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  • Mark A. Howell

See the Opportunity, Not the Obstacles

Armed with a God-sized vision to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem, Nehemiah packed his suitcase, mounted his horse, and left the certainty and security of a Persian palace for a journey into the great unknown. To be sure, he was certain of God's call and confident that he had adequate resources to complete the task, but a serious question remained: Would the Jews follow his lead? It was God's vision, it was his vision, but would it become their vision?

Upon arriving in Jerusalem, Nehemiah's "honeymoon" was short-lived. The destruction was worse than he imagined, and the morale of his people was at an all-time low. To make matters more challenging, the "enemies of the Jews" were both empowered and vocal in their opposition of Nehemiah. He was about to experience something that every leader will face: With great opportunity there is often great opposition.

Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arab were waiting for his arrival. They wanted nothing to do with Nehemiah, the vision that brought him, or the people he came to help. And they were not shy about letting everyone know. After all, critics never keep their opinions to themselves. These three men took a page out of the centuries-old critics playbook. When you don't like the plan, attack the person. So, they questioned Nehemiah's call, they challenged his motives, they mocked his plan, and they attempted to crush his spirit (2:19; 4:1-3, 7-8). For any leader, there is nothing more disheartening than this. It's why so many leaders simply give up.

Nehemiah's response should serve as an encouragement to anyone who attempts to lead. Instead of taking the matter to His critics...Nehemiah took the matter to God. This may sound like a firm grasp of the obvious. Yet, in the face of opposition, it is tempting to focus more on the critics than upon the calling. Nehemiah resisted the temptation to look around and instead he looked up. Rather than wasting his time in a battle of words with people who were spreading lies, he engaged in a battle on his knees with a God who "searches the heart" and "tests the mind" (Jer 17:10).

When we turn our attention heavenward we acknowledge two very important truths: First, God may be using the critics to get our attention or to change our direction. It's not always about what God is going to do through the leader, but what God is going to do in the leader. Yes, He is fully committed to fulfill His purposes in the world, but He is also fully committed to correcting, purifying, and developing those He calls to fulfill His purposes. While God is interested in the breadth of His work around the world, He is also interested in the depth of the walk of those who do that work. As painful as it might be, criticism is a tool that God will often use to create a depth of dependence upon Him that nothing else can produce.

Second, we must remember that our lives must ultimately be lived for an audience of One. Someone once said that the key to success may be elusive, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone around you. We must allow the words of the prophet Micaiah to resonate in our hearts: "As the Lord lives, what the Lord says to me, that I will speak” (1 Kings 22:14). That's what leaders do. They obey God regardless of the critics, the cost, or the consequences. Critics don’t build walls around destroyed cities. Walls get built by leaders who see past the opposition and embrace the opportunity. Being a leader may not always be easy or fun, but when God gives the vision, it’s one amazing journey.


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