It’s well into our nationwide “social distancing”. Depending on where you live, you could be on day 14 or day 45… and things are getting a tad harried in your home. The demands of staying indoors, away from others, away from activities can be weighing heavy on you. I’ve been praying for the leaders all across the world lately. Leaders of companies, towns, states, health departments… and leaders of churches. My husband and I are leading just a small congregation in a small community, but the burden seems heavy. It’s daunting every Sunday when we know people long to connect, to receive prayer, a hug, or some physical reassurance that life will return to normal. This weighs heavy on me.
So I awoke early this morning and took my burdens to the Lord. In the midst of my prayer time I turned in my Bible to my scheduled Bible reading and asked God to shed light on our current situation. I know that even the Old Testament, has a current application. And God did just that.
Let me set the stage: When the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem in 597 BC all of the Jewish men and women were taken into captivity. This captivity lasted 70 years
(And praise God he didn’t tell me that this Covid-19 would last 70 years!).
After many years, decades even, Jerusalem was like a ghost town. The beautiful city was in ruins. The wall torn down, the temple in rubble. Then, with a new king, the Jews were given the opportunity to return home.
One day, we’ll get to return to our norm. One day, churches will open up again. Leaders, don’t lose heart, there will come a great homecoming when the church doors will be flung wide, and the people will return!
Unfortunately, the Jews had made a life for themselves within the captivity. They built homes, married, had children, and settled in. So only about 2% of the freed Jews decided to return to Jerusalem. They came back to a town in ruins. However, they rebuilt the temple. They focused on rebuilding spiritual formations and getting back to their Jewish traditions. They had tried to rebuild the wall, but too many obstacles were in their way and the rebuilding had failed. The city wasn’t much for about 150 years until Nehemiah came on the scene.
When Nehemiah took a stand and boldly proclaimed that the wall of Jerusalem needed to be rebuilt, no one really believed it could be done. The wall was important to protect the holy city. And out of their unbelief the walls laid in ruins and the people stayed vulnerable and in trouble.
This is where I feel we are heading. Leaders are growing weary, the end is not even close. The dates for returning to real life change daily. The unknown is so dauntingly UNKNOWN… and that can debilitate us. If you are a leader trying to lead a group of people, shepherd from a safe distance… you may feel defeated.
But will you read Nehemiah chapter 4 with me?
There were people who hated that the Jews were rebuilding.
There are people who HATE that church is moving to the airwaves. You maybe don’t see them, or hear from them… but the enemy probably thought closing the church doors was a grand victory for him. He underestimated the God we serve. But we can not underestimate how hard the enemy will work. He’s going to (if he hasn’t already) attack those who haven’t had anyone lay hands on them for healing. He’s going to (if he hasn’t already) attack those who are prone to depression. He is going to (you get the point here) try to convince people not to return to the physical church building. We can’t assume that an online success will go unnoticed by Satan. Like most attacks, Satan uses a tad bit of truth with a whole lot of lies. There is truth to the fact that isolation causes a distance to grow among Christians. There is truth to the fact that we are all vulnerable when we are away from each other. There is truth to the idea that some will find it easier to stay at home instead of travel to the church building… and so it’s natural for church leaders to fret. But fretting will not bring results.
Nehemiah used the taunting and the naysaying from Sanballet as fuel for his prayers. He began to cry out to the only one that could remedy the situation, build the workers up, and protect the Jews from further attack.
THIS is the only way to fight. Church leaders, do you hear me? Great digital communication won’t heal the sick. Perfect graphics won’t hug the grieving. Top of the line video equipment will not be a good enough replacement for actual physical gathering. The only way to combat what the enemy is working so hard to destroy is to allow the Holy Spirit to enter each and every heart. And that can start as YOU pray for your people.
Nehemiah prayed for protection. He guarded the city to protect it against the enemy. Interesting thing here about the Bible. What we see in the Old testament in solid tangible ways like a physical enemy attacking a physical city, we see in spiritual ways in the New Testament. Ephesians 6: 12 reminds us that we now fight against the devil and his evil schemes, not flesh and blood.
This is why we fight through prayer. We pray what Nehemiah prayed. “The Workers are getting tired (AMEN!!!!), and there is much rubble to be moved, we’ll never be able to rebuild alone! LORD HELP US!!!”
Then, please look at what Nehemiah says in verse 14. He looks over the situation, he calls in the people and he encourages them.
Pastors, and other Church leaders now is the time to encourage your people not to be afraid of the enemy. Remind them of the Lord, who is great and glorious. Then tell your people to fight for their brothers and sisters, their sons and daughters, their wives and husbands, and their homes! Equip your people to minister to each other, to fight for them in prayer, and to protect their family through spiritual growth at home. This starts with YOU, leader, praying!
The Jews worked together once they were refreshed by listening to Nehemiah. They worked hard, and they DID rebuild that wall. They worked so hard that they went DAYS without changing their clothes (verse 23)… IF that doesn’t speak directly to the state of our world right now… I don’t know what does!
The Jews fought hard. They carried their weapons with them. They stood guard. They built, protected, and kept watch.
This is our calling for such a time as this. Our weapon? Prayer. Pray continuously. Anxious about when the church doors open? Pray. Scared for the health of those in your church? Pray. Nervous about how to connect with everyone in your church? Pray… then build your team, encourage them, and send them out to keep watch.
The Bible reminds us of how faithful God is time and time again. This will not be the exception. This virus will not stop the rebuilding of the wall if we buckle down and spend time before God on own knees. Prayer strengthens us, empowers us, and frees us. We, leaders, are drained. If you’ve never live streamed, premier streamed, recorded, edited, and talked to an empty sanctuary… you are wading in new ( and very turbulent) waters. Prayer will give you strength. Prayer will empower you. It will give you a new vision for a new time. You’ll feel renewed to think outside the box. And prayer frees us. Prayer will remind us that WE are not THE leader of the church, we are just one of them. JESUS is THE leader. And He will draw them in. What a burden that lifts off of us. YES, he will work through us. He will use us… but He’s the one that changes hearts and the more time we spend in prayer handing Him those reigns, the more confidence we’ll have, and the more freedom we will have in ministry.
I’m praying for us all. Even if you have the top notch equipment and you’ve always had an online presence, these times are hard. Hang in there, this, too, shall pass. And I truly believe we have the potential of being stronger, more united, and better when it’s all over.