Time and energy is money. And money is money. So when we want to get something done we typically want it done as efficiently as possible.
That’s why we are often bewildered when God gives us work to do and then allows the “inefficiencies” of trouble and opposition to consume so much time, energy, and money. Why does he do this? We see a clue in the book of Nehemiah.1
At first, God just seems to prosper Nehemiah. He rose through the ranks of Artaxerxes’ court to the prestigious and highly trusted position of the king’s cupbearer. This provided him close proximity to and high credibility with the king. This in turn caused the king to notice Nehemiah’s sadness over Jerusalem and want to do something about it.
Soon Nehemiah was off to Jerusalem with a royal leave of absence, building permit, and military escort. When he arrived he quickly mobilized volunteers to rebuild sections of the city’s crumbled wall. And these folks “had a mind to work” (Nehemiah 4:6). Things were going very well.
Then Sanballat and Tobiah entered the picture. Their people remembered Judah’s former regional dominance. A rebuilt Jerusalem meant a Jewish resurrection and they were determined to keep the tomb closed.
They tried everything. They jeered, insulted, threatened attack, plotted assassinations, and intimidated Jewish families. They even threatened to tell Artaxerxes that his cupbearer had treasonous plans to appoint himself king of Judah.
But none of this worked. The “good hand of God” (Nehemiah 2:8) remained on Nehemiah and his crew.
They did, however, slow the progress. Half of the crew stopped building in order to stand guard and the other half worked while carrying weapons. Even at night they remained battle-ready.
This was a costly distraction. Productivity would have more than doubled with focused, rested workers. God gave Nehemiah favor with mighty Artaxerxes. He could have done the same with Sanballat and Tobiah. Why did he allow so much wasted time, energy, and money?
The truth is, he didn’t. In God’s economy none of these resources were wasted. He invested them in building something far more important and precious than a wall. He was building faith.
A rebuilt city and a faithless people would not please God (Hebrews 11:6). History had shown that a strong wall doesn’t save “unless the Lord watches over the city” (Psalm 127:1). So, as Nehemiah and the people worked to rebuild Jerusalem, God worked — through opposition — to build their dependent faith in his power rather than their own. It was the opposition that prompted Nehemiah to preach, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome” (Nehemiah 4:14).
Faith is “the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). God gives it to us as a gift (Ephesians 2:8). But he tests, refines, and strengthens it in the fires of difficulty, adversity, opposition, and suffering. We only really learn to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7) when we must trust what is “not seen” more than what is seen.
That’s why all the seeming inefficient trials of our kingdom life and labor are not wasted. God is building “the tested genuineness of [our] faith,” which he considers “more precious than gold” (1 Peter 1:7). And it’s trials more than prosperity that teaches us to “remember the Lord.”
So “count it all joy” today “when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). God is building your faith.
Faith is worth all the time, energy, and money it costs to build. Because only by faith will we receive our commendation from God (Hebrews 11:2).
Much of this meditation is taken from Nehemiah 4. ↩