Scripture Reading Challenge (#6)

Many of us remember, “Father Abraham had many sons.  Many sons had Father Abraham, and I am one of them.  So are you.  So let’s just praise the Lord.”  and all the accompanying motions.  The next section of the Biblical story focuses to Abraham. We first learn that before God changed his name, it was Abram.  We also learn that God gave Abram and his descendants three promises: (1) give them a land, make them a great nation and name, and finally bless the world through them.  Abraham’s story sets up the trajectory for the rest of the story.  Namely, how God would bring redemption to a broken creation.  We see in Abraham the roots to the nation of Israel, but even more, we see the roots of the people of faith.

Read Genesis 12:1-20

Sometimes, Satan is no bigger than 6 inches tall.  Enough to stand on our shoulders and whisper words of doubt and discouragement in our ear.  Abram lived in a place that was the equivalent of a modern-day metropolis.  It also seemed feasible that he had a sizeable inheritance coming to him.  He also had his entire life set up in the land of Ur of the Chaldees.  Still, in an amazing act of faith, Abram packed up his house and family to follow God’s direction.  Perhaps, Satan sat down on Abrams’ shoulder and whispered, “That’s that.” He was leaving a luxurious world for the unknown.

Abram lived in faith, and eventually, God would change his name to Abraham as a reminder that God would keep His promises.  Abraham did not seem to doubt God, but he did have trouble understanding how God would fulfill his plan.  Sometimes he tried to help.  We see an instance of this at the end of our reading today.  Abraham would lie to Pharoah about Sarah in an attempt to preserve their life.  We also see two other times where Abraham would try to help God out with fulfilling the promises of having children (since he and his wife were childless and super old)!  He decided to seek to adopt one of his servants as his son and then had a child with another woman that his wife gave him.  Whew!  Finally, God gave Abraham and Sarah, their son.  God keeps his promises but fulfills them in ways that are beyond our understanding.  We are just called to be faithful and live a life aligned to what we believe.

Christian Planning

The default Christian mixture of planning minimizes the role of people and lifts up our dependence on the leading of God.  The problem is when those that are carnal find themselves in positions of leadership and espouse a spirituality that is a cover up for a laissez-faire attitude toward any type of preparation and planning.   There are those who actually feel unspiritual if any kind of planning takes place in regards to worship or programs that would require planning.  Too much planning is believed to cut God out of the picture and elevates man’s locus of control.  On the opposite side of the spectrum, we see those that plan all the activities of the church in a way that could easily ease God out of the life of the church.

God wants us to search for His will

In First Chronicles 15:1-14 there is a record of David’s preparation for the ark of God to be brought to Jerusalem according to God’s Word.  David lived in a time where the past King (Saul) did what he wanted and had forsaken the counsel of God.  Alfred Edersheim wrote, “It was surely time to restore the ancient worship which had been so sadly disturbed” (Vol. 4, p. 170).  This was a massive undertaking for the new king and ended up being a failure on his first attempt.  This was mainly due to a lack of consulting the written law of God and relying solely on human effort.  David made a second and fruitful effort after seeking God’s will for handling the ark.

In the New Testament the same understanding of seeking God’s, will first before planning and doing.  However, it would also seem that there is still a significant focus upon human involvement in the planning of the life of the church.  As such, much of the New Testament shows that people from different cultures had different understandings of how to planning would take place in the early church.  Such as who should take leadership in the church and who should be taken care of (Acts 6 for example).  Ken Schenk shared, “It makes perfect sense that the concepts of order and peace would play themselves out differently in different cultures, as well as in various groups and denominations today” (p. 201).  Those approaches considered decent in one culture may not have been the case in another.  Culture seems to be an inevitable part of the human side in organizing the life of the church.

Led by the Spirit

Primarily concerning worship, John 4:23-24, transitions our understanding of the mixture of planning in the church by the Divine and human elements.  This passage sets up a strong implication that worship has a high degree of freedom in the Spirit.  Joseph Dongell pointed out that, “Only through divine assistance – through the Holy Spirit – may a person worship God appropriately” (p.80).  If we understand that all of life is worship to God, then the Spirit must also lead any time spent in organizing the life of the church.

What would this mean for an individual such as Charles Grandison Finney, who has made such an impact on the revivalist movement (he popularized the use camp meetings, revivals, choirs, and the altar call)?  Finney pointed out, “That a revival is the result of the right use of the appropriate means. The means which God has enjoined for the production of a revival, doubtless have a natural tendency to produce a revival” (part 1, paragraph 4).   He was intent on the human side of the mixture, maybe so much that it betrays His understanding that God was the instigator of movements whether they are a revival or other projects the church concerns itself with.

It would be interesting to have seen such an individual of Finney and his method of bringing revival and Anne Hutchinson, a puritan, that led a movement engrossed with the idea of simply being led by the Spirit alone.  Hutchinson wrote, “a believer possessing the Holy Spirit was not bound by laws of conduct but was moved by inner spiritual compulsions” (Noll).  Finney promoted a certain way of doing things and actions that had to complete to prepare the way for the Spirit to take control.  Hutchinson taught that actions flowed from being led by the Spirit.

Balance is the key

It would seem that a balanced understanding of the leading of the Spirit and the importance of human involvement is the necessary approach.  John Calvin wrote in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, “It was cold and lifeless to represent God as a momentary Creator, who completed his work once for all and then left it” (paragraph 1).  To leave God entirely out of the equation would be dangerous and foolish.  Therefore the organization of the life of the church has to be founded upon Him.  James 4:13-17 shares God’s frustration with those who plan and leave Him out of the process.  As it is written, “For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that” (James 4:15).

Yet, it would seem fair to surmise from scripture that the human element of planning is entirely done away.  Our plans and preparations should be made but also allow for the spontaneous change of plans by the Spirit.  Such is the case of the Apostle Paul in Acts 16:6-10.  Paul had a desire to go one direction, but the leading of the Spirit pointed him toward another direction.   It would be essential for any Church leader is that planning is part of the calling but that it is subject to change by the leading of the Spirit.  The leading of the Spirit takes precedence over all organizing.

Conclusion

Saint Augustine wrote that we are to “Pray as though everything depended on God.  Work as though everything depended on you.”  The balance that should be sought in having the right mixture of divine and human elements is one hundred percent on both ends.  God is the author and finisher of everything that we do.  We ought to seek His will on all matters of life, especially as it concerns organizing and making decisions regarding the church.  We also understand that it is impossible to remove the human element of decision-making and even such things as the cultural context on the person.  It is also the will of God to use people to accomplish His divine plan for their life and the local congregational context.

Decisions making, planning and organizing rest upon the leading of the Spirit.  It is up to us as leaders to seek God’s will.  In times where He allows us to have a greater say in the matter, we still pray, “God this is how we see you leading us in the matter.  But, if you desire to change this, we pray that you change it up and lead us by your Spirit.”  There needs to be a confidence that God’s will is being accomplished, even when it seems that human minds and hearts have seemingly done a majority of the planning.  There must also be a surety that God’s ability to bless or change the agreed upon plans by people may come.

References

Calvin, John, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Accessed March 27, 2014, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.iii.xvii.html

Edersheim, A. Bible History: Old Testament (Vol. 4, p. 170). Oak Harbor: Logos Bible Software. 1997

Finney, Charles, Lectures on Revival.  Accessed March 27, 2014, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/finney/revivals.iii.i.html

Noll, M. A. Hutchinson, Anne. In (J. D. Douglas & P. W. Comfort, Eds.) Who’s Who in Christian History? Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House. (1992).

Schenck, Kenneth. 1 & 2 Corinthians: A Commentary for Bible Students. Indianapolis, IN, Wesleyan Publishing House. 2006

Preach the Word

In 2011, the deacon of the church I pastor, Jack Roberts, received his eternal reward. He was a praying man, and he loved to pray for his pastor. Many times throughout a sermon, you could hear him praying for souls to be saved, believers to be strengthened, and for the sermon Holy Spirit to continue working through the minister as they preached. In many ways, he was a great encouragement to me in my early years.

When he finished his race, I had a great sense of loss. He was a partner in ministry that regularly lifted me up in prayer, and it made such a difference. I came to a place where a felt burnt out.  It seemed that no matter how much I studied, prayed, and preached, there was a barrier that could not be overcome. That continued for several months, and the Lord reminded me of Who called me to ministry and why. In a dark hour of the night, God illuminated His Word through a book I came across in seminary written by Peter Adams, “Speaking God’s Word.”  Now, I would like like to share my thoughts from Scripture and the theology of preaching with you.

First, God spoke (2 Peter 1:20-21).

Verse 21 is especially enlightening, “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” Second Timothy 3:16 is also important to keep in mind, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God.” Inspiration in the Greek literally means, “God-breathed.” We serve a God who speaks. Along with several of the Old Testament prophets, the Psalmist pointed out that a difference between the Christian God and the idols of the world is that our God speaks (cf. Psalm 115:3-8; Isaiah 41:21-23, 25-28).

Yes, we serve a God who speaks, and when He speaks, things happen.  This is important for preachers to remember.  The Apostle Paul worded it in 1 Corinthians 2:4, “And my speech and preaching were not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of Spirit and of power.” It is important for the minister to study and prepare their sermon, as to preach clearly and with authority.   Do not forget that “the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of the soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).

As the Word of God is proclaimed, work is being done in the hearts and lives of people. The minister is to be faithful to perform their God-given task. God will do the rest. Even as we preach to a congregation that seems unmoved, God is at work. When people are confronted by the Word of God, it penetrates deep into their soul. It brings them into the presence of God, and they will either rejoice, repent, or reject His Word. When God spoke, the world was created.  When Jesus spoke people were healed, and sins were forgiven. Today, God’s Word is still potent.  

It was written down (Jeremiah 30:2).

We do not preach our opinions and make religious speeches.  Preaching is the proclamation of what God has revealed to holy men of old. Paul wrote in Romans 15:4 that, “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” The Bible is our preachment. God has given His Word authority over our lives.  Any sense of authoritative preaching comes from the power invested in the Word of God from on high. It is because God has spoken it and because it is still alive and active today.

God spoke and revealed Himself to specific people, in specific places, at specific times, for specific reasons. His revelation was written down to be preserved for future generations.

Scripture is full of God’s commands to write His Word down (cf. Exodus 24:4-7; Joshua 1:7-8; Isaiah 30:8; Jeremiah 36:2; Habakkuk 2:2; Revelation 1:11). When we preach, we may use our Words to interpret, contextualize, and teach, but it is God’s own Word that convicts and comforts the hearer. Though it was written down thousands of years ago, Scripture remains incredibly relevant.

Moses, the first writing prophet, and many other may have had their focus on their current situation, but God’s instructions to write down His Word was also intended for future generations. In other words, when the writing prophets and apostles received revelation from God, they may have thought they were receiving mail intended solely for them. Instead, the Word they received from God was our mail too. God spoke to their situation, and because that Word was written down, we know that it is for our time as well.  

The Bible is God’s very own Word. It is trustworthy as God has preserved it throughout the ages.  We can know beyond doubt that the Bibles that we hold in our hands and preach from is the Word of God. Jesus taught, “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18).  First Peter 1:2-4 and 25 states, “For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass.  The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.”  

As ministers, we are to submit to the authority of God’s Word.  We this because it is right but also as an example to our congregations. Many times the meaning of a passage of Scripture is plain and straightforward. Yet, preacher after preacher will undermine the simple teaching to change what was said.  The problem with a pure and simple meaning is that it often goes against our current lifestyle. Instead of submitting to the authority of God’s clear instruction, we change the Word by inserting wrong opinions and interpretations until Scripture agrees with us. Imagine that if this is taking place in the pulpit, what it does in the pew.  

Preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:1-2).

Paul’s charge to Timothy is something many ministers are familiar with from study and their own charge at ordination. Those three words, “Preach the word” are emblazoned on my pulpit as a reminder to the minister of the task before them. God has spoken, and it is written down forms the foundation for us to Preach the word.  The Gospel of Christ’s kingdom has been given, and we are the Kings heralds.  

We have discussed the theological foundations for preaching, but there is one thing to still add.  Preaching is a calling from God.  In my own experience, I had to remember that God is the one that called me to preach the Gospel. It was not the denomination that ordained me to preach, and neither was it the local church.  Our calling is not the result of a nightmare and should not be the result of selfish ambition. God calls us into the ministry and enables us to carry the Gospel, His spoken Word that was written down.  We are charged before God and man to bring God’s Word. Ministry is a high calling because it deals with eternal matters: the Word of God and the souls of men and women.

To preach the Word, once again, we must personally submit to its authority and power.  The Bible lays claim to us, and we are held accountable to it.  Whether we agree with that or not speaks volumes to how we will interpret the Bible. If we are prone to feel that the Bible has a divine authority over our lives, then we are more likely to live by its standards whereas if we feel that the Bible has no teaching rather than living accordingly to our fleshly desires.  

There are typically three views on the Bible as the Word of God.  There is the view that the Bible is the Word of God, another states that the Bible becomes the Word of God. The last says the Bible merely contains the Word of God. While Most Christians would agree that the Bible plays a unique role in connection with the relationship between God and man. They question what kind of role it is, and what the precise nature of the Bible’s consequent authority is. Depending on a person’s presuppositions will determine how they interpret and apply the Bible to their personal life, regardless of being a minister or laymen.

The view that the Bible just becomes the Word of God as we believe it or contains parts of God’s Word to us argues that the text is nothing more than another human writing. Another way of understanding this particular viewpoint is that the preacher or student of God’s Word takes it upon themselves to determine what passages are Scripture and what pieces are not. This view can only lead a person to wrongly dividing the Word (cf. 2 Timothy 2:15).

To view that the Bible is the Word of God gives the scripture great authority over our lives. If we think for a moment what we are actually saying when we use the phrase authority of scripture, we must surely acknowledge that this is a shorthand way of saying that power belongs to God and God has invested that power in scripture. The scripture has authority because God claims it as His Word.

So, what does this mean for me?

As we preach the Word as God’s Word, the authority has over our life is passed on to those who hear us. God’s authority lays claim to them, and they are responsible for their reaction to Him.  If we are not faithful to preach the fullness of God’s counsel from Scripture, the blood of people is on our hands. If we are faithful to preach the fullness of Scripture, the consequences of their response are upon themselves. This is a strong message from the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel (3:17-21, 33:1-9).

This responsibility upon the hearer is also recorded in the New Testament as Jesus concludes His sermon on the mount (Matthew 7:24-27). The story of the wise and foolish builders relay to us the importance of what we do with God’s Word. Those who do God’s Word are like a wise man that builds on the rock, “And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock” (vs. 25). Those individuals who hear the Word of God but do not obey are likened to the foolish man who builds his house on the sand, “And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it” (vs. 27). As far as we know, the two men used the same blueprints for their homes and were identical in every way except one, their response to God’s word (the foundation) was different. In the judgment, we will give an account to our response to God’s revelation of Himself through the written Word.  We will stand if we build on God’s Word, but we will fall if we do not.

Preacher, remember the Words of Paul to Timothy, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). We can trust that God’s Word is His Word.  We can rest that as it was transmitted through the years that the Holy Spirit preserved it for us today. Hence, now to every preacher I say with the apostle Paul, “I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine” (2:1-2).

Related Posts

The Preacher’s Library

Studying Scripture and the role of the Holy Spirit

Reference

Adams, Peter (2004) Speaking God’s Words: A Practical Theology of Preaching. InterVarsity Press.  Downers Grove, IL

Nehemiah – God’s Change Agent (Ch. 3)

Projects are sometimes complicated and slow.  However, the organization of a group can prove to be a useful companion in accomplishing tasks.  Chapter three shares in a detailed log how the people were divided into groups (primarily by families) and the particular area that they rebuilt and repaired.  It is the first of four lists of names found in the book (3, 7, 10, and 11-12).  Skipping over these lists is tempting.  However, in our approach toward leadership and change, we find two critical lessons from this chapter: appreciation and strategic change.

Appreciation

I usually consider it dangerous to recognizing people during a church service as either guest or for appreciation because often someone is left out unintentionally.  Still, people like to feel appreciated.  The reward for faithfulness is great for strengthening people’s loyalty, the direction they are going, and for their personal encouragement.  This can take place with sending a letter, an uplifting word, public recognition, a gift or something else befitting the work and person receiving the appreciation.  For these people, Nehemiah is giving them an enduring legacy in God’s Word.

Strategic Change

We have already talked about burden, vision, and mission but we now change direction toward putting things to work.  For leaders to create movement from the present reality toward the future vision, the intentional creation of a strategic plan for change is needed.  And, there are plenty of good, solid theories about how change takes place.  However, when it comes to Churches, they have a unique and spiritual design.  This happens because of the focus of the church is on worshipping God and making disciples.  The goals of the church are different than that of other non-profit or profit organizations.

How should Churches proceed?  Well, the first step forward has been created in the previous two chapters.  Prayer, carrying a burden, speaking with other leaders and creating a shared vision, understanding the resources available, and the size of the task have all been important pieces of change.  First, let’s look at Scripture and its encouragement to planning as a wise endeavor if we seek to keep God first.

  • “Grant thee according to thine own heart, and fulfill all thy counsel.” (Psalm 20:4)
  • “Good understanding giveth favor: but the way of transgressors is hard.” (Proverbs 13:15)
  • “The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way: but the folly of fools is deceit.” (Proverbs 14:8)
  • “The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going.” (Proverbs 14:15)
  • “Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established.” (Proverbs 16:3)
  • “The thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness, but of every one that is hasty only to want.” (Proverbs 21:5)
  • “For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?” (Luke 14:28)
  • “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:15-18)
  • “Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.” (James 4:14-15)

So, what is a strategic plan?  Basically, it is a tool for keeping an organization focused on whatever is considers to be its vision and mission.  For churches, this is making disciples. Helping individuals and families follow Jesus is our great commission.  It is easy to become distracted, and the main thing is no longer the main thing.  It helps a group become aligned in their particular gift sets, personalities, and the resources accessible to them.  It is the road map between the present reality of the organization to the preferred future.

Developing a Strategy

What does the strategic plan include?  Well, that will be different depending on the congregation.  It’s not that the goals are different (each church should be trying to fulfill the great commission) and it is certainly not that God is different anywhere else.  He is always the same.  What is different is the people, who have each been created with their own gifting.  The resources available to that group is also different.  However, each congregation has equal access to the Holy Spirit, and none should be paralyzed by the thought of the impossible.

The strategy begins with an understanding of where the organization is currently.  SWOT is a useful tool to analyze with, and surveys can help leaders gauge where the organization stands.  Some of my personal favorite surveys have focused on church health.  Church health surveys, in my opinion, are more geared toward the dynamics of ministry rather than church growth perspectives.  The ABC’s of church growth (Attendance, buildings, and cash flow) have their place in helping a church understand what it available to it but can mislead leaders and volunteers to lose their way.  A church health focus helps a church stay centered on impacting lives for eternity.

From this point, leaders can then create the actions steps as they feel the Spirit leading.  With the end in mind, the leaders will typically plan for where they envision and desire for the organization to be in ten years.  At this point, return to thinking about one year out.  What action steps will you need to be taking in one year to aim towards the ten-year goal?  You can either go year by year or even look at every couple of months.  However, I will look at just another year for example.  You can put new goals for that year, but there is another perspective that needs to thought of in each subsequent year.  That is the progression of the previous year’s actions.  If your organization keeps practicing the previous benchmarks behaviors, what will be the results?  It is important to keep evaluating and realigning along the way.  We will see this in the next chapter of Nehemiah.

 

Nehemiah – God’s Change Agent (Mission & Vision)

One thing that I notice about leaders of organizations is that there is a significant amount of confusion between vision and mission.  Especially when it comes to the small church.  These guiding principles are essential for keeping the members aligned to God’s will for a congregation’s ministry and areas of focus.  The short way of understanding the distinctiveness of vision is a robust, long-term view of what an organization wants to take place in the future.  The same approach to mission is a shorter and narrower perspective of what the organization is presently doing to achieve the larger vision.

In light of Nehemiah, we can see a clear vision and mission resting upon him.  What follows is a demonstration of what vision and mission would look like in light of Nehemiah’s behavior and actions.  These are my musings of what was happening in Nehemiah’s mind.  Possibly, or maybe not.  The present reality of Jerusalem was dire, and the Jewish population was devastated.  Nehemiah was given four facts about his people and Jerusalem (Neh. 1:3).  The people were in great affliction, meaning oppressed by poverty and other people groups.  They were also in great reproach.  To be under reproach is to be disapproved by others, to receive derogatory remarks, and to be mistreated because of a perceived low status.  The city gates were continually burned like trash heaps, and the protective walls were broken down.

So, what was Nehemiah’s long-term vision?  No doubt, when he looked forward in time, Nehemiah saw from a far distance, a city built on a hill that could not be hidden.  Merchants and travelers walking with excitement toward Jerusalem.  He didn’t see smoke rising from a destroyed city, but perhaps he could see smoke rising from a restored temple as sacrifices were offered.  As he walks closer to Jerusalem in the vision, he can see the walls standing firm and providing protection to all the inhabitants inside.  The gates were bustling with life when open and formidable obstacles invaders could not pass through when closed.  As he walks through the city as he pictured it in the future, businesses are thriving.  Families are healthy and happy.  The order is maintained.  The people are devout in their faith.  The leadership is strong.  The buzz in the kingdom is that Jerusalem and God’s people are respected among the other nations.

Sounds like a beautiful vision, but there needs to be a bridge built between the present reality and the preferred future.  This is where the mission comes in for Nehemiah.  If the vision is where he envisions Jerusalem to end up, the mission is what is happening in the present that positions them toward achieving the vision.   It’s simple but it is more than a few words, or it becomes a motto.  Nehemiah 2:17 finishes with a great mission statement, “Let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach.”  It is succinct and clear.  We don’t have any questions about where their focus, resources, and energy are going.  The people react to this clear mission with excitement by creating a good short motto, “Let us rise up and build” (2:18).

I pray and hope that this little journey through mission and vision help you to understand the benefits for your organization.  We see the results that Nehemiah achieved as a faithful steward of God’s vision and the resources God put in his hands.  Perhaps this will be a tool for you to move forward where you serve.

Nehemiah – God’s Change Agent (Ch. 2)

By the time the second chapter opens, Nehemiah carried his burden for Jerusalem and his people very close to his heart for almost four months.  He had been able to keep straight faced until this period while at work.  We are told that before this time that Nehemiah, “had not been beforetime sad in his presence” (Neh. 2:1), speaking about King Artaxerxes.  Yet, his countenance betrayed Nehemiah, and the king questioned what was wrong since he was not sick.  Nehemiah was afraid because his job requirement was to be happy in the king’s presence.  He shared quickly about the plight of Jerusalem and the king further questioned if there was a request from Nehemiah.

Burdened in Prayer

We do not know any of the plans or preparation Nehemiah had made up to this point.  All we see is Nehemiah’s prayer in chapter 1 for God’s grace to keep coming upon Israel and for Nehemiah to have mercy in the sight of the King each day.  However, Nehemiah’s burden overtook his ability to smile, and the king noticed and reacted with the mercy Nehemiah prayed about.  At the king’s question about a request, Nehemiah did not roll out his power points, his agenda, or his vision.  At least not the vision at first.

Nehemiah first prayed (2:4).  We can imagine this was a prayer raised in his heart since he was before the king and did not want to appear unprepared.  However, even short, unspoken prayers can be heard and answered by our great God.  Romans 8:26 reads, “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”  Jesus shared a parable about a publican’s humble prayer justified him when only saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13-14).  We serve a prayer answering God.

Philippians 4:6 says, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.”  We would be much better off if we brought everything before the Lord in prayer.  In prayer, we not only receive help with material resources, although that can happen, we also receive help with guidance and peace from our Lord.  As Psalm 37:5 also says, “Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.”  By prayer, God stokes the fires of passion emitted by our burden.  By prayer, God directs our feet into the path we should go.  By prayer, God enables us by His sufficient grace to approach and apprehend the issues we face.  By prayer, God revives us when we are weak and tired.  By prayer, God receives praise for the good hand He places upon our shoulder.

Consulting and Resourcing

After the prayer, Nehemiah makes a simple statement to King Artaxerxes, “If it please the king, and if thy servant have found favour in thy sight, that thou wouldest send me unto Judah, unto the city of my father’s sepulchres, that I may build it” (Neh. 2:5).  At this point, Nehemiah’s vision was simple but clear: to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and the walls.  However, the King needed more information, at least one piece that scripture points out.  How long would this project take (2:6).

We learn two things about the change process from this simple question.  Nehemiah was pleased with the question apparently because he knew the king was not mad or against the project.  In fact, he took it as a green light to go ahead and proceed.  We shouldn’t be afraid when people ask essential or tough questions about our vision.  Sometimes, finding the answer to those questions help to clarify for them, and us, the vision and the what is needed to accomplish successful change.  It promotes a team culture and builds a shared vision.

Secondly, we learn that time is a valuable commodity.  Vision ultimately outlives the visionary as others pick it up and keep moving it forward.  However, the projects and changes needed to take place require a time frame.  Volunteers are recruited easier when they know they won’t be enlisted forever.  Also, we are kept on task knowing that there are deadlines.  Procrastination is a killer force to change.

Once Nehemiah set a time, which we don’t know, but we do know he took 52 days to complete the walls (6:15), he was aware that resources were needed to accomplish his task.  After the king had accepted the time frame, Nehemiah went on to seek protection and supplies.  He wanted further proof of King Artaxerxes blessing to rebuild the walls by letters and the procurement of goods.  We live in a world that works with materials, economies, and legalities.  We must be aware of these issues in our planning and preparations, or we will be blindsided and discouraged by these barriers.

Trouble on the Horizon

Chapter two hints toward and then will fully unveil the greatest obstacle Nehemiah would face, other people (vs. 7, 9-10, 19-20).  Three men, Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem, were governors of the neighboring regions.  Even more, they were from people groups that Israel fought against when they first possessed the land.  They would use increasing levels of persecution against Nehemiah: mocking, physical harm, deception, and power plays in wielding influence.

Their attempts to stop the work of rebuilding were futile.  Namely, as alluded to in the Scripture, Nehemiah and Artaxerxes was open to the possibility of resistance (vs. 7, 9-10). However, being aware and prepared, though very important, is only part of the change agents success in dealing with trouble, whether people or other issues.  First, you have to keep faith in God.  We serve a big God and “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us” (Romans 8:31)?  Secondly, we keep coming to that God-given burden.  Having a passion for an issue or project will help us keep mustering strength when going against the grain.

Clarifying the Vision

The last thing we note from chapter two is that Nehemiah only knew about the destruction of Jerusalem.  He did not see the actual devastation until he arrives in verses 11-18.  We are then told that Nehemiah did a late night inspection of the walls when no one else was looking.  Once he came back, he was more committed than ever and rallied the people with greater clarity.  What happened?  He saw reality.  His presumptions were confirmed, but the actual size of the work was no doubt changed.  He wanted to see the whole city restored.  He told the King that the gates were broken down, but now he fully saw that the protective exterior walls have been entirely destroyed.  For anything to move forward, he now knew that the walls needed to be the central focus.

We can have a vision of what we would like to happen or what we feel God prefers.  However, if we do not see the actual reality around us, we will underestimate the size of the work ahead of us.  It’s like a taking a leap.  We see where we want to land but if we do not look at where we are, we won’t know how much exertion is needed to make the jump.  We not only need a vision of the future but we need to clarify our vision with the present.  Assessing the current state of our churches or organization is vital if we are to cultivate a lasting change.

Nehemiah – God’s Change Agent (Ch. 1)

After being in captivity for 70 years in Babylon, in 536 B.C., the first group of Jews returned to Israel under the leadership of Zerubbabel, the kingly descendant. In 458 B.C., Ezra the priest led the second group, and in 444 B.C. a third group was led by Nehemiah.  Zerubbabel led the rebuilding of the temple, Ezra restored proper worship and understanding of the law, and Nehemiah rebuilt the walls.  Work on the temple and Ezra’s attempt to restore Israel’s religion was hindered until Nehemiah came and led the people to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.  Before the walls were rebuilt, the city was defenseless to raiders and those who would sabotage the work and heart of the people.

Who was Nehemiah?

We are told in the book named after Nehemiah that he was the “king’s cupbearer” (1:11:).  The Persian King Artaxerxes trusted Nehemiah with his life since Nehemiah was to taste test everything before the king to make sure it was not poisoned.  We also know that Nehemiah had a happy soul because he was never sad before the presence of the king (2:1).  God had placed Nehemiah in a strategic place for the purpose of securing resources and the kings blessing to rebuild the walls the Jerusalem.

A Burden for Lasting Change.

What does Nehemiah have to do with change and why do leaders continually look to this book for inspiration?  Especially as it concerns our local churches and service before God.  I believe it is because Nehemiah demonstrates to us the foundation of producing real and lasting change.  Now, most consultants and other leaders will start with a vision and may quote some verse about not having a vision.  However, Nehemiah was not in Jerusalem, and he was not aware of anything needing help in Jerusalem.  He was unconcerned at first until he had a burden.

The book begins with Nehemiah receiving a message about the deplorable state of Jerusalem.  The walls were still broken down and were the laughing stock of the surrounding nations.   At this news, he broke down and mourned for some time (1:4).  It is not at this point that Nehemiah started to develop a vision.  No, instead he sought after God’s help.  Once we lose sight of God, we begin to be reckless. We cast off certain restraints from activities we know are wrong. We set prayer aside as well and cease having God’s vision in the little things of life. We naturally begin to act on our own initiative.  If we are eating only out of our own hand and doing things solely on our own accord without expecting God to come in, we are on a downward path.

The information that the messenger revealed was a dark contrast to Nehemiah’s knowledge of Jerusalem.  This presented a conflict in his soul that something more needed to be done.  He now had a burden and was cultivating it before God in prayer.  It would even affect his demeanor before the king (2:1-4).

What we learn in the episode of Nehemiah’s account is that burden must be present for change to occur.  It is a burden to make a difference that will help a person move forward with their work even when facing extreme difficulties.  A burden will stay when helpers are not found.  A burden will still be present when resources are low.  Yes, that can produce some pains, but it strengthen’s passion and a desire to follow-through with commitments.

Do you have a burden for a needed change in your church?  Or, in your life?  Seek God to imprint on your heart a strong desire to do something that in turn will point others to Christ and empower the believer to greater devotion before God.