Today we continue in a series called change your world based on the story of Nehemiah. Nehemiah was an ordinary man who lived in Susa, which is in modern day Iran, 1,000 miles from Jerusalem. Nehemiah was Jewish but was living in Susa because the people of Israel had been defeated and forced to live in captivity in Babylon. While some Jews had been allowed to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple, the walls of the city had yet to be rebuilt, and so 140 years after the walls of the city had been torn down, they still lay in ruins. For Nehemiah, this was a disgrace. The city needed to be rebuilt, settled, and made strong again and for all that to happen, strong walls were needed.
The condition of Jerusalem troubled Nehemiah deeply and it was this burden that began to turn Nehemiah from an ordinary man into a world-changing leader. Last week we saw that this transformation takes place when people:
- Sit down to cry
- Kneel down to pray
- Stand up to act.
Nehemiah did all these things. He mourned for the city of Jerusalem and for the people of God. He often prayed about the situation and what to do about it and after much prayer, he stood up to act. Nehemiah told the king, whom he worked for, what was going on and asked if he could return to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls. It was this process of crying, praying, and acting that changed Nehemiah and his world, and it will be this process that will change us and our world.
Today we want to learn from Nehemiah how to be the kind of a leader who can turn our burdens into ministry, and our dreams into a reality. The first step for a leader isn’t to jump into a flurry of activity, the first step is to define the mission clearly. What – specifically – is God asking us to do.
Nehemiah 2:4-5. First we need to see once again Nehemiah’s commitment to prayer. He knew what he wanted to say, and he knew what he wanted to do, but before he said or did anything, he prayed again because he knew that his dream and plan needed God. If our dreams and plans don’t need God, then we aren’t thinking and dreaming large enough. If we don’t need God to be part of what we hope to do, then what we hope to do isn’t going to change anything. World changing actions need God and it needs leaders who are willing to pray.
So Nehemiah prayed and then he defined the mission clearly. Send me to the city of Judah, where my fathers are buried so I can rebuild the walls. Nehemiah was clear. He didn’t want to go and just check things out. He didn’t want to go and see what might develop when he got there. He wanted to rebuild the walls. He was also clear that he didn’t want to be released to go, he wanted the king to send him and we will talk about that in a moment.
Clearly defining the mission God has for us is important because if we can’t define the mission we can’t do it. If we are too vague or too confused about what we are setting out to do, we will never accomplish anything. For example, just wanting to help people who are hungry isn’t a clear vision, just wanting to help kids in need isn’t a defined mission, if we don’t define our vision more specifically we will never succeed in anything. We have to dig deeper to define what it is God is asking us to do.
When I was in Altoona, God placed a burden on our hearts for the children of our neighborhood. At the end of a very successful week of VBS, Patti came to me and said, at the end of this week we will lose touch with all these kids. It was a burden to her. She mourned the loss of those relationships and God was moving in her heart to do something. I said, what do you want to do? Her response was, let’s keep VBS going one night a week for the rest of the summer. That was a clear vision. That was a defined mission.
Jesus also shows us the importance of defining our mission clearly. At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus was known as a great miracle worker and healer. People from all over the region heard that Jesus was able to heal people and drive out demons, so huge crowds gathered around him wanting his help. Mark 1:32-34.
Jesus could have continued in this ministry of healing, and he certainly continued to heal many people, but was this his mission? The next day, Jesus said to his disciples, Mark 1:38-39.
Jesus clearly defined his mission. We will travel to various cities where I will preach about the kingdom of God. Jesus understood the importance of having a clear vision and defined mission and what helped Jesus get all of this was his own time of prayer. That’s what happened between those two readings. Jesus was surrounded by people who wanted him to heal them, and then he told his disciples let’s leave them behind and go preach because that is my mission. What stands in the middle is prayer. Mark 1:35.
We cannot under-estimate the importance and power of prayer in helping us define the mission God has for us. Again, if we don’t need to pray, then our plans aren’t big enough. If we don’t need to pray, then our mission will not change us, let alone the world.
To be a leader in a world changing mission we have to define our mission. What is it that God wants us to do? How does God want us to be involved in the world? We need to narrow down the vague - I want to help people – into a specific vision, before we can move on to the second step which is to Make Plans Carefully.
Once we have a defined mission, leaders begin to make plans. Once we know what we are aiming for we can ask ourselves this important leadership question, what’s the next step? In many ways, careful planning is all about determining that next step.
Nehemiah had already done some careful planning because he didn’t just tell the king, I want to go and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, he asked the king to send him and to send him with two specific letters. Nehemiah 2:7-8.
Nehemiah knew that if he was going to get to Jerusalem he needed safety on the 1000 mile journey, so he asked the king to send him with his protection. Which the king did. Nehemiah also knew that if he was going to rebuild the walls and set up new gates in those walls, he was going to need provisions, mostly lumber, so he asked for the king to help provide the wood, which the king did.
Let’s just look at that request for lumber for a moment and see how Nehemiah again was an expert planning. He knew that if he was going to rebuild the walls he was going to need stones and wood. The stones were there. They were lying on the ground from when the walls had been torn down. The wooden gates, however, had been burned so new lumber was needed, and there was very little lumber in Jerusalem. Nehemiah knew they were going to have to import wood quickly if they are going to rebuild the gates, so he asked the king for help. His request for wood shows how Nehemiah was committed to planning. What was going to be needed, and what was going to be needed next.
But did you notice that Nehemiah specifically asked for a letter to go to Asaph, keeper of the king’s forest. How did Nehemiah know his name? Nehemiah was a cupbearer, a butler, a guy who worked in the kitchen and didn’t necessarily know all the leaders in the king’s palace or empire, but Nehemiah took the time to investigate and find out the name of the man who ran the king’s forest. Nehemiah was planning. He wasn’t going to Jerusalem with a dream and no plans, he had made specific plans and was working them wisely.
Once Nehemiah got to the city he also had a plan. He surveyed the walls personally, travelling around the city at night to see for himself the condition of the walls. Why did he go at night and not during the day when he might be able to see more? While we don’t know for sure, going at night meant he had fewer interruptions, fewer people telling him that his dream was foolish and unattainable, and fewer people pointing out all the problems.
Nehemiah’s trip around the ruined walls also helped him formulate a plan for rebuilding the walls. While travelling through the city, Nehemiah took note of who lived where and what leaders lived in which sections of the city. This way he could enlist them to work on that section of the wall. Nehemiah not only surveyed the wall but he surveyed the community, noticed where people lived, where they worked, what sections were important to people, and he formulated a plan of action. His journey at night allowed him quiet time to plan and keep asking himself, what is the next step?
That is really the key to planning, what is the next step. When Patti said we needed to keep VBS going through the summer we asked ourselves, what’s the next step? We needed to see if the kids wanted to come back. Would they return the next week? She asked them and they all said, YES! So then we had to line up teachers, so we went to all the volunteers to see who would be willing to give us one night a week for the rest of the summer, and we got the leaders we needed. Then we had to find materials to use, so we contacted a resource center and found an old VBS we could use and began the planning. And then we needed snacks, so recruited a woman who committed to providing all the snacks for the rest of the summer.
One step at a time we made plans and prayed, and in the span of a few days we had a complete ministry planned out for the rest of the summer. What is your next step? Is it to define your mission and clarify a vision? Is it to gather information? Is it to recruit help? What’s your next step? We don’t have to have the entire project completed before we move forward, we just need to know the next step.
Nehemiah took the next step and after he inspected the walls and had a well thought out plan he moved on and Inspired People Passionately. No life changing mission is going to be accomplished on our own. No God given plan that will change the world is going to be accomplished by ourselves, we have to enlist others who will not only catch our vision but will share our passion and help us in the work. Leaders are really just those people who inspire others to work with them. Nehemiah didn’t try to rebuild the walls by himself, he invited others to join him. With passion, power, and a clear vision Nehemiah invited others to join him. Nehemiah 2:17-18
Nehemiah reminded the people that the walls lying in ruins was a disgrace. Something had to be done. God wanted them to do something. He was clear about the mission – let’s rebuild the walls – and he not only told them that God was with them, but he showed them how God had already been at work in providing for this moment. Just Nehemiah’s presence with them was a sign that God was blessing this work because Nehemiah had chosen to make the 1,000 mile journey, had gotten there safely, and had letters of support from the king. Nehemiah’s commitment and passion for this mission was clear and compelling and that inspired the people.
At times it is simply our commitment to a cause, or our willingness to move forward no matter what, that inspires others to join us. We begin to think that if someone else believes in something that much, and is that committed, and cares that deeply, then we want to join them. If someone else is willing to go out on a limb for the sake of God’s will and God’s kingdom, then we’re willing to take the risk with them.
Nehemiah was not a professional speaker, he drank wine for a living. He probably wasn’t the smartest guy around, he just cared the most,. With a clear and compelling vision, Nehemiah inspired people to join him and they did. Nehemiah 2:18b, they began this good work.
The people joined Nehemiah and together they began to rebuild the walls and in 52 days those walls were finished and new wooden gates were hung. The hand of God was seen and experienced by all the people, and their lives changed, their community changed, their faith changed, and the world changed.
To turn our burden into a mission that can change our world, we don’t need to the smartest or the most talented or the person with the most resources, we just need to care the most and be willing to pray and ask God to help us become leaders who can define God’s mission clearly, plan carefully for each next step, and then with passion invite people to join us. If we learn how to do this, we become the leaders God uses to change the world.
Change Your World
Questions to help turn your burden into ministry.
1. Define the mission clearly.
- What is the burden God has laid on your heart?
- What, specifically, is God calling you to do about it?
- Who can help you clarify your vision and define your mission?
2. Make plans carefully.
- What information is needed for you to take the first step?
- What people do you need to help you take that first step?
- What will that first step lead you to?
- What obstacles have to be overcome?
- What fears have to be faced?
- What specifically do you need to pray for?
3. Inspire people passionately
- Why is this God given mission so vital?
- What will happen if the mission fails?
- How will lives be changed if the mission succeeds?
- How is God already working to make it happen?
- Who has God already led you to that can be a partner in this mission?
- What one thing can you do to enlist their help?
4. Learn from others
- Read Nehemiah chapters 2 and3 to see how Nehemiah prayed, planned, and inspired others.
- How did Jesus define his mission? In what ways did he make strategic plans and inspire others?
- How has Jesus inspired you to change your world?