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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
Part of what we’ve learned about motivation, and sustaining commitments, is that when you get isolated, and feel like you’ve got to lose weight on your own, break an addiction on your own, keep a commitment to God on your own, take a new step of faith on your own – usually it will last two days to two weeks. But if there are people, if there’s accountability, if there’s encouragement, if you know you’re not alone, then you hang in there.
The next observation is, each group worked near their homes or at least whenever possible. It was in verse 10, verse 22, verse 26, 28, 29, and 30. And so, they didn’t have to travel. And the other is, there was the godly, vested interest. Can you imagine saying, “Okay, we’re going to rebuild this part of the wall right here.” And the walls were, don’t think of a little wall. These were huge walls. You could drive a chariot on top of these walls.
And then, inside the walls, the housing would be built. So, my living room might be here, and then the external wall would be here. I’m thinking, I’m going to do a pretty good job on this part of the wall if the catapults and the stones start coming, and the arrows and the spears. I think I’m going to make it pretty thick, and pretty good. I’m not going to do one of those, “Well, this is good enough for government work.” Right?
And so, he motivates them, not only by the great, intrinsic, “We’re doing this for God,” but he puts them in a place that highly motivates them to work in a way that has their best interest in mind.
Notice the context: It’s preceded by the apex of motivation, and then it’s followed by a big section of opposition. You need to remember that. At the end of chapter 2, it’s, “Let us arise and build! Nehemiah is here! We’re going to do it! Come on, gang! Let’s make a difference!” You’ve been in those moments, right? People stand on top of chairs, and, “This is what we’re going to do; let’s go for it!”
Well, now, this is how you sustain it. You can get fired up, but he has them with people. They have clear roles. They make a very specific commitment. They’re doing it with someone before them, someone next to them.
But then, in the context – chapters 4, 5, and 6 – will be about opposition. Any time you take a step – whether you decide to start really reading your Bible, or really praying, or working on your marriage, or saying, as a family, “We’re going to do something radical: We’re going to try and eat together, like, at a table, with nothing blaring, like, two or three times a week.” “I’m going to actually tuck my kids in, and read them a story.” “I’m going to get with a group of single people, and we’re going to make a covenant about making a difference in our workplaces, and we’re going to be sexually pure.” Every time you take any kind of step of faith like that, it’ll usually get worse before it gets better.
So, chapter 4 you get external opposition. In chapter 5, there is internal opposition. And then, chapter 6, he gets personal attack.
So, people who make these kinds of commitments – they change, they change people around them, and they change the world. But it usually starts with some very significant time of motivation, and it gets clear: This is what we’ve got to do. And then, they start this process, and usually it’s followed by some things that are very difficult.
Notice who started the work: It’s the high priest. Different people have responsibility. The high priest was the highest representative of God. And notice, the very first line, he models that.
The ragtag group finished it in fifty-two days. And I have a friend who is an engineer, who said, “This is an absolute engineering miracle. It’s an impossibility.”
And then, notice, they worked in affinity groups. The priests worked together; the merchants, the goldsmiths worked together. They worked in families, servants. Some come from different countries. And there’s just an affinity of culture and background that, as we work together with people that we can understand, it helps us sustain motivation, helps us keep our commitments. We understand one another.
And then, the final thing here is that, notice there were two special commendations. In verse 5, if you skip down there, you can see that he talks about the nobles: They didn’t put their shoulder to the work.
So, now, imagine. First, imagine all these individual names. God doesn’t accomplish His will by some big, blanket thing. Think of all the individual names, and imagine, maybe, the very next generation. These people are your father, or your grandfathers.
God accomplishes things, not by groups and movements and programs; He does it one person, one life at a time. And so, that’s how important individuals are – all these specific names. And He knows. He knows who’s slacking off.
And then, if you skip down to verse 20, notice this fellow, Baruch. It says he worked zealously. God sees people’s motives. He sees people’s hearts. He knows where you’re at; He knows where I’m at. And in all this long list, He says, “You know? This fellow really didn’t carry his weight. And this person over here…”
And so, all those are, are observations. Right? Is that fair? It’s in there, right? Well, turn to the back page, and let’s turn those observations into some very specific principles about how you can help make and sustain your personal commitments.
And as we do, could I ask you to lean back? When I study the Bible, that’s just what I do, okay? When I studied this for the first time, I read it over a bunch of times, and then, I started looking, and I put a line under all the gates. And then, I started thinking, There are a lot of people, so I circled the different people.
But then, I began to ask, “Why? Why is chapter 3 here? Why did this particular group, at this particular time, with this particular leader actually accomplish the task, when others had failed? What is it that I can learn about these groups, and the affinities, and building, and repairing, and after him, and next to him that would help me, personally, make commitments, and sustain them?
Because, at the end of the day, God didn’t put this in His Word just so that we could understand Nehemiah 3. He knew that we’d be sitting in this room, on this day, with the issues that you face, and I face.
Now, before I go on, here’s what I’d like you to think about: Where are you at in your personal commitment to Jesus Christ? Is it an emotional one? Intellectual one? Is it, “Yeah, I’d like to be more committed, but, boy, I’m kind of afraid to, because, three steps forward, nine steps backwards”?
Where are you at? Privately, no hands or anything – but for those of you who are married, down deep in your heart, where are you at in your commitment to your mate? Or, like I shared – there were times that I just felt like, God, this isn’t working. I’m really frustrated. I went through the, I’m not very fulfilled right now. I’m not very happy, in fact, I’m not happy at all.
And then, the enemy comes in and tries to tempt you, right? So, where are you there? Or how about: How committed are you, some of you who are parents, to really saying, “I will own the moral responsibility of raising my kids, that, regardless of their SAT scores, how well they do in athletics, they’re going to be godly kids”?
See, that changes stuff. And I don’t know where it is. I’ve got my journey, what I’m thinking about, God, what do You want me to really refresh and renew in my commitments? But I want you to think about that right now.
For some of you – maybe as a single person, you’re saying, “I’m sort of committed to sexual purity.” You know where that lands you, don’t you? “I’m sort of committed to only dating someone who really walks with God, unless he’s very good looking,” or, “unless she’s really hot, and I think there’s real spiritual potential, and I could help her.” Right? Been there and done that.
So, with that, what I want to do now is, I want to walk through these three principles, and I want you to pray. I want you to pray, and say, God, would You help clarify, in my mind, in my heart, where You want me to make, or where You want me to further sustain, personal commitments in my life?
How to make and sustain personal commitments – number one – is the principle of cooperation. We never get beyond how we’re getting along. Everything that ever gets accomplished in life is done in a context of relationships. And so, here’s the key: Recognize people are different. Nehemiah did that. Recognize people are different.
Second, recognize the immense value of every person. Realize that, whether it’s at work, or whether it’s your family – you’re human. Some of your kids frustrate you in some seasons, and some make you very happy. Some are very easy, and some are very hard. Some people in your small group, you connect with. Some make you nuts. But just recognize that it’s not bad or good; it’s, they’re different.
And third, recognize that our common goal, or common vision, is greater than our individual differences. It’s the principle of cooperation. You will never get beyond how you’re getting along. And if you find yourself, in your heart, critical of people, even if it’s only in your mind, if you find yourself always pointing out what’s wrong with your mate, or what’s wrong with some of your kids, or what’s wrong with some people in this church, or what’s wrong with this, or what’s wrong with that, or if you find yourself in little coffee shops, talking about other people that sort of have this little, negative slant, I will tell you what: You won’t make progress.
Personal commitments are fostered when we feel like we belong. I believe when those people started on that wall together, they felt like, I belong. I’m a part of the team. Nehemiah – God’s got his hand on Nehemiah. God brought him here. We know it’s God’s will to rebuild these walls. We know what God promised to do in this city. We know we’re God’s people. And I belong. I’m going to be a part, and I’m going to do my little section on the wall.
And when you feel like you belong, it fosters commitment. When you feel like you’re visiting, when you feel like it’s “them” working on the wall, when you feel like it’s “that church,” when you find yourself in conversations talking about what “they” are doing, it’s not negative. It’s a journey; it’s a process. But there’s not that sense that you belong. It’s sort of an evaluative, Well, this is what they’re doing. Here is what they’re trying to do. Here’s what… That’s a lot different than, This is what we’re doing. This is where we’re going. This is where we have challenges.
So, let me ask you: Do you feel like you belong? And maybe the second question is: what do you need to do to take that next step? Because, otherwise, we’ve created this culture – especially in America, but many places around the world – where we actually think “church” is a building, and that “church” is an event that happens sometimes, usually on Sunday morning, and you go and sit, and listen to someone talk, and sing some songs, hopefully feel a little bit better about yourself because you’ve done it. And then, live the other six days almost totally apart from that experience, but feel like, I went to church. Therefore, what do You think, God?
It’s that subtle, consumer mindset, versus, “Church is us people together, connected together, to accomplish His purposes. And His purpose here, in this church, is to help us love one another, and love people outside this room, and help Christians live like Christians.” That’s God’s call, and that’s a 24/7, 365 event.
The second principle is the principle of coordination. The multiple efforts of a group are far greater than the sum of its parts. It’s synergy. In other words, this group couldn’t get anything going. They had a catalytic leader in Nehemiah. He cast a clear vision. People understood, “I want you to do this part, this part, this part, this part. You come from different places. You can work with people that you know, but from this section to this section, you do this; they do that.” And the sum of the parts, in fifty-two days, did a miracle.
That’s how God has always worked. It’s true in Acts chapter 2. It was true in the Early Church. It was true in the Reformation. It was true with Wesley, and Whitefield. It was true in the early days of America. And it’s true in different parts of the world now, it’s the principle of cooperation.
Well, how do you do that? Well, first, we recognize we need each other. There are no Lone Rangers. You can’t make it on your own; I can’t make it on my own. Even the twelve-step people know that.
You can’t make it on your own.
Recognize there’s a job that only you can do. Personal commitments grow when we know that we are needed. Do you understand there’s this amazing connection between commitment and love? Jesus said, “He that has My commands and keeps them, he it is that loves Me. And he that loves Me will be loved of My Father” – and then, here’s the promise – “and We will disclose Ourselves to you.”
You get close, and meet, and touch, and feel, and experience, and get transformed by God, not by just soaking in information. It’s by receiving truth. And then, I respond to the truth, and I connect with other people, and I discover my gifts. And then, together, we do this thing, and He creates something out of it.
Here’s what I want you to hear: You’re needed. You’re needed. What happens in the church and the life is just the byproduct. What happens is – the most fulfilled people, the people who had their names written in this chapter, were people who saw, God could use an ordinary person like me. And what they did is, they moved off of looking at the rubble, and assuming that, This is the way it’s going to be, and they aligned around a vision. And the sum total of the parts did something beyond what they could ever dream.
The third principle is the principle of motivation. The value of the project to the worker will determine the value of the worker to the project. You might have to think that one over very carefully but, think about: the value of the project to the worker. How important it is will determine how important that person is.
Some people walked – when’s the last time you walked seventeen miles? Anyone? I’ve gone up that Quicksilver trail. I’ve done four or five miles, and uphill, and downhill it’s like, “Man, you've got to be kidding me. These people, in this text – they walked twenty-six miles. They didn’t take the bus. They didn’t take their bicycle. They didn’t say, “Hey, let’s take a little scooter.” If they were rich they maybe had a donkey. But they walked twenty-six miles to get to work, to get to help. And they left the harvest behind.
Do you understand that you are sitting in a room that’s been paved by the sacrifice and the commitment of people who have given their time, their energy, their money, and, many places, all around the world, their lives, so the gospel could reach you, and reach me? And our responsibility is to take that baton, and move forward, and do it for the next generation.
The motivation must begin with leaders and influencers. It’s just life, the way it is. And if you’re the head of your home – Dad – you’re an influencer. If you’re the glue of the home – Mom – you’re an influencer. If you’re a student, and people look to you because of academics, or athletics, you’re an influencer.
If you’re a single person, and you realize that, when you move, everyone says, “What are we going to do tonight?” and you say, “Let’s do this,” and people do that, you’re an influencer. It always begins with leaders. There’s a stewardship there. You’re not better than anybody else.
If you’re a business owner, if you’re an entrepreneur, if you’re a CEO, if you’re a manager, you need to understand that, where you move, networks move with you. So, you need to really examine the stewardship, and say, “What vision am I going to align my life, my time, and my energy around?” Because that’s how that thing happened on the wall then, and that’s how it’s going to happen on the wall here.
Motivation is sustained by godly, vested interest. We want to help people serve and volunteer, but we want to help them serve and volunteer in a way where they get refreshed. We want to help them serve and volunteer so they become better parents. We want to help them serve and volunteer so they get loved, and encouraged. We want to help them serve and volunteer so they discover their gifts, where they learn about how to align their finances so that, five years from now, instead of being in debt up to here, and feeling under pressure, they’ll say, “You know what? I paid all that stuff off. I just applied biblical principles. There are people who really helped me.”
We want people to volunteer and serve in such a way so they say, “You know what? I didn’t tell anyone about that little, private porn addiction, or that drug addiction, or that little alcohol addiction, or that people addiction, or that workaholic addiction. But when I got involved, and it got safe, and I got that out there, and the Word of God, and the grace of God, and the people of God – Whew! I’m free.” That’s how it works.
Notice what happens: The completed wall would mean protection from their enemies, the completed wall would mean provision for a better life, and the completed wall would mean productivity and impact in their world. Personal commitments are sustained when the vision becomes our vision. So, where are you at in your personal commitment with God? Are you a little fair-weather – like, when there’s a kid in ICU, or you need a job: I am very committed to God. Help me, help me, help me.
Or have you signed up and said, “You know what? I get one little trip through this thing called “time,” and then, I’m going to live forever. And I’m really glad my sins are forgiven, and I’m really glad I’m heaven bound, but I don’t want to waste this. I want to do exactly what You want me to do, and I want to pay whatever price, because the rewards are astounding now, and eternal later”.
At the end of the day – whether it’s in your marriage, or your parenting, whether it’s in your singleness, whether it’s at work – it really boils down to having the heart of a servant that says, Lord, use me.