I’m doing a great work, so I can’t come

Today’s blog post is based on a very important Bible verse in the book of Nehemiah which has great implications for leaders. It is also one of my favorite verses from one of my favorite books of the Bible.

Example of a Wall

One of the reasons I love the book of Nehemiah is that it allows the reader to peek inside the heart of Nehemiah because it was written as a memoir from Nehemiah. Most of the books of the Bible tell about events that happened, but rarely do they tell about the thoughts and feelings of the biblical characters. However, because the book of Nehemiah was written as a memoir, we get to take a peek past what has happended and actually read about what Nehemiah was thinking and feeling.

The verse we are going to look at today is important for leaders because leaders need focus in order to work towards their goals. Without focus, they will allow themselves to get pushed and pulled to many different projects and initiatives within their organizations. When goals and objectives are clear for leaders, they are better able to focus their time and attention to get things done and make positive change.

You might already be familiar with the context of the book of Nehemiah, but if you are not, please allow me to give an overview of that context in order to best understand the meaning of this verse.

Nehemiah was a cup-bearer to King Artaxerxes of Persia. While Nehemiah served King Artaxerxes he heard a report from another man about the Jews who had recently returned to Jerusalem. Prior to this, the Bablyonian Kind had allowed about 50,000 Jews to return to Jerusalem and Judah to live there and rebuild the temple. So Nehemiah asked about how his fellow Hebrew countrymen were doing and how the rebuilding of the temple was going.

The report which Nehemiah received was not good. Nehemiah learned that the walls of the city of Jerusalem were still torn down, that the gates of the city were burned down (as they had been for many years), and the people there were troubled and disgraced. This meant, in the eyes of Nehemiah, that God was not present. The people who lived in Nehemiah’s time (roughly 445 BC) believed that God needed a place to dwell and stay, and if there was no place for God to dwell because the city was destroyed, then God was not present.

This situation led Nehemiah to pray that God would show him favor and allow him to rebuild the walls in Jerusalem. Fortunately for Nehemiah, King Artaxerxes gave him permission and the resources needed to do just that. Nehemiah went to Jerusalem, and with the help of the people of the city, began rebuilding the walls.

When the walls were about half completed, Nehemiah and his workers encountered opposition from three political leaders, Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem, each of whom had a large amount of influence in the city of Jerusalem. Despite threats to their safety, Nehemiah and the people kept building.

Nehemiah and his people finished rebuilding the walls and only had the gates left to complete when big opposition came from Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem. These men sent a message to Nehemiah saying that they wanted to meet with him to “talk.” Nehemiah was smart enough to realize that these men did not just want to “talk,” but they wanted to kill him.

The setting of the following verse is that Nehemiah and his countrymen were extremely close to finishing the work of rebuilding the walls around the city of Jerusalem (only the gates and doors remained to be finished) and these political leaders wanted to take his time to “talk” about what he was doing. This is where we find Nehemiah’s pointed and quick reply.

I realized they were plotting to harm me, so I replied by sending this message to them: “I am engaged in a great work, so I can’t come. Why should I stop working to come and meet with you?” Four times they sent the same message, and each time I gave the same reply. – Nehemiah 6:3-4 (New Living Translation, emphasis mine)

These verses are one of my favorite parts of scripture because they show Nehemiah’s heart and dedication for what he was doing regardless of what opposition he faced from others. Nehemia said, “I’m doing a great work, so I can’t come.” In other words, he was busy and does not have time to play the political games others wanted to play. It was a swift and quick “no.”

I believe there are five basic lessons leaders can learn from this story of Nehemiah:

  1. Leaders need to stand up against opposition from others (even though it will be hard).
  2. Leaders must not crumble under pressure from other men who are more powerful and influential than the leader is.
  3. Leaders need to stay focused on doing God’s work, not on keeping evil people away.
  4. Leaders will have specific situations in which they must simply say “no.”
  5. If God has put a vision and calling on your heart, do not yield to anything else.

Question: What other lessons for leaders can be derived from this story?

By Christopher L. Scott

Christopher L. Scott serves as senior pastor at Lakeview Missionary Church in Moses Lake, Washington. Through his writing ministry more than 250,000 copies of his articles, devotions, and tracts are distributed each month through Christian publishers. Learn more at