A favorite hymn and each time I sing, And Can It Be… I put on “the garment of praise for a spirit of heaviness!” (Isa. 61:3). The Psalmist (150:2) exhorts us to praise God for his excellent greatness (worth) and mighty deeds (works). Here’s a useful exercise that will help us be and do all what God wants. Write down: (1). An attribute of God that causes you to adore him (2). One thing God did for you that makes you want to do anything for him (3). If God assures you favor and success, what one thing will you ask and see yourself doing for him?
Our answers should point to God’s greatness and grace that reveals the power of his “Amazing Love!” It is critical that we recognize that his majestic, merciful and miracle-working heart is always “missional”, seeking out until it finds us and the lost! Three realities must move and “send” us - the “found” - to seek and to save the lost at any cost, while we can: (1) Sovereignty: the width of God’s mercy (2) Humanity: depth of our sinfulness (3) Eternity: length of his saving grace. Nehemiah’s story and situation (1: 1-10) inspires us to let God be God in our lives to show Himself strong on our behalf and enable us to do exploits in our time.
1. Status Quo and Success Quotient: Nehemiah was taken captive and in exile. He was a slave in the Persian Empire in many ways enslaved within a foreign culture. Yet, there was something different and dynamic about him. He rose up the ranks finding favor with all his employers until promoted to the most trustworthy task by the highest pagan authority – he was “cupbearer to the King”! He certainly was extremely busy and minding own business: “doing what can, all what he can, doing it well and doing it there!” But, in all life’s business he recognized promotion did not come from the East or West but from our God.
Nehemiah eagerly enquired of Hanani who returned from Jerusalem, the state of God’s people and city. He learnt that the walls were broken and its gates burned! This broke his heart and ignited within him a passion for a mission – to rebuild these walls! Now Nehemiah was a cupbearer and for all human purposes did not possess the masonry skill sets to engineer the task at hand. Note, God was not his last resort but first response. Nehemiah prayed! He was a vulnerable leader who took calculated risks. Most of us would not want his job – drinking the King’s Cool-Aid until one day it killed you before it did him! Success does not come keeping status quo. Even a tortoise can’t move unless it puts its neck out! Christian mission always entails courage and faith (spelt r-i-s-k).
The Secular is Sacred: Nehemiah’s prayer warrants an in-depth study but the obvious is worth noting. He is living out his faith, serving the state. He saw “government work as God’s work” and the Most High ruling in human affairs. However bleak the situation of his country and people, he was convinced “the heart of the heathen king was in God’s hand!” His so-called secular (Latin, common place) job he deemed sacred (set apart, holy). He developed such a perspective that whatever his hand found he did with all his might for God’s glory! Mission is not about despicable “me” but “Thee!” Over 10 times in 10 verses Nehemiah appeals to God: “Thy name”, Thy “people”, “Thy promise”…
Nehemiah considered his Business as Mission. As he attended to the king’s affairs he was attentive to and seeking God’s kingdom. Though thriving within the palace’s comfort, affluence and security, he was not unaware of current national affairs even of the nation whose God is King of all the earth! Moreover he was burdened for the “People of God!” His heart, in Bob Pierce’s words, “was broken by the things that break God’s heart!” Missional leaders are vulnerable, full of compassion (suffer with), show solidarity with and share in the suffering of those they serve. Their fame is in how they embrace the pain in others.
Supplicating + Strategizing, His hand; my glove: While we “pray as if everything depended on God, we plan our work as if everything depended on us!” Leaders must gain deep insight and gather needed strength if we are to motivate and mobilize people. “When we fail to plan, we are planning to fail!” we must be intentionally “strategic” i.e. under a given situation, we must offer a thought-through do-able way forward. For this, like Nehemiah, we must ask the right questions, to the right people and at the right time! When the king asked him why he was downcast and what he needed, he wasted no time spilling out details: length of trip, permission letter and amount of timber. Notice he asks when the queen is seated beside the king (2:6) who like any man, will want to impress his lady. That’s working smart and striking the iron when hot!
The key to accomplish God’s mission is submission – nothing less than Christ’s Spirit that helps leaders find “favor” with God and human influencers with means or resources to help get the job done and build His kingdom. Beyond prayerful planning, such leaders wear the right attitude when approaching people and gain altitude with them. They modeled what is to be eager, ready, totally yielded and prepared to obey! The missional posture is placing oneself under the Spirit’s leadership. The premium is on Biblical Obedience not just Biblical knowledge. In spite of opposition within and without in 52 days with a disillusioned, disorganized crew he got the job done! God is able if we are bold. Have you been uniquely equipped, empowered and placed to fulfill God’s great purpose? Are you asking the right people the right questions at the right time? Are you posed and prepared for your “defining moment” and “a move of God?”