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About this series
Turning God-Shaped Dreams into Reality
The God of the universe is looking for regular people to accomplish things beyond our wildest dreams. In this series, from Nehemiah 1 - 6, learn how God uses ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things and the process by which He molds men and women for His purposes.More from this series
Why is it that so many people sincerely desire to do so much, and usually accomplish so little?
I’m just going to go out on a limb, and think that many of us who’ve had a sincere desire to: I think God might want us to address this issue in our marriage, or, We need to address this with one of our kids, or, There’s this person at work, and a holy ambition and I think God wants me to do something here at work, or, I’m new in a neighborhood – at least I am right now – and a sincere desire I have is to invite the neighbors over, and get to know them. But I also know me, that I’ve had that sincere desire before, and lived next to people, and not gotten to know them very well.So, why is that?
And you might jot in your notes, the answer is: good intentions. Good intentions. And what I mean by that is, I think there’s this psychology – I can’t explain it any other way – that, when God speaks to me, or when you have a very genuine, sincere desire, and you really believe that you are going to do it, you think you’ve actually accomplished something, just because you had the desire.
You with me there? It’s like, I really do care more about my neighbors than I used to care about them, or, I really do want to address this marriage issue, and so, yeah. Now, I haven’t really done anything, but that’s a big step to get there. And so, I think what happens is, we think we did something, when, really, what we did is, we got aligned to do something.
Second question: Why is it that others who carefully prepare to do even a little – maybe not very much, but they carefully prepare to do a little – accomplish so much more than they even imagined?
And the answer is a strategic plan. A strategic plan. Don’t let that word scare you. You don’t have to be in graduate school, or go to Stanford, or get an MBA from Harvard. We’re going to find that some of the best strategic planning and thinking, in any literature, anywhere, is in Nehemiah chapter 2.
And you’re going to find that a man with a leadership gift, who has an impossible situation, with a ragtag group, with zero resources when he starts out, is used by God, through the strategic plan, after his heart is dislocated, his broken spirit, and he takes this radical step of faith, where God does, through an ordinary person, exceedingly, abundantly beyond what he could think or imagine.
And that’s what we’re going to learn: we’re going to learn how to develop a strategic plan. So, open your notes, or, as many of you are already there, I’ll catch up with you.
There are four things that we’re going to see in this chapter – chapter 2, verses 5 through about 18. I put the text in there for you. And what we’re going to see is, there are four things, very critical, to developing a strategic plan. And this is what will take that good intention about your marriage, that good intention with one of your kids, that good intention as a single person to reach out, and really get connected, that good intention at work, that good intention that you really want to, in your neighborhood – a strategic plan is what will turn that good intended, God-shaped, God-deposited idea or heart that He gave you into reality.
First, it must begin with a vision. It must begin with a vision. Now, that word is thrown around in lots of different literature, so let me use it in the way I’m describing it here. A vision is a God-given burden to see what could be and should be in a person, place, or situation, if God’s power and God’s grace were unleashed in it.
When I’m talking about vision, here, that’s what I mean. It’s a preferable picture of the future. What would happen if God’s power and God’s grace were unleashed in your marriage, or in your parenting, or in your singleness, or if His grace, in this particular, difficult situation, or in this need? It’s a God-given burden.
Almost all great visions flow out of: there’s a big need. There’s a big need: the walls are down; the gates are burned by fire. There’s a big need: this whole group of unwed mothers. There’s a big need of Christians who have gone through the motions, and grown up in church, and rejected Christianity, and they have not met an authentic, real Christ follower, or what we call “an R12 Christian.” So, there’s a big need.
What is the preferable future, if you had unlimited resources, and a group of people were standing behind you, and they would line up to help you, and they have gifts that you don’t have? What’s the biggest need, what’s the biggest burden, that you can’t even explain it, at times, when people start talking about it, or if you maybe see something on TV, or even a movie that touches on it, you just find emotions coming out that you can’t shake?
See, you don’t need to solve the problems of the whole world, but you need to be sensitive to what is it, in your heart, that when you’re close to it, and when you slow down long enough, and when you get out of the busyness, God really begins to whisper to you, “I want you to help that group. I want you to help that person”? For me, it’s the Church. I don’t mean just church work. I mean churches actually being the Church of Christ, Christians who actually live out their faith. Every time I get around people, when I see genuine life change, and when I see churches that just won’t accept the status quo, and see the biggest needs in their community, and want to make a difference, I’ll just tell you, something deep inside of my heart – that’s what I want to give my life to. It’s a burden. That’s my burden; that’s my vision. What’s yours?
The second thing is that it grows out of need, but there’s a process of the heart, and there’s a process of the head. Certain things have to happen in you – that was chapter 1 – and then, certain things have to happen through you.
I put a little chart. Let me show you how this gets borne out in everyday practice. In chapter 1, there’s a problem, right? The walls. God’s agenda. Chapter 2, we’re going to get a solution.
In chapter 1, it’s in Susa; it’s in the comfort zone. He’s living in the lap of luxury. Chapter 2: He’s in Jerusalem. He’s out of his comfort zone, but he’s in the excitement and the center of God’s will.
Chapter 1, it’s about prayer. It’s the process of discernment and formation: “I’m only one person, God. What do You want me to do?” Chapter 2, there’s an answer. God confirms, “This is what I want you to do.”
Chapter 1, there’s a promise. He says, “God, I know You have an agenda.” Just like today. We know God has an agenda for the world. He has an agenda for the poor. He has the agenda for Christians. He has an agenda for people who don’t know him.
Then, chapter 2, it goes from those promises, to actual provision, and God’s going to resource that burden that He’s put on his heart.
Chapter 1, there’s a purpose. He clearly articulates, “This is why I’m here; God wants me to rebuild that wall.” Chapter 2, there’s a program. There are timelines. There are people. There are resources.
Chapter 1, it starts with an individual. One guy! Just one guy, one business guy goes, “What can I do?” Well, after four months of praying, he goes, “Okay, I’m going to go before the king. I’ll put my life on the line. I’m going to leave my comfort zone. Here am I. Send me.”
And the way it always happens: Then a movement starts. First, it’s a small group. And then, pretty soon, you’re going to see by the end of this chapter, all the people of that city say, “Let us arise and build.”
In chapter 1, it’s perceptual. It’s just an idea: “Someone ought to do something about that.” By chapter 2, it’s practical. There’s a game plan.
Chapter 1, it’s a heart issue. By chapter 2, it’s the head. God did something in him, now God’s going to do something through him.
So, what’s your vision? And what’s the vision that you feel like is the top priority? And by the way, in different seasons of your life, it looks different. And it might be – I don’t mean just ministry vision, as you think about, well, ministry at work, or ministry here at the church, or maybe ministry that you’re involved in. I’m talking about the first and foremost ministry, if you’re married, is with your mate.
The next ministry that’s most important is with your kids. The next ministry, outside of that, is being the kind of person who shows up at work, who actually lives like a Christian, and loves people in authentic ways.
My wife had a pretty difficult childhood. And her holy ambition was very, very focused. She sets boundaries better than anyone I know. And her holy ambition was that God would give us the opportunity to raise kids who would walk with Him, love Him with all their hearts, find mates who love God as well, and then raise the next generation of kids who would make a difference for Him. That was her holy ambition.
Now, she, being married to me – I’ve been involved in lots of stuff, but she never felt compelled to run the women’s ministry, or do this, or do that. Now, she discovered her gifts, and she was involved in different ministries, but I’m telling you, man, we ate at five thirty. We read stories to our kids when they were little. We had a very specific plan that we were checking off, all the years that they were in our home.
We had a plan about how they were going to learn about the opposite sex. We had a plan about how they were going to learn about money. We had a plan about which friends, and who they were going to date. We had a plan about sending them out on crazy things that got really risky, that scared us to death, but we knew that was the only way that they would really discover and own their faith for themselves.
But I will tell you, her holy ambition has been focused, and praying, and investing in. And we knew that we couldn’t control that – they’re going to make decisions – but that was her holy ambition and dream.
And now what I can tell you is, because of that kind of focus, and a very dislocated heart, broken spirit, radical steps of faith, and a very clear, strategic plan – she has been the rudder of our home. When our kids woke up at five thirty in the morning, they saw their mom in front of the couch, on her knees, praying for them. She just had this holy passion about family.
And I will tell you, those kids now, by God’s grace, are all walking with God, have all married mates who have a heart for ministry. And in different ways, they’re all in ministry. One does it through physical therapy, and another through preaching, and one writes songs, and the other works with a non-profit.
But I just – as we’re talking about vision, what’s your vision? And what I’ve observed – and I mean this respectfully, because it’s happened to me so many times – is, you get a vision for your home, or you get a vision for work, you get a vision for ministry, and what happens is, then you think about what it will really take, and you start thinking, Well these people, we might need some space. Or, heaven forbid, We actually might need some money, or, We might need some people a lot smarter than me. And you look at all the resources.
And then, when you see all the resources, you say, “Oh, well, it can never happen. I’m just one housewife. How can I help those people in the inner city?” Or, “I’m just one business person. What can I do?” You know? “I just – I’m a software programmer.” “I’m just a doctor, and my life is so full already. There’s no way. But I’ve got this burden.” Most visions die on the operating table of God’s plan because, when we see how many resources it will take, we give up, thinking God can’t do it.
So, you have this dream for an ethnic group, you have this dream for women, you have this dream for kids, you have this dream for kids around the school, you have this dream for your family, you have this dream for other men who have addictions, you have this dream.
And here’s what I’m telling you! Where God’s agenda is championed, God’s resources flow. Where God’s agenda is championed, His resources flow. Don’t start thinking about the “how.” Just get focused on the “what,” and on the “why.” God will take care of the “how.” He’ll bring people. Dream a dream, form a team. He will resource the vision, and He’ll do something in you in the process.
Nehemiah shows us how it works. Chapter 2 verse 5: “And I said to the king, ‘If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me’” – radical step of faith, where? – “‘to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried so I can rebuild it.’” That’s his vision. That’s his. Circle it. “I can rebuild it.”
It’s just very clean, very clear. He didn’t say, “Send me back to preach. Don’t send me back to do a revival. Tell you what, there’s a physical issue. I’m a businessperson. I’ve got leadership gift. I’ve been praying about it. Send me to rebuild it.”
“Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, ‘How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?’ It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time.” Circle the phrase: so I set a time.
And he knew, I can only set a time when I know: here’s the extent of the damage. Here are the resources I need. Here’s how many people I’m going to need. Here’s about how long I’d better put a little margin and buffer into it. So, he had a strategic plan.
Strategic plans don’t have all the details. It has all the major building blocks, and steps for how to get from where you are, to where you know God wants you to do.
He goes on, “So I said to him, ‘If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of the Trans-Euphrates, so they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah?’” So, he needs protection.
“And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the king’s forest, so he will give me timber to make the beams of the gates of the citadel by the temple for the city wall and for the residence that I will occupy?” He needs provision. Translation: “King, I need your MasterCard.” Okay?
And he has a broken spirit. He understands it’s not about him. Here’s his reason why he is so bold: “And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests.”
It wasn’t because, “I was a great leader.” It wasn’t because, “I’m persuasive.” It’s not because, “I had this great, big vision that people ought to get behind.” It’s because, “The good hand of my God is upon him.” And he knew His good hand was upon him because, for the last four months, he’s been fasting, and praying, and seeking God. And he says, “This isn’t about Nehemiah. This is about Your agenda,” and he’s championing God’s agenda.
“So I went to the governor of the Trans-Euphrates. I gave him the king’s letters. And the king also” – this is the exceedingly, abundantly beyond, when God provides. The key to the vision becoming a reality is a strategic plan. The key to a strategic plan is, first and foremost: what’s your vision? You must have a picture of a preferable future. What is the burden on your heart that could be, and must be, and a person, place, or situation, if the grace of God and the power of God were unleashed in it? And where God’s agenda is championed, His resources flow.
And here’s how you get His resources: You ask the King. It’s what Nehemiah did. He went from an idea, to a prayer meeting, to a game plan, to, “Can I go?” And he says, “Yes.” And then he says, “And by the way, would you finance it? Really. Will you finance it?” The king goes, “Yeah.”
You have a King who’s a lot bigger than the king of Persia. He’ll finance it. You need staff? He’ll give you staff. You need ideas? He’ll give you ideas. God will direct, God will fund it, God will resource it. I wrote a very specific line, in my notes, I want to read to you: “Great movements of God are not lacking because of lack of resources, but because of lack of vision, and radical faith, with a clear-cut, strategic plan to accomplish them.” God’s just looking for a man, for a woman, and He’ll give you eyes to see.
Later, we’re going to hear Nehemiah say that what – he shared with the people what God put in his heart. There are needs that prick your heart, like no one else’s, that make you tear up when you give yourself time to really think about it. There are needs that desperately need the grace of God, and the love of God, and the compassion of Christ to move into, and you are made differently than any, single person.
And often, God’s provision is how He confirms that you’re on the right track. The biggest mistake we make is, we wait for God to – Well, God, when You bring all the people and all the resources, then we’ll go. Nothing happens there.
All those Old Testament pictures are, the water parts when what happened? They step into the water. It’s moms going, “I think my holy ambition needs to be, first and foremost, my family, and then, I think I’ll connect with children.” Or, “I think I’ll connect with women.” It’s guys saying, “First and foremost, my vision – I’m going to be a man of God, a man of integrity. But I’ve got some baggage, and I’m going to help some other men get out of their addictions, like I got out of mine.”
So, in the next couple pages, Nehemiah will give us – I think as good as any leadership book. And I don’t have any formal training in it, but I’ve just read everything under the sun to try and learn about strategic planning, and leadership, and I will tell you what, points three and four, Nehemiah gives those as good as any book I’ve ever read.
He’s going to say, “Your strategic plan must be birthed in private.” It must be birthed in private. Follow along with me in verse 11. He says, “I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days” – so, he’s gone from Susa. He went to the guy with all the timber and said, “Here’s how many trees we’re going to need – the king says so; here’s his credit card.” And now, he’s arrived in Jerusalem.
“And after staying there three days I set out during the night with a few men. I had not told anyone what God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on. And by night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, and I was examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. And then I moved on toward the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool, but there wasn’t enough room for my mount to get through; so I went up the valley by night, examining the wall. And then, finally, I turned back and reentered through the Valley Gate.”
So, he literally, counterclockwise, if you had a map of the city – he goes all the way around the entire wall. Some places, there’s so much rubble, he can’t get through. And he’s examining the extent of the damage, and what the situation is.
And then, notice his last line. He said, “The officials did not know where I had gone” – so, he’s doing it secretly – “or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or the nobles or the officials or others who would be doing the work.” That’s some confidence, isn’t it? “I haven’t talked to anyone yet, but these are all the people who are going to do the work.” There’s some faith.
So, imagine, he’s coming to Jerusalem – and you’ve got to picture this, because we, he’s not quite the vice president, but this is – he’s coming as the right hand man of the most powerful person in the world, to a broken down city, and, for three days, he goes dark. It’s not like he came – “Press conference! I want you to know, guys, God spoke to me. I’ve got the king’s credit card. We’re going to make this thing happen. You just listen to me, guys, and we can do it.” For three days, he says nothing. In fact, when he wants to find out the real lay of the land, he does it at night, so people don’t even know what’s happening.
Three principles flow out of this, of birthing your strategic plan. Number one is silence to listen. Verse 11, “It was after three days.” Verse 12: “I told no one.” Verse 16: “I said nothing.”
Once you get a God-given vision, a burden that He wants you to respond to, a need that you believe He wants you to meet, don’t go blabbing about it. Don’t get this idea in your heart, and pray for a few days, and say, “We’re going to reach inner city kids! We’re going to start this ministry! We’re going to do this! We’re going to…!” It’s just – shhhhhh. Listen. Go quiet.
Don’t assume you have all the answers. That’s why he listened. Don’t assume you know all the facts. Discover what other people think, what their views are, what’s coming.
You know what he did? He didn’t come in with a bunch of answers; he came in and said, “What’s the lay of the land? What’s going on here?”
The second is secrecy to assess. You have to do your homework. We want to jump in to make stuff happen. Evaluate the extent of the need. What are the available resources? What are the attitudes? What are the climates? What are the issues? Examining the wall is like a surgeon looking at the extent of the damage before he operates.
And so, you get secret, not to hide something from people, but to really understand, not what other people say is going on, but you find out, firsthand, “What are the real issues? What are the real needs?”
And then, third is solitude to strategize. You develop a team; you come up with a specific, strategic plan. You have deadlines. You have specific goals: “Here’s where we want to be in five years. Here’s where we want to be in three.” You know it’s all going to change; it’s big picture. “For the next twelve months this is what we’ve got to do: when, why, and how. Here’s how much it’s going to cost. Here are the steps we’re going to take. Here are the first steps.” God blesses specific plans, not vague, general ideas. And so, solitude is for strategizing, and you develop a specific means to implement.
More specifically, just so we get it down to the grassroots level: I’ve shared the journey of coming from homes where we really didn’t know how to do marriage, or family. And let me give you – about a year, year and a half into my marriage, here’s how I came up with a strategic plan for my marriage: Silence. I listened to Theresa, listened to her frustrations, and her telling me what she needed me to be. It was painful.
I spent the first year and a half telling her what she needed to do and become to make our marriage work, because she was making me nuts. Great – she loved God, I loved God but, not working very well. After the silence, then it was secrecy to assess. I went away, and got quiet, and owned my part, realizing I could not change my wife, and that she had a lot of baggage, and so did I.
So, I went to a professor – a guy named Prof Hendricks, who’s been a mentor – and to a guy who was teaching pastoral psychology at the seminary, and said, “I think this is what I need to own. My best understanding, from what I’ve learned, is, this is where she’s coming from, what I’m coming from. This is the kind of home, this is the kind of home. I know two things: We can’t communicate, and we can’t resolve anger, and I know that’s not good. So, will you help me, regardless if she ever changes in any way – will you help me” – secrecy – “assess, how can I be the kind of husband to respond to that?” And they did.
And then, the last one was solitude to develop a plan. And I got away, and she got away, and we went to some counseling. And then, we came up with a strategic plan for our marriage. And it involved, because of us – this isn’t necessarily for you, but, for us, we needed at least fifteen minutes every day, sometimes a lot more, after supper, where we talk and share, “How are you really doing?” and connect. We needed one date a week – I made it Friday mornings – for about three or four hours. We ate breakfast together, and we are going to spend time together every Friday.
We needed to have what we called “a conference” about twice a week, where we asked these three questions that teach you about communication. They were on the calendar, and we went out and did them together, asking these three questions, so we learned to communicate.
And we plugged in two times a year, to get away for at least a couple nights, despite how poor we were. We would trade off kids with other people, because we realized if we didn’t invest in the romantic side of our marriage and get away, it wouldn’t work.
I came up, with my wife, with a strategic plan for a marriage where the burden of my heart, and what I believed was biblical. We did the same thing for our kids. When we talk about “strategic plans,” this isn’t just about church, and ministry, and growth. This is about what you need to do, I need to do, we need to do. You need a strategic plan for your own spiritual life! But it has to be birthed in private. It takes times of silence, times of secrecy, and times of solitude.
And so, strategic planning begins – you must have a vision. Two, you champion God’s agenda, and He’ll cause the resources to flow your way: people, wisdom, whatever you need. It’s birthed in private. And then, finally, it needs to be launched in public.
Notice, in two verses, Nehemiah gives us an amazing way to launch things in public. It says, “Then I said to them, ‘You see the bad situation we are in: That Jerusalem is desolate, and its gates are burned by fire. Come,’” he says. He’s speaking to the group of people; he’s going public now. There’s a big group of people. This guy came. Where is he coming from? He’s been hiding out for quite a while. Now he’s going public. “Do you – look at this! You see these big rocks? You see this? See those gates? No one’s worshipping. No one lives in the city. Do you see this situation that Jerusalem is in – desolate, gates burned by fire?”
“Come” – challenge – “let us” – together – “build the wall of Jerusalem” – why? – “that we may no longer be a reproach.” This is a disgrace to God’s name; this is a disgrace to us. “And I told them how the hand of my God had been favorable to me and also about the king’s words which he spoke to me. Then they said” – response – “‘Let us arise and build.’ So they put their hands to the good work.”
Get your pen out, because I’ll go through these quickly. I want to give you, in those two verses, how to launch your strategic plan. You’ve prayed, you’ve recruited a team, you’ve dreamed a dream, you’re forming a team, or you’re working through some of those private areas.
Number one, clearly define the problem. People get used to living in messes. They get used to marriages that are dysfunctional. They get used to kids who have bad attitudes, and slam the door, and live in front of video games. “Well, I don’t want the conflict.” People get used to the walls being burned down.
You’ve got to define the problem, first and foremost. “Do you see?” he says. The answer was, they didn’t see.
Second, identify with the problem. Notice, he says, “It’s our problem, it’s not yours. Do you see the bad situation we are in?”
Third, propose a “we” solution. He didn’t blame them. You sit down with your kids: “What are we going to do about this?” You sit down with your wife: “What are we going to do about this?” You get with a group of men: “What are we going to do about this?”
Number four, give a clear, strong challenge. He asked big things. So, I want you to know: Ask people for big things. If you feel me asking you for big things, you’re hearing very clearly. Way to go.
Then, motivate at the deepest level. There’s no soft sell. He didn’t say, “When we get the walls built, then your businesses will go better,” or, “Later on, I’ll get the king to give you a good retirement.” He says, “Do, that we may no longer be a reproach.” But you’ve got to motivate from within. It’s got to be about: what kind of believers do we want to be? How seriously do we take the name of Christ and His Church? What kind of difference do we want to make for His glory? And then, you help other people see God’s hand. The reason I told you some of those stories was God’s hand has shown up this year.
And then, finally, you explain, specifically, how everyone can be involved. God is prepared to give direction, and resources, and wisdom, if He can find a man or a woman whose heart is fully His.