The Whole Point
This WORKTALKweekly is dedicated to the author’s father: Clifford William Shattock
19th June 1925 – 9th September 2012
Who so wanted everyone to be as he was
(Except for his chains)
You may have noticed that true leaders have an ability to create a summary statement around which you can function. “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” (Kennedy)
“This is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end, but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning”. (Churchill)
“The very first requirement of a hospital is that it should do the sick no harm”. (Florence Nightingale).
The brilliance of such statements is that they can summarize and galvanize without paralysing the hearer. They can be taken and used as mottos, mission statements and memorable calls to action.
They don’t contain the detail but they give the detail a container so that millions of minds can be energized by the powerful simplicity of the phrase.
Perhaps you should not be surprised that in Nehemiah’s speech of his life there is one such central phrase. I will quote it for you. It only has 16 words. “Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and we will no longer be in disgrace” (Nehemiah).
Sixteen simple words which will galvanize the entire population to complex action.
May I put them in context for you, then you will be able to see into his mind via these word windows he has left?
The disgrace he is talking about really has its roots in events 500 years before, when Israel split into north and south. It is a common human solution in business to divide, and sometimes it is the best solution but it led, in Israel’s case, to a divided mindset from which they never recovered. Every Jew carried in their beings a divided heart, a divided soul, and it played out in their politics, their stories and their businesses. By the time of Jesus it has become Jews and Samaritans, but every Jew and every Samaritan had a broken heart.
You may like to reflect on your historical fault-lines and meet your own divided heart – It will be affecting your politics, your business and your soul. It may be a split between the north of you, (perhaps your mind), and the south of you, perhaps your heart.
Nehemiah’s mind gives them an immediate context which can motivate them to build. He told them about the hand of God and the words of the king. As you read his short recorded speech you realize that you don’t have a full script but you can also see what he means. He has already written his testimony about the gracious hand of God and the words of the king. He will relay it to his hearers but he doesn’t need to repeat it for his readers – It is there for you to see.
Nehemiah’s mind is a mind that knew nothing, absolutely nothing, of value could be achieved without the gracious hand of God. You might like to check out your mind on this matter. Look at the most successful people in your country and ask whether you believe that their success is because of the gracious hand of God. It’s easy to believe that about those you admire but what about those you despise. We all live, according to Nehemiah’s thinking, by the gracious hand of God.
But we also live by the words of others. How many kings in your life have empowered you to be what you are? Nehemiah knew he needed the king’s authority and, as you look into his mind, you can see not division but conjunction as he knows full well that the gracious hand of God AND the words of the king are not separate but two sides of the same. Do you know this? Do I?
This joining comes in the mind first. This joining led him to pray and to ask the king for help. So if you want to pick his brains, reflect on the damage of split thinking and the power of joined up thinking. True leaders know how to join things up.
If you are still with me you are now ready for the most profound context of these words.
He is speaking at around 445BC. Some thirteen years earlier the temple had been rebuilt under Ezra and others. So ask yourself this question. Why was Jerusalem still in disgrace when it had built the temple?
Nehemiah knew that having a space to gather was not enough. The temple was a space for praise, sacrifice, organized corporate gathered spirituality and practice.
But here’s the deep truth. People need spaces to scatter as well as to gather. They need home spaces for their families and friends. They need play spaces for their children and more than anything else they need work spaces so they can earn their livelihoods. For all theses spaces they needed a city and for a city they needed walls. Now you see his mind.
Nehemiah would succeed where nearly 100 years of predecessors had only partially, because his mind was joined up.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of this thinking. For hundreds, maybe thousands of years the churches of the world have struggled to capture this thinking. People do need spaces to gather to express their faith. They need to sing praises, learn from the scriptures, love one another and grow in maturity.
But if that is all that happens we remain in a state of disgrace. True spirituality, true leadership is concerned about the scattered spaces of homes, play, and perhaps most important of all, work and trade.
Jerusalem needed markets, workshops, storehouses, banks, dealers, craftsmen and women so that the engine of work could be fired up and the people could live.
Can you see it? Can you think like Nehemiah and recognize that a temple on its own is not enough. A city on its own is not enough. When the temple and the city are rebuilt then there are spaces to be truly the people of god.
So I’ll leave you with a challenge to see the need to see a joined up mind. Join in your mind the gracious hand of God and the words of kings in your life. Rejoin the north of your brain with the south of your heart. Rejoin the gathering spaces of praise with the scattering places of work and worship and you may just find yourself responding as the crowds did to Nehemiah’s speech of his life.
“Let us start rebuilding”.
And Nehemiah said
“So they began this good work”
Nehemiah Chapter 2:16-17
16 The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work.
17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace. ”
6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you.
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