7. Difference-Making Work: Ezra & Nehemiah
God is at work in your work! He’s weaving your efforts into his plan in ways you can’t see or comprehend now.
Remember, please, the word which You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, "If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples; but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though those of you who have been scattered were in the most remote part of the heavens, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place where I have chosen to have My name dwell." -Nehemiah 1:8-9
Sometimes we get to experience a surreal sense of purpose in our vocations. Times like these are rewarding and satisfying. But other times, all the effort we’re putting in can feel like a waste. In times like these, is there a way to move out of the discouragement or despair we might feel?
The books Ezra and Nehemiah shed some light on this topic. When the Israelites enter their land after years of exile, they find everything in ruins. Ezra and Nehemiah tell the story of the reconstruction of their community and their capital, Jerusalem.
The rebuilding process begins with hope as the people begin to work on the temple. An Israelite priest and scribe named Ezra instructs the Jewish people in God’s ways as they seek to redeem their community. Another Israelite named Nehemiah is commissioned to rebuild the city’s walls. Both Ezra and Nehemiah intensely desire for the people to live faithfully to God so they might continue to dwell peacefully in the land God has given them.
Unfortunately, the story then takes a disappointing turn. The people get discouraged with the current state of the temple compared to its previous glory. With so much to rebuild, the Israelites feel disillusioned and discouraged, much like we often do:
“Is my little role really making a difference?”
“Is this hard work even worth it?”
Eventually, this discouragement gets the best of the Israelites. They claim to not have the resources or capacity, and they abandon the temple project. They grow apathetic towards God and the calling he’s placed on them, and their lives become characterized by disobedience to his Word.
But this is not the end of the story. The last book of the Bible records the Apostle John’s vision of the true ending, the climax all of history is headed toward. Describing the end of time, John says, “And [God]...showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God... It had a great and high wall.”
In this vision, we see that God ultimately fulfills the role of building the holy city. The “new Jerusalem” mentioned in this passage refers to the restored world that King Jesus will create when he returns again. In this restored world, this holy city, those who have trusted in Jesus as their savior will live with him in peace and security for eternity. Sounds like what Ezra and Nehemiah were after…
In the restored world, there will be no temple because the whole world will function as a temple: God’s presence will fill the whole earth, and God’s people will be with Him, face to face, intimately connected at all times!
Discouragement and failure won’t have the last word. God will fulfill the job of rebuilding and restoring his people and world.
Sometimes, as with the Israelites, our work and roles might feel empty and purposeless: when your kids aren’t responding well to any of your efforts; when the work project you spent countless hours on falls through; when your school or your current job feels like it’s leading nowhere.
When you feel this discouragement, know that God is at work in your work! God is using your efforts and redeeming them. He’s perfecting them in such a way that will display his glory in the restored world. He’s weaving them together in his plan, in ways you can’t even see or comprehend now.
It is ultimately not on you but on God to bring the restored world to fruition! With the pressure off, you can work with satisfaction and joy in both successes and setbacks. Anything done out of obedience to God, out of love for God, or in dependence on God’s power brings glory to him!
RESPOND: Take a moment to go to God in prayer and surrender your work and your efforts to him, trusting him to use them.