of worship, our work place, our way of life.
If we ever doubted that we were designed for connection with one another, we don’t doubt it now.
As I contemplated that, I was reminded of a story that resonates with where we are now. To glean from it, we need to go back to about 445 B.C. and look at Nehemiah, a Jewish man living in exile as a cupbearer to King Artaxerxes of Persia. His position points to his trustworthy character and he continues to serve the king after the exiles return home, but he is interested in what is happening in his homeland and asks the king to allow him to go to Jerusalem to see how things are going for the exiles that returned to their homeland.
He is sent out with favor and position to help govern the province but what he finds there shows him how great a challenge is ahead. The walls and the city of Jerusalem are in a heap of rubble. The exile has lasted long enough that the original law and how the city was to be laid out and governed has been lost on the exiles and there is great opposition to what needs to be done to reinstate what God intended Jerusalem and its people to be.
Those who challenged rebuilding did what our adversary seeks to do today – raise doubts. They didn’t want a radical leader of sound character like Nehemiah to succeed. Our enemy doesn’t want us to do so either.
His tools? He wants to fuel doubt about our ability so we don’t use our gifts and risk stepping out, to worry about the future and lack courage, question the timing of what lays before us and give up, thinking it isn’t time to move ahead on the Lord’s calling on our lives. In short, the adversary wants us to give up before we start and that line of assault exposes weakness in our foundation.
Back then Israel and most nations gained success and strength by the cities and walls they built to protect their culture, way of life, and belief system from those who would seek to overtake them. Any city who was attacked saw their walls destroyed at the outset so they could easily be defeated. Israel had forgotten where their strength lay – in God Himself to fight the battle. (That can happen to us as well.)
The people (like us) were fatigued and as Vince Lombardi once said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”
Those people back there in about 445 B.C. had needs not unlike ours as we may feel weary after months of an upended lifestyle and world. We need confidence in God, watchfulness and prayer, and steadfast courage. You see, the people of Israel had lost connection with God, each other, and their identity.
What does that word connect mean? When used as a verb, it implies action and means 1) to become joined; 2) to have or establish rapport; 3) to pin or fasten together; and 4) to place or establish in relationship. When the word is used as a noun it means: 1) a relation of personal intimacy; 2) continuity coherence; or 3) something that connects or transports.
Back in Jerusalem when Nehemiah arrives, he finds they have started rebuilding the city walls – hence, the taunts from the neighbors who were not in favor of this project.
Nehemiah sees what’s happening and goes out at night and surveys what is happening in order to look at the strategy needed to move beyond the current state of affairs. One of the things he observes: people are working on the walls during the day and how far apart, they were while working. It would be easy for their enemies to slip in and overtake them. They were too far apart so they were undone in no time.
Nehemiah sees defeat will come in the midst of lost connection.
It can happen to us as well.
Nehemiah’s strategy was impeccable. He organized them so that half of those working on the wall did construction and the other half held spears and shields, bows, and coats of mail while the leaders stood behind the wall as watchmen who observed any movement of the enemy and would blow a trumpet to warn of an ensuing attack. He noted they were still too far apart so the sound of the trumpet was needed to cause all to rally to the point of the enemy’s attack.
With this strategy in place they worked from dawn into the night while someone was always guarding the places broken down on the walls.
In this time of lost connection for us in 2020, too many of us have become isolated from the sources of support. It can be easy for the enemy to invade our territory and cause us to feel weary and defeated or chase what John Eldredge calls “less wild lovers” – other things to comfort us, God is the wildest lover of all.
What is crucial is for us to shake ourselves and be alert to what connection has been lost beyond those outward evidences of staying at home, not meeting family and friends, not worshipping together and more. To resume our place on the wall, to stand in the gap for ourselves and others, and regain connection on the spiritual battlefield that no pandemic can destroy.
God made us for radical relationship with Him and each other. Few things have challenged that or the expressions of it more than the current pandemic. Our Advocate is calling us to stand up, reach out, and to look up.
Be a watchman.