Called for a specific moment

“We built this city, we built this city on rock and roll.” When I read Nehemiah, Jefferson Starship’s 1985 Grammy Award-winning song “We Built This City” pops in my head.

I wonder how the lyrics might have been written in 445 B.C. during the 20th year of King Artaxerxes in the Persian city of Susa (capital city of Elam), specifically as they would have applied to the king’s cupbearer, Nehemiah.

Brokenhearted over the broken walls of Jerusalem, Nehemiah was granted leave from his position of managing, protecting and serving the royal family’s wine. His heart was full of compassion and desire to help rebuild the walls around the Israelites’ holy city.

Grief and prayer

Even though Nehemiah was born during the Babylonian captivity outside Jerusalem, he still loved his people and their home city. The lyrics might have gone something like: “We built this city, we built this city on grief and prayer.”

After much grief over the situation, Nehemiah turned to prayer as he prepared for his journey to Jerusalem, organized the work to be done and watched the walls come together. Prayer became the foundation for every move he made.

Nehemiah and Ezra

The Book of Nehemiah is thought to be a collection of his memoirs, which leads many to believe he is the author. However, some believe Ezra could be the author because the two books were originally one book in the Hebrew Bible.

Together they tell the story of the restoration of the returned remnant from exile in Babylon. Ezra deals with 2 of the 3 parts of the experience — returning to Jerusalem and rebuilding the temple. Nehemiah deals with the third part — rebuilding the city walls, something he accomplished in an astonishing 52 days.

Related to the Christology of the book, we see Jesus portrayed in the restoration act of what Nehemiah does with rebuilding the city walls.

Just as Nehemiah was the restorer of the walls for Jerusalem, Jesus is the restorer of communion with God for mankind. Nehemiah also was committed to the goal and stayed focused on it despite the ridicule and opposition that came, just like Jesus did during His earthly ministry and ultimate sacrifice to pay the sin debt owed by the human race.

Leadership skills

Nehemiah’s leadership and organizational skills are what draw me to this book. Here is a respected layman already demonstrating his character and work ethic by achieving a role not allowed for just anyone and taking it to the highest level by earning the trust and confidence of the king.

It would have been easier and much more comfortable for him to continue in his position and ignore the yearnings of his heart. After all he did not seem to have an extraordinary experience or explosive vision from the Lord. It reads more like a sense or call, so no one else would have known if he did not answer the call.

Heart and soul

But Nehemiah knew he was the one chosen to help the others and he could not get away from that quiet yet powerful tug. His resolve is inspiring. His energy and unselfishness can only happen because of his total dependence on God. His integrity, his humility, his love — they are models for how we all should live.

Nehemiah had a heart for the people and the project. He believed in it, cared for them and kept the faith. He knew God had called him to this moment and he gave the credit back to God rather than taking it for himself.

“He built this city, he built this city on heart and soul.”

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Select the best, toss the rest

IMG_20160610_091241My head and heart are full — full of ideas cushioned with a sincere desire to see them come to life, all of them. So many different thoughts coupled with scores of angles to develop each one.

The excitement builds as my mind chases the possibilities and dot after dot connects as if I’m in a virtual game of Frogger leaping from one log to the next, systematically making my way to the prize.

But in a flash my cute little froggy misses one of those logs and lands in the water.

Game over.

With a fresh game and a few more lives I try again and this time the screen changes to a highway with cars whipping past me. I dodge them for a while but my concentration drops for a millisecond and splat, I’m dead.

Too many ideas

The same is true with the constantly multiplying basket of ideas spilling out of my brain. Many of them are actually pretty good thoughts with lots of potential.

I work hard to make sense of each one, organize it a bit and actually start developing a plan of action. But then splat.

I’m blindsided by life, possibly something unexpected that throws everything off course or maybe nothing unexpected at all, merely a reminder of all that is already on my plate.

Applying the 5 Ws

Who, what, when, where, why and how — these are not only questions a good reporter always asks but they also are front and center in my mind as I so desperately attempt to implement a new idea.

Focusing on prioritizing projects and goals while learning to be super selective in what new assignments and activities I add to my responsibility list is a daily battle for me.

‘Worth doing well’

Anything I choose to do — as well as anything that is imposed on me — will be given lots of attention. I tend to agree with the principle of “anything worth doing is worth doing well” (Hunter S. Thompson).

And while I don’t always achieve the highest ranking for the goals I set, I do always start out intending for that mark.

Of course I consistently complicate things even more with all the fresh ideas. It is so tempting to spend my energy each day dreaming about and orchestrating what could be as I filter through the latest list of applicants in the new ideas department.

Managing the excess

A new discipline I’m attempting is to not start anything new until I can complete some of my existing projects. I’m trying it in all parts of life.

At work

At work I’m putting all new ideas on a wish list rather than working on them as soon as they pop in my head. Each time I complete a project I can go to the wish list and select one item to put in motion, but only one.

At church

At church I’m resisting the urge to volunteer for every need that surfaces and focus solely on the roles I have committed to play at the moment. I try to remind myself that if I try to do too many things, then I won’t do any of the roles well.

I also try to remember what a former minister of education taught me — that just because someone wants a certain ministry or activity doesn’t mean it is supposed to be offered.

He believed in letting the person with the vision for the proposed idea work to bring it to life rather than allow people to order it up and expect others to do it. His philosophy was that if church leaders had to beg people to participate in or volunteer for a certain ministry or activity, then it probably wasn’t something the church needed to do anyway.

At home

At home I’m constantly scanning my closet for items to donate or discard. And if I acquire a new piece of clothing, then I have to find at least one item to remove.

A friend told me recently how she turns all the hangers in her closet the same way on Jan. 1 and each time she wears a piece of clothing she turns the hanger the opposite direction. Then on Dec. 31 she goes through and pulls out all hangers that were not turned.

She doesn’t give herself a chance to look at nor debate whether to keep those pieces of clothing. She pulls them out right away and donates them. She says that if she didn’t wear the piece of clothing even once in a year, then it can’t be that vital.

Practice of purging

My friend’s annual practice of purging her closet made me wonder if we could expand that to all of life.

I think about all the stacks of undone projects sitting around my office and in my drawers at home. I wonder what would happen if I forced a true, hard deadline of one year on all those projects.

Would I have more energy and motivation to complete them and thus experience the victorious feeling of accomplishment while also making more room for new ideas to flourish?

Would the feeling of achievement and satisfaction of knowing I finally completed the projects provide a new level of rest and rejuvenation for my mind?

Courage and perspective

Would I have the courage to admit that some of the projects need to be tossed and feel the freedom from removing the guilt and heaviness connected to those particular projects?

Would all of this provide a new perspective and ability for me going forward? A perspective still filled with fresh concepts and dreams but this time under an approach to better filter, manage and distribute the best of the best and discard the rest.

And in the midst of drawing boundaries and living with margin in our lives, what if we slowed down to assess what already exists in the various areas of ideas rumbling around in our minds?

Should we always start something new? Is it possible a resource already exists and we shouldn’t recreate the wheel, so to speak?

The hard questions

Could we trust someone else to be in charge and purposefully choose to be a follower rather than the leader?

If we happen to be the leader, are we willing to listen to others who are interested and have ideas to share?

Are we willing to compromise on the nonessential parts of the plan, activity, project, ministry, etc., and pool our resources rather than work as individuals and actually end up competing against each other unnecessarily?

Lots of questions to ponder and not many answers, but thanks for hanging with me until the end. I would love to hear from you and learn how you are creating balance and margin in your life.

I’m also interested in knowing what you think about spending more energy pooling our resources to streamline and improve existing ministries and/or services instead of constantly starting something new. Comment here, email me at jrash@thealabamabaptist.org or message me @RashionalThts.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

What I Am Reading

Crosson

I love reading books on leadership, management and organizational skills. While I always learn at least a few tips from each book, some books are better than others. There are those that leave you longing for and imagining a world in which what was described in the book could be true, but we all know it is totally unrealistic. And then there are some that are realistic but too complicated and complex to embrace. When you find one that combines a realistic view with manageable concepts, then you know you have a winner.

“What Makes A Leader Great” by Russ Crosson is one of those winners. It not only is realistic about what is possible but also has the most clearly articulated concept of the importance of the “why” of leadership that I’ve read to this point.

Russ Crosson says, “We lead in order to replace ourselves.”

And he is speaking to all forms of leaders, not specifically to business leaders.

“At some point all of us will have opportunities to make decisions that can potentially change the course of a situation or the life of another person. Men and women from all walks of life are asked to lead but few have the tools or the motivation needed to teach others to do the same.

“Great leadership isn’t about the leader at all — it’s about the mission of the organization, church, business or even family where the leader serves. And it is about who will replace the leader when he or she is gone.”

With only 153 pages, the book is a relatively quick read and is packed with rich nuggets and challenging concepts I plan to implement.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Do you know a church leader who is at the point of giving up?

Thom Rainer addresses @BhamBaptists Ministers Conference on May 18. (Photo by Maggie Walsh, TAB)

Thom Rainer addresses @BhamBaptists Ministers Conference on May 18. (Photo by Maggie Walsh, TAB)

BIRMINGHAM — “We may be living in the most precarious times in church history, but we are living in the greatest time of opportunity,” said Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, speaking during the Birmingham Baptist Association Ministers Conference on May 18 at Central Park Baptist Church.

Addressing “5 Critical Issues for the Church in 2015,” Rainer said, “God is not done with us. Let’s say to God that we are ready to start over. I will be bold in the presence of the community as we face” issues of culture, change, comfort, crisis and community.

In Zechariah 4, the temple of the Lord has not been built yet, but the foundation has been sitting there for 10 years, Rainer said. It is time to rebuild the house of God and Zerubbabel is the one to lead the effort. He can’t do it in his strength but by the spirit of the triune God.

But just like Zechariah and Zerubbabel, believers today also face discouragement and obstacles. “Many times we also find ourselves like them,” Rainer said — at the point of giving up because of five critical issues.

To read more about those issues, click here.

What are strategies you have used to overcome similar obstacles and crises?

—Jennifer Davis Rash