Tag Archives: hope

Of Smoke and Shadows

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I have labeled failure as my greatest fear, but I am going to add specificity: a passionless, apathetic life.  Life without passion is, for me, the ultimate failure; it is breathing without truly living, a fleeting existence of smoke and shadows.

Caught unaware in my "natural habitat" as my family jokes! (My sister, of course, is always picture-ready.)

Caught unaware in my “natural habitat” as my family jokes! (My sister, of course, is always picture-ready.)

Due to a cold, I spent over two weeks with no sense of smell and, consequently, no ability to taste anything.  This circumstance makes food a thing utterly devoid of appeal.  You see, I am what people like to call a “foodie.”  I take great delight in preparing food for my family and friends on a daily basis.  From simple meals to delectable treats (all from scratch, of course), it is my mission to make food that is good in every way.  I enjoy flavors and textures and everything about the process of menu planning and food preparation.  I get a thrill when I tweak a dish until it is just right – the perfect balance of seasonings and ingredients.  And it is horribly difficult to cook when I can’t taste anything – how can perfection be achieved?  How can I enjoy the aromas and flavors?

At this point I have written out many of my recipes, tailoring them to my own preferences and the taste buds of family and friends.  However, to merely go through the motions and follow the recipes – to never smell or taste – became tedious by the end of the first day.  I knew what it would taste like if I could taste, what it would smell like, but knowledge and memories are no substitute for the real experience.  With nothing to back them, the pleasure and challenge swiftly evaporated.  It was there – I knew it was.  I could literally almost taste it: the essence of it, a lingering tingle of spice in my mouth, a hint of earthy vanilla bean or nutmeg, or a sting of fresh citrus.  For all my efforts though, I simply could not capture all the nuances, the heights and depths of flavor that transform food from something necessary to our bodies into something that truly satisfies, brings people together, and provides both nutrition and pleasure.

seasoningsBy now you are probably either thinking that I am a legitimate nerd (to which I fully admit being, in many ways) or that you really ought to procure a dinner invitation – or perhaps both.  But I use my hindered senses and my zeal for good food to describe a passionless life.  Life without passion is like food without flavor or smell – dull and monotonous, meant only to be just enough to scrape by.

We can so easily be satiated with a black-and-white existence: wrong or right, good or bad, adventure or security.  But where is the color to fill in the lines?  Where is the multi-hued explosion of beauty that makes life the masterpiece that God intended for it to be?  Where is the flavor, the aroma, the texture?  Where are the notes that create the song, the words that make the book come alive?  This is what passion provides.

My dear friends, we were not created for a passionless existence of smoke and shadows.

I am naturally a very passionate person.  I take on every aspect of life with zeal, from teaching my students to playing board games to “discussing” the best way to accomplish a task.  But sometimes I become color-blind, so trapped in the momentary ups and downs of life that everything fades to a drab composition of black and white.  And suddenly I’ll find myself in the place where there is no pleasure, no joy.  When the passion is stripped away, even getting out of bed in the morning and going about daily tasks feels like nothing more than motions.  Without passion, there is only existence.  Without passion, life cannot be fully lived.

You were not created for a life of smoke and shadows.

You were not created for a life of smoke and shadows.

Passion is not merely about cheap thrills and momentary excitement, and it does not mean you need to live like you are the Energizer Bunny.  True passion is a way of life that encompasses every realm of living.  A life of deep, abundant passion, given and sustained by God’s Holy Spirit in us, is God’s best plan for us.  It is bolstered by true hope, which does not disappoint (Romans 5:5), and it is an acknowledgement of the influence of God in our lives.  When Jesus said that He came that we might have life and have it to the full (John 10:10), He wasn’t simply talking about the fact that we would continue to “exist” and not be obliterated by God’s wrath.  He was talking about full-blown, extravagant, glorious life lived with, through, by, and for Him.  And so again I say, we were not created for a passionless existence of smoke and shadows.  We were created for the substance and fullness of life with our Creator, born again into Living Hope through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:3).

My question for you is this: in what areas do you need God to share again His breath of Life?  What places in your life need passion restored to them?  What aspects need to be filled in with color and substance?  Beloved, you were created for so much more than existing; you were made to thrive.  When we make Jesus our Savior, we are set free by His love and life to take our first true “breaths.”  Now let Him breathe life again into the places where you have been living by mere smoke and shadows.

Take a moment to listen to this song as you continue to ask the Lord what are the places where He can give you fresh passion: “I Came Alive” by Shane & Shane.

You were created for a life of color and substance.

You were created for a life of color and substance.

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Posture of Worship: The Place of Hope

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Does this holding this position look easy to you? Because it's not. (Image from Ballroom Dance Chicago blog)

Does this holding this position look easy to you? Because it’s not. (Image from Ballroom Dance Chicago blog)

On the dance floor, professional dancers are easy to spot: it’s all about their posture – how they move and carry themselves.  In the same way, those who are amateurs (or non-dancers!) are just as easily marked by their lack of appropriate posture.  Graceless bumbling, sloppy lines, and cringe-worthy missteps can result from poor posture.  Posture is a habit that must be either learned – or unlearned.

What does that have to do with anything at all?  Well, I had an inkling and did a quick Google search to confirm my suspicions: the word “posture” and the word “imposter” come from the same Latin root.  (Nifty, right?!  I certainly thought so!)  An imposter is someone who is simply a fake posing as the real thing – but imposters are easily spotted because they just can’t pull off the part.  Their posture marks them as inauthentic.  Either you’ve got the posture, or you’re nothing but an imposter.

“A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” – Proverbs 16:9 NKJV

I have been thinking a lot about hope recently.  I have been eager to write about this subject again, but each time I write about hope, it is always more of a challenge than I anticipate.  Sometimes it seems as though nothing goes the way I expect – and everyone feels this way on occasion.  You are likely familiar with some of the feelings that commonly accompany this thought: helplessness, uncertainty, frustration, disappointment – a sense of being adrift.  We must be diligent to acknowledge then eradicate these feelings before they devolve into what it possibly one of the most dangerous mindsets we could hold: hopelessness.  Though we truly feel these things, we must realize that they are not the Truth (which is that we have been renewed into the living hope that is Jesus Christ and the good inheritance we have through Him – check out 1 Pet. 1:3-5).  Hope is a raw, wild, beautiful subject that encompasses all the highs and lows of life, and it should be handled accordingly.  Connecting it to the idea of posture, I am going to make this statement:

True hope can only be experienced from a posture of worship.

I recently finished a two-month reading through the book of Exodus.  I am continually fascinated by the story of God’s people.  Throughout Exodus, we see how God released and continues to release His people from bondage.  As the Exodus story begins to unfold, Moses brought word to God’s people of God’s coming deliverance and showed them signs to prove the authenticity of the message.  At this point, the Israelites eagerly believed and bowed to worship God (Ex. 4:31).  We all love to hear a special word from God, to feel His presence strongly and clearly.  There’s just something about those precious moments that make worship the obvious and irresistible response.

But then things didn’t go as they had hoped.  When Moses went before Pharaoh to call for the release of the Israelites from their Egyptian bondage, Pharaoh scoffed and forced the Israelites to continue making bricks for his building projects – only now they had to do it without the benefit of being given the necessary straw.  Wait a minute – it didn’t have instant results?!  Pharaoh was supposed to set the Israelites free, right?!  God had promised to deliver them, so they suddenly felt they had the right to be angry that their situation was seemingly getting worse instead of better.  In their angst, the Israelites promptly gave up on the promises of Yahweh, and they immediately chose to blame Moses, crying out for God to judge Moses harshly (Ex. 5:18-21).  They quickly forgot the goodness of God – seriously, less than one chapter of Scripture separates these events!  Theirs was a small hope indeed, for they allowed it to be snuffed out the moment an unexpected circumstance arose.

Once again, God’s people were caught up in the hype of the moment: up, down, trusting, despairing – all as their circumstances dictated.  Giving up and blaming others (including God) are two common results of disappointment.  God’s people didn’t look for the bigger picture, and even Moses freaked out when they blamed him for the turn of circumstances (Ex. 5:22-23).  What was God’s response to this?  “Now you shall see what I will do…” (Ex. 6:1).  You see, God isn’t focused only on immediacy; He looks at the full story – the Story He has already written and knows from beginning to end (see Ps. 139:16-18).  God’s view isn’t limited to the scant sliver of time and space that we can see.

Life without true hope is like being trapped on a perpetual roller-coaster ride of emotions and circumstances.

Life without true hope is like being trapped on a perpetual roller-coaster ride of emotions and circumstances.

Like the Israelites, I forget to worship continually.  Instead, I remember to worship only when life is going “well” (according to my standards), and I begin to grumble or fret when they don’t.  Like God’s people, I can become distraught when my circumstances don’t match my expectations about His promises.  I forget to remain in a posture of worshipful trust and instead choose to let my faulty perceptions tell me what to believe about life, about myself, and sometimes even about the nature of God.  When I revert from a posture of worship to a posture of hopelessness or fear, I become an imposter, trying to fake a life of trust and obedience.  If I say, “God, I trust you” but am consumed by despair when I don’t like my circumstances or outcomes, I am merely an imposter who isn’t truly living with the hope I profess. Genuine trust flows only from a posture of worship, and genuine hope can find a home only in the life of a person who is living from a posture of worship.

In the altar-call, vision-from-the-Lord moments of life, it feels easy to choose a posture of worship, and these moments are both totally valid understandably meaningful.  What I’ve realized, however, is that we, as Christians, often don’t know what to do after those moments, when we finally stop weeping (or laughing), the meeting ends, or another obligation arises that requires our attention.  Two imperfect responses are common: either we simply “collect ourselves” and go on precisely as we did before, or we decide that our lives would be best served by living one “Jesus-high” to the next.  But neither of these responses indicates a true posture of worship.  The act of “doing worship” (singing songs, etc.) and the intentional maintenance of a posture of worship in daily life are not necessarily equivalent.  Specifically in regard to the second response, while I won’t argue that houses of prayer, worship movements, or revival-style meetings are valid ways to continue seeking God, it has become popular in Christendom (especially for people of my generation) to become fixated on the act of worshipping without necessarily learning how to live from a true posture of worship.

Okay, so perhaps we don’t always really know what to do with God’s promises and the things that He speaks to us.  Often, like the Israelites, we eagerly receive, claim, and cling to God’s promises – then we create a mental script of how we think these promises will play out.  We concoct genius plans of how to get to where God has told us we are going, becoming easily enamored by the “how” of the promises.  Then, in mere moments, our plans can come tumbling down around us when circumstances don’t proceed as we thought they should (or hoped they would).  In these instances, we unfortunately often choose to blame God.  But if we do that, we must realize that means we are blaming God for our inaccurate assumptions about life.  We know that God’s promises to us are faithful and true because “He is faithful in all He does” (Ps. 33:4), and all His promises are made “yes” and “amen” to us through Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 1:20).  And if we truly believe that God is faithful and true in all His ways, then it is not Him who needs to change but us.

I can say this confidently not because I always get it right but because I frequently get it wrong.  When life doesn’t go the way I hope, it becomes all too easy to embrace a martyr-like sense of hopelessness.  (That is, I allow myself to have the mindset of “Here I am, obeying God, wallowing through life until a better someday.”  As I said, it’s a false sense of suffering, and ultimately it will hamper my ability to actually see the good that God is doing.)  I am a person who finds a great deal of both pleasure and security in planning for and thinking about the future.  (If life is a journey, I’d like a map, please!)  I have plenty of God-dreams and goals, and I thought I knew the route I’d take to get to those things – but it turns out that I have been wrong numerous times.  A recent pattern in my life has been that God is continually stripping away my so-called plans – plans that I was excited about and had invested a lot of my hope in.  And as my plans have been stripped away, I have had to honestly confront the source of my hope: is it in my plans, or is it truly in God, whom I claim to trust whole-heartedly?  Am I living in true Hope, or am I an imposter, skimming by in my own strength and trying to live one “Jesus-high” moment to the next?  I’ve been asking God a lot of questions and doing a lot of soul-searching lately, and through it I have been learning both humility and trust.  (It’s amazing how God always manages to teach me those things, and how there is always more for me to learn!)

True hope grounds us, holding us steady.

True hope grounds us, holding us steady.

Disappointment, when handled appropriately, provides an excellent opportunity for reevaluating priorities and beliefs.  Why?  According to Romans 5:5, “hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”  This is true Hope: that, enabled and guided by the power of the Holy Spirit, we live and rest in the consistent goodness and utter faithfulness of God’s nature, which is the foundation of His promises.

This is the posture of worship.  Hope becomes our anthem as we recognize that our lives are secure in the Living Hope that is our “living God and everlasting King” (Jer. 10:10).  Everything else will disappoint, but hope grounded in our God will never fail us.  Coming to God in the steady hope of faith, we “must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6).  When worshipping our God becomes the focus of our lives, hope is a natural result, leaving us free to live in joyful expectation of seeing “the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Ps. 27:13).  When we have true hope, we are no longer subject to the ups and downs of circumstances or the changeable cries of our emotions.  I don’t know about you, but I crave the freedom that comes from living in and with true hope.

If we don’t position our lives in a posture of worship, we will never experience God’s goodness not because He has ceased to be good but because we will be chronically blind to it.  So how can we choose and maintain a posture of worship in our lives?

The answer is simple: choose worship.  Always.

There is no better way to combat hopelessness, depression, and despair than to choose to worship God.  Your attitude will affect everything else, including how you respond to situations and how you perceive your life.  If you can’t get your eyes off yourself and onto God, you are never going to be able to live in the fullness of hope.  When we choose to rejoice in God’s goodness and sovereignty, we find ourselves more able to stop clinging and to make room in our lives for Him to work His best in and through us.  Practically, this may look like committing to listening only to worship music for a certain period of time.  (I do not merely mean “Christian” music but legitimate, solid music that exalts the Lord rather than self and tunes your heart to what God is saying and doing).  Perhaps it means getting into the habit of telling God “thank you” more often, considering all the good He has done and is yet to do.  Or maybe for you it means engaging fully in corporate worship with your church (even when you don’t feel like worshipping.)  I encourage you (and myself): you have control over your emotions.  Choose to worship and allow your spirit to rise to the occasion rather than wallowing in self-pity.  Position yourself to receive and live in hope.

It is important to understand that a posture of worship is not necessarily physical.  Maintaining a posture of worship is oftentimes about your spiritual, mental, and emotional state.  However, sometimes, when despair and fear begin to creep in and hope seems to be nothing more than a distant yearning, we need to intentionally put our physical bodies in a posture of worship.  There comes a time when you need to get on your face before God – literally.  (From experience, I recommend choosing a spot with a rug or carpet.)

 “Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward.  For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise…”
– Heb. 10:35-36

What are you doing to maintain or improve your posture, my friends?  Hope is not just for “someday” – it is right now, beautiful, wild, and alive in Jesus, the final culmination of God’s every promise and good plan for you.  Today and every day that follows, may we choose to live from a perpetual posture of true worship and embrace the freedom of hope that comes with it.  This is how my conversation with God began this week, and I hope it will be a new beginning for you as well:

Lord, I invite You to replace the bad, the good, and even the “better” with Your best in my life.  When I remain in a posture of worship, despair and grumbling find no purchase.  Fear slips away in the sweetness of your Presence.  This is where I belong, what I was created for: a life of worship.  Position my heart to worship and listen.  Posture my flesh to be in continual subjection to Your Spirit.  I choose worship; I choose freedom to worship You in the fullness of hope and abundant life.  Tune my life, my mind, my heart, and my flesh to the music of Your Spirit.  Amen.

Black and white Hope

There Isn’t a Picture for That

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A notification popped up on my Facebook newsfeed: “Your year in review – see your best memories from this year.”  I clicked on the link, and I must admit I was disappointed.  My entire year – a year of seeing God’s faithfulness, a year that was humbling, challenging, and good – was summed up in a paltry collection of seven pictures, all but one either being from our family photos in July or being from a week ago.  (Granted, had I posted more photos, there would have been more to see!)  My year was so much more than what Facebook remembered – or what people saw.

Under_Review-stampWhat is my “Year in Review” then?  It is dozens of moments deepening friendships through shared laughter, sorrows, and stories.  It was the unexpected renewing of a precious friendship I had resigned myself to setting aside.  It was God’s surprising me with new opportunities, perspectives, and solutions even when I felt I was floundering.  It was the relentless grace of my God shown through my family and friends as I tried – and failed – to be self-sufficient.  It was knowing what the right thing was – and being so terrified of doing it that I couldn’t stop shaking as I did it.

This year was the writing and posting of thirty-odd blogs, some painstakingly written over a number of years and finally completed.  It was the reality of late nights and early mornings as an RA.  (I am always perfectly serious when I say that I get weird when I am up too late).  It was the warmth of family and home – a love that I have learned to carry with me wherever I go.  It was CLEP tests, extra hours at work, and the seemingly endless renditions of “Step by Step” I sang to the little kiddos I watched as they drifted off to sleep.  It was the struggle of learning how to “let go and let God,” trusting Him completely – and the awe of watching Him begin to fit the pieces together in ways I could never have imagined.

My year was every quiet moment, every worship-filled dance, every frustrated huff, every cry of grief, and every joyous triumph.  And there isn’t a picture for that.

This year has been challenging mentally, physically, and emotionally; God has been stretching me, expanding my vision, and humbling me as only He can.  It was a year of growth and maturing.  I entered 2015 with my joy exhausted and my hope hanging on by a thread; I leave this year with passionate joy and an unshakeable confidence in the faithfulness of my God, who is my Hope.  And there aren’t pictures enough to show the beauty of it all as I have learned to embrace the days of grace.  There are no longer good days and bad days – as Graham Cooke says, there are only days of grace as we come to recognize the relentless kindness of our Heavenly Father.

Sometimes what we see is only part of the story.  My dear friends, what is the reality of your year in review?  Are you allowing your story to be defined by the goodness of God, or does it feel as superficial as a disappointing social media summary?  Are you are always scrutinizing your life, worrying about how others might see it?  Are there hurts or habits tainting your memories of this year?

For me, this has been a year of rediscovering joy and hope, and now the coming year is going to be different: a year of courage – courage to step into the fullness of what God has for me.  We all experience different seasons; some are lovely and some challenging, but all are overflowing with grace if we are willing to accept it.  I am going to celebrate the turn of the New Year with a night of worship in the company of dear friends.  I can think of no better way for me to thank the God of miracles for all He has done, is doing, and will still do.  Sometimes, there aren’t pictures; it is up to us to be intentional about the memories we keep.  As 2015 draws to a close, I encourage you to boldness: ask God to review your year.  What did He do this year, and what is He doing now?  Let your final authority in defining your story be the One who knows the end from the beginning and whose nature is relentlessly, perfectly Good in every way.    

As you enjoy the final hours of this year, take a few moments to listen to this song: “God of Miracles” by Chris McClarney.  May you embrace the coming year with the fullness of hope as you expect to see the goodness of our God.

Happy New Year, my friends!

new year countdown

In Remembrance

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Did I mention that I need a new journal?

Believe me, I am well aware of the blessing that is digital storage, which holds the hundreds of other pages full of my writing.

I love words, and I love to write.  I journal nearly every day, keep at least two notebooks at all times (one for ideas and one for regular things like lists), and am never without a diligently-tended planner.  I enjoy taking hand-written notes in class and jotting brilliant thoughts on my ever-present pad of Post-it notes.  The inside cover of my Bible is thick with sticky notes, and the margins of its pages are full of cross-references and revelations that have come to me as I read.  (Not to mention the unwieldly jumble of papers I stash near my bed, full of ideas for more writing, children’s church lessons, sermon notes…)

Yet, in all this, I write for just one reason: to remember.

I write so I can remember all the things God speaks to me, all the things I’ve learned and experienced – and how the sweet kindness of my God is evident through it all.  I have to write, because if I don’t, I know I’ll forget.  And I don’t want to forget.

As humans, we are so prone to forgetfulness: we forget to take out the trash, forget the birthday of a friend, forget an appointment, forget what day it is, forget what road to turn on, forget what we are forgetting….We just can’t seem to remember everything, no matter how hard we try.  Sometimes we even do things to try to forget: don’t think about it, throw mementos away, drown ourselves in unhealthy addictions to movies or drugs or anything else that will take away the pain of remembrance.  We get lost, be it purposefully or unintentionally, in the deep shadows of forgetfulness, allowing memories and thoughts to grow musty.  The weight of the past, the confusion of the present, the uncertainty of the future – when all these things seem to press in on us, sometimes forgetting feels easier by far.

But Jesus knows our weaknesses, our forgetfulness and our desire to forget.  He calls us out of our place of forgetfulness into the brilliance of remembrance from the place of His peace.  Our “humanness,” though it may bother us, does not bother Him.  He gives sufficient grace to us, His forgetful yet beloved Bride.  That’s why we have the Holy Spirit: to help us remember everything Jesus said (John 14:26).  It’s also why He charged us to take Communion “in remembrance” of Him – He didn’t want us to forget all He has done, all the love and life He freely offers (Luke 22:19).  He prods us gently, “Remember, remember Me!”

And so I write to remember.

I want to remember all His goodness to me.  I want to remember His tender words, spoken exactly when I needed them.  I want to remember every “aha!” moment of revelation.  Often I forget and have to remind myself of the things my faithful God has already told me.  When this happens, I can read through old journals and old blog posts – and I can remember.  Maybe writing isn’t your way to remember – maybe its songs or pictures.  While we do not need to construct physical altars to worship our God anymore because every barrier has been broken down through Jesus (Ephesians 2:13-18), there is something to be said about the beauty of the altars of remembrance built by many of God’s Old Testament people – Jacob, Moses, and Joshua in particular.  We, who are without separation from God, can still create altars of remembrance within our hearts.  These intangible altars stand in defiance of any lie that might come against us, toppling the lies with the truth of God’s goodness not forgotten.  Like beacons lit in the darkness these altars stand to remind us of the Living Hope that is Jesus Christ our Savior.  So let us remember together, beholding the goodness of our God that has been, that now is, and that is yet to come.

Lord, may we not forget.  Clear away the fog of forgetfulness.  We want to live our lives with the remembrance of who You are and all You have done.  Amen. 

Fog lifting over a mountain in Wyoming (photo from the Mountain Project)

Fog lifting over a Wyoming mountain (photo from the Mountain Project)

The Nehemiah Life

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For many years now, I’ve wanted to live as a Nehemiah.  Not in the sense that I am having an identity crisis and want to change my name, but in the sense that I want to be a leader like the Nehemiah of the Bible.  The book of Nehemiah is really quite an epic tale of God raising up a leader and miraculously working through His people to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.  This little book really packs a punch, but the thing I want to focus on is visionary leadership – the legacy of Nehemiah.

I connect well to the portrayal of Nehemiah – talk about a man who carried a big God-vision!  I am a very visionary, “big-picture” person – I am bursting with passion and plans and dreams.  I tend to live with my head in the future and my feet in the present.  Often I struggle to enjoy the present because I am so excited for the future.  I have a hard time balancing what is with what will be and should be.

Back-to-the-FutureThis is both a blessing and a curse for me.  It’s like a Back to the Future version of wanderlust – I simply can’t restrict myself to looking at this moment.  Sometimes I feel crushed by the weight of the passion, the dreams – and wonder why others don’t seem to feel the burden.  Why can’t people just get it?  Why isn’t everyone excited about what the future holds and what God is doing?  Then I get frustrated.  But, as will most things in life, there must be balance.  Nehemiah found that balance – the balance of living as a vision-carrier for God.

Leadership is not something one does on a lark.  Leadership is not always fun or glamorous; in fact, it is rarely either of those things.  People do not always cooperate, expectations are not always met, and it is all too easy for leaders to get burnt out.  In these moments, it is the God-vision, fueled by God’s Holy Spirit, that prevents “burnout” — that gets you going and fills you with passion.

The literal definition of the word “vision” is “the ability to see.”  This is what I mean by “vision,” except I am applying it more broadly.  You see, visionary leadership isn’t just the ability to see what is now and the things that are present; it is the ability to look forward to the future and to dream and plan boldly about what will happen next.

This forward-looking perspective must be coupled with the ability to share the vision with others.  Vision paints a passionate picture of hope, giving specific goals and directions.  Visionary leaders help others catch hold of and pursue the vision.  Of course, vision is clearest and most powerful when it comes from God.  This is what Nehemiah’s role was as a leader: to carry the vision.  This is actually what it means to be an apostle in the Biblical sense: carrying, sharing, and initiating the vision amongst people.  To be an apostle is to look at the “big picture” and help others do the same.

 

In Nehemiah’s time, Israel had been dominated by Babylon.  Many of the people had been taken captive to Babylon, while the others had been left, destitute, to tend the land and keep it from turning to wilderness.  The city of Jerusalem had been utterly ravaged, and the walls had been torn down when the Babylonians captured the Israelites.  So the Lord settled a burden on Nehemiah’s heart, giving him a vision to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and bring back God’s people to the Promised Land.  Rebuilding these walls was not merely a practical means of protection; it was a symbol of spiritual renewal and a return to the Lord in the place of His promise.

What is your vision building?....And more importantly, who is building with you?

What is your vision building?….And more importantly, who is building with you?

Of course, just because Nehemiah had an idea from God, it does not mean that being the vision-carrier was a simple task.  As a leader, he needed to discern when to cast the vision and when to withhold it – and whom to share it with.  Rebuilding the walls was not a task Nehemiah could undertake alone; he needed the Israelites to partner with him to carry out the vision.

Herein lies the danger of being a visionary leader: you become so consumed with attaining the goal and carrying out the vision that, when you are victorious, you find there is no one left to celebrate with because you left them all behind.

Proverbs 29:18 tells us that people perish for lack of vision.  God-directed vision is a vital part of learning to walk with Him, and we must learn to nurture and not stifle the vision.  I am a very “visionary” person; and where I sense no vision, it feels as though the life is being sucked out of me.  However, being visionary (apostolic, far-sighted, and big-picture) scares others if they aren’t prepared.  This is why leaders must use discretion in casting vision.  Sometimes carrying this God-vision means that you keep it to yourself for a while, and sometimes it means that you only share a portion of what God is speaking.

The result of Nehemiah’s God-driven, apostolic leadership was that the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt (from piles of rubble!) in a mere fifty-two days (Neh. 6:15).  But realize that he didn’t start by telling the oppressed Israelites, “I’ve returned to our decimated homeland to help you rebuild the city walls and restore the land!  Oh, and we’ll do it in less than two months!  Who’s with me?!”  No.  Rather, he went and scouted out the walls; he spent time planning, praying, and preparing before he began to share the vision with the people, calling them to rebuild and restore their city.  And he did not simply tell them what they should do; he told them why they should do it and shared his testimony of God’s faithful hand at work in the situation:

‘And I told them of the hand of my God, which had been good upon me, and also of the king’s words that he had spoken to me.  So they said, “Let us rise up and build.”  Then they set their hands to this good work.’ – Nehemiah 2:18

This is Nehemiah’s great success: he knew when to cast the vision and when to withhold it.  Sharing a vision in poor timing is often akin to aborting it.  Just as vision itself is a necessity, so is proper timing; you cannot separate the two.  My mentor told me, “There are some things that need to be said, but don’t need to be heard.”  When you are given charge of the God-vision, there are times when you need to keep it between you and God, simply praying over the vision and nurturing it.  Like a pregnant mother, you carry something precious, but there is a right time for the birth that should not be forced or tampered with. 

I frequently pray, “Lord, make me a Nehemiah.  Nehemiah did it right, and I want to do the same.  Help me to carry Your vision with wisdom and compassion.”  I want to carry the vision well, and I want others to be around to revel in the fullness of the victory and blessing that God will bring through it.

Perhaps you don’t feel like you have any vision to share right now.  Or perhaps you have a vision already burning inside you, locked up tight and waiting to be shared.  All those things are fine.  The Lord always gives the passion and the vision in its time, and He will direct you about where, when, and how to share the vision.  Maybe right now you need to support the God-vision that someone else is casting.  Maybe right now you need to help someone else be a Nehemiah and cultivate his or her leadership abilities.  Or maybe the time has come for you to step up and be a Nehemiah, sharing the vision that the Lord has placed in your heart.  Don’t be afraid of the vision.  Simply allow the Holy Spirit to give you discernment to recognize the timing and the means.

I bless you to freely and boldly live the Nehemiah life!

For my dad, the most visionary leader I know. Even when we were unsure, you waited and continued to encourage us to step into bigger and better things. Thanks for not leaving us behind. I love you.

For my dad, the most visionary leader I know. Even when we were unsure, you waited and continued to encourage us to step into bigger and better things. Thanks for not leaving us behind. I love you.