"Then I said to them, "You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision. And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, "Let us rise up and build." So they strengthened their hands for the good work." (Nehemiah 2: 17-18)

I read the other day of a statue on loan from Florence which was placed on display in one of our prominent museums. The artist was none other than Michelangelo, the master sculptor of the 16th century. The piece which was displayed proved to be a curious surprise for many as it was one which remained unfinished. The figure of a man - some believe to be David - others interpret as Apollo - can be distinguished, almost as one still struggling to emerge from its marble encasement. Much speculation has circled around as to why Michelangelo left this particular work unfinished. Some historians have concluded that the artist was torn between his loyalty and his commitment between two patronages and in this period of confusion he abandoned the work and never returned to finish it.

I think of that unfinished statue as I read the verses found here in this section of the Book of Nehemiah. You will recall how Nehemiah was commissioned by King Artaxerxes of Persia to return to Jerusalem and oversee the enormous task of rebuilding the walls of that city and her gates. Upon his arrival, Nehemiah took it upon himself to ride around the city and inspect the wall. In other words, he wanted an up close and first hand understanding of the job that lay before him. You can read about his inspection report here in this chapter (vv. 13-16). I won't say that he was discouraged, but clearly he was under no false delusion that the task would be easy. Not only was there much work to be done, but there was the ever-present danger they faced from their enemies that lived right in their midst - enemies who were solidly against the rebuilding of the wall. But Nehemiah was a man of great vision and faith. And so, he spoke to the people - challenged them with the task - reminded them of the faithfulness of God - and here we read of their response. "And they said, "Let us rise up and build." So they strengthened their hands for the good work."

Despite the opposition and no matter the constant taunts of their enemies - the people rose up and applied themselves to the job before them. And a little later on (4:6) we read: "So we built the wall. And the wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work." I like that! - the people "had a mind to work." Oh, if that were the more natural and more normal reaction we might see among the people of God today! What a blessing we'd experience if this was the dominant attitude within our churches!

It really should be that way, shouldn't it? Are we not all called to serve? Doesn't the New Testament identify all the followers of Christ as "doulos" - which is translated 'slave' or 'servant'? And has not our Lord himself told us to lift up our eyes, for behold, the fields are white unto harvest"? And, therefore, are we not commanded to pray that the Lord of the harvest will thrust forth more laborers into His harvest field? Then why is it that we witness so many who fall out of the ecclesiastical workplace?

In Nehemiah 4:10 we're told that "In Judah it was said, "the strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall." It that was true then of the task before the church in Nehemiah's day, then it certainly remains true for us today. The hymn writer accurately wrote: "Our strength is unequal to our task." Surely you will agree that the work before us, as the people of God - to disciple the nations - is beyond our strength and exceeds our limited resources. The cry continues to rise up from our midst unto He who sits upon the throne - "O God, we need help. Strengthen our hands for the work. Raise up more laborers to join us. There is too much rubble!"

How about it? To what degree and in what measure are you actively giving of yourself unto the work of the church? What gifts do you bring? What talents and skills do you offer? What portion of your time do you make available for the on-going work of the mission of the church? In 2 Timothy 2:15, Paul tells Timothy to "be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed." Timothy, of course, was a minister and, therefore, Paul was admonishing him to the faithful discharge of his duties as the local shepherd of the flock in Ephesus. But I want you to apply this same exhortation to yourself. You, too, are called of God as "a workman". It is your responsibility, therefore, to apply yourself faithfully to the work for which you were created - joining with your brothers and sisters - each one strengthening the hands of the other - until the work is finished.

You know, no one questions Michelangelo's creative skill, his genius or imagination. We all know that he could easily have finished that statue. He had done it numerous times before. But the fact remains that this particular work was left undone. Let me ask you - what work is being left undone in the church because you have failed to give of yourself? - because you have withheld the tithe or that talent? Think about it!