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  • Mark A. Howell

It's Not Work, It's Worship

Gary Player is arguably one of the greatest golfers of all time. Along with Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, he is considered to be one of golf’s “Big Three.” The South African has won more international golf tournaments than any other golfer of his era. One day, an impressed fan shouted out, “I’d give anything if I could hit a golf ball like you.” Player, who was known for his easy-going demeanor, was not having his best day at the golf course and uncharacteristically shot back:

“No, you wouldn’t. You’d give anything to hit a golf ball like me if it was easy. “Do you know what you’ve got to do to hit a golf ball like me? You’ve got to get up at five o’clock in the morning, go out on the course, and hit one thousand golf balls. Your hand starts bleeding, and you walk up to the clubhouse, wash the blood off, slap a bandage on your hand, and go out and hit another thousand golf balls. That‘s what it takes to hit a golf ball like me.”

There is a lesson here: What you see is not always what is. In sports and in life—there are no wins without work. There is often no success without suffering. Awards don’t get put in the display case without the anguish of the practice field. What we see in public does not tell the whole story—it’s what happens behind the scenes that shapes who we are.

Now, when you think about the book of Nehemiah, you probably think about a wall that he built. To be sure, Nehemiah is a model leader who rallied his people to both embrace and accomplish a seemingly impossible mission. But the book is about much more than a wall that is built —it’s about worship that is restored. It’s not about hoisting trophies and human achievement. It’s about God’s endless pursuit of His people. It’s about how He uses imperfect people to accomplish His perfect plan. The building of the wall is only part of the story—the restoration of worship is the story. God used both Nehemiah and the wall that he built, to restore and renew a relationship with his people.

But what does “worship” have to do with leaders and leadership? The answer is that it has everything to do with leaders and leadership. Every detail of Nehemiah’s journey is God-saturated. There are three words in the very first verse of the book that set the stage for everything that transpires in the rest of the book: “Now it happened.” The biblical author is not throwing words away—these are words of purpose. They are not accidental; they are providential. The Book of Nehemiah isn’t really about Nehemiah—it’s about God.

We would do well to remember that “things” don’t just happen. The doctrine of God’s providence reminds us that God not only created this world, but that He maintains and governs what He creates—that includes not only a leader like Nehemiah, but also people like you and me.

With God there are no accidents—only appointments. Ultimately, the book of Nehemiah is not about the principles of leadership—it’s about the providence of God. It was God who brought Nehemiah the news of the plight of his people. It was God who planted the vision in his heart. It was God Who moved the heart of the king, both to allow Nehemiah to go to Jerusalem and to provide the resources for the task. It was God who had not given up on his people. It was God who protected them from their enemies.

It’s tempting to see Nehemiah as a model for success. But let me encourage you to look beyond the success of a man and see the hand of God. Don’t get me wrong, success—whether among the Jews in Jerusalem, on the golf course, in the board room, or even behind the pulpit—demands an ambitious vision, diligent attention to detail, and an inexorable determination. But even on their best days, leaders would do well to recall: “Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the LORD keeps the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (Psalm 127:1).

Leadership is about more than what the leader does—it’s about what God does through the leader. So, what then does this mean? It means that to lead effectively you must keep your eyes fixed on heaven. And there are at least two ways that will help you to do this.

First, view your life through "providential" lenses. God is in even the smallest details of your life. Your life is not an autobiography written by you, it’s a biography written by God Himself. If you were writing your story, there would be many chapters that you’d choose not to include. But God uses even the difficult, painful, and confusing chapters to bring about His glory and your good. Remember, what you see only tells a part of the story—it’s what God is doing behind the scenes that defines who you are. He has not abandoned you. He has not forgotten you. Fight the urge to view His silence as His absence. What you see is not always what is.

Second, do your work and do it well, but don’t neglect your worship. Stated another way—maintain an eternal perspective. Leadership is not temporal—it’s eternal. Our goal is not to receive a temporary prize, but an eternal one (1 Cor 9:27). As the 19th century missionary, William Carey once said, “I’m not afraid of failure, I’m afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.” Make what you spend your time doing today, matter tomorrow.

A few years ago, while visiting a small Argentinian town in the foothills of the Andes Mountains, I was awestruck by the surrounding beauty of the landscape. From nearly every vantage point in town I could see the towering mountain peaks off in the distance. Curious, I asked a local shop owner if he ever tired of seeing the majestic mountains in the distance. I will never forget his reply, “I hardly even notice them.” How could it be possible for one to be surrounded by the majesty of the Andes Mountains and yet miss their beauty? I suppose it’s not difficult for someone who takes such beauty for granted.

Jesus made us a promise. He told us that one day He would return and take us to be with Him for eternity. As Randy Alcorn reminds us, this promise should motivate us to live our lives not for “the dot" but for "the line.” The dot marks the end—the line points to the eternal. This life will end; the life to come will not. Eternity towers over us from every conceivable vantage point of our lives. If we fail to live with this perspective, we will live our lives for today. But, if we look up and keep eternity in view, it will make a difference in both how we live and lead today, and the investments that we will make for tomorrow.


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