I think I might have found the worst meeting request ever.
A few weeks ago I taught in the Connection Hour from Nehemiah 6 as part of our series on the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.
Up to this point, Nehemiah has followed in the footsteps of Ezra to rebuild and repopulate Jerusalem for the people of God. But Nehemiah wasn’t a priest like Ezra; he was a servant of the king who was right at the heart of everything (Neh. 1:11). Nehemiah heard about the struggle of his people -- God’s people -- in Jerusalem. He wept, he mourned, he fasted, and he prayed in response. And after hearing from God, he set out to Jerusalem on his rebuilding mission.
Nehemiah had the blessing of the King but that didn’t mean that everyone agreed with what he was doing. There were numerous attempts to get Nehemiah to stop the work. After more direct attempts couldn’t convince Nehemiah to stop rebuilding the wall, the opposition decided to take a more indirect route. That’s what we read about in the beginning of chapter 6. Some guys, Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem the Arab, decided that time was running out for them to stop Nehemiah. So they decided to trick him.
Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come and let us meet together at Hakkephirim in the plain of Ono.” But they intended to do me harm. And I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” (Neh. 6:2-3)
The plain of Ono would have been a pretty far off place. I think Nehemiah knows there's no good reason for these guys to invite him to a meeting. But these guys aren’t just any random guys in town. In the hierarchy of the day they're at least his peers or colleagues in the king’s service, but more likely they serve in a governor role over Nehemiah and the whole region. So while it is a strange request, it carries weight. After all, if the Governor of Indiana asks you to a meeting, you’d most likely go, regardless of if you understood the direct reason for the meeting.
But Nehemiah does understand why he was being asked to come to a far off place. He knows they want to do him harm. He knows the work he is doing is more important. He calls it a great work.But would everyone have seen it that way?
From our vantage point, we can see what God did through Nehemiah’s work. But look at it from the people of the day: Jerusalem is a small, run-down town on the outskirts of the Persian empire. Nehemiah used to have frequent access to the king; now he’s managing a construction project. He’s building something to be a defense for a relatively small group of people, many of whom will have to be convinced to move there by casting lots.
But Nehemiah knows his wall-building isn’t really about building a wall. He knows it isn’t really for these small group of reluctant city dwellers. The work of Ezra and Nehemiah isn’t really a construction project or an economic development effort, as good as those things are. It’s an act of restoring worship to the one, true God. It’s a work done for God himself. That’s what makes it a great work. It’s not the work being done but the one for whom it's being done that makes it great.
The next time you get a meeting request, don’t think I’m giving you permission to blow it off. But the next time anyone makes a request on your time, I am saying you should think about your priorities. Don’t look first at the calendar to see if you’re free or if you’d rather do this thing or that thing more. Look at who you’re really serving. My guess is you have some pretty great works to do.