Plan the Work, Part 1: Develop the Plan
Tonight we’re starting an exciting section. It’ll take us a few weeks to get through it, but this is the section where Nehemiah gets to Jerusalem and gets to work. I originally wanted to cover this in one message, but there’s just too much here to do it justice. So we’ll work through it over the next few weeks. The title of the series is called, “Plan the Work.” It will actually run from where we started reading in verse 11, all the way through the end of chapter 3. Just in case you want to get an idea as to where we’re heading, tonight we’ll see how Nehemiah developed the plan. Then next week we’ll see how he communicated the plan. After that we’ll see how he defended the plan. Then we’ll be done with chapter 2. Then comes all of chapter 3 which is where they actually worked the plan. Plan the work and work the plan. One of the reasons Nehemiah is such a popular book is that it is intensely practical. Every word of Scripture is God-breathed. And that’s why 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us it is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness. And verse 17 goes on to say, “That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” That is the case with all Scripture. All Scripture is practical and applicable to our daily life. But we can’t help but notice how certain parts of Scripture seem to lay it out more accessibly than others. In other words, it’s a whole lot easier to see how Paul’s instructions to churches apply to us than a genealogical record in 1 Chronicles. That’s why Nehemiah is such a popular book. Especially the first few chapters we’re in now. It’s popular, because each and every one of us is called to lead something. Whether it’s leading a company or leading your kids or leading as a Christian witness. We are all called to lead. There was a debate several years ago about whether leaders were born or made. In other words, did you have to be born with certain leadership traits, or could anyone be taught to be a leader. It’s really a funny debate. Because everyone is a leader. So, if you think about it, you do have to be born a leader. It’s just that everyone that’s born is a leader. But each of us is born with different traits. Some of us are natural introverts. We would rather be alone than in a group of people. If you are an introvert, you can function well in groups and crowds, but you leave those situations exhausted. In order to get re-energized, you need to spend some time alone. Some of us are natural extroverts. These are the ones that people automatically think of as good leaders. Extroverts love crowds and groups. They are often the life of the party, but not always. Sometimes the groups they prefer are a few close friends. But extroverts go absolutely stir-crazy when they are away from people. Doing solitary activities like reading or woodworking exhausts them. But they are re-energized when they pick up the phone or go to lunch with friends. The point is, just because you are born with certain traits doesn’t make you a leader. And just because you’re born with other traits doesn’t excuse you from being a leader. What makes a godly leader is first of all His burden. God gives each of us a burden. No matter how big or small that burden is, that is God’s call to leadership. The burden God gave Nehemiah was a pretty big one. I don’t know that He has called any of us to rebuild a city. But He might—you never know. The burden is the call to leadership. You exercise leadership when you step out in obedience to accomplish the burden God has given you. The question is, how? We know that the Lord will equip you to accomplish the task He calls you to. It’s not in the Bible, but it’s a good saying anyway—God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called. 2 Corinthians 9:8 says, “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.” When the Lord gives you a burden, He certainly will equip you to accomplish it. Now, most of the time you’re not going to see that in the beginning. So there will come a time when you will have to step out in faith and wait for the equipping. That is the time when the practicality of Nehemiah is such a great help. Because you can actually see the steps that you should go through to get your project underway. And guess what? As you get started… even as you look back… you will be able to see how the Lord equipped you along the way. You will be able to see how the good hand of your God was upon you as you step out in leadership to accomplish the burden He’s given you. Over the next few weeks we’re going to see the practical steps it takes to plan the work that God has called you to accomplish. The steps don’t take the place of God’s equipping power. But as you faithfully move through the steps, He will equip you each step of the way. As with any project, before you can get anything done, you have to plan. Planning isn’t just a one-time step either. Planning is something that happens continually. Even as the work is being accomplished, planning is still happening. Even as you begin to work your plan, you will still be planning your work. You remember where we are. Nehemiah has left the palace in Shushan. He probably took about 3-4 months to make the journey from Shushan to Jerusalem. Last week we saw that along the way he met the opposition that will plague him throughout the rest of the book. That was his first confrontation with Sanballat and Tobiah. But by the time we get to verse 11, Nehemiah and his delegation had arrived in Jerusalem. All of the planning he had done up until this point had gotten him here. Now that he was on-site, the real planning could begin. Now that he was in Jerusalem, he could begin to develop his plan. In our passage tonight, we see three steps Nehemiah engaged in to develop his plan. The first step was rested development.
Nehemiah engaged in rested plan development. Verse 11 is one of those Bible verses we tend to breeze right past. Well, don’t. Look at what it says. It says that when Nehemiah got to Jerusalem, he started firing off orders left and right. It says that he didn’t waste any time and jumped right in and got busy. He started having meetings and planning sessions and got right after it. No it doesn’t! It says that when he got to Jerusalem, he didn’t do anything. As a matter of fact, he was there three days before he did anything. One of those days could have been the Sabbath, but Scripture doesn’t say that. All it says is that this job that Nehemiah had been burdened about for months got put on the back burner. Everything that he had been praying and fasting and preparing for was right in front of him. But he didn’t jump right in. If you think about it, they had just come off of a long hard journey. By all accounts, they travelled well. They were traveling as an envoy of the king, so I imagine it was pretty luxurious. But the first-class section of a camel is still riding on a camel. And I don’t care how you travel, it is tiring. Nehemiah knew that. That’s why he refused to do anything until he rested for three days. He rested his body. He calmed his thoughts. He re-focused his mind. God built us with the need for rest. He built day and night cycles to accommodate that need. And on top of that, He gave us the principle of the Sabbath. Hebrews 4 makes it clear that Jesus fulfilled the legal requirements for the Sabbath. But just because the legal requirements are fulfilled doesn’t mean that the principle isn’t still there. Jesus even indicated that, when He told the Pharisees that God made the Sabbath for man and not vice versa. The bottom line is, we have to have rest in order to function well. There are extraordinary times that call for extraordinary measures, but as a rule, we need to rest. One of my favorite modern preachers, Alistair Begg outlines a list of six things that we should never do when we’re tired.
Avoid making important decisions. Avoid writing important letters. Avoid launching a new project. Avoid the tendency to quit your job or anything else. Avoid assessing your spiritual condition. Avoid assessing the spiritual condition of those around you. That’s good advice. When it comes time to plan the work that God has called you to do… do it with a rested mind. No matter how pressing the burden may seem, don’t start until you have a clear head. And you can’t have a clear head when you’re exhausted. When you think about it, we absolutely waste most of our most creative and productive planning time. When you come back from a period of rest like a vacation should be your most creative time. But we waste it doing catch-up work from the time we were away. And then by the time we’re all caught up, we’re exhausted again. Develop your plan with a rested mind. Rested development was Nehemiah’s first step. His second step was measured development.
Nehemiah engaged in measured plan development. Ok, now that the rest period was over, what did Nehemiah do? I can tell you what most of our tendency would have been. Most of us would have immediately gotten with the leaders in Jerusalem to get their take on the problem. Modern leadership models would have had us sending out surveys to assess the people’s thinking. How did they feel about the wall being down? What did they think needed to be done first? What area do you think you are most gifted to work in? Modern leadership theory says that in order to accomplish a goal, it’s important to build a consensus. And in order to build a consensus, you need to have as much input from people as possible. But Nehemiah didn’t prescribe to modern leadership theory. Those models might “work”. But just because something “works” doesn’t mean that’s the method that God wants us to use. Consensus is great and teambuilding is wonderful. But who did God give the burden to? God gave the burden to Nehemiah. He might have given it to some of the people, but they didn’t do anything about it. God gave the burden to Nehemiah. Nehemiah was acting on the burden that God gave him—not anybody else. That’s why he didn’t start by surveying the population. That’s why he wasn’t really interested in building a consensus or building a team. They didn’t share his burden. If they did, the wall would have already been built. Now there will come a time when Nehemiah will need to pass his burden along to them. We’ll talk about that next week when he communicates the plan. But now is not that time. Now is the time when he is going to clarify the burden that God gave HIM. Now is the time when HE is going to develop the plan according to that burden. He’s not going to leave that up to people who don’t share his burden. So what did he do? Verse 12 says that he went on a midnight survey. He didn’t tell anybody where he was going or what he was doing. All he took with him were a couple of people to help him around the rubble—maybe a guide and a surveyor and a scribe to take notes. That way he could be free from bias. He knew the burden that God had given him. His midnight survey was to clarify it. He didn’t want anybody who didn’t share his burden telling him why it wasn’t going to work. After all, they had done nothing in all those years to fix the problem. Why should he expect that they would give him any beneficial information that would? So he surveyed the situation himself. Without commentary. Without bias. And when he did, it clarified his burden rather than confusing it. He went into it with a rested mind. A rested mind is a clear mind. Then he quietly surveyed and studied the problem. That clarified his mind even more. Rested development and measured development. Finally, Nehemiah’s third step was thorough development.
Nehemiah engaged in thorough plan development. It’s times like these that I wish I had a map of Jerusalem memorized. It would be nice to know right off the top of my head where the dragon well and the fountain gate and the valley gate and the king’s pool were. I still don’t think I’d be real interested in knowing much about the dung port though. That sounds like a place that Nehemiah probably rode past real quickly. But the point is not that we know where each of these places are that are listed in verses 13-14. Even if we knew, it wouldn’t add much meaning to the text. Because the point isn’t about the places. The point is that Nehemiah went to all the places. He personally put his eyes on the problem. For years, my job was to take a team of guys from our home station and go somewhere else and install communication systems. I don’t care how detailed the engineering drawings were or how good we were at our job, you really didn’t know what was going on till you got there. Most of the time, before I took my crew in to do the job… a few weeks ahead of time, I would go there by myself. We called it a pre-installation survey. I would walk all the places where our cable was supposed to go. I would go in all the buildings we were supposed to service. I would look at all the poles or go in all the manholes to make sure there were no surprises. And there were always surprises. So it was always better to find as many of the rough spots before we actually got started on the job itself. Sometimes it meant a change of schedule. Sometimes it meant a change of route. Sometimes it meant a complete change of plans. The point is that the only way good plans can be made is to thoroughly examine the problem. Nehemiah examined every square inch of the wall. He rode through where every gate was supposed to be. Verse 15 paints the picture of Nehemiah looking at the problem from one direction. Then he turned back and came at it from another angle. Then he returned and looked at it from yet another angle. He viewed the task from every conceivable angle. We don’t know how many nights Nehemiah did this. But it had to be a significant amount of time. It took time to be thorough. It took thought to be thorough. It took methodical study to be thorough in his planning. Nehemiah didn’t just jump into rebuilding and figure it out as he went along. He was rested in his planning. He was measured in his planning. And he was thorough in his planning.
I believe that God places burdens on the hearts of His people. He points out things to you that bother you. And as those things bother you, He doesn’t expect you to complain about them. He doesn’t expect you to wonder why other people aren’t doing something about them. He doesn’t expect you to ignore them. He expects you to step out in leadership to fix them. And after you’ve prayed about the burden and the Lord has given you clarity on it by giving you peace and opening doors… then it’s time to plan your work. In order to develop a plan for the work that God is burdening you with, it will take time. It will take effort. You will need to develop your plan with a rested mind. You will need to fully survey the situation by yourself to clarify your burden and figure out what needs to be done. Then you will need to thoroughly examine every square inch of the problem. Think about it. Study it. Methodically come up with the steps it’s going to take to get it done. Develop your plan.
What is your burden? Are you praying about it? Are you seeing God’s clarity on it? Are you ready to start developing your plan? Or are you still sitting back in Shushan? Are you still plugging your ears to the burden God is giving you? Are you still trying to pack it off on someone else and wondering why they aren’t doing something about it? If you are, it’s time to open your eyes to what the Lord is trying to show you. It’s time to accept the burden He’s trying to give you. It’s time to start fasting and praying about it. And then it’s time to get busy developing the plan.