Nehemiah was a man of resolve. He was a man of focus; a man of purpose.
He was a man with a mission from which nothing would distract him. He was a man who could be counted on to begin and complete any task. This was both his gift and his practice.
Distraction from the essential responsibilities of life and devotion to the advancement of the Kingdom has always been a problem, yet never so much as it is today. This is what the Apostle Paul was concerned about when he commanded the Ephesians and the Colossians to redeem the time that God had given them on the earth. He urged them to redeem the time from something so as to redeem it to something. Paul was urging them toward a proper stewardship of time, the most precious commodity on earth. Knowing that the days on earth are full of evil, and the people of God are prone to many distractions, his concern was that God’s people would lack the spiritual fortitude, concentration of mind, and discipline of body to be consistently productive in their calling, God-ward.
Nehemiah, Our Example
The resolve, focus, and tenacity that is seen in Nehemiah, and in all the prophets and apostles, was not at all common. In fact it was very unusual. It was unusual because it hinged upon God’s grace: a grace conferred upon an individual especially for the purpose of godly resolve, focus, and tenacity. Today we are plagued with a legion of distractions that infest every aspect of our lives. These distractions are with us daily, upon our persons and in our homes. In this age of technology, there is no safe haven from distraction. In an article in Entrepreneur Magazine called “Pay Attention,” Joe Robinson observes:
Chronic interruptions, of the digital and human variety, are assaulting our concentration.
As thinking is diverted, the personal and financial consequences are immense; among them, possibility for error, increased stress and greatly diminished productivity. It just may be the crime of the century. Our minds, thoughts and chief productivity tool—attention—are being stolen by a thief, operating with absolute impunity; incessant, unbounded interruptions …an ever growing volume of intruders, emails, texts, apps, phone calls, social media alerts—combined with assaults from increasingly time panicked humans, are leaving few places safe for … Ding free concentration.1
Perhaps Robinson’s list should also include distractions from the siren call of news feeds, blogs, YouTube uploads, Skype, XBox, and a host of online and offline interactive video games.
Robinson’s conclusion is that all this technology, while it can be useful if stewarded properly, has rather become addictive.
This is why technology is so addictive. It can destroy the ability to control impulsivity, which means more frequent message checking and web browsing, and shorter attention spans … [These] interruptions undermine effortful control, which reflects the ability to regulate impulse control … [These] interruptions trigger detours that tax working memory and increase the time it takes to accomplish tasks.2
All of these technological advancements are developed and promoted in an unconscious effort to “eat away” precious hours of our lives that might otherwise be used for productive accomplishments. Author David F. Noble (not to be confused with David A. Noble of Summit Ministries) posits, “[There is] an ideological wedding of technology and transcendence.”3 Technology in his view has become “invested with spiritual significance.”4
This may be true for the Premillennials, who look at the advancement of technology as a sign that we are near the end of the world where knowledge will increase at such a rapid rate that mankind will eventually know all the secrets of the universe and be as God. Thus the Premillennials view technology eschatologically, even apocalyptically.
This is not the case, however, with those of the Postmillennial Reformed faith where the historical victory of the Messiah is inevitable before the end of the age. Theirs is another problem. For some of them technology has become an escape from postmillennial responsibility. For others it is a distraction from any productivity God-ward. Either way it has become detrimental for any advancement of the Kingdom.
The hours spent upon these “techno addictions” are never recovered. If they are not used for a productive end, they are wasted and lost forever.
Productive Christians in an Age of Techno-Addiction
In the theological community we sometimes ask, how did Calvin preach so many sermons, write so many commentaries and books, keep up with so many correspondences, shepherd the people of his congregation, and teach at the Geneva academy? We might also ask how John Owen wrote volumes of theological discourses while deeply involved in the pastorate, in academia, and in the affairs of state. And what about the Puritans and their many pastoral and theological accomplishments, not to mention our own modern theologians: Gary North, R.J. Rushdoony, David Hall, Joel Beeke, John Frame, Gordon Clark, Keith Mathison, and so many others? How did they do it? How did they accomplish so much, many of them having so little? What makes them different? The answer is simple; not easy—but simple. These all were men of resolve. They were men of devotion. They were men of focus. They knew how to assess and prioritize. They knew what it took to fulfill their commission under God and they sought to execute it with targeted action.
The account of Nehemiah is so applicable to our day of distraction that it is the quintessential case study for reform and reconstruction of the individual, the church, and the nation. In the thirteen chapters of the book lie many of the answers to our modern distraction problems. Nehemiah sets the pace, gives the example, and lays down some ground rules for God’s people to follow.
Nehemiah was faced with a situation, which, if not remedied, placed Israel at risk. It was a situation which impacted the present as well as the future. If not remedied, it would destroy both the present and the future of the Hebrew people. His call was a call of reconstruction. This was his focus. It was an urgent issue and he understood it as such. Perhaps that is Christendom’s problem. We do not fully understand the gravity of the problem we face in our world today. Nehemiah understood. He was a man of his times and he was resolved to rebuild the wall and re-establish the safety of the nation. That was his quest, his purpose, his vision, and his passion—and it was upon that task that he was poised to accomplish. That is our first lesson.
Without vision, focus, resolve, and the passion to carry out that vision, all efforts are doomed to failure. Desire is not enough. Empty talk is meaningless. Debate is usually fruitless. Creativity is not enough since it takes an industrious person to bring to fruition productive ends. Nehemiah was a man of discipline and resolve. He would build that wall. That was his quest and his entire life depended on it. He found his life’s meaning in its accomplishment.
Nehemiah was very concerned for his brethren. He was concerned for the church and for the integrity of the Kingdom of God. It was a genuine concern which fueled his resolve and strengthened his tenacity. He desired his brethren’s wellbeing and safety. He desired for them to glorify God by being used in His service. He wanted to see them actively involved in the mission. He had hoped that they would work as one, united in the work of advancing God’s honor, His glory and His Kingdom. But that would take individual devotion and self sacrifice. It would take prioritizing, diligence, and focus. It would take discipline and resolve. Distraction was the last thing the people of God needed, especially at this time in history.
Whenever God’s people fail to be productive, they are overcome with sin and the bondage of wickedness. They are then reduced to shame and can no longer be a victorious people. They are then a defeated people. Distracted Christians are a direct contradiction to their commission. They then become a reproach to men and nations.
Their salt loses its savor; becomes good for nothing except to be trodden under foot by wicked men. This is where we find ourselves today. Trodden under foot by wicked men (Matt. 5:13).
Nehemiah’s resolution made him piously devoted to the majesty of the Lord, working tirelessly to see His law honored before all nations and by all men, especially the people of Israel. His was one goal and one hope: Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven. In light of this we have to seriously ask ourselves some very probing questions. What is my purpose? What is my life’s goal? How will I get there? Is it worth it? Does my goal have an eternal impact? A generational legacy attached to it? What am I really all about? David tells us that even a child is known by his doings. What am I investing my life in? Nehemiah knew the answer to each of these questions and it hinged upon God—his Maker, Redeemer, and Provider. His concern led him to enquire and probe into the problem and to seek a solution. This shows that he was also self-motivated and poised for action.
There is another point that must be considered. We are never to neglect, or take for granted, the power and authority of the gospel, and our commission to advance Christ’s Kingdom, in light of the overwhelming responsibility that the Lord has given to His church and each individual in that body (Rom. 1:16).
The Source and Strength of Nehemiah’s Attitude
Nehemiah’s concern and godly attitude came as a result of his regeneration.
He was a child of God. No one taught him how to be genuinely concerned for others.
No one taught him how to be genuinely concerned for the body of Christ or for the honor of His majesty. None taught him the desire to see the advancement of the Kingdom to the extent that he would risk his entire life for its honor and advancement.
He was not taught by men. He was taught by God (Isa. 54:13, 1 John 2:27).
This tells us that the true saint will have an overwhelming concern for the people of God, and for the Kingdom of God as it exists in time and history as a result of God’s anointing, and regenerating work of conversion. The problem that the redeemed face today is that they are overly distracted and have been thrown into the quagmire of the distracters, and do not know how to break free.
The Analogy of the Broken Wall
First, God uses the wall as a depiction of the law of God. It is the law of God which makes every city a fortress. When the law of God is established in a culture, the city is secure. Justice and peace are the result. Whenever the law of God is broken down, as it was in Nehemiah’s case, it signifies that it has been disregarded, abused, perverted, shunned, mocked, and replaced by secular reasoning. Second, we must understand the broken wall in Nehemiah’s case illustrates the fact that the people were without protection. And since the church is likened to a city upon a hill, if it does not have a secure wall of protection around it, it will be in danger (Prov. 25:28).This was the dilemma which Nehemiah was contemplating.
When Nehemiah viewed the wall (Neh. 2:15), he was contemplating and assessing the spiritual nature of each individual and family, the spiritual vitality of the church as a whole, and the entire cultural and societal structure of the nation, that had left off God’s holy law. The ethical and Biblical standards of God’s people were in a shambles due to their lack of vision, resolve, passion, and focus to apply the law of God to every area of life. Only then could the wall be reconstructed to protect the integrity of the nation. By their lack of diligence the protecting wall was left to crumble. Their highest good had now been misplaced with a focus upon the self, instead of on the God of glory. Whenever God’s people fall into grotesque distractions the Kingdom of God wanes.
Nehemiah First Prays, Then Acts
Before beginning the strategic application of his plan, Nehemiah begins with a prayer of confession. He confesses for himself and for his people (Neh. 1:4). Confession is a fundamental principle of repentance and restoration. This is where the saints must begin. Next he petitions the King. This is significant because it shows that Nehemiah knew influential people. He positioned himself so as to gain an audience. He did it slowly and over time. We must do likewise. We must show ourselves as sober, trustworthy, wise, knowledgeable, and credible men. In the business world this is called position marketing. Marketing mogul Seth Godin calls it “permission marketing.” You promote yourself so as to promote your philosophy. Strategy and positioning are key ingredients to getting the message of the gospel and its cultural import out. Nehemiah positioned himself strategically within the social order as a man to be reckoned with.
He proved himself to be a man of integrity and wisdom. He built a reputation that was honorable.
Nehemiah then assesses the situation and delegates the task of reconstruction (Neh. 2:11).
He does this under the cover of darkness. I believe there is a time that whenever plans are being made for Christian Reconstruction, that the church should first work behind the scenes, under the radar. Then, when all is in place, she is to execute the plan in the sight of all men and nations.
Nehemiah then assembles a faithful team and orchestrates the logistics of the plan. Obviously he had a pool of men to choose from. We lack that today. Today committed men are hard to find. Men who are willing to sacrifice, and willing to focus upon a task, are hard to find especially when that task is a long-term, generational one. We lack faithful men of scholarship who are also self-starters and men of consistency. Today it seems that everyone wants to be the top dog. Teamwork is no longer an option. The Reformed Christian community is scattered, many times unwilling to work as a cohesive whole. Wonderfully, however, Nehemiah had the right men who were willing to work as a team. These men were not only poised for the task; they were trained for the task.
Yet the training is not only in theology, Christian philosophy, leadership skills, and Biblical law. Needed today is a training in humility and teamwork. It is training in organizational skills which also teaches men and women how not to be distracted from the duty of the gospel. We need to train willing Christians how to get jobs done and to get them to actually do something in a coordinated effort. We need to teach men, yes, but we need to pray that they be men taught of God. Like Nehemiah’s prayer we, too, must appeal to the covenant promises of God.
Enter the Enemies of Christian Reconstruction—the Distracters Human and Technological
There will always be a conspiracy against the advancement of the Kingdom by evil men, as well as by our own proneness to waste precious time, but it is the express purpose of God to have His servants build the Kingdom of God “in the midst of these enemies”! As a result of Nehemiah’s convictions he remained focused in the face of these men. No matter what distractions they threw at him he remained resolute and targeted upon his goal.
Nehemiah faced mockery. The enemies despised his work. They questioned the integrity of the work, the validity and longevity of the project, and whether it was really worth the sacrifice. The enemies tried to convince Nehemiah that the project was unrealistic and that there was little substance to it. It was a dream, a fantasy. How many times have we heard that “We are living in a dream world” to think that the world would ever come under the dominion of the righteous Christ? If Christians are not convinced that the work of theonomy and Christian Reconstruction is worthy of their passion and focus, then they will be easily distracted.
Indeed, Nehemiah was a visionary, yet he was not unrealistic. He understood the way things were and the way things ought to be. He also had an applicable knowledge of God’s Word. He knew it was powerfully useful in real circumstances. He also knew that this was God’s work. God was the source of the work and it was His work that Nehemiah and all of Israel had undertaken for His glory. It was from this position that Nehemiah planned and executed his project. In this historical situation God was merciful by giving the people a mind to work. They were committed, resolved, focused, and passionate.
How do we Christians remain focused in a world of many distractions?
Remember there are many varieties of distraction, both human and technological. For now I wish to focus upon the distracters which come to us via technology.
First: Know that the commission of the saint is a calling of God. The work of the saint is theistic, not humanistic.
Second: Know also that every one of God’s redeemed are purchased and therefore no longer belong to themselves but to God to do His bidding.
Third: Since the work is God’s, it will always yield fruit. It is never a work in vain (Neh. 2:20).
While there will always be people that seek to destroy the work, there are also those things which are technological that seek to distract us. These may very well be the greater enemies.
The enemies of God do not need to kill us or silence us … they merely need to distract us. The great distracters of Nehemiah’s day, Sanballat and Gershem, illustrate this, by seeking to take Nehemiah from the work (Neh. 6:1–2). Despite these distractions, Nehemiah would not be tempted (Neh. 6:3). He was focused upon a great work, and he was resolved to complete it.
We must see the work of God not merely as a work but as a great work. Nehemiah’s plan was to advance God’s work by arming the people with practical strategies and tactics to ward off distraction and discouragement. In the historical account, he arms them with tools for defense as well as tools for building the wall. He gave them the physical tools along with the metaphysical realties that the supernatural God will fight for them and prosper their work.
Some practical strategies to root out ungodly distractions.
1. Begin your day with quiet time.
Wake thirty minutes earlier to be with God without interruption.
Mediate upon the work of God and your part in it.
Embrace it as your work. Internalize it as your own.
Plan your day accordingly.
Meditate upon your position in His universal scheme of things, and how you can assist in that work.
2. Curb your Internet time.
Limit your time answering emails.
Check them once or twice per day depending on your need.
Filter out the nonsense coming to you via your electronic mail.
Set a timer and stick to a set time to answer emails.
3. Do not answer every phone call unless it is an urgent call.
Silence all audio chimes on your cell phone because the tendency is to immediately check to see who is distracting you.
4. Stay off Facebook until the end of the day.
Then only stay on for a few minutes, unless you are using social media for your ministry or business. If you are using social media for business or ministry, allot a specific time that you will be on the site and do not be tempted to open any other browsers. If you get the urge to surf the web, get up from your chair and take a break. Eat. Take a walk. Run around the house. Do jumping jacks but do not be distracted by the urge to surf the web, or check email, or whatever.
5. If you desperately need to know what is happening in the continual collapse of our culture, you can check one or two news sites, but only read the headlines and browse for no more than ten minutes. That is all it should take to know that the world is still in a tailspin and your duty to change it is that much more urgent.
6. Set boundaries for your uninterrupted work time. Carve out a certain time in the day where you are to be without interruption.
7. Close the day with a recap of what you have accomplished.
Monitor your progress. Repent over any wasted time spent on meaningless endeavors. See all distractions as sacrilegious. They can very well be the undoing of your impact on the culture.
One of the reasons why I believe the church has been brought into such a state of shambles is because she has not been focused upon the historic Christian faith, its creeds and its counsels, and how Christianity has changed, and ought to change—the face of the world by transforming cultures. Remember the enemies of the gospel never sleep. But while good men sleep, the enemy sows tares. Christians need to wake up out of sleep. Our task is clearly before us. Will we fight for our brethren, our sons and our daughters, our wives and our houses, or will we lie back comfortably upon our beds waiting for someone else to sacrifice for the work of God in the advancing of the Kingdom? If that is your position, can you be truly sure that the Spirit of God rests upon you unto salvation? The great Puritan Richard Baxter penned these words hundreds of years ago;
He that is in a state of sin hath habitually and predominantly a greater love to some pleasures or profits, or honors of this world than he hath to God and to the glory which he hath promised. He prefereth and seeketh and holdeth (if he can) his fleshly prosperity in this world before the favor of God … On the other side, a state of holiness is nothing else but the habitual and predominant devotion and dedication of soul body and life, and all that we have, to God; and esteeming and loving and serving and seeking Him before all the pleasures and prosperity of the flesh, making His favor and everlasting happiness … our end.5
May God strengthen us to do all His Holy will in our day—in our time—advancing His Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven.
1. Entrepreneur Magazine, September 2014, pp. 61–62.
2. ibid., p. 64.
3. David F. Noble, The Religion of Technology (New York: Alfred A. Knopf Publications, 1998), p. 22.
4. ibid., front flap.
5. Richard Baxter, A Christian Directory (n.p., n.d.), p. 14.
- Paul Michael Raymond
Rev. Dr. Paul Michael Raymond is the pastor of the Reformed Bible Church (RBC) in Appomattox, Virginia, since relocating there from NY in 1998. He has initiated many educational projects including the RBC in-house Home-Educators’ Academy, the New Geneva Christian Leadership Academy (college) with its extensive research library, and a Theological bookstore and café. He also continues to be an influential figure in the local community, and interactive among various Virginia state venues, as well. He has been a guest speaker on a number of radio programs, news interviews, and conferences, in addition to writing articles and opinion pieces in various newspapers, magazines, and internet blogs.
Dr. Raymond and his wife, Jane, have been married for 32 years and have three children and two grandchildren.