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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
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.
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.