A failure of leadership
Nehemiah 13: I was angry, really angry.
Having accomplished his mission of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, and having had a unanimous agreement from the Jews there to live according to God’s Law, it’s time for Nehemiah to return to Babylon. He leaves things in the hands of those who are to keep things organized and on track. However, Nehemiah’s heart is now in Jerusalem, so he once again asks Artaxerxes for permission to return there. When he arrives he’s greeted with all kinds of bad news. One man has made a deal with one of the old enemies of the Jews, Tobiah, who he’s allowed to use the Temple storerooms. The worship leaders were left unpaid and have had to leave the Temple to earn a living. The civic leaders have forgotten the Sabbath and are allowing that day to be a time when business as usual is being conducted. And, the Jews are again intermarrying with the idol worshiping people of the area. Nehemiah is “really angry” about all this and immediately goes to work repairing all this damage. I can’t help but wonder where all those declaration signers are, or even more, where Ezra the priest of God is at this time. That’s a mystery the Bible doesn’t solve for us. However, the rest of it is pretty easy to understand. Nehemiah’s a strong leader and when he leaves it creates a void that no one steps in to fill. One of the dynamics of the human race is that people, even well-meaning people, need leaders who not only cast a vision and oversee the pursuit of that vision, but, even after the fact, provide a compass that keeps things moving in the right direction. This doesn’t excuse those civic and other leaders for their failure, in fact, they should have provided some of that “God-centered” energy themselves. Reading this story is a real life lesson in leadership. It also reminds me of the importance of my staying focused, even when the biggest part of the project has already been done.
Take Away: Even when the biggest part of the work is done there remains the danger of losing focus and giving up gains that have been made.
Summing up a good man’s life
Nehemiah 13: Remember me, O my God.
As I reach the conclusion of Nehemiah’s story I find myself reflecting on this man’s life. One thing that stands out is his leadership and vision. Even from far off Babylon Nehemiah envisions the great project of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. He organizes the work and stays on course through all kinds of distractions and discouragements. A second thing that comes to mind is his love for, and trust in, God. Nehemiah isn’t driven by desire for power or to leave some sort of legacy. Instead, his eye is always on the God he serves. Finally, I see the third outstanding thing about Nehemiah. That is his spontaneous prayer life. Nehemiah doesn’t wait until some specified time to pray, although it’s clear that he does honor the scheduled worship times. For him, prayer is like breathing; a natural and necessary part of life. In the final words of his story, written by his own hand, three times he inserts short bursts of prayer, asking for God’s favor in light of his faithfulness. I get the feeling that this is not just for the official record of his work but an example of what it was like to be around Nehemiah. Here’s a man who practices the constant presence of God in his life and it’s not unusual to hear him address the Almighty right in the middle of a conversation. This, I think, is the greatest lesson of all I can learn from this good man.
Take Away: Practice prayer until it becomes as natural for you as is breathing.
Nehemiah 5: What you’re doing is wrong.
The work Nehemiah and his team is doing is physically challenging and time consuming. Not only are they working very hard, but they’re working with defense against an attack in mind so there’s also mental fatigue. Meanwhile, life goes on. These men have families to feed and bills to pay. The work on wall is vitally important but there’s no income from it. To make ends meet, they go to the local business men for loans. In spite of the fact that the restoration of the wall is to everyone’s benefit the loan sharks take advantage of the problem faced by the workers. When Nehemiah learns what’s happening he’s furious. He calls for a meeting and reads the riot act to these financial predators. Both the fear of the Lord and fear of Nehemiah takes hold and the gouging of the workmen stops immediately. What a situation! The workers face the challenging task of rebuilding, the threats of their enemies, and the greedy business practices of their fellow Jews. In some ways, this is the unkindest cut of all. Yet it often happens, even within the church. As many pull together to accomplish some worthy goal there are those who can’t see the big picture because they’re blinded by their own agenda. When that happens those doing the real work are distracted or discouraged from their task. Nehemiah dealt with this problem head on. Our tendency is to just try to work through stuff like this. Sometimes that’s probably best, but not always. I pray that the Lord will give us wisdom to know when Nehemiah’s course of action is necessary and then help us to follow it.
Take Away: If we ignore some problems they will go away, but not always. Sometimes leaders have to deal with issues head on.
2 Chronicles 35: The king…solemnly committed himself to the covenant.
When a campfire is fully ablaze, the individual flames are generally unnoticed. However, as the fire burns down to embers, an individual blade of fire may seem to light up the entire campsite for a moment. That’s the feeling I get as I read the story of the waning days of Judah. Most everything’s bad. Kings rise to power and then fall and almost seem to be in a competition to see who can be the most ungodly. However, along the way we meet some courageous men who, almost single handedly, lift the entire nation to their shoulders and craft, at least temporarily, a return to God. Such a man is Josiah. When the word of the Lord is discovered in the Temple he publicly vows to live according to the ancient covenant. He seeks God’s direction and receives it. Because of his desire for God, an entire generation is stopped from the march to destruction that it has been on. As I look at my own society and see the journey we’re on I nearly surrender to despair. We’re so godless, so lost in the darkness of our own making. Still, I’m reminded that even in a dying campfire just one flame can light the night. I pray that the Lord will give such a leader to my generation.
Take Away: Lord, have mercy on us.
The very best at doing good
2 Chronicles 31: Everything he took up…he did well in a spirit of prayerful worship.
Hezekiah gets considerable mention in the Chronicles version of the history of God’s people, and with good reason. He’s said to be the “very best” at doing what is “good, right, and true” before God. This isn’t some national leader who does whatever is politically expedient and then tips his hat to the Almighty when it’s convenient. Instead, this is a man who makes every decision based on his desire to please God. That’s exactly how he approaches his religious life. If a decision has to do with worship he makes that decision prayerfully. He also prayerfully builds his life and Kingdom around carrying out God’s Laws and Commandments. Judah is a blessed nation because it has a national leader who turns to God in everything he does. The result is that he’s a “great success” and is commended by God as one who is “good, right, and true.” I pray that the Lord will give my nation and all the nations of the earth such leadership. Also, in my much smaller leadership role, I desire to follow his excellent example.
Take Away: Leading, in itself, can be good or bad; depending on the direction the leader is going. A leader who leads people to righteousness is worth celebrating.
The chief cheerleader
2 Chronicles 30: Hezekiah commended the Levites for the superb way in which they had led the people in the worship of God.
The religious reform under Hezekiah rivals the great events of David and Solomon’s reigns. The newly refurbished Temple and the eager and capable work of those who serve there make for an impressive and satisfying worship experience for all that come. When the big celebration ends, Hezekiah makes it a point to go to the Levites and commend them for their superb work. In this, I see Hezekiah not only leading in vision and agenda but in thanks and appreciation as well. Good leaders do that. I do note that Hezekiah calls their work “superb” because that’s what it is. He isn’t some cheerleader who shouts out “We’re number one” when the team’s behind by 30 points. I’m reminded though that even when the work doesn’t reach the superb level there’s probably something positive that can be said. Once the leader establishes good will the way may be opened for some constructive comments on improving things next time. So, I see in this passage that leaders should lead in words and acts of appreciation for work well done. Also, I remember that while a leader isn’t to give false praise that genuine support can lead the way to opportunities to help others grow in their service of the Lord.
Take Away: Good leaders know how to lead the way in showing appreciation for work well done.
I was w-w-w-wrong
2 Chronicles 25: But what about all this money – these tons of silver I have already paid out to hire these men?
The “chronicler” starts off telling us that Amaziah “lives well” and “does the right thing” and then begins an accounting of all the foolish blunders he makes. It’s likely that Amaziah handled things just fine until things begin to unravel near the end of his reign. At one point he’s preparing for war. After numbering his army he concludes that he needs more soldiers so he turns to Israel for help, paying a great deal of money to mercenary soldiers to fight on his side. However, the Lord sends word to him that this is a huge mistake. These soldiers won’t be helped by the Lord because they don’t trust in him. Amaziah’s response is reasonable. He wants to know about all the money he’s already spent on these fighters. The man of God reminds him that it’s better to have God’s help than it is to have a bigger army. The king yields, writing off the wages already spent as a bad investment. This account doesn’t earn Amaziah stellar marks, but it does earn him a passing grade. Failure, in this case, would have been throwing good money after bad. The lesson here is one well learned. Those of us who are of a strong will tend to lock our jaws and press on even when it’s more and more apparent that we shouldn’t have started down a certain path in the first place. Our argument is the same one the king used: “I’ve come too far and invested too much to turn back now.” No one believes in perseverance more than I do, but sometimes perseverance is just a flimsy cover up for pride. At some point a heaping helping of humble pie is in order. “I thought I was right and that this would work, but I was wrong.” Write it off and get on with life.
Take Away: Better to write off a loss than to compound the situation by doubling down on a bad decision.
God takes my best and makes it better
2 Chronicles 19: And God be with you as you do your best.
Jehoshaphat receives good marks for his leadership of Judah. He’s right on target in how he oversees the legal system of his kingdom. His judicial appointees are charged by the king to take their work seriously, reminding them that ultimately they must give an account of themselves to the Lord. Jehoshaphat gives a similar charge to those given authority over Temple business. They’re to be dependable and honest in all they do. Jehoshaphat’s bottom line to these powerful people is this: “God be with you as you do your best.” One reminder I see in this passage is that God expects me to give my best to the responsibilities that are mine. Positions of authority carry with them an equal portion of accountability. Also, I see that my best is all that I can give. Even when it’s not really good enough I can’t do any better than my best. When I’ve done that, I’ve come to the end of myself and I’ve done all the Lord expects of me. At that point, my best may be seen as acceptable by others or it may be time for me to move on, handing the responsibility over to someone else, but I have no reason to be ashamed when I’ve given all I have to give. Finally, though, there’s good news here. God’s help is promised. When I’ve done all I can do and, frankly, it isn’t enough, rather than coming to the end, I might just come to the beginning; that is, the beginning of God. He delights in taking unlikely people and using them to accomplish great things like killing giants or feeding thousands. It’s pretty cool. I bring my best to the table, as meager as that might be, and then God steps in, lifting me and what I have to offer to dizzying new heights. Rather than ending up humbly handing the keys over to some more capable person, I sometimes find myself amazed at what God has done.
Take Away: The Lord delights in using unlikely people.
You can draw more flies with sugar….
2 Chronicles 10: Be considerate of their needs…they’ll end up doing anything for you.
Solomon’s accomplishments are impressive…and expensive! All of that building takes a lot out of the nation. When Solomon’s laid to rest and his son Rehoboam ascends to the throne his subjects come to him with a reasonable request: “give us a break!” For a generation they’ve faithfully served his father, focusing their efforts on accomplishing his grand projects. Now, they want to put their efforts into building their own lives, capitalizing on the prosperity Solomon brought to them. Rehoboam goes to his father’s advisors and asks for their opinion and they agree with the people. These folks were committed to Solomon, but Rehoboam is starting new. If he’ll back off and show compassion his father’s people will become his people. These advisors wisely add that, in the long run, he’ll get more accomplished by getting the people on his side than he’d ever get done by using his sovereign authority and just ordering them to work. I know that Rehoboam foolishly listens to the advisors of his own generation and manages to split the country but, for the moment, I’m taken with the wisdom of the first advice he receives. I think there are times when a leader sees a bigger picture than others do. At times like that, he or she may have to prod people to move in the right direction. However, most of the time a leader who conducts himself or herself as a servant who cares for people and has compassion on them is going to accomplish more. A leader who appreciates what people do, who has their best interests at heart, and who is willing to listen to what they say is going to almost always get more done.
Take Away: People follow leaders who they believe have their best interests at heart.
1 Chronicles 26: The teams of security guards were from the family of Korah.
I’ve read this passage several times in various versions of the Bible, but since the sons of Korah were called “gatekeepers” it didn’t catch my attention. Now I see them being described as “security guards.” I guess that’s what gatekeepers are supposed to do: they provide security, seeing to it that all who enter are there for legitimate purposes. King David is such a multifaceted person. He’s a singer and songwriter and harp player, a skilled leader, and he’s a warrior who’s won countless battles. In this case, I see him drawing from his “warrior” skills in organizing the Levites. In spite of the peaceful conditions of the day David prepares for possible trouble. Now, it might be that the sons of Korah are basically ushers who tell people where the corral is for their soon to be sacrificed lamb but I’m guessing that David also wants them there “just in case.” I wonder to what extent, if any, this applies to the Church today. There have been some horror stories in the news, and, obviously, a church full of people is probably viewed as an easy target by some very bad people. I’m not seeing this as some kind of mandate, but there is, at least to some extent, a precedent here for a church to have at least some unofficial security.
Take Away: Leadership involves, in addition to having a vision and sense of direction, the ability to think through the practical concerns of the organization.