Jesus’ kingdom is an upside down kingdom. The first shall be last and the last first, the rich will be poor and the poor rich and those who lead God’s people are meant to serve rather than be served!
All round the world Leadership is prone to abusing its power for personal gain. But not Nehemiah! In stark contrast to those who had gone before him, Nehemiah as the appointed leader in Jerusalem while under Babylonian control, did not take for himself the taxes that he could have taken.
And what was Nehemiah’s reason for being so counter-cultural? Scripture tells us when it records Nehemiah saying; “But I did not do so (place heavy burdens on the people), because of the fear of God” (Nehemiah 5:15).
Friend, right believing leads to right behaving! Fearing God is the beginning of wisdom, it helps us to see with an eternal perspective and helps us to live accordingly.
And good, godly leadership will follow Jesus’ example – serving those they lead, doing so willing as sacrificing servants because that is who Jesus was an is and he is our role model of what goofd relationship.
May we serve others wiith same dedication and upside down focus.
I love how the spirituality of the Bible is so practical. All through this chapter there are references to Nehemiah’s response to the opposition to rebuilding from both without and within God’s people.
The pattern that emerges is that Nehemiah’s first response was to respond to criticism/opposition, threats or doubt with prayer. We read of this in vs4 and again in vs9 which follow the pattern from Nehemiah 1:4, 2:4…
But what strikes me in Nehemiah 4 is the word; “AND”.
Some people are so spiritually minded that they are no earthly good! But this is not the spirituality of the Bible.
So with Nehemiah & God’s people they hear of the threats and the mocking of Sanballat & Tobiah and in vs4 they pray AND in vs6 we read “So we built the wall”.
Later in chapter 4:7-8 when Sanballat and Tobiah get angry at the news of the rebuilding, they plot together to come and threaten overthrow those rebuilding Jerusalem.
God’s people under Nehemiah respond to the threat; “so we prayed to our God” (vs9) AND “we set a guard as protection”. I love that!
They didn’t hear the threat and make a plan and then go to God when their plans had failed, no they went to God first in prayer AND they made a plan for protection.
This is attractive spirituality to me, it is trusting in, calling to God first but then it is thoroughly practical too, God gives us the facility of thought and the ability to make plans and it is not unspiritual to do so but is in fact us utilising the God-given talents we have.
So, when you face opposition and threats – whether they come in the form of internal monologue and doubts and fears (see vs10&12), or whether they come from doubt (vs10-11) or opposition from the outside, I urge you to respond first in prayer taking the trouble to the Lord AND then act, do what God’s told you to do, be decisive and use the ability and understanding God has granted you.
Making a plan with the resources you have is not to lack faith but to have faith believing that God has given you what you need to accomplish what He has planned for you.
So, don’t be immobilised but act (Nehemiah made a plan to arm the workers and to organise a strategy to gather if there was an attack, he posted watchmen by night).
Lastly, we read in this passage the crucial role that good leadership plays. There is a moment when Nehemiah stands up and counters the negativity that was draining their faith in God and says;
“Do not be afraid of them, remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, sons, your daughter ” (vs14)
Again, a wonderful balanced spirituality; “remember the Lord…AND fight!” (vs14). And because of these prayers AND action; ‘God frustrated their plan’ (vs15) as a result of their prayers.
PRAY AND ACT!
Jesus’ kingdom is an upside down kingdom. The King of kings came to serve rather than be served, the last will be first and the first will be last, the weak who lean on God become strong, the seemingly strong will in the end be shown to be weak, the repentant sinner is forgiven and the self-righteous pious one will be condemned…
In Mark 9:33-37 there is an almost embarrassingly honest conversation between Jesus and His disciples. Jesus has just been teaching them about His death and resurrection (Mark 9:31), they are afraid and don’t ask Jesus questions about this but end up discussing amongst themselves who’s going to take the lead when Jesus is gone, a discussion about which one of them is the greatest and therefore by implication should lead next.
Cringe moment! Jesus asks them; “What were you discussing on the way?” (vs33) Silence, you can hear a pin drop. Shame, awkwardness… Nothing else needed to be said in one sense, they knew He knew, they knew they were offside.
Jesus calls the 12 around Himself in the house and says;
“If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
Jesus turns the whole conversation about leadership upside down! Being a leader means being the ‘servant of all’, not being served by all. Being a leader in God’s kingdom means being like Jesus who came; “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)
Being like Jesus means to value every person, from the littlest to the oldest, from the poorest to the richest, those you get along with easily to those who push every button you have. Receive them, serve them, love them – as you do you’re loving Jesus, loving the Father!
What a challenging passage for any leader! And what if you’re not a leader? Well you too are called to be like Christ, to not be self-centred but Christ-centred who will lead to you to be other-centred, will lead you to serve and value and love.
Help me Lord, help us to be like You more and more. For when we are, when we live out this upside down kingdom value, everything begins to feel and look right side up.
As this first letter to the Thessalonians comes to a close the Apostle Paul gives some a variety short instructions on a range of issues of what the transformed life and community of those who are following Jesus ought to be like.
Imagine all of these instructions, and all the more specific or focussed encouragements for right living through this whole letter (faith, hope & love, sexual purity & living with a biblical eternal perspective) being lived out! What an incredible church, a community of faith that would be.
When there is a long list of exhortations like this, one can get caught in ‘skimming mode’. You can’t possibly focus on so many things all at once. My encouragement is for you to read through the list and to ask the Holy Spirit to just take His heavenly highlighter as it were and highlight that which He wants to speak to you about today. Then meditate on those things, stop and ask the Holy Spirit to convict of wrongdoing maybe and or to encourage you as to the change that’s required in you.
So read through this diverse list, pray that our church would be all these things, but ask the Holy Spirit to highlight what He wants to work on in you at the moment and then take time to dwell on that, to hear what specifically needs correcting or changing. Then repent or make changes accordingly.
- Honour/respect leaders who’s job it is to at times admonish you (vs12)
- Live peacefully with one another in the church (vs13)
- Warn/admonish/correct gently those who are idle (vs14)
- Encourage those who are fainthearted (vs14)
- Support/help those who are weak or those without strength (vs14)
- Be patient with all! (vs14)
- Don’t take revenge on anyone (vs15)
- Always seek to do good to one another and to all people (vs15)
- Always rejoice (vs16)
- Always pray and do so without stopping (vs17)
- Always give thanks to God at all times as this is God’s will for you. (vs18)
- Don’t quench, don’t extinguish the work of the Holy Spirit amongst you (vs19)
- Don’t despise prophecy treating it as though it has no value (vs20)
- But test/examine/discern prophecies to know what to approve/act on (vs21)
- Hold fast only to that which is good in prophecies (vs21)
- Abstain/keep oneself from every form of evil (vs22)
May God who is the One who will sanctify us (make us more and more like Jesus), may God who is the One who will keep working in you to make you blameless on the Day of Jesus, may God who is the One who called you to Himself, may God produce the change that’s needed in you and in me. (vs23-24) Amen.
What’s appropriate behaviour & motivation for church leaders?
Sadly we live in an age of celebrity leaders spurred on by the power of media such as television, books, audio, podcasts, vodcasts & social media. With this notoriety comes the potential pitfalls of financial gain, aloofness, opulence, self-serving agendas or teachings…
We already know from 1Thessalonians 2:4 that Paul and his team as leaders in God’s church, were motivated by pleasing God, and not by trying to people-please. Now in verses 5-10 we discover that these leaders were also not self-pleasing but rather self-sacrificial in nature.
They did not flatter people so as to manipulate them for their own advancement. They did not have a motive of greed or financial gain, and they did not seek their own fame and glory, or the adulation from people. Paul writes how God is their witness in these things…
Rather as godly leaders in this context they were;
- Gentle: they didn’t wield their authority but gently appealed to people’s consciences (2 Corinthians 4:2) as they lead them. (vs7)
- Caring: they loved sacrificially like a mother, caring always for those they’d been charged by God to lead by serving. (vs7)
- Authentic: they didn’t just share their words/ideas but shared their whole lives with those they lead. They lived revealed, transparent accountable lives with those they lead. (vs8)
- Sacrificial: they were bi-vocational, preaching while also working to raise money so as to not be too much of a burden on this young church plant in Thessalonica (vs9-10)
These are the types of attitudes and actions that can be expected of godly leadership. Godly leaders are not perfect, but they are to represent Christ who was all of these things in the extreme.
There is no place for leaders in God’s church who are harsh, unloving, seeking-fame, unauthentic, aloof or self-serving. Such characteristics ought to be lovingly challenged, repented of and turned away from.
Leaders get their marching orders from Jesus Christ who is the ultimate example of sacrificial love, authenticity and integrity and a gentleness that never compromised but always cared and loved for even the most unlovely.
Father God may we have more leaders who are like Jesus!
And may I/may we who are leaders always check & re-check our hearts!
“God sometimes seems to speak to us most intimately when he catches us, as it were, off our guard.” – CS Lewis
I find solace in these words by CS Lewis in that as a Christ follower and as a church leader I desire to hear God, I want to know I am in His will.
Sometimes this means I carve out solitude time, time with no list, no agenda, no pressure and no distractions.
But over many years of climbing up mountains, getting onto quiet stretches of beach or finding a secluded spot in the hills and valleys of KwaZulu Natal I have discovered that God doesn’t speak when I want Him to and I can’t change God.
This used to get me all wound up, I’ve come here full of passion, I need to hear You God and then in those solitude moments there is just myself and…………………………….silence.
God’s not on my timeframe, doesn’t always pick up the ‘phone’ when I’ve decided to call.
Just yesterday I had set time aside for solitude, I had my venue planned, had my camping chair, had some snacks (I’ve found solitude with food way more effective than solitude with fasting) and as I was packing to go found myself saying this to God…
“I know You probably won’t speak to me while I am there and I just want you to know that’s totally cool. I’m going anyway because I know You love it when I do seek you and I love it too!”
What seems to matter most to Him is that I came, that I sought Him, that I want to hear Him. He wants relationship – we often want results, an outcome, a decision or direction.
And slowly I’ve learnt that I can’t change God, so I better change and I’m so much the better for it. My Father will speak to me, what matters is that I seek Him. He will speak in unexpected ways that surprise and thrill me, sometimes He keeps me waiting till the final hour but He will speak to those who seek Him.
Resolving this has helped me grow in my love for God and my understanding of Him. It’s also helped me enjoy times of solitude more and more knowing that what really matters is that I came, that I sought Him out.
By Gareth Bowley
There I was sitting on a wooden jetty overlooking an estuary reading a book trying to re-charge after the first 8yrs of ministry in my role as an elder leading the team in the local church I serve. I was tired. No more specifically I was frustrated! I remember thinking/praying/moaning to God that I felt a little like He had not kept his side of the deal…
Embarrassingly, I remember reciting some little “righteousness-list” in my head at the time stating how I had served God as a leader in some form or capacity in local churches for just short of 20yrs already by that stage, I had pursued purity as a young man and was married as a virgin, had never been drunk, followed God’s call and sold-up my stake in a business in Cape Town and moved the family to Amanzimtoti when God called us to…
…and where had it gotten me? The church was struggling again, not many people were being saved or healed, leaders were few, money was tight and at times I felt alone as a leader. I remember this distinct sense that God had somehow dropped the ball, a sinful sense that I deserved better because of my performance!
In God’s grace He rebuked me in the most remarkable way and took me on what became a month-long journey of God revealing the rot in my heart and re-wiring/reforming me to the point where I eventually repented to the Church publicly one Sunday morning of the way I had been poisoning the church with my wrongful heart attitude.
It’s not just what we do that matters but why we do what we do and what we believe doing those things does for us.
In Psalm 73 the writer is perplexed & envious of what he has observed – the prosperity, the good health of the wicked/arrogant/proud who are always at ease and always increasing in riches (vs2-12). His experience doesn’t match his stated belief which is that “Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.” (vs1) And so eventually he exclaims;
“All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.” (Psalm 73:13)
The writer bemoans his ‘good works’ because they haven’t produced the results he was looking for. However what this outburst reveals is that his heart’s true motivation was “I DO THIS TO GET THAT’ – it was transactional. He was like me, sitting on that jetty grumpily reflecting…
I have lived like _______ and you, God haven’t done _________!
Like me (in 2011), the psalmist’s WHAT was fine but his WHY was wrong and his belief regarding WHAT DOING THOSE THINGS DID FOR HIM was wrong.
Our lives of holiness, or service to God don’t earn us anything. Timothy Keller says; that it’s religion that says that; “we obey to be accepted”, the Gospel however, says; “we’re accepted and so we obey”. We live lives as worship to God flowing out of a heart response to the most incredible love and grace and mercy that God has shown to us.
So, WHAT we do, how we live really does matter but what it vital is WHY we do what we do and what we are doing it for, what we think THAT ACHIEVES FOR US is vitally important.
This Psalm is so rich because it doesn’t end with the frustrated questioning that it’s first 15 verses are characterised by. The whole Psalm hinges on vs17 when the psalmist enters God’s presence and suddenly gains a new perspective in God’s presence. In the presence of God, eternity comes into view and this perspective changes everything. His timescale has been too short, he has prematurely and incorrectly judged God.
He begins to see his own folly and the sinfulness of his heart (vs21-22) and then unleashes some of the most amazing worship in all of Scripture;
23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28 But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.
Life doesn’t often go according to our plan or timing or even our sense of fairness, but knowing that God is with us personally, knowing that our faith and future are secure in Him is enough for me.