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

One of my favorite books of the Bible is the book of Nehemiah.  And one of my favorite verses of the Bible is Nehemiah chapter six, verse three.

“. . . So I replied by sending this message: ‘I am engaged in a great work, so I can’t come. Why should I stop working to come and meet with you?’ ” – Nehemiah 6:3 (NLT)

In other words, I’m doing a great work, so I can’t come.


Nehemiah is the great story of a servant to a King who is allowed to travel to the city of Jerusalem and performs the amazing work of rebuilding the walls all the way around the city in only 52 days! Nehemiah is typically listed as one of the main “management” or “leadership” books of the Bible because of Nehemiah’s ability to have vision for what he wanted to do, then mobilize and lead people toward that vision.

Andy Stanley wrote a great book about vision using Nehemiah as the basis of his story titled, Visioneering.

One of the reasons I love the book of Nehemiah is that it allows us to peak inside the heart of Nehemiah.  The book is written as (for the most part) an autobiography or memoir from Nehemiah. Many of the books of the Bible tell us about events and actions, but rarely do they tell us about the thoughts and feelings of Biblical characters. But, because Nehemiah is written as a memoir, we get to take a peak past what is happening and actually hear what Nehemiah is thinking and feeling.

Nehemiah 6:3 is very relevant to leaders to study and memorize because leaders are busy. Leaders have people from all angles and areas trying to pull them in different directions for their attention, time, and money.  You just can’t say “yes” to everything. Nehemiah gives us a guide to solutions to better leadership and time management for busy leaders.

Before we dig into the meaning and application of Nehemiah 6:3, tomorrow I will give you a little historical background and context for this verse.


Nehemiah was the cup bearer and servant to King Artaxerxes of Persia. While the cup bearer to King Artaxerxes, Nehemiah receives a report from his brother about the Jews who have returned to the city of Jerusalem after being exiled to the land of Babylon.

The report Nehemiah hears is not good.  Nehemiah hears that the walls of the city had been torn down, that the gates of the city had been burned down, and the people there were troubled and disgraced.  Not a good thing for Jews at that time.  This was devastating because it meant that God was not alive.  The culture at that time believed that God needed a place to dwell, and if there was not place for God to dwell, then there was no God present. 

Nehemiah responds to this news by praying to God that the king would be kind to Nehemiah and somehow and someway, to rebuild the wall in Jerusalem.  Nehemiah gets a lucky break and his boss (King Artaxerxes) gives him permission and resources to go to Jerusalem and rebuild the wall. Nehemiah gets to Jerusalem, they begin rebuilding the wall, and everything is going great. They are making progress, the people are excited about the work being done, and the wall is starting to come together.

But, as the wall was half-way finished, Nehemiah and the Jews encounter some strong opposition from three powerful political leaders named Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem.  These men had tremendous power and influence over the city of Jerusalem at that time, and they did not like Nehemiah rebuilding the wall.  Those three leaders start to threat Nehemiah and the people rebuilding the walls saying they are going to kill them, start a war, and destroy the work that they had done so far.

However, Nehemiah and his people press on. They complete the walls, the only thing remaining to be done is finish setting up the doors and the gates to the city. Then, those same people who were trying to kill and prevent the wall from being built heard that the walls of the city has been rebuilt and finished.  So two of the three enemies, Sanballat and Geshem sent a message to Nehemiah saying the they wanted to meet with him. And that’s the context for the verse below where Nehemiah says:

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?” (Neh 6:3, NLT)


There are several principles and lessons about leadership and time management that we can take from this verse from Nehemiah.  Do any come to mind?  Here are a few of mine:

We need to stand up against opposition.

Even if the opposer is more powerful and influential than we are.

We cannot crumble under the pressure of other men who are more powerful and influential than we are.

If there is something we are working to do, we cannot back down to anyone.

We need to stay focused on doing God’s work, not on keeping evil people away.

No matter what you do, there will be people who disagree.  We can’t stop the good work we are doing for God to try and make the unhappy people happy.

There are times when we need to just say “no.”

Sometimes, you just need to say “no” to the request of people who are attempting to use your time.

If God has put a vision and calling on your heart, do not yield to anything else. 

Nehemiah had prayed, wept, and worked so hard to rebuild the walls around the city of Jerusalem, and he never yielded to that vision even though he faced extreme pressure and threats from other powerful political leaders at the time.

Question: What other insights do you have on this verse, Nehemiah 6:3?

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