Lessons from the Life of Nehemiah (Part I)

How many people do you know who are willing to leave the comfort of their lives and social status to take on the burden of those who need help!? Nehemiah has much to teach us about caring and sacrificial leadership.

The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. It came to pass in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the citadel,  that Hanani one of my brethren came with men from Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped, who had survived the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem.  And they said to me, “The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.” So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. Nehemiah 1:1-4

Nehemiah was a cupbearer to the king. That meant that he would be the last person who would examine the king’s drink before it got into his hands. Being a cupbearer is a trusted position. Nehemiah would have lived in the king’s quarters be available to the king at any time, and he would have had a comfortable life. Nehemiah was person of integrity and faithfulness to have been placed in that position.

Nehemiah asked Hanani (a fellow Jew) about the condition of the Israelites in Jerusalem who had returned from captivity. Usually when we ask about how someone is doing, it is a casual curiosity. We don’t intend to do anything about it. However, that was not the case for Nehemiah. When he heard the condition of the his fellow Jews in Jerusalem, it caused him great distress, which led him to cry out before God with prayer and fasting.  Why would a man at his coveted position care about the condition of the Israelites in the homeland!?

How many leaders these days show such a deep concern for the flock? Who seeks the Lord with such a desperation for the condition of their flock or the lost!? Or how many fast and pray for potential bad laws and policies that may get instituted in our land!? Most likely,  some do so, but most of us don’t seek God that desperately! Instead, we have programs, committees, and marketing teams that make recommendations as to what should to be done to attract people to church or design solutions for people’s needs. However, nothing replaces seeking God desperately for the answers and asking Him to give us divine solutions for the long-standing problems around us.

Nehemiah cared deeply about the Israelites and sought God for an answer to their condition. His fasting and prayer took about a period of four months. We need these types of leaders in the body of Christ who are about the Father’s business and care deeply about His flock!

When you read the entire Nehemiah (chapter 1), you find that Nehemiah asked God for forgiveness of his sins, his father’s sins, and the Israelites sins. It would have been easy to just ask God for the forgiveness of the Israelites’ sins, but he included himself in it. He didn’t see himself any better than them because he had a prestigious position in the king’s palace. He had the humility to see himself as one of them regardless of his position in life.

As leaders, we should see ourselves as one of the people. Just because we have a God-given function in the body of Christ, it doesn’t make us any better than them, and neither are we any holier than them. We are called to live a sanctified life, but this does not mean that we don’t sin any longer or are exempt from asking for forgiveness on a daily basis. 

I will continue with this subject in the next devotional.

The Fallacy of Self-Improvement (Part III)

Self-efort may help to develop some of the gifts and talents that God has blessed us with, but it can’t develop the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. Only the Lord and His process can produce the fruit of the Spirit!

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

Our self-effort can bring about natural success and even ministry success, but it will not produce Christ-likeness in our lives. While we need to do our part in growing in God, some of us take it to a whole another level and live as if our growth depends entirely on us.

There are those who are on the self-improvement cycle, and a causal observer can deem them impressive.  However, some of these individuals, who appear very mature and knowledgeable, under pressure their character caves in. Some become a bully and intimidating.  Some may gossip about others because they are not getting their way. Others seem calm and collected until someone challenges them and steps on their toes. Then they become aggressive and go for the jugular. Others are intent on competing, deceiving, exaggerating, or lying about their accomplishments to ensure they remain impressive. It is hard to develop the fruit of the Spirit and, at the same time,  walk in carnality!

If you are a driven person, most likely, you are ready to improve anything that is suggested to you. However, not every improvement is from God, and neither should we assume that self-improvement is the solution. Also, we should consider the fact that sometimes our drive to self-improve is because we want to remain in control of the extent and the speed of our growth.

How do we grow without getting into the trap of self-improvement!?

  1. Use your quiet time to get to know Jesus and what He desires in your life. Don’t seek out the scriptures for head knowledge or to be impressive with your depth.
  2. Avoid copying others. Copying someone else is about self-improvement. We all should learn from each other, but we can’t copy others. We are not a product to be duplicated.  A person’s character has to develop over time and through God’s dealings. Choose to wait on the Lord and let Him develop the fruit of the Spirit in you.
  3. Remind yourself that each person’s path is different, and it is not wise to compare yourself to others. Furthermore, you don’t know if others are truly developing in character or if they are also on the self-improvement track. The Comparison makes one believe the lie that they are falling behind or are getting too old. God used many of the Biblical characters well into their 80s.
  4. Refrain from boasting and sharing about what you do in ministry.  Let it remain between you and the Lord. This will help you not to be tempted by man’s applause and to be compelled to gain their applause.
  5. Your title or position should not be your badge of importance. Don’t allow your title or position to change your identity as a much-loved child. If being a child of God does not give you enough importance, you will fall into the trap of self-improvement to maintain your position or worthiness.
  6. Have conversations with God that give Him room to speak. Choose to be quiet and allow God to speak to you. Refrain from doing all the talking.
  7. Learn to say “no” or “yes” as the Lord leads not what seems important or popular to those around you.
  8. Refrain from reading all the posts on social media about those who toot their own horn. That will just drive you to do more and become impressive.

We are all going to be tempted to improve ourselves. However,  when we become aware of it, then we can stop going down that path. Instead, we can pray and surrender ourselves to the Lord, so that He can develop the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. The fruit of the Spirit will develop over time and over various seasons. God has the timetable, and our job is to cooperate with the process and let Him make us ripe and sweet!