We spend much of our everyday lives going through the motions: Waking up, making breakfast, getting cleaned up, fixing the bed. Going to work, whether that means riding in the car (or a bus or a train) or just moving to the next room and the computer for another day at the home office. Driving to the grocery store and collecting what’s on the shopping list. Turning on the TV and seeing if there’s anything worth watching.
Sometimes, however, important tasks or projects arise, ones that can’t be carried out without some intentionality. It might be the need for a major, unexpected purchase; the necessity to “reset” plans that have been in place for a while, or the realization that an important project can’t be delayed any longer.
Something must be done, but where do you start?
I enjoy reading the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, which tells about the trusted cupbearer for King Artaxerxes of Persia. A brother had told Nehemiah about the sorry state of once-proud Jerusalem, its wall broken down and gates burned. Even though he had spent most or all of his life in Persia as an Israelite exile, Nehemiah still viewed the ancient city as his homeland.
Grieving over its devastation, he resolved something had to be done. How Nehemiah proceeded can serve as a template for any complex endeavors we need to undertake. Piggybacking on some points made recently by radio pastor Alistair Begg, here’s a synopsis of the process Nehemiah followed:
Prayerful preparation. It’s often said, “When all else fails…pray.” However, Nehemiah resorted to prayer beforehand, to ensure that he wouldn’t fail. “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 1:4). The passage then recaps the cupbearer’s eloquent prayer, including corporate confession of the Israelites’ rebellious sins and a request for success when he approached the Persian king with his concerns.
Common sense. Even though he desperately wanted to leave ASAP for Jerusalem, Nehemiah knew such an impulsive move wouldn’t sit well with King “Art.” Instead, he elected to just go about his duties, providing wine for the king as usual, and waited for his highness to make the first move. “I had not been sad in his presence before, so the king asked me, ‘Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.’”
Given an opening, Nehemiah explained, “…Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” To which Artaxerxes responded, “What is it you want?” (Nehemiah 2:1-3). Even then, before blurting out what he desired to do, Nehemiah returned momentarily to step 1 and prayed for God’s direction and blessing on his request.
Wise man. Too often we make our move and then think, “Oops, forgot to pray first. All right, um, God, please bless my decision?” And we wonder why sometimes our best-laid plans go awry.
Careful thought. Once Nehemiah had told the king about his intent to return to Jerusalem to see about doing an extreme makeover, and received the king’s go-ahead, the valued cupbearer already had a clear plan of action in mind, including where to obtain the necessary materials and resources. It wasn’t just a pipedream – Nehemiah had even considered the kinds of pipes he would need. (Okay, what he needed was a supply of timbers, not pipes, along with official documents to ensure his safe travel.)
Sensible action. Once he arrived at Jerusalem, Nehemiah discovered the city’s condition was not as bad as he had thought – it was worse. Initially, he revisited steps 1-3, prayerfully assessing the extent of the damage and then formulating a specific strategy before presenting his ideas to the city officials who had remained there. “Then I said to them, ‘You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem….’ I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me. They replied, ‘Let us start rebuilding.’ So they began this good work” (Nehemiah 2:17-18).
The rest of the book tells of the opposition Nehemiah and the builders faced, and how they took courage and stayed on task, amazingly completing the reconstruction in 52 days. During the entire time, his and others’ prayers continued to seek God’s strength, wisdom and blessing on their labors.
Are you confronting a major challenge at work – or in your home? Are you facing a critical decision that could have a huge impact on your future? You might consider following Nehemiah’s process of prayerful preparation, common sense, careful thought and then, sensible action. It’s one that has been utilized countless times to great success.
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Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly published, ”Marketplace Ambassadors”; “Business At Its Best: Timeless Wisdom from Proverbs for Today’s Workplace”; “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” A weekly business meditation he edits, “Monday Manna,” is translated into more than 20 languages and sent via email around the world by CBMC International. The address for his blog is www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.