2020, am I right!?
At some point this year, you may have found yourself in a state of unease as you figured out how to serve in your ministry context during the global pandemic. When unexpected new circumstances become the new norm, we must adapt, which can be scary, exhausting, and difficult. Luckily for us in the midst of the chaos of life, God likes to reveal Himself to us through his Word. God used the book of Nehemiah to bless me with peace, guidance, and the equipping I needed to serve well throughout this semester.
As I spent time reading through Nehemiah, God revealed to me that no matter what kind of season you are in, whether you are in exile like the Israelites or in a global pandemic, God is at work bringing spiritual renewal to his creation and will use His faithful servants to usher in a beautiful transformation. The book begins with Nehemiah and the nation of Israel living out their lives in a time of exile. We quickly discover that God has placed it on Nehemiah’s heart (2:12) to go to Jerusalem and rebuild the wall, and alongside Ezra, to help Israel repent of their sins and run back to God. While we are given details on how the wall was built, what I found most equipping as a ministry leader was how Nehemiah faithfully led Israel while exemplifying strong godly character. He demonstrated the effectiveness of hard work and creative problem solving, handled the barrage of opposition from enemies with holiness, and mobilized the people to join the mission so that their hearts could experience intimacy with God. How have you and your teams implemented creative solutions as you served within your ministries this year?
In the first chapter we see Nehemiah’s godly character and leadership surface. When he learns of Israel destructive state, he runs to God in prayer in two important ways: 1) exalting God and remembering His goodness, and 2) asking for forgiveness of his own sins, his family’s, and the previous generations’ sins. With these two elements at the center of his prayer, we see Nehemiah begin his journey in a state of humility before God, depending solely on God for change, and holding a deep sense of responsibility for his people. A healthy prayer life centered on exalting God, humbling ourselves before Him, and having compassion for others will establish a foundation for us to lead from as we enter into new circumstances. This private prayer life is crucial to handling public ministry as well as and creating a deeper connection to those around us. Let us also partner our prayer life with humble repentance and personal requests with prayers for those we shepherd.
Next, we see Nehemiah’s character and leadership in his interactions with Artaxerxes. Nehemiah faithfully served the king as his cupbearer for many years with biblical integrity. God used Nehemiah’s integrity to build a trusting relationship with Artaxerxes, so when Nehemiah was granted an audience with him to share the rebuilding plan, the king was willing to listen.
This interaction deeply challenged me to see the value of how our character influences our relationships. Godly character is valued so highly in this book that Nehemiah made it his primary qualification for leadership (7:2). Godly character helps us navigate life when the answers are unclear. When we do not know what to do next, godly character provides guidance in how to act towards others and keeps us sensitive to God’s will. What godly character traits have you seen God grow in you during this year?
From the end of the first chapter to when Nehemiah was granted audience with the king, a few months had passed. Nehemiah did not waste this time nor waited for God to take care of the details. Nehemiah used the time to learn how to build the wall, formulate a plan with measurable goals, and let God prepare his heart to engage with the king and lead God’s people (2:4-10). Nehemiah’s season of preparation also challenged me to use my time at home well. It would have been easy to fill my time during the pandemic with hobbies or endless Netflix binges. Instead, I was motivated to plan for the upcoming semester so that when I was granted an audience with the students, I was ready to serve within our new safety guidelines.
What will it look like for you to set aside a healthy amount of time to plan and prepare for future ministry opportunities?
In chapters 4-6, Nehemiah encountered various moments of opposition from those who did not want the wall built. With his heart and mind focused on God, Nehemiah responded to his enemies with prayer (4:4-5; 9; 5:7; 6:9) and faithfulness to God’s plan (4:6; 6:3-4). Nehemiah did not shy away from facing external or internal strife but used those circumstance to trust God and seek the welfare of the city. These conflicts also created opportunities for Nehemiah to practice creative problem-solving skills. In response to the threats from God’s enemies, Nehemiah established an army for Israel. Half of the people would build the wall and the other half would defend the workers. They were surrounded by their families as a reminder for who they fought for, and Nehemiah created a warning system to help protect and mobilize the others. When facing conflict, we can follow Nehemiah’s example to stop and pray before we respond. When faced with rumors, lies, distractions, and temptations from our enemies, let’s remain focused on the mission God has called us to. How do you respond when met with opposition or conflict within your ministry?
After the wall was completed, they gathered together to read from the Law of Moses. When they heard the beautiful words Ezra read, they responded with weeping and rejoicing. As the people of God participated in the physical rebuilding of their lives, God was at work preparing their spiritual lives. God used their present situation to reveal himself and remind Israel of their need for God in their lives. While this year has been difficult, God has also used it as a season of equipping. He has used the present circumstances to remind me of how much I need to depend on Him in order to serve faithfully. When I felt overwhelmed with figuring out how to approach this semester, God pointed me to His scriptures and revealed wonderful truths for me to hold onto. I hope and pray that as you are walking through this unique season of ministry, you will see how God is equipping you to serve faithfully and how He is revealing himself to you through His Word.
Baptist Campus Minster at University of Richmond