Where is the finish line?

5/17/2013

LIVING THE VISION
BRAD BRADY

This is the last in a series of articles about the book of Nehemiah. Bishop King is inviting all South Georgia United Methodists to join him in studying this book. To view all of Dr. Brady’s Nehemiah articles, visit www.sgaumc.org/nehemiah. 
 
It all started with Nehemiah hearing about the distress of his spiritual family back in Jerusalem.  He prayed about their plight and God gave Nehemiah a vision of restoration. God opened the King’s heart and many other avenues to launch Nehemiah with faith and confidence on the journey toward vision fulfillment.
 
Nehemiah patiently, spiritually and strategically prepared the former residents of Jerusalem for the mammoth task of repairing the walls. He joined them in assessing the damage, in recalling better days, and then cast a vision of a restored Jerusalem to the glory of God. The people were captivated by the vision and spontaneously said, “Let’s start building!”
 
Repeatedly, Nehemiah keeps the vision before the people and helps motivate sustained action toward rebuilding the city. Resistance and opposition come frequently from those with vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Internal distress becomes evident as the workers’ own families are treated unjustly. 
 
Nehemiah keeps his eyes firmly on the vision. He confidently deals with each obstacle and finds ways to stir up the workers’ faith even though they are legitimately threatened and understandably conflicted about caring for their own families.
 
Miraculously, the wall is completely repaired in 52 days. Celebrations are held. Sincere worshipping, teaching, confessing and covenant-making follow the rebuilding project. One would think Nehemiah had reached the finish line, but there was one lingering problem.
 
People were slow to repopulate Jerusalem. The fallacy of “build it and they will come” is ancient – at least reaching back to this example – and a few others come to mind. The fact is that people are set in their ways. It is hard to change patterns of behavior. Even in discomfort there is resignation, coping and a “normal-state” that stalls action toward the new and improved.
 
Nehemiah knew that building the walls was not the full vision. Rebuilding the walls was a big step in the process, but restoring the city and the people was at the heart of God’s vision that captivated Nehemiah.
 
Even with the leaders living inside the city walls as an example, people were satisfied to live at the place they had made home for so long. Nehemiah and the leaders exerted more leadership by casting lots so that one out of every 10 would move into the holy city (11:1). Gradually, the city was buzzing again. Recognizing how significant it was for people to relocate, the remainder of chapter 11 contains a list of those who returned to the city.
 
Nehemiah is a great example of visionary leadership. He was open to God’s leading. He was confident and strategic. He was patient and wise. He was invested and showed unquestionable solidarity with the people, which inspired trust. He was persistent and unsatisfied until God’s full vision became a reality. 
 
Nehemiah is a rare leader who could take a project from inception to completion. One of the biggest challenges for leaders is sustaining their efforts all the way to the finish line.
 
Many can come up with an idea or even a spiritual vision, but cannot get started. Some can get started, but soon lose interest and move on to other things.
 
Many can get people motivated and mobilized for action, but do not know how to keep people engaged for the long haul. Others can follow the original plan, but cannot adapt and adjust for the unexpected. 
 
Many can hold interest and maintain energy just long enough to get to the first good stopping spot. Some think, “build it and they will come” and then scratch their heads when people who even labored in the building project maintain their current life pattern.
 
I do not think it is a stretch to end with these words of Jesus. These words sum up a powerful spiritual reality that is reinforced in the Nehemiah story, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it.  For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)
 
Reaching the finish line is hard work for leaders and followers. May you as leader or follower enter the narrow gate and travel the hard road, for that is where God’s visions are fulfilled.
 
Dr. Brad Brady is the Assistant to the Bishop for Connectional Ministries.