Posts Tagged ‘help’

Key to Leadership

How many Christian leaders do you know that are actually embarrassed to rely on the world to help them?  Ezra was that kind of guy.  Ezra chapter 8 gives us a look at some real godly leadership.

Ezra had just been given literally everything he needed from the king himself.  He was given peace, men, authority, money and goods, tax exemption, and full trust to teach and to judge among the men he was going to serve.  The king had given all this to Ezra and sent him off to his home in Jerusalem after many years of exile in a foreign country.  Ezra had witnessed about His about how great, mighty, powerful, and able His God was to the king and all his men.  When Ezra sets out to leave, what he does and does not do is worth noting and meditating upon.  Let’s consider Ezra’s initial actions as leader of God’s people.

First, Ezra gathered all the men he had with him and figured out who was there.  He recognized that some men, the Levites, were missing so he sent for them and they came.  Once all the men he needed were present, the very first thing he did was call a fast.

“Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. 22 For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, ‘The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.”  So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.” ~Ezra 8:21-24

Responsible men must rely on God, not self.  At first glance Ezra’s refusal to ask the king for soldiers and horses for protection on this journey may seem prideful or even foolish.  But, given the context, we can see that at the very root of Ezra’s intent is a great faith in God’s providence and humility about himself.

Think about it.  The men travelling with Ezra are strong, equipped, leading, able-bodied men with authority over others.  They are heads of their fathers’ households.  One would think these guys could hold their own.  Still, they are not so foolish to think for one moment that they can get themselves and everyone else where they need to go without God.  Self-sufficiency is of Satan because nothing is more offensive to God than pride.  These guys know better.  They have been humbled by their time in exile.  They understand that God wants us to come to him, to rely on him, and to humble ourselves before we do anything – but especially when we have responsibility over other people and are embarking on a new and difficult task.  Notice what Ezra’s fast is for in verse 21.

Firstly, the fast to a way of humbling themselves.  When we know God, we will know ourselves and our ever-present tendencies to be prideful and foolish.  Because Ezra knows God, he knows his need to humble himself  before God and put away any pride he may have over his newfound leadership roles.

Next, the fast was called to implore God for safety and protection for the leaders themselves, the children under their care, and the good they were carrying with them.

I pray for people all the time in the hospital.  Many times, what I find, especially with men but women as well, is that they will ask me to pray for everyone except themselves – when they, in fact, are presently in a position where they are the ones who need prayer the very most!  They will tell me that they never ask God for anything for themselves.  At first, this practice may seem unselfish, but when we line it up with scripture we find that it is not only unwise but it is also rooted in pride.  I bring it up because here we find just the opposite.  Ezra and his leading men call a fast to pray for their own protection before anyone else’s.  They aren’t so arrogant as to think they don’t need anything from God like everyone else under them does.  They know that if they are killed or captured on the way home that it will leave all who depend on them unprotected as well.  They pray and fast for themselves and their own safety knowing they need God just as much as their children do.

They also pray and fast for their children.  A good leader will think of all who are under his care and be responsible about their spiritual, physical, and emotional protection as much as he is his own.  Responsible men do not leave those whom God has entrusted to them to fend for themselves.  They sacrificially fast and pray for those who are weaker and strengthen others through prayer and intercession.

Lastly, Ezra and his men pray for protection for their material items.  They have been entrusted with a great amount of gold, silver, wheat, wine, oil, salt, etc.  They have been given much, much wealth and provision by the king and king’s treasury.  To not pray for protection of their goods during this journey would be to treat them as unimportant.  These were the very things they would need in order to accomplish their purposes in Jerusalem.  These were the very blessings of God given for their success in carrying out the will of God in the temple and among his people.  God wants to be included in our handling of the material things he so generously gives to us.  It all belongs to him.  We are just using these things on his behalf and in order to be good stewards, we must pray his blessing and protection over all that which he entrusts to our care.

Now, notice what Ezra says next.  This is the crux of the entire passage.

22 For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, ‘The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.”  So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.” ~Ezra 8:22-24

The reason Ezra called the fast and refused to ask for soldiers and horsemen is because he was ashamed to ask for worldly help after he had testified to the greatness and power of his God.

When is the last time you were embarrassed to ask for help that came from anyone or anything besides God?  Consider this…Ezra had favor with the king.  He could have asked for literally anything and been acquiesced.  Soldiers and horsemen were not an unreasonable request for this dangerous journey.  Many might even argue that he needed them.  But Ezra cares about one thing that is evidently much more important than his own comfort and ease and that is God’s glory.  GOD’S glory. God’s GLORY.  God’s glory matters immensely to learned little scribe Ezra.  Ezra cares so greatly for God’s good name that he absolutely refuses to allow anyone to think God needs any human king or kingdom to assist him.  King Artaxerxes may have been the most generous and gracious king Ezra had ever met, but he wasn’t getting God’s glory.  God would get his glory and he would do it by disallowing Ezra to accept worldly protection.  No one was going to be able to say King Artaxerxes led the Jews to Jerusalem out of exile.  Only God could do that.  And do it he did.

We find from the conclusion of the chapter that, “The hand of our God was on us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambushes by the way…” (Ezra 8:31)

When given a responsibility or leadership, prove faithful.  Pray first, before you set out.  Fast for yourself, all those under you, and your goods.  We cannot accomplish anything apart from God.  We cannot do this life alone and we cannot save ourselves.  Christ is the only one who can lead us out of the captivity and exile of sin and lead us home, and he will be the only one who gets the glory for our salvation.  Never be ashamed to need God.  Be ashamed NOT to trust him.  Amen!


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Her rest is overdue.  She fights.  She’s well past the point of being tired.  Still, she runs.  With every once of fire she has left, she tries to hide from me.

I find her.

She cries.

I pick her up.  She squirms.  She screams.  She fights.

I put her down in the very place she does not want to stay.  I speak softly.  She grimaces.  I play her favorite song.  She frowns.  I put my hand on her face.  She quiets.  I sing to her.  She closes her eyes.

I hold her hand.  Soon, her countenance lifts.  She reaches up.  She fears I will leave.  She tries to pull me down into her space.  “I can’t come down there.  I’m too big.  I won’t fit.”

I sing a few minutes more and then we pray.

“Goodnight, little one.  See you in the morning,” I whisper as I walk out.

I begin again.  Page number one.  My new notebook begs to be briefed.

She is me.

My rest is overdue.  I fight.  I am well past the point of being tired.  Still, I run.  With every once of fire I have left, I try to hide from Him.

He finds me.

I cry.

He picks me up.  I squirm.  I scream.  I fight.

He puts me down in the very place I do not want to stay.  He speaks softly.  I grimace.  He plays my favorite song.  I frown.  He puts my hand on His face.  I quiet.  He sings to me.  I close my eyes.

He holds my hand.  Soon, my countenance lifts.  I reach up.  I fear He will leave.  I try to pull Him down into my space.  “I can’t come down there.  I’m too big.  I won’t fit,”  He says.

He sings a few minutes more and then we pray.

“Goodnight, little one.  See you in the morning,” He whispers as He walks out.

“Listen to me, O house of Jacob,
    all the remnant of the house of Israel,
who have been borne by me from before your birth,
    carried from the womb;
even to your old age I am he,
    and to gray hairs I will carry you. 
I have made, and I will bear;
    I will carry and will save. ~Isaiah 46:3-4

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After finishing the project to rebuild the walls and gates of Jerusalem, the people of God spent a considerable amount of time praying, fasting, confessing, repenting, worshiping God, and looking intently at God’s law.  They were thankful for his mercy and providence and ashamed of their disobedience.  God used Nehemiah – the great, godly leader he had called to help them – to spur them on to rebuild not only their city and their homes, but also their very own lives.

After their time of reflection and repentance, the leaders drew up and signed a covenant with God.  The people all took an oath of commitment to carry out the terms of these promises.  They also risked a curse if they would fail to obey.  Matthew Henry notes that, “Every oath has in it a conditional curse upon the soul, which makes it a strong bond upon the soul; for our own tongues, if false and lying tongues, will fail, and fail heavily , upon ourselves.”  In other words, if we would make a promise to God or man, we best be prepared to do all within our own power to keep it.

With all this consequence for failing to keep such a pact, why did these people seem so forward to sign up?

The answer is that these people had been failing.  They had been in sin.  They had been exiled, enslaved, and their home had been devastated, destroyed, and left desolate. Yet God had burdened a man named Nehemiah to come and help them.  God had brought them back to rebuild and re-establish themselves.  Now, they recognize both their guilt and his grace and they feel obliged to make these promises and strive to keep them.  Here is a group of people who truly want to be right with God.  These are God’s people.

So, what was it that they bound themselves to do?

The people promised not to intermarry with foreigners as they had been doing, they promised to observe the year of jubilee and forgive all debts in the seventh year, they promised to tithe all they had to God first and to give him the very best of their possessions to use in his house.

What did they commit to God?  Family; money; food; assets; only…everything.

That is the kind of commitment we must make to Our Lord if we would seek to truly repent and follow him.  WE are the ever failing, exiled from the garden, living in the  broken world we call home, sinners.  When we recognize the things he has done for us in sending a Savior to rebuild and recenter our very lives around the truth and His righteousness, we cannot help but to commit our everything to the building of His house and His kingdom.  If that is not our attitude and desire, we have not yet seen him and we do not yet know him. Therefore, let us repeat the words of these restored sinners and do as they committed to do saying, “We will not neglect the house of our God.” ~Nehemiah 10:39b

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Once Nehemiah has dealt with the oppressive infighting and division among his own people (Nehemiah 5:1-13), all the oppressors agree to repent and do good to their brothers.  Verse 13 says, “I also shook out the fold of my garment and said, ‘So may God shake out every man from his house and from his labor who does not keep this promise.  So may he be shaken out and emptied.’ And all the assembly said ‘Amen’ and praised the Lord.  And the people did as they had promised.”  Here is another reminder of how much influence a good, wise, and caring leader has to change things and turn the hearts of men to follow him in doing right.

Beginning in verse 14 , we find even more proof of Nehemiah’s earnest love and care for his people.  During the 12 years that Nehemiah ruled Judah as their governor, neither he nor his men took the food allowance of the governor.  He did not take the pay due the governor.  He acquired no land for himself, supplied servants to help at personal cost, continued to work diligently for the good of the people, and fed 150 men including guests and help at his own expense every day.

This kind of generosity was unheard of from a governor.  Why did Nehemiah give so much and take nothing for himself in this undertaking?  Consider verses 15, 18, and 19.

Nehemiah gave to God’s people and did not take for himself because of the fear of God.  Nehemiah had not only a deep love for his people, but a conscience that led him to do what was best for them at all times.  He knew these people could not afford to pay him and give him extravagant amounts of food.  He, unlike other rulers in the past, did what was right rather than what would burden the people and be most beneficial to him personally.

Secondly, in verse 18 we find Nehemiah giving this way out of mercy.  Again, he sees his people burdened and he has compassion for them.  His compassion leads not to pity toward them, but personal sacrifice and tangible action to relieve their suffering.

Lastly, Nehemiah treated the people better than they could imagine because of his great trust in God’s ultimate rewards.  In verse 19 we see Nehemiah asking the Lord to remember his goodness toward his people.  Nehemiah’s faith leads him to forfeit temporary, fleeting pleasures and comfort in exchange for eternal, permanent rewards.  While not-so-great leaders do the opposite out of complacency and selfishness, here we find what a true, noble, and loving servant of God’s people would really do to help them during trying times.

All of these actions of Nehemiah just remind us of Christ.  He comes from riches to live with and save those suffering on his own volition.  He protects and fights for them in the face of their enemies while reassuring and encouraging them to do the same.  He makes peace among brothers when they are divided.  He takes nothing and gives everything to all who are under his leadership for nothing more than their help, support, and growth.

Nehemiah is an amazing leader.  Because of his success and a big dose of jealousy, neighboring leaders hated Nehemiah.  Those who aren’t looking to grown, learn, and keep getting better generally hate to be shown up – especially by the underdog.  They did all they could to discourage and bring down his project and his morale.  Next we will look at chapter 6 where Nehemiah deals again with those who despise him and his success.

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In Nehemiah chapter 4, we find the enemies of God’s people becoming increasingly angry.  The Jews have begun to rebuild their city walls and gates under the direction of Nehemiah, and have already made some significant strides in that work.  As soon as the neighboring Gentile rulers hear of their progress, their anger at these people becomes even more intense.

In verse 1 we find Sanballat, the governor of Samaria, become enraged and begin to mock and jeer at the Jews.  He tells everyone he knows including his army about the work of the Jews and pokes fun at them.  Funny how he tells everyone what a crappy job these guys are doing and how their wall isn’t strong enough for even a fox to stand on, yet he is angry about their progress.  Well, which is it?  Why would the ruler of an army be mad about a bunch of fools who aren’t accomplishing anything?  Apparently this guy was insecure and afraid that the Jews were indeeding succeeding…which they were, by the way.  He was jealous and angry so he set out to stop them anyway he could.  What he didn’t know was that he couldn’t stop them because this was God’s work.

Nehemiah realizes what is happening with his enemies and he prays.  He prays a curse on them and he continues to do exactly that which God gave him to do.

Nevertheless, Sanballet and his big, bad temper decides to try to pick a fight with these guys.  He calls on all his ruler friends to help him cause confusion and problems for God’s people.

Again Nehemiah and the Jews pray.  This time they pray day and night for protection against their enemies.

In verses 10-12 we see the odds stacked against the Jews.  They didn’t think they could accomplish the job.  Their enemies didn’t think they could accomplish the job, and just in case they could, they were doing all they could to make sure of it.  Even their friends urged them “ten times” to stop trying.  This is a sad scene for God’s people!

Good thing they had a good leader who was resolved to do what God sent him to do.  Nehemiah gave the people each specific positions with their families and their weapons, and he encouraged them to remember God and fight with honor for the things that are most important: God; family; community; home.

What do you do when you have a really hard job to accomplish?  When the enemy is mocking and making war against your success?  When you doubt your own ability to succeed and everyone is telling you to quit?  Consider what Nehemiah did.

  1. Nehemiah prayed.  If you know that what you’re doing is God’s will and God’s holy work for you, pray for help and protection in it.
  2. Nehemiah organized his people and his plan.  He put groups of families together in order to strengthen their morale and give them confidence.  If you are working for the Lord, don’t work alone.  Get organized and find a group of people who love and support, and help you and always have your defenses in hand.  Our weapons are the sword of the Spirit, the Word, and the promises of God.
  3. Nehemiah reminded the people to remember whose idea this work was.  He told them to remember God.  He wanted them to remember to trust God and to know that he was the one behind this plan so they would not doubt or get discouraged in the hardships.  When God’s work gets hard and you come up against obstacles and enemies, it is always helpful to remember whose work it really is.  When we are doing God’s work and God’s will, we have nothing to fear because Our God is trustworthy.  Remember that.  When we remember that, we also remember that there is great honor in striving, working, and fighting hard for the things that matter, namely, God’s glory, the good of our families and communities, and our homes.If you are leading a group of people like this one, pray, organize, and encourage them in the Lord.  This is a great model to follow in difficult circumstances…or any circumstances!  If you are part of a group like this one, pray, organize, and encourage yourself and others in the Lord.

    Pray.  Organize.  Encourage yourself and others in the Lord.  This is the way to defeat the Enemy.

    “…Do not be afraid of them.  Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.”  ~Nehemiah 4:14

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The work the Lord burdened Nehemiah to accomplish finally begins in Nehemiah chapter 3.  There are quite a few things to note in how this work was carried out and by whom.  Let’s consider how the people of God began to rebuild their gates and walls as a unified community that we might glean some wisdom and insight for our own undertakings within our own communities.

Beginning in Nehemiah 3:1, we find the high priest and all the priests next to him begin the work.  Here, we have a picture of how godly men should lead.  Godly men ought to always lead by their good example.  When their is work to be done, ministers may indeed delegate it, but they must always also be willing to participate in it.  Far too many spiritual leaders today want to lead with their positions and power plays rather than by example.  A good leader will always do just that…literally lead in any profitable undertaking with his own two hands.

Secondly, we find that many men and women from neighboring communities came to help rebuild Jerusalem.  We find the people of Jericho, Gibeon and Mizpah, Zanoah, Beth-hacecerem, Beth-zur, and Keilah all coming together to help this effort.  Surely we should help those close to our community when they are in need in addition to serving our own.

In verse 12 we find a family helping.  Notice, too, that this was a father and his daughters.  Here was a man who was part ruler of Jerusalem coming, helping, and bringing his girls to help.  Not only did he not think himself above the effort because of his high position, he brings his whole family… of girls!  What a great picture of inclusion and unanimity among the builders of this wall.  Many a man with daughters and not sons may keep his girls from getting dirty and feel awkward to bring them along, but here we see just the opposite in God’s perfect Word.

Notice who else we find building in verses 8 and 32: the goldsmiths, the apothecaries, and the merchants.  These were the business owners; the blue collar men who made everything for everyone else to buy and use.  These guys didn’t use their businesses as an excuse not to show up.  They closed their shops or they went after hours to help this work get done because they considered it more important than making money or being open every single day of the year.  If shop owners can commit to the common good in their trade, they can commit to the common good as God commands outside of their trades as well.

Next, we find men working on this building project opposite their own houses.  How about that!  How many people do you know that would forfeit their time and money to work next door while they look across the street at all that needs done at home?  This is quite a testimony of the character and faithfulness these people had to accomplish God’s work first and their own needs second.

Finally, in verse 5, we find that not everyone was on board.  There was one particular group singled out as not being willing to serve their Lord.  The nobles of the Tekoites “would not stoop to serve their Lord.”  Here, the nobles were not noble, but full of pride which led only to disgrace for them and their name.  The reproach of being named here is shameful and it goes to prove how when we refuse to work with others in unity and harmony out of nothing more than sheer pride and arrogance we will be disgraced publicly for our stubborn selfishness…and rightly so!    Let that never be said of us!  If we cannot humble ourselves to serve God, we will never humble ourselves to serve anyone else.  Every good thing we do will always be self-serving thus rendering it purposeless and void of any wholesome “good.”

There will always be those who will refuse to do right even when everyone around them is working together toward a common goal.  There will always be dissenters and dividers among the true people of God.  But, by and large, when the people of God work together in love and obedience to Him, the work gets done, God is glorified, and we are blessed.  As Matthew Henry says, “If everyone will sweep before his own door, the street will be clean; if every one will mend one, we shall be all mended.”  

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In Nehemiah chapter 2, we find Nehemiah still very concerned and dejected about the state of his homeland.  Four months have passed since men from Judah had come and reported to him the destruction and desolation in Jerusalem.  Now, he has opportunity to speak to his boss, the king, as he serves in the palace.  It is probable he had been in the king’s presence the entire time, but perhaps needed to pray and wait before being sure and ready to make his requests.

Regardless, four months is the time span between his knowledge of the problems at home and his request to help.  This time, as he goes in to serve the king, his countenance and disposition is different.  Apparently, Nehemiah was generally a jovial, positive person to be around while working for the king.  This day, however, the king noticed that he wasn’t acting like himself.  In Nehemiah 2:2, we find the king asking Nehemiah what’s wrong.  Being melancholy and out of sorts ought always and only be the exception, not the rule when we are being employed by another to do any job.

Clearly, the king and Nehemiah must have had a close relationship.  Being able to not only pick out Nehemiah’s despair, but also caring enough to ask his subordinate what was the matter proves the relationship between this king and his subject was favorable.

Before Nehemiah answers the king as to what is wrong, he again prays to God.  Nehemiah recognizes God as being the ultimate authority and the king being secondary.  Surely, he feels the need to invite the Lord into the conversation before he speaks so that he might not misspeak, miscommunicate, or otherwise hinder the words he is about to say.  So important is his request that he dares not say it until God is present with him.

After praying, Nehemiah answers saying, “Let the king live forever!  Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” (Nehemiah 2:3)  In other words, how can I not be upset, boss?  My home and my people are in a bad situation.  I am very concerned and distressed for their sake.

Notice how Nehemiah not only prays to God before sharing his heart, when he does start to share it he begins by praising his boss.  He doesn’t rush right into all his troubles the second he walks into work.  He waits to be asked.  He prays before speaking to his superior.  He shows honor and respect to the king when he is asked what’s wrong before sharing details.  What a good example of how we ought to behave in our own lives when we are in a bad way or in need.

The king then asks what Nehemiah wants.  There is usually an understanding between a subordinate and his master that one has resources that the other needs.  This king was willing to help his servant as a friend.  We, too, ought to consider those in need with whom we have relationships and concern ourselves with their needs when we come to know them personally.

The text informs us that Nehemiah was afraid to ask for what he needed.  This is the king he’s talking to!  He doesn’t want to seem ungrateful or greedy.  He just knows he needs help for his people.  So he answers despite his fear and he humbly asks to go and help them himself.

Notice that Nehemiah doesn’t say, “Send someone to help my people.”  He says, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Jush, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.” (Nehemiah 2:5)  How about that!  Send me, boss.  I want to go help them.  I am willing to leave this place of comfort, luxury, and riches to go rebuild my town.  The people I love need help.  I want to go help them.

Sounds like someone else, huh?  Jesus did the same for us.

God knows we are serious in our prayers when we are willing to do our part and do whatever we can to bring about that for which we are asking.  Remember, Nehemiah had been praying and fasting for his home and his brothers even before he knew that they were in trouble!  Here is a man who is willing to make personal sacrifices on behalf of those he loves.

The king answers Nehemiah favorably.  He asks how long it will take indicating that he wanted Nehemiah to come back and serve him again.  Nehemiah tells him how long it will take and then asks for the king to give him papers that would give him authority to travel safely to his destination and a letter for a lumberjack (Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forrest)  so he can get the wood he needs to build with.

Notice that Nehemiah is very specific when he asks for help.  He tells the king exactly what he needs.  Anytime we approach someone with a request, we ought to first know very clearly what we are asking for.  Making sure we do so ensures that others understand what we need and how to properly help us.  Always think through what it is you are asking for before you ask someone else to help.

Finally, we find the king granting Nehemiah’s requests.  Nehemiah credits God with this favorable outcome.  He didn’t say thank goodness for my friends in high places – he had them.  He didn’t say thank goodness I’m so special – he was.  He didn’t say good thing I have done such good service for the king – he had.  He didn’t say good thing I have this trusted position at work – he did.  No.  It is always and ever fitting to recognize and praise God first when given the opportunity to carry out his will.  Nehemiah does so and so should we.

“And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.” ~Nehemiah 2:8

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