Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Work Smarter and Harder

When I was a Houston Fire Fighter a saying would be used quite frequently by firemen working the scene of a fire: "Work smarter, not harder." This phrase would be used if someone was using his or her hands to do something instead of using a tool which would have made the job easier. Other times it would be used when someone was using his back to lift something heavy rather than using his legs. It would also be used if someone was holding the fire hose or nozzle incorrectly causing him or her to exert too much energy.

However, more often than not, it was used as an excuse to be lazy. Often firemen would whisper it to one another as they watched someone else doing the work. Let's face it, if you had the choice between getting up, walking across the room and scanning channels during the commercial break of the football game or using a remote, who in their right mind would get up when that wonderful device is within arm's reach? We even take it a step further sometimes. Why get up and reach for the remote when you could ask someone else to bring it to you?

Let's face it, we'd all like life to be easy. We mask this desire with phrases like "work smarter, not harder," but at our core we want things our way, we want it now and we want it at the cheapest price possible. That's why we freak out and get frustrated when the person taking our order at McDonald's takes too long or is too distracted and we have to do the unthinkable: repeat our order. "Just take my order, and listen to me when I order it so I don't have to waste my time repeating the order, and give me what I want, right now. And it better be on the Dollar menu."

Unfortunately, the "work smarter, not harder" mindset invades our walk with Christ. When it comes to doing our work for Christ, we should work smarter. It has been my experience that "working smarter" means "having great faith." Faith is simply taking God at His word, so working smarter means:

1. Do only the work God calls you to do.

For Nehemiah, God's vision was clear: rebuild the wall (Neh. 2:5, 17). God did not call Nehemiah to build the temple, build a cistern, build an aqueduct, dig a well, or build a road. God called him to build a wall. So Nehemiah led the people to build a wall (Neh. 2:18, 4:1, 4:6). It is always smarter to only do the work God calls you to do.

2. Trust in God as you do the work.

When opposition arose as Nehemiah and the people strengthened their hands for the work of rebuilding the wall (Neh. 2:18), His faith in God rose to the challenge: "Then answered I them, and said unto them, The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build" (Neh. 2:20). Nehemiah's confidence was not in his ability, rather in God's calling.

Now to the second part of the phrase: "not harder." When it comes to working for God, the phrase should be: "Work smarter and harder." Nehemiah 4:6 is a great verse which illustrates this principle: "So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work." Two important words are used in this verse: "mind" and "work."

The Hebrew word for "mind" is used 593 times in the Old Testament. It refers to the inner man, the mind, the heart, the seat of appetites, emotions, passions and the will. It is the real you at your deepest inner point. It is your core. Working hard means doing a work that is birthed in the depths of your heart, in the secret, quiet places of your soul where only you and God enter.

The word "work" in the Hebrew language is used 2,633 times in the Old Testament. That's a pretty staggering number. Over half of the times it is used (1,333) it is translated "do." God wants you to do something. Great faith doesn't mean just standing around doing nothing. It means stepping out in obedience and working hard.

James said it this way: "But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves" (James 1:22). Hearing the word is not enough. Application is everything. Application means doing. Your part in rebuilding requires great faith and hard work. When we hear the word, we believe it (great faith). Then, stepping out with courage, we do the work.

Today, commit to no longer standing around and watching others do the work. If your marriage is falling apart, get God's vision of what should be and do the work He calls you to do. Take your wife on a date. Treat your husband to a special dinner. Communicate better. Arise and build. If your relationship with your son or daughter is broken, stop waiting on someone else to do the work necessary to rebuild. Get God's vision of what should be and step out in courage and faith to do the work of rebuilding. Write a letter of apology. Make a phone call. Make a trip. Send flowers. Arise and build with great faith and hard work. If your neighbor's life is broken, get God's vision for your neighbor (just look at the cross for that vision) and do the work: share the gospel, pray with your neighbor, bake some cookies. Stop waiting for someone else to rebuild. You arise and do what God has called you to do. If your church is hurting, get God's vision of what should be (just look at the cross for that vision as well), then do your part to rebuild. Your part in rebuilding requires great faith and hard work. So believe in God, His word and His calling on your life with all of your heart and work with all of your might.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Start With the End in Mind

"And I said unto the king, If it please the king, and if thy servant has found favor in thy sight, that thou wouldest send me unto Judah, unto the city of my fathers' sepulchres, that I may build it" - Nehemiah 2:5

I recently interviewed a friend of mine who builds custom homes for a living. I asked him a real softball question, "In construction how important is it to have the vision in mind before you start any phase of the construction project?" It was one of those "Duh!" kind of questions, I know. You know what I'm talking about. It's like the reporter who asks the Super Bowl Champion quarterback who just won MVP for his outstanding performance, "How does it feel to win the Super Bowl?" What's he going to say? "It feels terrible?" Of course not. I knew the answer when I asked the question. Everyone knows you have to have the vision before you start to build. In his answer he shared one of the common sayings in the construction industry, "Start with the end in mind." So profound. So simple. So difficult.

Nehemiah was a man that received devastating news about his people and his city- your people "are in great affliction and reproach" and "the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire" (Neh. 1:3). Nehemiah faced reality but God placed in his heart a vision of what should be. That vision is found in the last five words of Neh. 2:5- "that I may build it." God wanted Nehemiah to rebuild the wall. That's the end Nehemiah had in mind.

It is such a simple principle, but "simple" doesn't mean "easy." Many of us try to start rebuild the broken areas of our lives with other things in mind.

We start with our past failures in mind. We acknowledge areas of our lives that are broken down and we even accept our responsibility for those failures. However, we can't forgive ourselves and others in order to rebuild. As we try to rebuild we don't have the end in mind, our past failures are there. This keeps us from building what God wants. We can only build as far as our forgiveness reaches. Nehemiah acknowledged his failures, but those failures did not keep him from rebuilding. God wanted the walls rebuilt, so Nehemiah accepted the forgiveness of God and moved forward.

We start with our guarded hearts in mind. This is especially true in relationships. Once we have been burned by someone, we have a hard time trusting again. We try to rebuild and we try to repair the broken relationships, but rather than a clean slate and new relationship in mind, we start with our guarded hearts in mind. We say things like, "Yes, our relationship can be repaired, but I'll never trust you again. Yes, we should rebuild this relationship, but you have to understand our relationship will never be the same."

Take a moment and think about the broken areas of your life. What relationship needs to be repaired? Does your church need to be rebuilt? Do you need your financial life to be rebuilt? If so, start with the end in mind. Not your end in mind, but God's end in mind. God's vision is always as things should be. Here are a few steps you can take:

1. Confess. Acknowledge your part in creating the mess you're in and take it to God in honest confession.

2. Capture God's vision. Nehemiah got a clear picture of the goal: the walls of Jerusalem rebuilt and the gates restored. To get a clear picture of God's vision for the broken down areas of your life, imagine a blank canvas. In your heart, paint a picture of what that broken down area would look like if it was built by God. That's the vision you need: how things would look if God built it.

3. Start. You can't change the past. You can't undo the mistakes you've made. God doesn't expect that. Confession frees you to move forward. So grab a brush and start painting that picture. The first brush stroke may be a phone call. You might need to send an email. You may need to make a visit. It might be an "I'm sorry." It might be cutting up a credit card. It might mean putting an end to a poisonous relationship. Whatever it is, you have to start rebuilding.

However, as you start, don't keep the past mistakes in mind. Leave out the guarded heart. Step out in great faith and courage. Build what God leads you to build. Start with the end in mind and build for His glory.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Right Place at the Right Time

Nehemiah 1:11- "For I was the king's cupbearer."

I remember the first (and only) time I got paid to play basketball. I was 10 years old and playing in a YMCA basketball league. As we were leaving the gym one day, something on the floor to my left caught my eye- it was a crumpled piece of paper that looked a lot like money. I stopped and picked it up, unfolded it and to my surprise it was a $100 bill. My dad and I went back inside the gym and talked to one of the officials about it. They made an announcement asking if anyone had lost some money. When no one stepped forward, the official looked at me and said, "I guess you can keep it." I was smiling from ear to ear! Do you know how many Nintendo games that could buy?

Sometimes we just find ourselves in the right place at the right time. But not every place and time is pleasant like finding a $100 bill. Nehemiah was such a man whose circumstances (and this is putting it lightly) were unpleasant. His nation felt like it was crumbling. His people had lost their identity. They were "in great affliction and reproach," the walls of their city (Jerusalem) were broken down "and the gates thereof [were] burned with fire" (Neh. 1:3). Not exactly a crumpled up $100 bill, wouldn't you say?

But Nehemiah realized a great truth about his circumstances: "For I was the king's cupbearer" (Neh. 1:11). Huh? Come on, Nehmiah, what does that have to do with your nation, your family, your city and your heritage? Actually, everything. The cupbearer to the king was usually a trusted confidant of the king. He was responsible for testing the king's wine for poison by putting his life on the line and drinking it first. Because of this, no one was more trusted by the king than his cupbearer. The cupbearer was a position of privilege. He was given access to the king who could do something about having Jerusalem's walls rebuilt. Nehemiah realized that he was in the right place at the right time to do something to change his family and nation's situation.

The same is true for me. "For I am the husband to Leslie. I am the dad to Luke, Noah and Adam. I am the spiritual leader of my family. I am the pastor of Berean Baptist Church. I am the friend to...I am the co-worker of...I am the neighbor to..." God has palced me in these places to rebuild what is broken down.

The same truth applies to you. God placed Nehemiah as the cupbearer to the king because he wanted Nehemiah to do something about the broken down walls of Jerusalem. God has placed you in your position to do something about the broken down areas of your life.

What areas of your life are broken down? Do you know someone else whose life is crumbling? God has placed you in the right place at the right time to do something about it. So fill in the blank with all of your positions and relationships: "For I am _____________ (husband/wife, father/mother, friend, neighbor, son/daughter , etc.) to _______________."

Realize that you are in the position you're in to do something about the broken down areas of your life. Your circumstances are no accident. God has put you in the right place at the right time to rebuild the broken areas of your life. As Nehemiah did, admit your responsibility for the areas where you have failed and call out to God in complete surrender. He can use you to rebuild.

Be blessed. Arise and build.