I was reading Nehemiah the other day and thought, “What if the story telling stopped at chapter three?” God had answered Nehemiah’s prayer by giving him favor with the king, resulting in resources, and empowered mission. People accepted Nehemiah’s account and as the text says, “had a mind to work.”
Everything looks good through chapter three. Only a few pesky folks mock the attempts to rebuild the wall. If you stopped the story there, it would look like we think a lot of projects should – mostly flawless. But the story continues with increased opposition as they made progress.
Nehemiah and the Israelites encountered three types of problems that are common challenges leaders can anticipate when they are making progress in their mission.
1. opposition from outside –
Sanballat and Tobiah changed their tactics and became more aggressive in their attempts to dissuade and discourage the progress in rebuilding the wall. Their ridicule changed to open threats of violence when they observed that the gates were being closed. If you’re taking ground away from the competition, you can expect critics, nay-sayers, and the like. If you’re making progress bringing the gospel somewhere, persecution can be expected.
2. problems from within
Nehemiah discovered the high interest rates that people were charging each other. This was a clear violation of the Law and an elevation of self- interest over the good of the community. It’s not uncommon to see problems come to light that were previously hidden. As new behaviors and attitudes are required for progress, you come to find out where people really are. Leaders have to be aware and ready to correct what needs to change.
3. target the leader
Nehemiah received a series of messages, which at first might seem legitimate. Had he acted on them, he himself would have been disqualified as a leader of the Israelites. It took presence of mind, knowledge of the Law and discernment to know that he was being led into a snare. In the Scriptures, we see examples of leaders who were not able to perceive what was happening around them. Praying for wisdom and knowing the Word of God really gave Nehemiah the discernment needed for the circumstance he faced.
These three forms of opposition are not uncommon when you are making progress. Too often, we assume that when problems come, it’s a sign of loss of favor or blessing. We get discouraged; we forget that we are in a battle when leading change. Plans are only perfect on paper. Progress exposes realities that we didn’t know existed. Things may feel chaotic in the moment and require the leader to be wise to what is happening.
Had the story stopped at the third chapter of Nehemiah, we could have the flawed idea that a leader with a vision and a good plan wins the day. We would miss the richness of Nehemiah’s own dependence on God, wisdom and discernment. And if we stop at chapter six, when the wall is finished, we miss the real story of the challenge of changing hearts. I love that we get a fuller picture of the story. To be continued….
For which stories in Scripture are you most grateful?