I sent out an email this past week asking you what your goals are for 2011? I wanted to know so that I can pray for you throughout the year as you pursue what is important to you. “What would you like to do? What changes do you sense need to be made? What is important to you?” Those are important questions that we need to ask ourselves on a regular basis. I believe with all of my heart that as followers of Jesus, “goals” and “change” should be a part of our lives. All throughout God’s Word we read about God calling us to change; to strive for something different than merely experiencing life as it comes. Let me give you a couple of examples. Paul wrote in Colossians 3:1-2,
1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (Colossians 3:1-2 NIV)
That is a goal. Naturally, if left to ourselves, we do not “set our minds on things above,” but we focus on earthly desires and earthly endeavors. Paul urges us to strive for change, to set a goal, to set our sights on the things above, the things of God. Here’s another one for you. Turn with me to James 1:2-4. James writes,
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4 NIV)
That is a goal. When I go through difficult times my natural reaction is to throw a pity party or focus on me and my pain rather than to seek God and believe that He is at work in the difficulties of my life. Without goals we cannot grow. Without goals there is no way to measure any change at all. Just imagine with me for a moment. What would a basketball game be without a hoop? How about a round of golf with no holes? Or a football game with no goal post or end zone? Without these things there would be no way to measure growth and progress. There would just be a lot of people running around. I’m sad to say, but that is what I am afraid most of us are doing today.
On the day I sent out the email I heard a “morning drive guy” on the radio say, “I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I’ve made them in the past and have never done any of them for any amount of time so I just figure why set myself up for disappointment?” I think the morning DJ, even though he was speaking for himself, was speaking for lots and lots of folks. Most of us don’t set any goals because we are afraid that we won’t see them through, we won’t reach them. Well, how are you ever going to hit a target if you don’t have one? It has been my experience in life that when I set goals, when I set my sights on something, even if I fall short of the goal, I’m still better off than if I hadn’t tried to do anything.
This morning I want to use an experience from Nehemiah’s life to help us think about goals. If you would turn with me to Nehemiah 2:11-18. While you are turning there I want to give you a little background on the story. If you will remember from our study of the Minor Prophets, the Babylonians overthrew the Jews in Judah in 586 B.C. They took many of the Jews back to Babylon with them where they stayed until the Persians defeated the Babylonians. In 538 B.C. the Persian King, Cyrus, signed an edict to let the Jews go back home to Jerusalem. Once they got back home they started rebuilding the temple, but then opposition came about and they simply quit and went back home.
Well, not all of the Jews left Babylon when they were given the opportunity. About seventy years after the first Jews had made the long journey back to Jerusalem, in 458 B.C., a Jewish scribe named Ezra led another group of Jews back to Jerusalem. Under Ezra’s leadership there was some reform that took place among the Jews, but the security of the city was not established, the city wall remained in ruins.
While all of this was going on there was a young man named Nehemiah, who was a Jew, but he was also the cupbearer for the Persian King, Artaxerxes. Nehemiah’s job was to taste everything that was to be served to Artaxerxes to make sure that it had not been poisoned. I’d say he was a pretty important person. The king sure thought he was.
Nehemiah knew what was going on back in Jerusalem and it grieved his heart. Nehemiah tells us that when he heard the news, he sat down and wept. We read in Nehemiah 1:1-4.
1 The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah: In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, 2 Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. 3 They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” 4 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. (Nehemiah 1:1-4 NIV)
Nehemiah was serving the king one day when the king said, “Nehemiah, why are you so sad?” Nehemiah told him what was going on back home and he asked permission to go to Jerusalem and help rebuild the city. The year was 445 B.C. when Nehemiah made his way to Jerusalem with the king’s blessing, and the provisions he needed to rebuild the wall. In Nehemiah 2:11-18 we read what Nehemiah did once he got to Jerusalem.
11 I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days 12 I set out during the night with a few men. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on. 13 By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. 14 Then I moved on toward the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool, but there was not enough room for my mount to get through; 15 so I went up the valley by night, examining the wall. Finally, I turned back and reentered through the Valley Gate. 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.” 18 I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me. They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work. (Nehemiah 2:11-18 NIV)
The wall, that had laid in ruins for over 100 years, was rebuilt in 52 days by a man who had vision, passion, a plan, and others who were willing to work alongside of him. There are some great lessons that we can learn from Nehemiah as we seek to pursue our own goals in this new year.
First, I need to share with you that I believe that our goals are more than “our” goals—I believe that they are the nudging of God. Let me share some of the goals with you that have been shared with me this past week.
• A stay-at-home mom wrote, “I want to do daily Bible study with my daughter and my nephew, who I watch after he gets out of school. The day is coming when they will leave home and I want to make sure they know God’s Word.”
• I want to seek to find my spiritual gifts and use them to glorify God. I want to learn more of the Bible since there is so much I don’t understand. I want to seek God’s will for my marriage.
• My goal is to wake up every morning and get on my knees and pray.
• My goal is to be a more thankful person. Not just internally thankful, but to verbalize my gratitude as well. I want to think and verbalize the gratitude I feel for what God has done for me.
• Two people wrote me and said, “I want to read the entire Bible in 2011.”
• I want to identify my “in the flesh” thoughts and change them to “in the Spirit” thoughts” and to develop a joy in studying God’s Word on a daily basis.
• This year I need to find the joy that I have lost during the past few years.
• My goal is to start and maintain a prayer journal and to begin to exercise regularly.
• A person who has encountered health problems during the past year wrote to me and said, “I need prayer to be upbeat about what lies ahead and patience to be ready to build up to more activity in the spring.”
• A couple wrote to me and said, “We have set a goal of journaling, reading God’s Word, and practicing Scripture memory on Monday nights.”
• Someone else wrote, “I want to take the time to spend more of it with my grandchildren.”
• Here’s another goal, “I want to be more sensitive to the opportunities to be, and share, Christ with others as God puts them in my path.”
• Someone else wrote me that God is leading them to move to another city where they can continue their education and be around family who are really committed to Christ.
• Here’s one: “Daily surrender the idols in my life to God.” Two idols they described were “doing” which has led them to run ahead of God instead of waiting on Him and “worry” which has diminished their trust in God.
• Another person wants to lose weight.
• Someone else wrote, “The verse for me this year is 1 Timothy 6:6, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” They say, “My struggle, as of late, is not being content with who He has created me to be and where I am in life. My goal is not to compare myself with others and to trust that God is perfectly content with who He created me to be as long as I seek Him.
I want you to know that I believe each of these goals that are on your hearts are more than something you have dreamed up—they are God nudging you to do something. Some of you may say, “Well, some of these goals don’t sound very spiritual to me.” Let me ask you, “How spiritual does it sound to say that you have a passion to rebuild a wall?” I believe that it is important to understand that what many call “goals,” are truly the promptings of God to change some things in our lives. If we will understand this, that these are “promptings,” or “callings” from God, rather than just something that “we” want to do, then there will be a greater possibility of us seeing them through. Let me share with you some insights I’ve learned from Nehemiah.
Nehemiah Couldn’t Shake It
First off, how do we know that the idea that has come to us is from God and not just something we want to do? Great question. I believe a great indicator is that we won’t be able to get the thought out of our mind. In Nehemiah 1:4 we read about what happened when Nehemiah heard about the situation going on back home. Listen to this.
4 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. (Nehemiah 1:4 NIV)
There were others who heard the same news, but it didn’t have near the affect on them as it did Nehemiah. The news became wedged in Nehemiah’s heart and mind. For days he fasted and prayed about the situation before the Lord. Nehemiah couldn’t shake it. He couldn’t go back to doing life like he had done it before he heard the news. He had to do something even though at this point he didn’t know what to do other than weep, fast, and pray.
I got a note from a lady this past week that started like this: “This is a plan that has been in my head for a while now and the more that I wait for the Lord to let me know that it isn’t the right thing to do the more I know that it is.” That is exactly what I’m talking about! I wrote her back and said, “Go for it!” I’m sure that others of you who have written me this past week have felt the same way. Your goal has been a thought, germinating in your heart and mind, for some time now. You’ve waited until the time is right, you’ve waited for a more opportune time, you’ve waited… I say to you this morning, “Stop waiting and get on with it.” Understand that the Lord is moving you. He is prompting you. He is calling you to get with it.
Nehemiah “Considered” Before He “Acted”
The second lesson I’ve learned from Nehemiah is that it is important to survey the situation, “consider the costs,” and come up with a plan of action before I act on the thought God has given me. Let me give you an example from Nehemiah’s life. Sometime after he heard the initial news of the sad state of his countrymen and city, Jerusalem, Nehemiah’s thoughts turned from an emotional reaction of sitting, weeping, and praying to praying and planning. In Nehemiah 2 we find out that the King asked Nehemiah why he was so sad? Nehemiah told the king about his hometown being in ruins. King Artaxerxes asked, “What is it you want?” (Nehemiah 2:4 NIV) Nehemiah prayed and gave the king his answer which consisted of three things:
1. Send me to the city of Judah…so that I can rebuild it. (Nehemiah 2:5 NIV)
2. May I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe travel until I get to Judah? (Nehemiah 2:7 NIV)
3. May I have a letter for Asaph, keeper of the king’s forest, so he will give me timber to rebuild the gates by the temple and for the city wall and for my house? (Nehemiah 2:8 NIV)
The king granted each of Nehemiah’s requests and Nehemiah was off to Jerusalem. Once he arrived in Jerusalem, Nehemiah continued to assess the situation. He tells us that he spent three days in Jerusalem before he set out at night with just a few people to take stock of the destruction. (Nehemiah 2:11-16) Nehemiah now had a plan.
You and I need a plan. Zig Ziglar once said, “People don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan.” Those are such true words. I remember several years ago when I decided I was going to run my first marathon. 26 miles is a long ways to run. You just don’t decide one day, “I’m going to go out and run a marathon.” I had to get a plan. I knew that I needed two things: One, I had to find a partner to run with each day or I would never do it on my own. Second, I had to have a plan that would help me build up to running 26 miles or I would die. Once I had those to two things in place then it was only a matter of following the plan.
I would encourage you to do the same with whatever it is the Lord has laid on your heart. Survey the landscape, take stock of what you need in order to reach the goal you have set, and put the plan into action.
Nehemiah Surrounded Himself With Others
The third lesson I have learned from Nehemiah is to involve others in the idea that God has put on my heart. Have you noticed, as we’ve been reading these Scriptures about Nehemiah and his plan, how many people he has pulled into his circle? He shared his heart with the king. He recruited the keeper of the king’s forest to supply him with timber. He took a few men with him as he surveyed the broken down wall. He spoke to the Jews, the priests, nobles, officials, and others about the situation and said,
“…Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” (Nehemiah 2:17 NIV)
Rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem and restoring the security of the city was a job that was too big for one man. Nehemiah needed help to achieve the goal that God had laid on his heart. I’ve got news for you, whatever it is that God has put on your heart it is too big for you to handle by yourself—you need help.
After I wrote out my goals for the year I emailed them to two people and said, “I need your help. Will you pray for me and on a regular basis ask me about the progress I am making?” I’ve set up a monthly luncheon with one of the people I emailed. I also sat down with Connie and read my goals to her so that she knows what God has put on my heart. I need help. I know these people will help me.
That leads me to a warning. Be careful who you share your goal with my friends. Some that you might consider are nice folks no doubt, but they are busy, or forgetful, or simply won’t follow through with what you need them to do in order to help you achieve what God is calling you to do. Pray before you share your goals and ask someone to help you.
Nehemiah Avoided Distractions
A final lesson I’ve learned from Nehemiah that is so helpful in my pursuit of what God has called me to do is this: Nehemiah avoided distractions that would take him away from pursuing what was most important to him.
The story of what God did through the life of Nehemiah and the people of Jerusalem covers thirteen chapters in our Bible. Throughout those thirteen chapters we find opposition arising in the form of two men, Sanballat and Tobiah. The first time they appear is in Nehemiah 2:10 where we find that when they heard that Nehemiah and the people were planning on rebuilding the wall, “they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites.” (Nehemiah 2:10 NIV)
Let’s just get honest for a minute. Can we do that? There are those who do not want you to reach your goal. They are your friends, they may even be family members, they profess their love for you, but they really don’t want you to change. Just to give you an example that many of you can relate to. If you are an addict and you decide one day, “I’ve had enough. I’m going to stop drinking or using drugs.” You must realize that most of those you have been drinking or drugging with are not going to want you to stop. They are going to want you to continue to use with them.
Just as Nehemiah had Sanballat and Tobiah trying to distract him from doing what God had given him to do, so we have our own version of Sanballat and Tobiah who will try, either knowingly or unknowingly, to distract us from doing what God has given us to do. By committing yourself to do what God has given you to do you must reorder your time schedule. You won’t be able to do some of the things you use to do so that you can do what God has now called you to. You are going to have to say, “No” to the “lesser” things. Sanballat and Tobiah wanted Nehemiah to stop his work and come and meet with them. Here is what Nehemiah had to say,
3 …”I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” 4 Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer. (Nehemiah 6:3-4 NIV)
Don’t give in. Don’t give up. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by lesser things. God has called you to a great work. Whether it is spending more time with your grandkids, practicing Scripture memory on Monday nights, training your mind to become content with who God has created you to be, or devoting yourself to running a marathon—don’t get distracted by lesser things.
These are the lessons I have learned from Nehemiah this past week that I believe can help all of us establish, implement, and see our goals through to completion in 2011. There is one more word that I need to share with you which I’ve not learned from Nehemiah, but from my own life.
Don’t Let Failure Derail You
Nehemiah was successful in reaching his goal. In just 52 days the wall that had been down for more than 100 years was rebuilt. What a thrill! I’ve not reached all of the goals that I’ve ever set in my life. What are we to do when we stumble and fall? Well, the vast majority of people say, “I knew I couldn’t do it.” They fold up their tent and go back to the recliner and the remote to wile away their time languishing in lethargy.
Many years before Nehemiah ever arrived in Jerusalem; the Israelites started working on the temple, but stopped as soon as they faced opposition. They gave it up and went home never to start again until Nehemiah arrived on the scene. We can’t be like those who quit when we run into obstacles or face setbacks.
When we sense God is nudging us and we begin to pursue what He has put on our hearts we will encounter setbacks. Don’t let failure derail you. Get up and start again and again and again.
Paul had a goal. His goal was to “know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…” I want you to see what Paul says about his pursuit of this goal. Read along with me from Philippians 4:10-14.
10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:10-14 NIV)
Paul had a goal. Had he realized it? Nope. He suffered setbacks throughout his life. He blew it time and time again. Rather than give it up or turn back, he pressed on, he forgot about the past and the times he had blown it, and he continued to run the race.
Oh, my friend the time is now. Whatever it is that God has put on your heart make it a priority right now. Follow these steps to establishing, implementing, and realizing your goals and watch God work in you to accomplish them. Whatever it is that God has put on your heart commit it to Him, to His glory, as you pursue it throughout the year. And never give up. Never turn back. Keep pressing on.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
January 9, 2011