The importance of not resting on your laurels is also relevant in the spiritual realm. Basking in the glories of past spiritual victories can lead to spiritual defeat because our spiritual battles never stop. Relaxing when we have reached plateaus of spiritual growth can spell disaster because standing still will lead to spiritual atrophy. We must press on and never rest on our laurels in this life. The time for resting is in heaven when we finally hear the Savior say, "Well done."
The principle of "don't rest on your spiritual laurels" is clearly taught in the second half of the book of Nehemiah. The first half of Nehemiah (chapters 1-6) is about the physical rebuilding of the wall around the ancient city of Jerusalem under the leadership of Nehemiah. The second half of the book (chapters 7-13), is about the spiritual rebuilding of the people through the continuing efforts of Nehemiah.
The events of the Book of Nehemiah took place in the 5th century BC--about 445 BC. Approximately 100 years before Nehemiah's time, the Jews were nearing the end of their 70 year exile in Babylon. They were in captivity because of their disobedience to the covenant that God had made with them. But God is gracious! In 539 BC, the Persians conquered the Babylonians and the Persian emperor, Cyrus, issued a decree of good will which permitted the captive Jews to return to their homeland if they so desired. About 50,000 Jews returned to Jerusalem in 538 BC.
After some delay they rebuilt their temple which had been destroyed by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar. The rebuilt temple was completed around 516 BC. However, the walls around Jerusalem were not rebuilt; they remained in piles of rubble for another 70 years. Apparently no one was concerned enough or energetic enough to organize a rebuilding party. Without a wall, the city was weak and open to attack, and was a discredit to the name of the Lord.
Nehemiah, a Jewish cupbearer to the Persian king, Artaxerxes, became so concerned about the sorry condition of the ruined walls (chapter 1) that he requested permission from Artaxerxes to go to Jerusalem, more than 1000 miles away, so that he could do something about the walls (chapter 2). Permission was miraculously granted and Nehemiah traveled from Susa, the Persian capital, to Jerusalem. There he stirred up the hearts and energies of the people to rebuild the wall (chapter 3). An amazing feat was accomplished. In spite of great opposition (chapters 46), the wall surrounding Jerusalem was completely rebuilt in only 52 days (6:15)! It took less than two months to do a job that was neglected for almost 70 years! It is amazing what God can do in a short time through people whose hearts and energies are united and dedicated to Him. Even when the starting point is "piles of rubble," there is no limit to what God can do with and through us.
But Nehemiah knew that you can't rest on your laurels. He knew that the great spiritual revival that had begun as the people got involved in God's plan of rebuilding the wall would be short-lived if there wasn't a continued emphasis on activity. If the people just sat back and relaxed and gloried in the great job they had accomplished, it would not be long before apathy and coldness of heart would set in. This is always the case. If we rest on the laurels of our spiritual wall-building, it isn't long before the fires of revival grow cold.
But what is spiritual wall-building? We can think of spiritual wall-building as those activities which strengthen our Christian testimony and cause us to grow strong in the Lord. The principles of spiritual wall-building can be applied to our personal lives, our family life, or to the spiritual life of our churches. As God wanted to see strong and solid walls around the city of His temple in Nehemiah's day, so He wants to see strong and sound testimonies firmly established about His temple today. (See 1 Corinthians 3:16 and 6:19.) Strong spiritual walls can be built, but spiritual activity must never come to a standstill, even for strong and mature Christians. Even when God blesses us with amazing spiritual building accomplishments, let us not rest on our laurels.
Nehemiah's continued emphasis on activity after Jerusalem's walls were rebuilt is focused for us in the first verse of chapter 7. Notice that three distinct areas of activity are brought before us in the appointment of gatekeepers, singers, and Levites. Each of these three groups suggests a counterpart of spiritual activity which is continually needed today to keep us from slipping into a "rest on your laurels" mentality.
The job of the gatekeepers was to watch the gates. This activity was extremely important because the gates of ancient walled cities were the weak areas--the areas most vulnerable to enemy attack or infiltration. An enemy might slip in unseen through an unwatched gate. Certainly the activity of watching the gates has a spiritual counterpart in the Christian life. We need to watch those areas in our lives where we are particularly vulnerable to enemy attack. And let's watch not only those areas where we know we are weak, but also those areas where we think we are strong! Remember the words of 1 Corinthians 10:12, "Let him who thinks he stands take heed, lest he fall."
Every Christian has "gates." Possessions, for example, is a gate area for many Christians. Satan can very easily "get a foot in the door" when this gate is unwatched, and the result is materialism. The unchecked desire to accumulate "things" has permitted the once strong walls of Christian testimony to be broken down in many Christian families.
Sex is obviously another major gate in the wall of a Christian. How many Christians, including outstanding leaders in the Christian community, have fallen in this area? The enemy of our souls is very adept at checking out the strength of this gate. He has numerous and varied and subtle tactics for getting into our lives at this gate. Be watchful!
In Nehemiah 7:3 we learn that the gates were to be opened only during broad daylight. At all other times they were to be bolted shut. So it is with the gates in the believer's life. They may be opened, but only under proper, well-monitored conditions! Take TV and movies, for example. All TV programs and all movies are not detrimental, but many are--for adults as well as children. Most of us need to set up clearly defined guidelines for ourselves in the area of TV and movies ("broad daylight" restrictions!), because it's very easy to leave this gate wide open all the time.
The activity of gate watching has many applications because there are many gates in our spiritual walls. All Christians will not have problems with the same gates. Some of your Christian brothers and sisters are more vulnerable in certain areas than you are--and vice versa! Be sensitive to this fact in your relationships with fellow believers. A lack of sensitivity and understanding may result in failure and disaster in your life, and stumbling in your brother's or sister's life.
Remember--Satan's appeal to open our gates at the wrong times will always sound good--especially if we are resting on the laurels of our past spiritual accomplishments. Watch your gates!
The appointment of singers emphasized the activity of worship. Nehemiah recognized that singing praises to the Lord would be a great safeguard against getting into a rest-on-your-laurels rut. The same is true today. Responding to the Lord in songs of praise is worship that the Lord desires. No wonder a characteristic of being filled with the Spirit is "singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:1819). Notice from these verses that singing is a command--not an option--for the Christian. Regardless of the quality of our voices, we are to sing! Singing is not only a characteristic of worship, it promotes worship. Have you ever noticed how hymns of praise can quiet your restless heart, or subdue your bad attitude and move you in the right direction towards worship?
The appointment of singers by Nehemiah was not some spur-of-the-moment novel idea. Nehemiah was following the pattern that had been given to David by the Lord for the Temple and its functions (see 1 Chronicles 25 and 28). God instituted singing as part of the Temple order to emphasize that He desires worship from His people. A continued emphasis on the activity of worship is still God's desire for His Church.
The third group of appointees was the Levites. The Levites were the Temple servants, and they speak to us ofwork, or service to the Lord. They assisted the priests and did all the heavy work in maintaining the Temple. Can you imagine the workload of the Levites if all the people of Israel came up to the Temple frequently for sacrifice and celebration, as the Law of God stated?
The activity of work, or Christian service, is very important for the growing Christian. Many Christians who rest on their laurels when it comes to Christian service end up complaining about how things are going in the local church, or even criticizing those who are working! Are you working, or only attending church? Getting involved in the work of the Lord doesn't mean you must leave your present job and enter the ministry full time. There are many jobs that need to be done in the area of Christian service, and we can all find a place to get involved and busy. There's no reason why a Christian with a "strong wall" couldn't start a Bible study, or at least be involved and helping in one. Every church has numerous ministries that need help! If you're not involved in some Christian service right now, you could start a one-on-one discipleship project to help a Christian whose wall is not as strong as yours.
Watching, worshiping, and working are all spiritual activities that need continual emphasis in the Christian life. Let's not rest on our laurels just because we believe our walls are strong and well-built. Since revival stops when activity stops, let's keep active in watching and fortifying our weak areas, worshiping our Lord, and serving Him and His people with gladness. "The joy of the Lord is your strength!" (8:10).