Goals in the Christian Life (4): Serious Stonework

Whether it’s blocks or bricks, tree houses or real houses, there seems to be a little builder in all of us. Maybe we dream deck designs and home additions, but how’s our vision for the assembly? Not our list of twenty ways to improve the hall, but the real building. Are we focused on the spiritual? How we harness that constructive energy determines our eternal reward. Some will pass the final inspection with honors and acclaim; others will watch their structures gutted and demolished. What will be my legacy: a landmark—or a gap in the skyline?

Big building projects need big preparation, big coordination, and big pockets. But before the groundbreaking ceremony, before the blueprints are unrolled or the check is signed, even before the first pencil is sharpened, the building has already taken shape. It’s as real as if completed. The visionary sees it: towering, landscaped, functional, beautiful. He can’t hold back. It must be built.

The Vision

A midnight donkey ride over heaps of rubble seems an unlikely moment for a flash of vision. But that was when it was most needed. The few men who followed on foot struggled to see anything encouraging in the burned-out gates and broken-down walls, but Nehemiah found it positively inspiring.

“Ye see the distress that we are in,” he calls down from a pile of broken stone, “How Jerusalem lieth waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire: come, and let us build!” (Neh 2:17). They saw the waste, he saw the walls. They saw the ashes, he saw the answer. He was the visionary.

How would you describe the state of your local assembly? Crumbling at the corners? Charred by problems? A shell of what it used to be? We feel quite comfortable in the building inspector’s boots; clipboard under arm, poking around here and there. Our pens appear only to sign the notice—Condemned. Not enough of this, too much of that. One pillar is too crooked, another is too straight.

Meet Nehemiah. He sees the condition, but he dreams a different conclusion. His pen is out, filling the page with task lists, sketching what it could be. He is the visionary, and fifty-two days later, the wall is done! What could the assembly be if I used his pen on my clipboard?

The Mason

For Nehemiah, building involved much more than stone-stacking. Along with the vision, we need the right mix of methods and materials. If our only objective was to change the landscape, a garbage dump would do. But the aspiring architect dreams of so much more. He wants to bring together everything he has learned about structural integrity, architectural beauty, and serviceable practicality.

Do we see what could be? There’s room for a helper in the Sunday school. That widow would love a visit. What about coming prepared for the Bible study? For years, we haven’t preached in the open air. A sister would appreciate help with her children. How about getting together to hand out tracts? Let’s organize a missionary parcel night. Could you encourage others to attend the prayer meeting?

Has our vision given us goals? Have we put our shoulder to the stone? As apprentices, let’s watch the journeymen’s approach to putting vision into action:

Prayer (Neh 1:4-2:4). Nehemiah spent four months on his knees before he mentioned his idea to the king. He wanted to work, but he wanted to be sure that the Lord was in it.

Sacrifice (Neh 2:1-6). He put his comfortable job and personal safety on the line for the need of God’s people. What will we put on the line to see the work advance and the assembly built up?

Authority (Neh 2:7-8). Nehemiah wanted the king’s written authorization. In the assembly, the written Word and divinely appointed overseers form the authority that must govern our building.

Unity (Neh 3). On the workers’ list, name after name, men and women, are joined by “next unto him” and “next unto them.” Nehemiah’s plans meant laboring together. Fellowship was essential.

Persistence (Neh 4-6). The more he built, the more he was slandered, attacked, and betrayed. He had every reason to be discouraged, but his prayer was, “O God, strengthen my hands,” and his motto: “Why should the work cease?”

The Celebration

Can you imagine the joy? The wall is done! The work is inspected; every detail noted and admired. “So stood the two companies…the singers sang loud…and that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced: for God had made them rejoice with great joy” (Neh 12:40-43).

Paul urges us to live for that imminent event, when “every man’s work shall be made manifest” (1Cor 3:13; 1Th 4:16-17).

The apostle, a wise masterbuilder, took his stonework seriously. He toiled in sweat and tears with the final inspection in mind. Now he instructs us to lay more rows on the same foundation, “But,” he says, “Let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon” (1Cor 3:10). What are you adding to the assembly? What have I contributed to its spiritual development this week? Anything of lasting value—gold, silver, precious stones? Or was it wood—veneered to impress – or hay and straw bricks—reminiscent of my slave days in Egypt?

Let’s aim higher and build better, anticipating the true inspection when, “If any man’s work abide…he shall receive a reward” (1Cor 3:14). Like Asa, “Let us build…while the land is yet before us; because we have sought the Lord our God.” Imagine the Lord writing about us, “So they built and prospered” (2Ch 14:7)!